Courtesy of Pierce County

More than half of Washington's 39 counties have a special sales tax funding mental health and substance abuse programs. 

Among the state's urban counties, Pierce County is the exception. Leaders there have resisted enacting tax the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for years. 

But with homelessness and addiction on the rise, some county leaders are looking to change that.


Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Thursday unveiled what he called a more "balanced" approach to managing the city's unauthorized homeless encampments, entering a debate that has simmered for weeks.

Murray said at a news conference that city workers would tolerate encampments in some public spaces -- but not parks, sidewalks, or school grounds. 

Will James / knkx

Seattle lawmakers are stepping back to revise a law that would effectively allow people without homes to camp in some public spaces.

Since the City Council took up the proposal Sept. 6, a growing number of residents have expressed fear it would make tents fixed features of parks and sidewalks.

Courtesy of the New Hope Resource Center

Operators of Puyallup's only drop-in center serving homeless people say proposed security regulations could force them to shut down, following months of tension with neighbors.

Some residents say homeless people seeking help at the New Hope Resource Center have brought drugs and crime to downtown Puyallup. 

In September, city officials proposed a list of security requirements they may impose as a condition of the center's 2017 license. 

Monica Spain / knkx

Legislation before the Seattle City Council has some people worried that city parks could turn into campgrounds for people without permanent housing. Councilmembers have received thousands of emails expressing concern that homeless encampments and neighborhood recreation don’t mix.

Americans are seeing more homeless camps, especially on the West Coast. A number of cities there have declared emergencies over the problem, and as they struggle to find solutions, an angry debate has broken out about how much tolerance should be shown to illegal camps that crop up in public spaces.


Seattle leaders unveiled a package of reports Sept. 8 filled with recommendations on how to solve the city's homelessness crisis. 


The Seattle City Council is weighing new rights for homeless people living in camps along highways or deep in wooded parks.

On Tuesday, four council members introduced a law that would make it harder for city workers to disband the illegal clusters of tents and makeshift shelters that have grown as the region's homeless population has swelled.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Seattle has a new tool in its campaign to fight homelessness. The city has unveiled a mobile health care clinic that aims to meet people where they are and keep them from falling through any cracks in the system.   

Holding the coffee she received at Los Angeles's Downtown Women's Center, Sylvia Welker steers her electric wheelchair toward the curb. It's at this spot every day that she feeds the pigeons of LA's Skid Row.

"The birds are maimed and deformed and beat and dying and hurting," Welker says. "I'm scared for the birds, but for me, I learned not to be afraid. It doesn't do any good. Fear isn't going to change anything."

By taking care of the birds, the 71-year-old Welker keeps her mind off the dangers she and other homeless women face here.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Amid Seattle’s growing numbers of homeless people, there’s a group that can sometimes be overlooked – senior citizens. A volunteer for the nonprofit group Mary’s Place has created a resource book to help that population find information on just about anything they might need. 


Online wishlists circulate for weddings or the holidays. The technology makes it easy for everyone — tell your friends what you want and they know what to buy. Now there’s an app that helps homeless people ask for exactly what they need.

You probably have had the feeling — you want to help, but you aren’t sure of the best way.

When Caitlin Cheney was living at a campground in Washington state with her mother and younger sister, she would do her homework by the light of the portable toilets, sitting on the concrete.

She maintained nearly straight A's even though she had to hitchhike to school, making it there an average of three days a week. "I really liked doing homework," says Cheney, 22, who is now an undergraduate zoology student at Washington State University. "It kept my mind off reality a little bit."

Ashley Gross / KPLU

People living in their recreational vehicles and cars at a temporary parking zone set up by the city of Seattle in the Interbay neighborhood will soon have to move. The city plans to close that site because construction is set to start next door.

The city will set up another so-called "safe zone" in SoDo that will accommodate fewer vehicles, and that means some people will soon have to go back to parking on the street and moving every 72 hours. 

Paula Wissel / KPLU

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said the county needs to pass a special sales tax increase to pay for mental health services and that a lack of treatment options for people with mental health problems is contributing to rising homelessness. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

As Seattle grapples with a growing homeless population, some inventors have come up with a novel solution – sleeping pods. 

