Reporters at Project Homeless get asked a lot of questions over and over again — so we figured that our wider audience of readers would want to know the answers, too.

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Since The Seattle Times launched Project Homeless, we have heard many questions asked, again and again, as readers try to understand the growing and complex homelessness crisis. We will try to answer some of the most common questions, and we welcome new ones. Send them to homeless@seattletimes.com.

Other frequently asked questions

Q: I heard there were homeless- shelter beds sitting empty. Is that true?

A: Not really. Emergency-shelter beds for single adults in King County were 90 percent full last year, according to the performance dashboard at All Home, King County’s homelessness-service-coordinating agency.

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

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There are some caveats with that data; it doesn’t include a handful of emergency shelters that don’t accept public money, such as the Union Gospel Mission. But those providers report being routinely full as well.

Use rates of shelter beds have vastly improved over the last year. Just last fall, data showed beds being used about 50 percent of the time, a figure that critics of King County and Seattle’s approach pointed to as an indication of failing policies.

But All Home officials said that low use rate did not match the reality inside emergency shelters. After several months of study, an All Home committee found that data-entry problems and late reporting were to blame for the anemic numbers, and held training sessions with shelter providers on using shared data-tracking tools, and worked on new procedures to better report their nightly counts.

As it currently stands, only a handful of shelters are not meeting an 85 percent use target agreed upon by Seattle, King County and United Way of King County.

Of the 58 emergency shelters for single adults on All Home’s dashboard, six are not meeting the target. Four are run by Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) or its companion nonprofit, Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL).

Seattle ceased funding for many of the SHARE/WHEEL shelter beds last year when the city rebid its contracts, and awarded the money to other providers.

It’s worth noting that the average length of stay in an emergency homeless shelter in King County was 59 days last year. That average is skewed by a small number of “long-term stayers;” in fact, more than half of the people who stayed in a shelter were there 30 days or less.

 

Do you have a question about homelessness? Email us at homeless@seattletimes.com.