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Homeless in Seattle – The Pacific Coast’s boom has brought a new spate of homelessness

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Homeless in Seattle

By Jessica Lee.

SEATTLE – Natalie Gostynski and her boyfriend, Kyle Holmes, spend most days asking strangers for money.

Then, in a park surrounded by million-dollar homes, the couple returns to a canvas tent for sleep each night, keeping an eye out for places such as gas stations and restaurants where they can wash up along the way.

The couple’s situation here, in one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities, is not unique. As Seattle’s economy has soared with an influx of newcomers and global business, so, too, has the number of people unable to keep up with the subsequent growing costs of housing, stressing social and health services to the extreme.

From as far south as San Diego to Bellingham, Washington, in the north of the Pacific Coast, cities are facing the same issue with rising levels of homelessness, causing a mix of government and private agencies to mobilize into action. Crucial among the response: public health officials.

“The issues around homelessness are a challenge to the health system,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Not having a regular place to live often translates to not having a good source of care.”

In California, a hepatitis A outbreak has affected Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and San Diego – a popular tourist destination in a county where more than 5,600 people live outside or in vehicles, The Associated Press reports.

Encampments with trash, rats, needles and human waste pose health risks in cities ranging in size from Seattle to Oregon City, while officials consider if or to what extent they should intervene to clean up the sites. In Seattle, housing activists have pushed back against government-led “sweeps.”

Living without permanent housing often means going without proper hygiene, routine health screenings, vaccinations to fight disease and treatment for mental illnesses or substance abuse issues that can exacerbate the reasons someone became homeless in the first place.

Also, people without homes cannot properly heal after hospitalization, says Dr. Jeff Duchin, the Seattle and King County health officer for public health.

“This is a huge challenge for us right now,” Duchin says. “They don’t have anywhere to go, and the hospital is reluctant to put them back on the street.”


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