SEATTLE — King County is seeing a decline in the number of people experiencing homelessness, for the first time in seven years – most significantly in Seattle.
Numbers from the annual Point-in-Time count just released Friday show the homeless population is down eight percent from last year.
“It’s a really good sign, it's the first time since 2012 we've seen the count go down,” said Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan.
King County's annual one-night count showed on Jan 25, 2019 there were 11,199 experiencing homelessness.
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After six years of rising numbers, including a sharp spike last year, this year there's an eight percent decrease.
The numbers are down across the board - from people living in cars, to RVs, to tents.
But the data also shows people living in vehicles don't access services as often as others who are homeless.
One man said he used to live in his vehicle - until one day, it got towed.
“My girlfriend’s like where's the vehicle? (I said) it's right -- and it wasn't there,” he said.
“Did that push you onto the streets,” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked.
“Instantly,” he said.
University of Washington anthropologist Graham Pruss researches vehicle residency and helped the city create the current method used to count people living in vehicles.
Pruss said the decrease in numbers likely shows real progress, but there’s much more work to do.
“It’s great to at least hope we're making a difference,” he said.
Pruss said in his nine years of research, he's noticed a lack of resources specifically for people calling their vehicles home.
“I think we need to include vehicles into our emergency shelter system. That's it hands down. We don't really have any parking spaces in our emergency shelter system,” he said.
Plus he said there's an increase in “No Parking 2am – 5am” signs.
“We see that all through Ballard,” he said. “It’s a way to basically through signage, remove the habitation of a certain area,” Pruss said.
He said that pushes people into fewer spaces without providing them help.
Mayor Durkan said the city is working on that. There are plans in the works to create what's called "safe lots" -- areas where people can park and have access to showers and support.
“In last year's budget we put down we'd create a safe lot. We're in the process of doing that,” she said.
“A lot of times, the people living in vehicles, it's their last possession. And for them it's a safer place than a shelter,” Durkan said.
The city announced Friday it is expanding what is says is currently working -- like adding four employees to the city's navigation team, which will allow them to do outreach work seven days a week.
The Point-In-Time report also said the city has placed more than 5,000 people into long term housing last year, but people are into homelessness at a rate faster than people getting out - so it's an upstream fight.
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