SounderBruce / Flickr

Right now, it’s illegal to live in your vehicle on a city street in Tacoma for more than 24 hours. But the Tacoma City Council will weigh a measure to extend that to seven days.

The change comes in the wake of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The judges said a similar ordinance in Los Angeles that prohibited people from using a vehicle as living quarters was unconstitutionally vague. So in response to that decision, Tacoma city staff crafted a more precise definition of what it means to inhabit a vehicle, for example, sleeping in it or setting up bedding. And the city proposes allowing people a week to use a vehicle as shelter before it would be a violation.

Elvis Summers is not part of any nonprofit or government agency. He's just a 38-year-old guy with a Mohawk and tattooed arms who started a GoFundMe campaign last spring so he could build tiny houses for homeless people to live in. He got the idea after befriending a homeless woman in his neighborhood.

"It just got to me, you know, I'm just like, you know, everybody in this neighborhood knows you, they like you," he says. "Why does nobody give a crap that you're sleeping in the dirt? Literally."

Alex Wolfe

Homelessness is definitely on the minds of a lot of us in the Northwest right now and its seems like there is some real urgency in trying to find the best ways to help. One group of architecture students from Washington State University are taking it further than most. Their latest class project is to design a transitional house that would sit in somebody's backyard and provide shelter for a homeless person.

Courtesy of the city of Seattle

Massive amounts of human waste and trash, as well as dirty needles litter the green belt and dirt lots under and around a stretch of  I-5 known as The Jungle. These findings are laid out in a 24-page report that was put together in response to a shooting that killed two people and wounded three last month.

Most of the land, which covers 150 acres between South Dearborn and South Lucille Streets, is owned by the state. At a presentation of the report to Seattle City Council, Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said the situation under I-5 is a clear threat to public health.

Washington lawmakers plan to tap the state’s rainy day fund to pay for last summer’s devastating wildfires. But legislative Democrats said several other crises also deserve immediate funding.

Dr. Seth Ammerman listens intently to his new, 21-year-old patient. Ernesto, who does not want his last name disclosed, is homeless. He is earning a high school degree and working part time, but at night, he and his brother share a tent that they set up on the streets of San Jose, Calif. The daily stress of being homeless is wearing Ernesto out, and making him light up too many cigarettes.

"I just want to cut down on my smoking," says Ernesto, in a tentative, soft voice. "I've been on the streets all the time, you know? I just want to make sure I'm OK."

In 2005, Washington state set a goal: Cut homelessness statewide by 50 percent by 2015. Ten years later the results are in and they’re far short of the target. Homelessness was reduced by only 22.5 percent statewide.

Elaine Thompson / AP

In the wake of last week’s shooting in Seattle that killed two people and injured three, officials from state and local agencies are trying to gain a better understanding of where the crime happened.

Two of the three brothers accused in last week’s fatal shooting at a Seattle homeless encampment have juvenile records. But neither qualified for supervised parole after they were released from juvenile lock-up.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News

There are some people who see a problem and find a solution. That’s true of one student at Seattle Pacific University who transformed her feelings about what she was observing into action. Now, her school is all set to become the first private college in Washington state to feed the homeless by recovering leftover meals, rather than letting them go to the compost bin.

21-year-old Maya Swinehart says sometimes seeing people without shelter causes her to do things many other people don’t.


There are more than 35,000 public school students who are homeless in Washington state. That’s according to the state Office of Public Instruction.

More than 35,000 public school students in Washington were homeless last school year, according to new figures released Tuesday.

About 3.3 percent of Washington students are homeless.

More than two-thirds of those kids are in families that are doubled up with other families. The number of kids living in hotels and in shelters continues to rise, as well.

The state counted more than 1,600 kids living completely without shelter, up from 1,036 in 2011.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

There are now hard numbers to back up what Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a televised address earlier this week: Seattle and King County are struggling with a growing crisis of homelessness. 

Elaine Thompson / AP

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have signed declarations of emergency. But not for a natural disaster – what they are trying to address is the growing problem of homelessness.

In Seattle these days, it is hard to miss the growing number of tents. Each one is the temporary home for a person – or even a family – who is struggling.

The city of Seattle now spends more than $40 million to try to help people who are homeless, but Murray says it is not enough.