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Why do people come to Seattle for homeless services?

On Thursday, we broke down some complicated stats all about where our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness come from. That was our first shot at answering this reader question y’all thought needed some explaining: “Does Seattle get an influx of homeless people from outside areas attracted to better services?

The key thing we learned: that, according to the best data we have (which is not perfect), the large majority of folks experiencing homelessness were living in King County when they lost their housing. More on that in Part 1, which is one of a bunch of awesome stories from #SeaHomeless, a citywide media effort to better understand homelessness.

Today, we want to dig into the reasons why folks from outside the region — yep, even the apparently small percentage who travel from out of state — head towards the Emerald City.

When reader Craig Danz asked us if Seattle gets an influx of people experiencing homelessness who are attracted to better services, we saw an assumption in there that’s worth exploring: Does Seattle have homeless services worth moving here for? And does that motivate some folks — even if not an “influx” of them — to come? Let’s begin by looking at a (very limited) set of data…

WHY DO PEOPLE COME HERE?

Some folks do come to the Seattle area to access homeless services. How many? Let’s look again at All Home King County’s report. They asked 137 folks without housing who are not originally from King County why they moved here. One-fifth of them — so, 28 people — said they came to access homeless services. More of them — nearly a third — said they came here looking for work. Another near-fifth said they came because their family and friends were here. Yes, this is a very small sample group — too small to draw any definitive conclusions. But it gives us a glimpse, albeit a narrow one, at what might motivate folks to move here.

ARE PEOPLE DRAWN TO OUR HOMELESS SERVICES?

It would appear so. To take one local example, a man named Teman Crawford told KIRO in November that he came to Seattle from California because his friends called it the “land of opportunity.”

“There’s a lot of angels up here. A lot of love. People buying people brand new tents, giving them blankets, putting food in their stomachs,” he said.

Daniel Malone, executive director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, acknowledged that Seattle’s perceived to be friendly toward people experiencing homelessness.

“On the one hand, we have statements of support for caring for people who are struggling,” he told us. “On the other hand, the conditions people are living in are the opposite of friendly.”

(📸: @jasonp)

ARE OUR SERVICES BETTER THAN OTHER PLACES’?

As a big progressive city, Seattle has resources other places don’t to build up an ecosystem of homeless services. (How well we’ve done that so far depends on who you ask.) For context: 77 organizations in King County help provide shelter and housing, and “that’s 25 more than the city of San Francisco, and more than the entire state of Montana,” The Seattle Times reports. To see a list of many of them, check out Real Change’Emerald City Resource Guide.

Annalee Schafranek, public relations manager at YWCA Seattle, said it makes sense why anyone looking for services would move here. Some services simply don’t exist where some people were living, she said.

“If you needed to go see a doctor and there wasn’t a doctor in your city, but there was one a city over, you’re going to go to that doctor because your need doesn’t go away,” she said. “It’s not that you’re exploiting that other city’s resource. That’s just where the resource you need is.”

BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM 

We still don’t have enough resources to keep up with the number of people struggling in our region, homeless advocates say. And folks who do come to Seattle for our homeless services might be disappointed.

“You might find yourself with seemingly little opportunity because there’s a backlog of people waiting for the same thing [you are],” Daniel said.

Even for those who can get shelter access, some people won’t go because they won’t be let in with their partners or pets, said Eric Bronson, YWCA Seattle’s digital advocacy manager.

“They’re going to stay on the street because that’s the only thing getting them through life or that partner is the person they rely on for their safety and they love [them],” Eric said.

Thanks to reader Craig Danz for asking this question, and to the hundreds of you who have submitted your own. Have another question you’d like us or our project partners at GeekWire, Crosscut, Seattlepi.com, Real Change, Patch, ParentMap, and KUOW to tackle? Send them in here.