History

A Look Back: The History of Homelessness in Seattle 

Overall, homelessness is decreasing in the United States. In recent years there have been significant strides in the ways communities respond to homelessness. This, in turn, is leading to a stronger nationwide effort to end homelessness in America as a whole. One of the reasons for this decline in homeless individuals and families is due to the increase of Federal funding and the gradual recovery from the economic Recession in 2008. However, despite this progress, the improvement does not seem to be penetrating the lower-income populations, meaning the population pool of those who are at risk of homelessness, is still very high.

While homelessness is a huge problem now, we can also see similar patterns throughout history. Like most of the United States, the economic downturn of the Great Depression left many workers unemployed in Seattle and surrounding areas. In the Fall and Winter of 1931 and 1932, a small group of around 20 unemployed workers led by an unemployed lumberjack named Jesse Jackson, started building shacks a few blocks south of Pioneer Square in Seattle in order to provide shelter for themselves since they were unable to afford homes. These shantytowns were nicknamed “Hoovervilles” which was the sarcastic namesake of President Herbert Hoover, the President in office when the Great Depression began.

Multiple shanties were built in this area and after ignoring notices from the Seattle Health Department telling them to vacate, the Seattle Police eventually took it upon themselves to burn down the shacks. Instead of letting this discourage the settlers, the squatters rebuilt, burrowing into the ground with tin and steel roofs until the city finally allowed them to stay under the condition that they adhere to a specific set of rules.

People began to call Jesse Jackson the Mayor of Hooverville as he was the most public resident and worked as the primary link between Hooverville and the city. Jesse Jackson stated:

“I am just a simple person, living among simple people, whose status in life is the same as theirs, trying to do the best I know how to administer in my poor way to their wants. The men often seek my advice and bring their troubles to me. I advise them the best I can on many questions. I am often able to prevent many little rows that might develop into big ones.”

By 1934, there were 632 men and seven women living in the 479 shanties. Hoovervilles remained in use until the end of the Great Depression in 1939. Over the years, homelessness gradually subsided as the city’s efforts towards helping the homeless community increased.

In 1990, a new effort to end homelessness was developed through Tent City 1, which was started by Seattle Housing and Resource Effort or (SHARE) at Goodwill Games. This was located on mudflats just south of the Kingdome in Seattle. In 1998, Tent City 2 was started in Beacon Hill thanks to the collaborative effort of SHARE and the Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League or   (WHEEL), which was founded in 1993.

Then on April 1st of 2000, Tent City 3 was started by SHARE/WHEEL on private land at MLK Way and S Charleston Street in downtown Seattle.  This success led to the beginning of Tent City 4 in 2004, which is located on the eastside of Seattle. As of 2010, SHARE/WHEEL self-manages 15 indoor shelters, three SHARE 2 Housing-for-Work locations, two tent cities, and a Storage Locker program.

Demographics

Child Homelessness Infographic

Throughout Seattle’s history, homelessness statistics have reached soaring highs and relative lows. The problem has never fully been alleviated despite some best efforts. The number of children without a home is in the tens of thousands, just in our area.

One out of three foster care students become homeless once they turn 18. About 22% of youth who end up homeless are more likely to drop out of high school, have problems with drugs and alcohol, experience mental health problems and attempt suicide, become young parents, and become victims of a crime.

ONC14-graphic-800

On January 24, 2014, King County went out from 2 am to 5 am to count how many homeless people were living on the street.s; these are their findings.

Tent City: A New Movement to End Homelessness in Seattle

In 1990, a new effort to end homelessness was developed through Tent City 1, which was started by Seattle Housing and Resource Effort or (SHARE) at Goodwill Games. This was located on mudflats just south of the Kingdome in Seattle. In 1998, Tent City 2 was started in Beacon Hill thanks to the collaborative effort of SHARE and the Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League or   (WHEEL), which was founded in 1993.

Then on April 1st of 2000, Tent City 3 was started by SHARE/WHEEL on private land at MLK Way and S Charleston Street in downtown Seattle.  This success led to the beginning of Tent City 4 in 2004, which is located on the eastside of Seattle. As of 2010, SHARE/WHEEL self-manages 15 indoor shelters, three SHARE 2 Housing-for-Work locations, two tent cities, and a Storage Locker program.

tent-city-homeless

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