We have a homelessness crisis in Jefferson County

Karen Gose Clemens Bayside Housing & Services
Posted 4/17/24

We have a homelessness crisis in Jefferson County. Statistics tell part of the tale:

Our poverty rate is 13.8% according to CensusReporter.org

We have the highest percentage (63.7%) of …

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We have a homelessness crisis in Jefferson County


We have a homelessness crisis in Jefferson County. Statistics tell part of the tale:

Our poverty rate is 13.8% according to CensusReporter.org

We have the highest percentage (63.7%) of single mother families living in poverty of any Washington State County.

Twenty percent of our children under 18 live in poverty.

Jefferson County’s 2023 Point in Time count, an unduplicated count of the people who are experiencing homelessness, reached 126; however, counts from the past decade, coupled with the evidence of our eyes, indicate it’s easily more than twice that.

If you are experiencing homelessness in Jefferson County and trying to get into rental housing, you face a 0-1% rental vacancy rate; you must also come up with first-and-last-plus-a-deposit when it’s time to sign the lease.

You already know or have helped someone who’s experiencing homelessness: a colleague, an employee, a friend, or a relative. And maybe, because you’re a compassionate person, you’ve thought “That could be me.”

You’re right. It could be you. Let’s imagine it IS you.

Let’s say you’ve been unhoused for less than a year, probably because of a major life change or catastrophic event—job loss, a health condition, divorce, domestic abuse, a substance use disorder or personal or family crisis. The term for this is transitional homelessness. If you are LGBTQIA+, you may be coping with family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If you are younger, you may not be aware of, eligible for, or applying for services. You are staying with friends, living out of your car, or sleeping outside.

Or imagine you’re enduring episodic homelessness—at least three periods of homelessness within the last 12 months. You’re most likely younger and trying to manage a disabling condition such as substance use disorder and other mental or physical health conditions. You may have a seasonal or minimum wage job. A shower before or after work? Depends on finding a free shower. You can keep your clothes clean, IF you have a way of doing laundry. And where will you get your next hot meal? Homelessness puts you in constant problem-solving mode.

If you are chronically homelessness, you’ve been without safe and stable housing for more than a year and living in poverty. You’re probably older and may be suffering the loss of a wage-earning spouse or dealing with debilitating conditions or disabilities. You live on the street, in parks, or out of your car.

Bayside Housing & Services has 134 people on its waiting list. They are babies, children, youth, and adults; some of them are seniors and veterans.

Imagine being on this waiting list. You are homeless, you have applied for housing, and you don’t know how long you’ll have to wait for help. Your problems are overlooked or going unaddressed, and no one has your back. Stressed 24/7, your hopes steadily diminish. You are also feeling the stigma of homelessness.

People experiencing homelessness need a safe place to live, and mentors who can empower the search for a better life and stable housing. Homelessness is an intractable problem, but not an insoluble one.


How can you help?

First, challenge preconceived ideas about who is homeless and why, and do it whenever you have the chance. Homelessness can happen to any one of us.

Second, learn about the agencies and nonprofit organizations that are working to reduce homelessness and alleviate its underlying conditions. They include Community Build; Discovery Behavioral Healthcare; Dove House Advocacy Services; Housing Solutions Network; and OlyCAP.

They also include Bayside Housing & Services, which provides transitional housing and trauma-informed care to its Jefferson County program participants, and is creating more units of housing so it can help more people out of homelessness.

Third, if you can give back, know that any one of the organizations listed above will gratefully accept your volunteer services, your financial support, and/or an invitation to speak at your service club meeting. You may also contribute to Jefferson Community Foundation via Jefferson Gives, an annual United Good Neighbors fund drive for the nonprofits that form our county’s safety net.

Karen Gose Clemens is Director of Development, Bayside Housing & Services