Homelessness on the West Coast is rising to crisis levels at a time of historic economic growth and prosperity. Why?

KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless spent one year in a city that’s grappling with homelessness. What’s it like to live outside for months on end? What’s it like when tents come to your neighborhood? What new solutions can city leaders find?

Listen to “Outsiders” below, or subscribe on your favorite podcast app. New episodes drop every Wednesday. Learn more about the podcast at knkx.org. (See full episode descriptions below.)

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Colin DeForrest, the City of Olympia’s Homeless Response Coordinator walks past a baby crib at a homeless encampment under the 4th Avenue Olympia Yashiro Friendship Bridge, after police posted that the area would be swept, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Olympia. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
Colin DeForrest, the City of Olympia’s Homeless Response Coordinator walks past a baby crib at a homeless encampment under the 4th Avenue Olympia Yashiro Friendship Bridge, after police posted that the area would be swept, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Olympia. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Episode Descriptions

Sam Miller struggled with substance abuse and homelessness early in life. With continued support from his friends and family, he’s taken charge of his own recovery and hopes to pass on hard lessons to his two sons . (Ramon Dompor / The Seattle Times)

March 18| Outsiders Episode 7: “It’s the Water”

Does something about Olympia attract desperate people from all over? We examine the “magnet theory” of homelessness.

March 11| Outsiders Episode: “Inside ‘Outsiders'”

The Outsiders team holds a live event to explain how we made the series and what we learned. We answer questions from listeners: Are some people homeless by choice? After a year of reporting, do we feel society is any closer to solving homelessness?

March 4| Outsiders Episode 6: “The Bridge”

Homelessness divides Olympia and forces people to re-examine their politics. Emotions converge on an encampment under the Fourth Avenue Bridge.

Feb. 26 | Outsiders Episode 5: “Let’s Dance”

Sam Miller can help us understand how addiction and homelessness intersect because he’s lived them both. Plus he can make us laugh. He points to one reason he was able to overcome homelessness while many others get trapped.

Feb. 19 | Outsiders Episode 4: “Parallel Society”

Despite Olympia’s efforts, hundreds of people remain in unsanctioned camps around the city. They invent ways to stay alive and help each other survive.

Feb. 12 | Outsiders Episode 3: “All My Nightmares”

How did people end up on the streets of Olympia? Some can point to a catastrophe that bent their lives towards homelessness. For others, it almost seemed like life was moving in that direction from the very beginning.

Feb. 5 | Outsiders Episode 2: “What Happened Here”

The rise of homelessness in Olympia looked different depending on where you were standing. To many people, it swept over the city like a storm in a matter of weeks. But a few could see the pressure building for decades.

Jan. 29 | Outsiders Episode 1: “The Rain”

Homelessness has risen to crisis levels on the West Coast, despite unprecedented economic prosperity and growth. In late 2018, the crisis reached Washington State’s capital city, Olympia. The number of people living in encampments in the city’s downtown rose tenfold in a matter of weeks. Olympia’s leaders placed a bet: that their city could become the first to successfully manage rising unsheltered homelessness, an issue that has confounded and paralyzed much larger cities. Olympia’s unsheltered residents, meanwhile, have to decide whether to set aside years of distrust and go along with the city’s plans.

‘Outsiders’ was produced as a collaboration between KNKX and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless.
‘Outsiders’ was produced as a collaboration between KNKX and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless.

From KNKX

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↓ More from Project Homeless ↓

The Capitol dome, off in the distance, is viewed from a homeless encampment under the 4th Avenue Olympia Yashiro Friendship Bridge, just after police posted that the area would be swept, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Olympia. 212722

What does homelessness sound like? It's an odd question, considering conversations surrounding homelessness focus so much on what we see. The Seattle Times' Project Homeless has spent more than two years reporting on the causes and potential solutions to the region's homelessness crisis. In that time, our journalists have gone into encampments, tiny house villages...

Outreach workers are concerned that few people are able to retrieve medication, medical devices and IDs that go missing during encampment clean-ups.

As winds pickup and a fast moving storm approaches, camp host Russell Charbonneau, foreground, and Brandon Ault with the City of Olympia outreach, look over tent areas at the “mitigation site,” where the city is letting part of its homeless population stay, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Olympia. 212722

More than a year ago, homelessness exploded in Washington's state capital. So city officials embarked on a unique effort to get homeless people off the street.

Nickelsville Northlake tiny house village, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, in Seattle. In the background is the ship canal bridge. 208150

Residents at the Northlake tiny house village will be allowed to stay at least another three months at the site.

Garth Carroll, also known by the name Gizmo, is photographed at his RV in Seattle Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.   211556

The city of Seattle reached out to five dozen city employees after contamination was discovered at the site of a former homeless encampment. But 12 homeless people who lived there said they still haven't been officially told about the chemicals found at the location.

Sgt. Craig Nixon of the Boise Police Department’s Micro District Bike Patrol talks with a homeless man by the Boise River near the Eighth Street pedestrian bridge in Boise, Idaho on August 28, 2019. 211300

A year ago, a federal court said enforcing homeless camping bans was unconstitutional if a city doesn't have enough shelter beds. That upended policies and roiled politics across the West, where most of the nation's unsheltered homeless population lives.

Friday, October 18, 2019.   Community Police Officer Mike Cruzan hands out one of his services cards after telling the homeless occupants they need to move away from the Ballard Library.   211832

In June alone, Seattle police officers interacted with homeless people 142 times, mostly without outreach workers.  That was more interactions than Seattle's highly publicized Navigation Team

Seattle's underground, unregulated market finds itself targeted by the mayor.

Construction workers help guide the mother-in-law unit from the BLOCK project in Renton on Nov. 2, 2019. The Baedke family will start the process of finding the right match of a homeless person that will live in the unit in their backyard. “We’ve had helping hands along the way and we want to be helping hands for those who haven’t had that” says Baedke. The unit includes solar panels, a compostable toilet and utilizes rain water runoff for a green, environmentally friendly footprint. 211976

It's been two years since Seattleites started putting homeless people up in tiny houses in their backyards, and only nine homes have been built. Here's how it works.