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King County homeless count shows increase in American Indians, Alaska Natives

Preliminary data shows American Indians and Alaska Natives represent 10% of King County's homeless population, an increase from 3% last year.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — A recent point-in-time count showed King County's homeless population dropped this year compared to last year, but within that encouraging headline is a troubling increase which reveals more about who is impacted by homelessness.

The count on Jan. 25, 2019, found 11,199 people experiencing homelessness in King County. Preliminary data shows American Indians and Alaska Natives represent 10% of the county’s homeless population, an increase from 3% last year.

“We are 10% of the homeless population and that to me is a moral outrage,” said Colleen EchoHawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club. “It was hard to see in black and white because these are real people, they're our relatives, they're not a data point, we know them.”

So why did the figure increase? 

EchoHawk believes it's because previous surveys undercounted indigenous people. She said this year All Home, the group that organized the count, did a better job of reaching out to American Indians. This included sending surveys to Chief Seattle Club, something that didn't happen in previous years.

Also see | Could ‘pallet shelters’ help solve Seattle’s homeless crisis?

“Having our Native people surveyed in a place that they feel welcome, respected, and safe is the key to getting accurate and equitable data,” said Colleen Chalmers, program manager for Chief Seattle Club.

The numbers add urgency to an ongoing effort to create more housing for American Indians and Alaska Natives. One of the unique challenges is that many in the community do not trust government institutions, EchoHawk said.

That mistrust goes back generations and it's something non-profits are still trying to overcome, in part, by designing housing projects specifically for American Indians and Alaska Natives, she said.

Chief Seattle Club is preparing to break ground on a new building which will provide more than 80 low-income apartments, including a clinic and access to programs aimed at preventing homelessness.

“We believe that we're going to see some remarkable changes happen,” EchoHawk said.

Also see | King County homeless population decreases for first time in years