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Less than half of homeless referrals in Seattle resulted in shelter enrollments last year

The new data for 2021 come as the city and county step up their efforts to bring more homeless residents inside.

Editor's note: The above video on downtown Seattle bouncing back from COVID and crime originally aired March 18, 2022.

SEATTLE - Seattle’s HOPE Team, the homeless outreach arm for the city’s Human Services Department (HSD), saw a significant increase in the number of shelter referrals and enrollments in 2021 compared to 2020.

However, despite the improvements, the team saw fewer than half of those referrals turn into enrollments.

According to the HOPE Team’s latest numbers, outreach members referred 1,072 homeless individuals to shelter beds across the city. Yet, just 512 of those individuals were confirmed to have enrolled in a shelter.

In 2020, the HOPE Team referred 815 homeless individuals to shelter, but only 265 were confirmed enrolments.

HSD Deputy Director Michael Bailey presented the 2021 HOPE Team outcomes to the city’s Public Assets and Homelessness Committee last week, and he said that the number of referrals may actually be higher but those enrolling at a shelter do not have to share personal information and may not show up in the HSD’s system.

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“While the increase is promising, there is a percentage of those that we’re unable to account for. The HMIS data, which is essentially the federal Homeless Management Information System, it anonymizes 25% of the data, which creates complications for us when we’re trying to match that data against HSD’s data,” Bailey explained.

This year, Bailey said the HSD and the HOPE Team are looking to partner with the newly activated King County Regional Homeless Authority to develop action plans for encampment outreach.

The new referral and enrollment data come amid various sweeps across the city as well as new shelter plans for the SoDo neighborhood.

In early March, Seattle officials cleared a high-profile encampment across Fourth Avenue from city hall weeks after protestors stalled the camp’s removal.

Outreach efforts at the camp resulted in at least 22 referrals to shelter.

Then, on Wednesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to build a shelter and behavioral services hub in the SoDo neighborhood centered around S. Dearborn Street and 7th Avenue S.

The entire hub will consist of five projects that will cost about $66 million and preserve the existing 270-person shelter in the area that’s currently operated by the Salvation Army.

Money for hub development is coming from the American Rescue Plan, investments from King County and $5 million from Seattle.


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