Almost two-thirds of the people who live outside in America live on the West Coast. That number is rising.

In Seattle and King County — which together have the third-highest homeless population in the country — homelessness makes the headlines almost daily.

The constant debate about how to address homelessness can make it harder to parse out bigger questions — such as how, in a time of national and regional prosperity, did this rise in homelessness happen? Why do some people get stuck in the cycle of homelessness?

These are major issues in large cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland, but increasingly, they are stumping leaders in suburbs and less-populated cities too.

The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless is funded by BECU, The Bernier McCaw Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over Project Homeless content.

That’s why The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless and NPR member station KNKX decided to team up — and leave town.

We’ve spent the last year in a much smaller city than Seattle, where nonetheless there’s been a huge homeless crisis: Washington’s capital, Olympia.

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In 2018, after downtown Olympia filled up with hundreds of homeless campers, city leaders decided their old ways of addressing homelessness would no longer work.

So they tried something new: They gave homeless people a legal place in downtown to pitch their tents.

We followed the city’s effort to turn a shoestring budget into some kind of safety net for hundreds of people living in the state capital.

We also followed the lives of the people living outside in Olympia, hearing their stories and trying to understand what they can tell us about why people end up on the street, and why some struggle so long to get out of homelessness.

We believe Olympia’s experience and the lives of the people camping there could teach us something about Seattle, and about homelessness across the West Coast.

“Outsiders,” a new podcast from The Seattle Times and KNKX, will launch on Jan. 29. You can listen to the trailer here:

“Outsiders” is hosted by KNKX reporter Will James, and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless team: editor Vianna Davila and reporters Sydney Brownstone and Scott Greenstone. The show was produced by Bethany Denton, and editing help was provided by Erin Hennessey, KNKX community outreach manager, and Anna Sussman, senior producer with Snap Judgement from WNYC Studios. “Outsiders” was made with support from Studiotobe Seattle.

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