It shouldn’t happen this often, but it does.
Once again, a group of women who gather to honor homeless people who die outside or by violence will stand outside of the Seattle Municipal Court facing City Hall. The group, called the Women in Black, is dedicated to ensuring that those who are gone are not forgotten.
They will hold vigils for Estyl Hall Jr., found dead under Interstate 5 near South College Street and Dani Wyatt, a Real Change vendor who died en route to the hospital after collapsing on First Avenue and Marion Street.
The Women in Black use a different accounting method than the King County Medical Examiner’s Office to tabulate how many homeless people have died. For example, they don’t count people who die in tent cities, formerly a protest against an insufficient government response to homelessness that is now formally part of that response.
By either method, 2018 is so far the deadliest year for people experiencing homelessness since organizations and official recorders have collected this data. At the end of July, the Medical Examiner found 120 people presumed homeless who had died in King County. By that time in 2017, the office recorded 75 people who fit in that category. In December, they counted 144.
That number is likely an undercount. In a report that reexamined 2017 numbers, the Medical Examiner’s Office found 25 more people who had not been counted on the December 2017 tally. The July list, released in August, does not include Wyatt.
There could be a number of reasons that more people are dying on the streets than in previous years. For one, the homeless population is increasing. Volunteers that spanned the county in January 2018 found 12,112 people sleeping outside, in shelters or in transitional housing. That was up from the previous year (11,483). While that number is used for federal purposes and marketing materials, it belies the true scale of the crisis.
According to 2015 data from All Home King County, 23,253 people — nearly twice that which would be counted just three years later — touched the homeless services system in some way.
That year, the leadership of King County and the city of Seattle came together to declare a state of emergency around homelessness, ostensibly increasing governmental flexibility and opening the door to an influx of state and federal dollars to combat the crisis.
Although the homelessness services system is housing people in greater numbers than ever before, the efforts have not been sufficient to stem the tide of people who lose housing and possibly their lives. Until that is the case, groups like the Women in Black will continue standing for those who have fallen.
Those interested can join the Women in Black at their vigil at noon on Aug. 22, and at a dedication ceremony at noon on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Ballard Commons Park at Northwest 57th Avenue and 22nd Avenue Northwest.
Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard talks Home Shows, homelessness with Real Change vendor
Remembering Dani Wyatt
Homeless people seeking a way inside face hurdles and locked doors
Check out the full Aug. 22 - Aug. 28 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.