Indian Life Newspaper -

Percentage of homeless disproportionately high in Seattle


Last updated 3/16/2018 at 11:35am Skalstad

SEATTLE, Wash.-The city of Seattle, Washington may have been named after a Native American chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, but in today's world the city and surrounding areas are not smiling on the plight of Native Americans.

In a country where Native Americans die at higher rates than most Americans from diabetes, drugs and homicide, and have experienced a long history of often-violent displacement, they also make up an outsized portion of the homeless population, reported the Seattle Times in their February 9 article, "Native Americans, Seattle's original residents, are homeless at highest rate."

In King County, the paper reports, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have the highest rates of homelessness compared to any racial or ethnic group. They make up less than 1 percent of the county's overall population but comprise nearly 6 percent of those who are homeless in King County. They also find housing at lower rates than any racial or ethnic group.

The city of Seattle, wrestling with a growing homelessness crisis, is trying to address the racial disparity. Last year, when the city rebid its homeless-services contracts, five Native-led organizations were awarded $3.2 million to prevent and end homelessness; four of those groups had never received city funding for those programs. The idea was that Native American organizations could best serve their own communities.

Seattle, after the contract rebidding, is pledging to house 7,400 homeless people by the end of this year, more than double the total from 2017. To reach that goal, the city is requiring Navajo-led groups and other service providers to hit quarterly performance targets. Another problem is that housing can't be prioritized based on race according to the federal Fair Housing Act. Native Americans in the Northwest already have historically faced discrimination for their race, and the resulting social ills within the community are also exacerbated by a regional affordable-housing shortage.

Across the country, other cities, like Seattle, are focusing on the intersection of homelessness and race, the Seattle Times noted. The Center for Social Innovation, a Massachusetts-based think tank, recently launched partnerships with eight communities, including Tacoma and Pierce County, to understand the wide racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness.

But no cities have come up with a cure-all. The efforts are focused on analyzing data to understand who is more likely to be homeless, but there are no proven strategies to reduce the disparities.

Locally, King County has for several years funded culturally specific organizations to provide homeless services. Seattle is also trying to reduce the high rates of homelessness among African Americans, but has emphasized addressing Native homelessness.

The city hasn't set an overall target for housing homeless Native Americans-the focus on disparities is just a broad objective.

But it is holding individual organizations to the specific performance goals. They must get 80 percent of their clients, participating in certain programs, into permanent housing; if they fail, they could lose 12 percent of their funding.

One community program, Mother Nation, says that cultural connections are vital to keeping the Native Americans in the program. Their clients do traditional beading, participate in talking circles, telling their stories and participate in other Native-based activities as part of their therapies.

And programs must continue to go beyond housing in itself, many say. Chief Seattle Club, another community program, says at least 75 percent of their members have mental health and substance abuse issues. "A lot of organizations just throw homeless people into housing," Mother Nation's Executive Director, Norine Hill told the Seattle Times staff. "And if you don't heal them, how do you expect them to stay there?"

While Native Americans make up less than 1 percent of King County, Washington's overall population they comprise nearly 6 percent of those who are homeless.


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