SEATTLE — The Seattle Fire Department has responded to approximately 450 fires at illegal homeless encampments in the city since the beginning of the year.
A large tent fire at an encampment on Fourth Avenue South at Edgar Martinez Drive South, followed by another fire at Fourth Avenue and Holgate Street on Wednesday were the latest crews responded to since Jan. 1.
Before Wednesday's fires, Seattle Fire responded to up to approximately 449 fires between Jan. 1 and April 3. Not all fires got out of control, according to the fire department. The number of responses also includes calls for illegal burning.
Between 2020 and 2021, encampment fires have more than doubled from 854 to 1,446, according to data from the city.
Data from the city shows Green Lake is one of the most common locations for reports of encampment fires, along with SODO and Pioneer Square.
The city continues to deal with a homelessness crisis that has spanned multiple administrations.
Seattle’s HOPE Team, the homeless outreach arm for the city’s Human Services Department, 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 enrollments.
During the last point-in-time count prior to the pandemic, volunteers counted 11,751 people experiencing homelessness across the county, 53% of whom were sheltered. That was up from 11,199 people the year before, but still down from 2018’s count of 12,112 people.
King County skipped the point-in-time count for the past few years, with leaders saying the survey is an undercount and skews the narrative.
Several high-profile encampments have been cleared over the past few months, including across from City Hall. Shortly before Mayor Bruce Harrell took office in January, the city cleared two large encampments at Ballard Commons and Green Lake Park.
In his first State of the City address in mid-February, Harrell outlined some of the changes his office would implement to deal with the homeless crisis, including the consolidation of six different departments tracking outreach and services into one system as well the launch of a new system to record residents’ encampment concerns.
In addition, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is spearheading a private-public partnership that involves the region’s largest companies called “Partnership for Zero.”
The new approach will direct the efforts of various homelessness response groups from the Unified Command Center, which the KCRHA will lead.