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How much will homelessness rise? Grim study shows possible ‘impact of doing nothing,’ researchers say

Published on January 16, 2021

A few tents lining the walkway in Pioneer Square, Seattle during the rainy winter months.
A view of Pioneer Square, located near downtown Seattle. Image Credit: Gillfoto CCASA 4.0

A recession following the coronavirus pandemic could cause twice as much homelessness nationwide as the Great Recession did more than a decade ago, says a grim study released Tuesday by Economic Roundtable, an L.A. research group.

Using detailed data on unemployment and homelessness from L.A. County social services, authors of the study project that people at the “thin edge of the labor market” — restaurant employees, temporary workers, seasonal labor — are in particular danger of drifting into homelessness in the coming years as the economy recovers.

Daniel Flaming, the president of Economic Roundtable, said though the report uses L.A. data, the pandemic recession will likely have long-term effects in Seattle and other major cities.

“I would think it would be very harsh, because the tech sector in Seattle supports another sector of people who provide face-to-face services — your restaurants, your bars, your nail salons, your gyms,” Flaming said. “Those sectors have been devastated.”

By 2023, the number of people who’ve lost work and become homeless as a ripple effect of a pandemic-induced recession could tip over 600,000 beyond current numbers, doubling the last nationwide count, which was roughly 568,000 in January 2019.

Basing homelessness predictions on unemployment can be risky: One alarming prediction by a renowned homelessness researcher last July said homelessness could rise nationwide by 45% by the end of 2020, based on unemployment numbers. There’s no evidence that’s come to pass, although the annual homeless count that would normally take place at the end of this month has been disrupted — almost 40 percent of all jurisdictions in the U.S., including Seattle, are canceling or changing their homeless counts, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning data showing how the pandemic has affected homelessness might not be available until 2022.

Gregg Colburn, a University of Washington researcher and assistant professor of real estate in the College of Built Environments who has studied King County’s use of hotels to shelter homeless people after the pandemic hit, argued it doesn’t matter if the prediction is completely correct or just in the ballpark.

“If we don’t respond, we’re going to have a lot of homelessness,” Colburn said. “Let’s work hard from a policy standpoint to make sure that that bad outcome doesn’t happen — whatever that bad outcome is.”

Continue reading at the Seattle Times.

Originally written by Scott Greenstone for the Seattle Times.
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