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Frequently Asked Questions About Homelessness

You will find the answers to these questions below:

How many people are homeless in King County?

On any given night in King County, as many as 8,000 people are homeless. This includes over those counted on the street, those staying in emergency shelter and those in transitional housing. There is no one face of homelessness. The numbers of those living without permanent stable housing include families with children, youth and young adults, single adults and couples, and seniors.

But its not my problem, is it?

It is. In a recent King County survey conducted by United Way, 24 percent of those surveyed have either been homeless or had someone in their family who has been homeless. Homelessness affects the quality of life of their entire region, and failing to address it costs society millions of dollars each year.

How do people become homeless?

Homelessness is caused by many factors: poverty; the lack of affordable housing, particularly for people with disabilities, seniors, and people working low wage jobs; divorce, domestic violence and lack of family supports; chronic health problems; mental illness; chemical abuse and dependency; catastrophic events. Some are homeless due to life situations and need temporary assistance to re-stabilize their lives; others have long-term mental or physical health issues that have led to chronic homelessness and need more intensive help to reclaim their lives.

What is chronic homelessness?

A person with chronic homelessness is typically defined as an individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. People with untreated mental illness or substance abuse and veterans with untreated post traumatic stress disorder often struggle with homelessness.

But dont they want to be homeless?

No child grows up saying that they hope to be homeless one day. Many factors may lead a person to be homeless for an extended period of time such as untreated mental illness or chemical dependency. Veterans, particularly those still experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes fear enclosures or distrust strangers and may rather sleep outside than be in a shelter. Couples may opt for tent cities or the streets rather than shelters that separate men and women. Families who fear being separated may camp in the woods or live in their cars. But none would choose homelessness over a stable living situation. As an example, 1811 Eastlake in Seattle is designed to house and serve chronic inebriates a group generally thought to not want housing. Inviting only 79 people filled the 75 beds in the house most people want housing!

If they create supports, won't that attract people from out of the region?

No. People who are homeless fall into two broad categories. There are those who are homeless for a short time. Most of these folks have deep ties to the community. They grew up here. Their family is here. They don't want to leave. The other broad group are homeless for a long time, but they are also often severely disabled. They work every day to stay alive. They know how to do that here. It is not attractive to move somewhere else looking for services because they do not know how to avoid danger in a new place. In their point-in-time count, a smaller percentage of homeless people come from out of King County than the percentage in the general population.

This is a city problem. I live in the suburbs. Why should I care?

It is simply not true that homelessness exists only in Seattle or larger cities. The amount of family homelessness in rural King County is substantial. Veterans live in the woods around the suburban cities. Until recently, some in one suburban city thought they had no homelessness but when they participated in the One Night Count, they found 27 families car camping in one big box parking lot and a mom and two kids sleeping in the doorway. Homelessness is a regional problem and requires regional solutions.

Why is it so important to end homelessness?

Homelessness is costly. It takes a huge toll on peoples lives - adults and children - leading to lost education, productivity and long-term health problems. And, it places a significant financial burden on society. Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year in King County to feed, shelter, medically treat or hospitalize people who are homeless. Creating permanent housing and other supports helps many of these individuals achieve stability and employment, which in turn, allows these individuals to become independent and productive members of their community. It is far less expensive to provide housing than it is to provide emergency response services. And it is far more humane.

What are they doing about homelessness in King County?

They are coming together as never before to end homelessness throughout their region. The Committee to End Homelessness in King County, made up of representatives from business, faith, social services, government, homeless and formerly homeless people and advocates is working to implement the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County. Their plan seeks to end homelessness, not just continue to manage it -- by working to increase homeless prevention efforts, create new units of permanent housing, and providing the supportive services necessary to those who need them to help them to maintain that housing.

Who is involved?

Ultimately, to be successful, their entire community must be involved. They cannot end homelessness unless they come together as a regional community and say homelessness is not acceptable and they will do something about it. Governments and organizations across the county are dedicating resources and staff to support the efforts of the committee and to implement programs and services to help end the cycle of homelessness.

Is it really possible to end homelessness?

Yes. They have achieved success in several of their programs that are helping people to stabilize their lives and leave homelessness, particularly in connecting intensive case management services to housing for those with complex needs so that they are able to maintain their housing, and working to increase their prevention services to reduce the numbers of those who enter into homelessness in the first place. They have been fortunate in recent years to receive additional state and local funding for housing development, and are working as quickly as possible to build or renovate new units and get them open for residency. It will take time and significant resources to turn the tide but with both, yes, they can achieve their goals of ending homelessness in King County. A strong spirit of partnership now exists. They need to sustain and build upon this.

What does ending homelessness look like?

Ending homelessness means that they prevent homelessness whenever possible first of all. When someone does become homeless, they quickly help them return to stable and permanent housing with the supportive services they need to maintain that housing. They dont leave them in shelters.

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