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Counting Homeless People in Seattle Case Study


Most people believe that urban areas offer good jobs with enormous allowances that will afford them comfortable lives. However, these people move to the city without realizing that job opportunities are not increasing at the same rate they are migrating into urban areas.

This results in a high a high number of unemployed people in urban areas. Consequently, housing becomes a nightmare and leads to street families (Steel 2012).

This research paper explores the possibilities of solving the problem of homeless and street families through counting them and presenting the best alternatives and suggestions on how this exercise should be done.


Seattle city has about 5,500 people living in poor conditions with an average of 4,200 living in shanties while 1,300 live in the streets. Many people continue to be turned away from the city due to inadequate space to accommodate them.

Researches conducted in 1993 and 1997 showed that there were 16,615 and 45,529 people looking for shelter in this city. This means there is an average increase of about 5,800 new cases of homeless people reported every year in this city (Hallway 2003).

This calls for the need to develop housing plans to accommodate people living in informal settlements and on the streets (Morgan 2010). Therefore, Mayor Paul Schell’s call to provide urgent housing solutions to street families was a wise decision to help this city in solving housing challenges.

However, these problems cannot be solved without knowing the exact number of men, women and children living on the streets. Therefore, the following approach is suitable in establishing this number.

Identifying Issues


First, it is necessary to understand that land is limited and fixed in supply. This means it cannot be increased or multiplied.

Therefore, the small land available must be used properly to ensure it has been maximized without being exploited (Hallway 2003). However, there are serious concerns at the rate at which the population of this city grows.

Population Growth

There is a very rapid increase in the general population and this means the street families are also multiplying. This city cannot accommodate this soaring, population if it does not plan its resources effectively.

The local authorities cannot regulate human population increase without involving all stakeholders (couples, healthcare institutions, churches and civil rights groups) in this section.


Secondly, the influxes of people from other regions pose serious threats to housing programs since they are not budgeted for in the initial plans.

Even though, the local authorities try to restrict admissions into this city some people find their way into the city and continue pilling pressure on the already crumbling housing units. This pushes to the streets those that cannot afford to pay for cheap houses.


The problem of street families can be solved by the local authorities in collaboration with well wishers. However, it is important to know the number of people living on the streets and their information presented in various ways (Hallway 2003).

The mayor’s pledge involved providing shelter to all homeless people living in this city. Therefore, head counting is the best solution to establish the number of people without proper houses. Six months are enough to collect information about these people without interfering with their ways of life (Morgan 2010).

Head counting is not a simple exercise especially in this case since it involves street families that are always on the run from authorities. The following ways are suitable to ensure a successful headcounts is conducted.

Use of Incentives

Most people living on the streets are very rebellious and will resist any attempt aimed at exposing their social lives. However, the use of incentives will encourage most of them to attend sessions where they will be counted.

These incentives may include free food, drinks and clothes that will lure them to attend any counting sessions. In addition, the incentives will encourage them to come out in the open and be counted without fear of facing criminal charges of being on the streets.

Public Awareness Campaigns

Some of the street families may not be aware of any programs aimed at helping them to afford hygienic houses. However, public campaigns will ensure all families understand the importance of all programs aimed at eliminating street families.

Most of these people believe that all measures regarding them are usually aimed at displacing them from the city (Morgan 2010).

However, this campaign will educate them on the need to resettle in planned regions where they can afford good houses. In addition, this forum will offer opportunities for the researchers to conduct head counts and register all those who attend these meetings.

Forceful Counting

This exercise will without doubt be met with hostility from the street families. This means the researchers must be ready to face all challenges posed by these people. This is a marginalized group that thinks the society has discriminated against them and forgotten that they exist (Hallway 2003).

There is no doubt that some of these people cannot be reached to be counted no matter the incentives or public campaigns conducted to educate them. Luckily, they call this city their home and thus they cannot run away to another city. They live and do all their activities within the boundaries of this location.

This means the authorities can use reasonable force to flush them from their hiding and count them by force.

Enactment of Laws

In addition, the local authority can use an underhand tactic in dealing with this issue. The enactment of laws that require all street families to register their members with local authorities will ensure they voluntarily but forcefully come out of their hiding.

These laws should force street families to turn up for regular roll calls to establish their number and obtain all necessary information about them like age, sex, family size and locations (Steel 2012). These register will establish a consistent figure that will be used to provide housing units to these families.

Advantages of the Alternatives

All the above alternatives have advantages and disadvantages depending on their application and the response obtained from the targeted population.

However, it is necessary to understand that most of the disadvantages cannot be avoided since human beings are prone to react violently when their territories are invaded. The following are some of the important aspects the above measures will provide.


It is necessary to encourage these people to volunteer and show up in registration centers to allow the local authorities to collect accurate information about them. People are usually deceived by incentives and this can work miracles and make these people to come out and register in the local authorities (Steel 2012).

They will provide factual information about their backgrounds. In addition, head counting will allow the researchers to record accurate information about the sex, number and health conditions of these people.

Cost Effective

Head counting will enable the researchers to obtain useful information from the respondents without spending a lot of money in the exercise. The costs involved will be minimal and regulated by the feedback obtained from the research.

It will be easy to monitor and trace the progress of the statistics obtained from the research center and budget for its requirements. Moreover, there will be less traveling and this means transport costs will be minimized.


Head count can neither be conducted by machines or samples. This means it involves direct observation between the researchers and the respondents. Therefore, the former must ensure they travel from one place to another looking for the street families to count them.

However, the use of incentives and laws governing the registration of these families will ensure they volunteer to turn up in registration centers.


Head counting is an effective way of obtaining data from respondents especially regarding numbers. Researchers will observe the number of people, count them and record their observations regarding their respondents. However, this method is adversely affected by the following reasons.


Head count is very risky due to the fact that researchers must be in contact or closer to their respondents. Some of these street families may be very hostile and even fight anyone who tries to interfere with their life (Steel 2012).

They are usually hostile to strangers who seem to want to know more about them or worse still those that plan to relocate them. They believe they belong to the streets and anyone trying to relocate them will be courting disaster.


The use of incentives may make these people to volunteer and offer false information about their families, age, names and locations. It is necessary to note that incentives play significant psychological roles and this may make some people to be more than willing to offer information about their street life (Morgan 2010).

In addition, most of these people do not have national identity cards; therefore, it becomes difficult to prove the credibility of their information regarding their age, names and places of birth.


Street families rarely live a sedentary life and this means it will be impossible to collect information from them. Most of these people are nomads and may be in different locations within a short time.

The six months within which this research should be conducted is a long period and the result may not reflect the actual happenings at the completion of the research.

Costs Involved

This city has registered an increase in expenses for the homeless over the years and it seems the figures continue to rise sharply despite efforts to curb this situation. Even though, the city spent about $ 3 billion in 1998 this figure doubled to about $ 7.8 in 1998 in providing services to the homeless.

These services include transitional houses, emergency shelter and food. More than 400 low income but permanent houses were constructed (Hallway 2003). It is evident that the budget requires volunteers and paid jobs to generate more money to fund additional projects.

However, it is necessary to begin with the paid jobs since the information obtained has not been proved to be correct. The results are provisional figures that may change as the research progresses.


Hallway, E. (2003). Mayor Schell’s Zero Homeless Family Strategy. Washington: University of Washington Press.

Morgan, T. D. (2010). Counting the Homeless: Unsheltered and Sheltered (Social Issues, Justice and Status). New York: Nova Science Publication.

Steel, D. (2012). A Gift of Hope: Helping the Homeless. New York: Delacorte Press.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Counting Homeless People in Seattle'. 3 July.

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