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New survey of Seattle’s homeless ‘dispels some commonly held myths’: 35% had some college or college degree

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SEATTLE — A survey of Seattle’s homeless population surprisingly has found that 41% of the people surveyed are currently working in some capacity and 35% had some college or a college degree, the Seattle Human Services Department said Friday.

In addition, about 20% of respondents listed housing affordability issues as the primary event/condition that led to their homelessness.

The department contracted with Applied Survey Research (ASR) to talk with 1,050 homeless individuals and held multiple focus groups with 80 attendees in 2016. The survey was released Friday.

“Seattle had not completed an assessment of this kind in nearly a decade, and responses from people experiencing homelessness confirmed other information that City has received: that affordable housing availability, substance abuse and mental health issues are key contributors to addressing homelessness. Additionally, the survey shows that homelessness affects Black/African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community disproportionately,” a department news release said.

According to the department, the research served to dispel several commonly-held myths about the City’s homelessness crisis.:

— “Seattle’s homeless population is local, with nearly 70% living in Seattle/King County when they became homeless. Over 50% of people experiencing homelessness have lived in Seattle five years or more. Those not originally from Seattle frequently came for the support of family and friends or for a job opportunity. When people were asked about the primary event that led to their homelessness, 25% said losing their job.

— “The primary cause of an individual’s homelessness is not always clear and often the result of multiple and compounding causes. One quarter (25%) of respondents self-reported job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness. Thirteen percent (13%) reported alcohol or drug use, 11% reported an inability to afford rent increase, and 9% reported a divorce, separation, or breakup as the primary cause of their homelessness.

— “Additionally, when asked if they would move into safe and affordable housing if it were offered, 93% of the respondents said “yes.” This dispels another myth that people who are homeless don’t want to come inside. However, rental assistance (68%) and housing affordability (65%) were the top two answers given by respondents when asked what they needed to obtain housing. It should also be noted that 41% of those living outdoors owned their own home or rented housing immediately preceding their experience of homelessness.

— “Perhaps surprising, 41% of the people surveyed are currently working in some capacity (full-time, part-time, temporarily, or seasonally), and 35% had some college or a college degree.

— “35% reported using hard drugs (meth, heroin, crack); 13% percent of respondents reported drug or alcohol abuse was the primary cause of their homelessness; 45% of survey respondents self-reported they did not use drugs; 29% reported using alcohol.

— “Assistance with mental health issues and accessing healthcare overall were identified as great needs by homeless individuals. Depression (42.2%), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (30.9%), and Bi-polar Disorder (23.6%) were cited as the top three health conditions affecting those who are homeless.”

Read the full 2016 Homeless Needs Assessment.