Unsheltered homelessness in King County is a public health disaster

King County Board of Health; and government leaders of King County, Seattle, and other cities in King County

Tents

We invite all people who live, work or study in King County, WA to sign this PETITION.

The three health professions members of the King County Board of Health started this Petition and wrote an op-ed about this public health disaster. We particularly invite professionals, students or other people who have relevant experience or expertise that we can summarize for government leaders who will receive the signed petition.

King County and City of Seattle each declared a homelessness State of Emergency in 2015. However, the number of unsheltered homeless people continues to rise. The January 2018 point-in-time count identified 6,320 people sleeping outdoors in tents, vehicles, abandoned buildings or on the street throughout King County, including 4,488 in Seattle.

Health problems are rampant among people experiencing homelessness. The number of deaths increases each year. Half of homeless individuals in King County report one or more disabling conditions. King County has issued two public health advisories for outbreaks of skin infections among homeless people. Hepatitis A outbreaks have affected homeless populations in ten other U.S. states, but so far have spared Washington state. Last winter’s flu outbreak hit homeless people unusually hard. These and other health risks exist throughout the year, and they predictably worsen when harsher outdoor living conditions and flu season return in fall and winter.

Homelessness is an unequal burden for people of color, veterans, youth identifying as LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and people with histories of domestic violence, partner abuse and foster care.

We summarize the serious health risks of unsheltered homelessness, the associated inequities, and other information in a Justification document prepared for this Petition.

This public health disaster warrants a definitive emergency response. This PETITION calls upon the King County Board of Health and government leaders of King County, Seattle, and other cities in King County to:

  • recognize unsheltered homelessness in King County as a public health disaster;
  • expand King County and Seattle State of Emergency actions to include a definitive emergency response to the public health disaster of unsheltered homelessness;
  • create large-scale, temporary disaster shelter infrastructure with supportive and navigation functions sufficient to serve ALL unsheltered homeless people in King County, before Fall-Winter 2018;
  • include low-barrier sheltering options for people who have historic impediments to sheltering such as behavioral health and substance use issues;  
  • maintain that infrastructure and supportive functions until all homeless people in King County can be placed in stable and appropriate transitional or long-term housing; and
  • continue the separate but closely related initiatives to prevent homelessness, make homelessness brief and one-time, and expand regional options for affordable housing.

King County and cities can leverage their Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans for strategies to deploy emergency functions. A county-wide Incident Command System would ensure timely implementation, efficiency and coordination. Health care, social support and navigation resources can be delivered more efficiently at established shelter sites, than when people live in scattered and tenuous locations.

Disaster shelter is not a cure for homelessness. However, failure to provide shelter is medically indefensible and inhumane. Nobody should have to live outdoors and face a preventable death, disability or disease.

For more information, click the links below to see:

  • The full PETITION
  • The Petition JUSTIFICATION document
  • OP-ED: If it’s a homeless emergency, why don’t we provide shelter? By Bill Daniell, Chris Delecki, and Ben Danielson. Crosscut. May 21, 2018
  • Our FACEBOOK page

Endorsements:

  • Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR)

Credits: Some text is reproduced here with modifications from the op-ed in Crosscut. The banner photo is from City of Seattle Encampment Response Team; Site Journal: 4th Ave & Yesler underpass, for “cleanup” conducted March 1-2, 2018.

To: King County Board of Health; and government leaders of King County, Seattle, and other cities in King County
From: [Your Name]

I strongly support the PETITION to recognize unsheltered homelessness in King County as a public health disaster; and to create and maintain disaster shelter infrastructure with supportive and navigation services sufficient to serve all unsheltered homeless people in King County, before the seasonal return of inclement weather in Fall-Winter 2018. It is medically indefensible and inhumane that more than 6,300 people are living without safe and stable shelter in our communities, after more than two years since King County and City of Seattle declared a State of Emergency.

I am joining other signers of this PETITION to demand emergency action to address this public health disaster.