A plethora of federal agencies have spent well over $200 million attempting to alleviate homelessness in Washington state over the past 17 years, only for the number of people living on the streets to keep rising.

Federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), among others, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007 on grants to third parties intended to mitigate homelessness in Washington, federal spending data shows. Despite the nine-figure sum of taxpayer dollars spent, the number of homeless people in Washington grew by about 20% between 2007 and 2023, according to a report produced by HUD.

Washington had the third highest raw increase in its homeless population between 2007 and 2023, according to HUD. California and New York were the first and second highest, respectively.

An estimated 20,036 individuals were living in Washington without permanent shelter as of 2023, according to HUD. Washington’s rate of homelessness was among the highest in the nation in 2023.

The federal government has over the years attempted to assist Washington state with its mounting homelessness problem, with little to show for it.

The federal government spent heavily in Washington state during the COVID-19 pandemic, only for the number of homeless individuals in the state to grow by 15.6% between 2020 and 2022, according to HUD.

For instance, the VA has given nearly $120 million to third-party organizations to assist homeless veterans since 2007, much of which was paid out during the pandemic, according to federal spending records. Despite this injection of cash, Washington had the fifth-highest rate of veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness as of 2023, according to HUD.

Unsheltered homelessness refers to people who primarily spend their nights at “a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people,” according to HUD.

In a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation, a spokesperson for the VA acknowledged that the number of homeless veterans increased in Washington between 2022 and 2023.

In response to the increase, “VA health care systems covering Washington State (Puget Sound, Spokane, Walla Walla and Portland) housed a combined total of 2,238 homeless Veterans,” the spokesperson told the DCNF.

“This was possible, in part, due to nearly $15.6 million in grants and contracts awarded to local organizations.”

Some states, like Texas and Florida, reduced their homeless populations during the pandemic, according to HUD. Florida saw homelessness drop by 5.6% and Texas reduced its homeless population by 10.3%.

In addition to growing, Washington’s homeless population also lacks access to temporary shelters at higher rates than most the country.

Washington had the ninth-highest rate of homeless people lacking temporary shelter, according to HUD. High rates of unsheltered homelessness in Washington persist despite considerable federal spending aimed at providing them with places to stay.

HUD has spent over $70 million in Washington on its emergency shelter grant program for the homeless since 2007, federal spending records show. HUD spent a further $60 million in Washington implementing its supportive housing program for the homeless.

“In the most recent System Performance Measures, communities across the country have seen reduced lengths of stay in homelessness and low rates of returns to homelessness,” HUD told the DCNF when asked about its grant spending.

“By and large, the recent rise in homelessness in most communities is more attributable to the rise in the number of people who are becoming newly homeless, than any challenges with system performance.”

Officials have cited rising rents and the end of pandemic-era housing assistance and protections as contributing to the recent rise in homelessness, The Associated Press reported.

Many vulnerable people are living on the streets in Washington, despite federal funds being allocated to provide them with permanent housing.

Washington has a sizable population of young people living on the street, according to HUD. There were 2,026 homeless people under the age of 25 unaccompanied by a parent or guardian in Washington as of 2023.

The number of unaccompanied homeless youths in Washington grew by 12.4% between 2022 and 2023, according to HUD.  The Seattle area had the third-highest number of unaccompanied homeless youths in the country in 2023.

Between 2022 and 2023, HUD spent more than $7 million in Washington through its youth homelessness demonstration program, which was intended to alleviate homelessness among young people by providing the population with assistance in acquiring housing or shelter.

Homelessness in Washington is not distributed uniformly across the state.

Roughly half of Washington’s homeless reside in the Seattle area, according to HUD. The federal government has, in recent years, targeted the region in an attempt to quell homelessness.

HUD approved over $40 million in funding for the King County Regional Homeless Authority between 2022 and 2023, according to federal spending records. The King County Regional Homeless Authority is an independent government agency that relies on “data, proven practices, and principles of social justice and racial equity” to “significantly decrease homelessness throughout King County,” according to its website.

“Homelessness disproportionately harms people of color,” the agency’s website reads. “We use an equity-based decision making framework to proactively dismantle structural racism and advance equity.”

The King County Regional Homeless Authority’ total budget was $253.3 million in 2023, according to a document produced by the agency. The Seattle region had the third most homeless people of any area in the United States as of 2023, per HUD.

The influx of migrants and asylum seekers into Washington, rising living costs, a lack of shelter services and the end of pandemic aid are all contributing factors to rising homelessness in the state, University of Washington associate professor Gregg Colburn told the Seattle Times.

Despite recent setbacks, the majority of Seattle residents are optimistic that the city will make progress toward reducing homelessness over the next couple of years, according to a Seattle Times/Suffolk University poll conducted in June 2023.

The King County Regional Homeless Authority and HHS did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

Robert Schmad on March 21, 2024

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