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 and RVs, to provide readers and subscribers a better picture of what homelessness looks like.

Now Project Homeless is going somewhere different, partnering with KNKX Public Radio to produce a new podcast called “Outsiders“.

The first episode launched Wednesday.

This multi-part podcast provides an up-close look at life and death among people who live outside in Washington’s capital, Olympia, a city of about 50,000 people.

Why Olympia? More than 60 percent of the people living outside in the United States live in California, Oregon and Washington, concentrated in those states’ large cities.

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.

But homelessness increasingly poses a challenge for relatively smaller communities, places with  limited resources to address the needs of so many homeless people.

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Olympia’s reckoning with homelessness was unusually dramatic. In a matter of weeks in late 2018, the number of tents in the city’s downtown swelled from around 30 to more than 300. Olympia’s leaders scrambled to build a system from scratch that could manage the crisis.

“The city’s never really been in the business of homeless services before,” said Meg Martin, a longtime advocate for Olympia’s homeless population. “The city, historically to this point, has always dealt with encampments as a public-safety-enforcement issue.”

Olympia provided KNKX and Project Homeless a chance to watch some of these issues unfold in real time, though the questions the podcast explores are regional ones: What causes homelessness? Why is it rising at a time of economic growth and prosperity on the West Coast? What actually works to fix it? And why do we feel what we feel about it?

Listeners will hear from people experiencing homelessness in Olympia and those trying to help them.

“Olympia will not take my hope,” said Jessica, one homeless person featured in the podcast.

Episode 1 of “Outsiders” tells the story of those frenetic few weeks in the winter of late 2018 and early 2019, when Olympia’s leaders scrambled to address the sudden rise in the number of unsheltered people living downtown.

Listen to the first episode here starting Wednesday, and subscribe to Outsiders at outsiderspodcast.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

Subscribe to the 'Outsiders' podcast