About two dozen journalists — writers, editors, photographers, anchors, video producers — gathered at KTCS 9’s building near the Seattle Center recently.
Crosscut Executive Editor Greg Hanscom called us together to prepare for #SeaHomeless, an annual day of news coverage focused on the causes of and solutions for homelessness. The idea started in San Francisco a few years back, and Seattle has participated the last two Junes.
The questions before this group: Did we want to do it again? And if so, what would it look like? But those questions necessitated other questions: Does news coverage change things for the better for homeless people? What are the causes of homelessness?
And suddenly, we’re having the same conversation the city is having: Are there metrics to show how much homelessness has grown? To what extent is mental illness a factor? To what extent is the cost of housing a factor?
Real Change has been answering a lot of these questions for 24 years. We’ve reported year-over-year how much unsheltered homelessness has grown: In 2011, the year I started at Real Change as a reporter, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness found 2,442 people outdoors during the annual One Night Count. In 2017, All Home’s Count Us In tallied 5,485. The number of unsheltered people has more than doubled in just six years, and there’s little sign that it will change this year.
As for the causes of homelessness, we know that a $100 increase in average rents leads to a 15 percent increase in homelessness, according to the Journal of Urban Affairs.
While those answers are helpful, it’s our job to continue asking questions that move us toward solutions: What does an inclusive, equitable city look like? How does growth and development contribute to housing instability? Can Seattle become a hub of growth and technology without excluding those living on the margins?
After 24 years, it might seem like Real Change is screaming into the void. Truthfully, it’s hard to know how to report the annual census of unsheltered people each year. The numbers won’t be out until later this spring, but I can already write the headline: “Record number of people are sleeping outdoors.”
But this work we do does make a difference, in large and small ways. A few years back we reported extensively about Seattle’s Utility Discount Program, which offers 50 percent discounts to low-income residents on their water and electricity bills. Our reporting found that the program was vastly underenrolled due to a confusing application process, a lack of marketing and all the other barriers low-income people face in our world. After reporting for some time, the city finally changed, and then-Mayor Ed Murray demanded that enrollment be doubled.
We couldn’t do this without your support. That reporting, which put money back into the pockets of low-income residents in Seattle, happened because of your support.
Fundraising events like GiveBIG coming on May 9 are your opportunity to help take these stories out into our community and put them in front of residents and public officials where they can make a difference.
The Seattle Foundation started GiveBIG to help promote organizations like ours and make it easy for you to support us. Your donation this year is matched by $50,000 from the Wyncote Foundation NW and helps our team continue to report stories you won’t read anywhere else.
But it does more than that: This year, in addition to reporting the news and supporting our vendors, we’re committed to elevating the work opportunities to help bring in more vendors and help vendors reach more people.
The community support we receive from GiveBIG will help get you the news you have come to expect from us and engage more people in meaningful work and community.
Early giving begins on April 26, and your donation will help us meet our goals this year.
Aaron Burkhalter is the editor. Have a story idea? He can be can reached at aaronb (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @aaronburkhalter
Wait, there's more. Check out the full April 25 - May 1 issue.