Seattle, USA


The Seattle metro area has it all: a thriving tech industry, globally recognized companies, and a severe homelessness crisis that has left countless individuals without a place to call home. Join us as we discover the impactful efforts being made by the City of Seattle and our local partners to combat this pressing issue and bring relief to those in need.

Photography and text:Tony Dočekal
Est. 8 minutes

“Wake up at 6. Leave by 6:30. By the time I get downtown, the “red door” (Salvation Army) is open at 7. I go there every day. Nothing else is open 7 days a week. Don’t go try and sleep at the public library. They won’t let you.”


The Seattle metro area has it all: a thriving tech industry, globally recognized companies, and a severe homelessness crisis that has left countless individuals without a place to call home. Join us as we discover the impactful efforts being made by the City of Seattle and our local partners to combat this pressing issue and bring relief to those in need.

I’m visiting a men’s shelter in a quiet residential area in Seattle. The small church doubles as a temporary winter shelter at night when around 20 field beds pop up and houseless guests identifying as male are welcome between 7 and 8. Lights out at 9. Sandwiches and hot drinks are served and I’m talking to Adrien*, one of the guests who likes coming here when it gets cold. He tells me he’s from San Francisco, but in his opinion, Seattle surpasses any other city when it comes to housing support services.

“Here you got Amazon, Google, Boeing, Starbucks, and Microsoft, five of the biggest companies in the US. This city is lightyears ahead of the whole country. In other places, they don’t care. You can just die out on the street. But here you can feel government funding coming from the top to the bottom. Go down to L.A. and see the people on Skid Row and tell me, do they put money into their homeless people? Oh no, this place is leading the way. And that’s why a lot of people come here, wherever they’re from, they never go back. They know a good thing when they got it. Seattle is number one.”

– Adrien

A critical situation.

Seattle, like many cities across the United States, is facing a severe homelessness crisis. According to the most recent point-in-time count, conducted in January 2021, there were over 11,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in King County, with over 4,000 sleeping unsheltered. Many of these individuals are left vulnerable to the elements during the winter months, putting their health and safety at risk. However, local regulations and initiatives are in place to protect and support them.

The City of Seattle first declared a State of Emergency for homelessness in 2015. Despite all efforts and significant spending, the emergency has only grown worse since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the unhoused population has increased, so have encampments and tents.* One of the regulations under the City of Seattle’s emergency declaration of homelessness is the creation of additional emergency shelter spaces during the winter months. Another is the enforcement of „sweeps“ of unauthorized homeless encampments.

This usually leads to displacement and loss of personal belongings, contributing to a feeling of instability and insecurity for those who are already in a vulnerable situation. Some experts criticize this approach as it’s seen as a band-aid solution, without addressing the root causes of homelessness, which are more complex than camping ban enforcement.

We spoke with Jimmy, program manager at the Salvation Army, “the red door”, in downtown Seattle. This location is open 7 days a week and operates as a hub that helps facilitate referrals for individuals who experience chronic homelessness and operates as a day and night shelter.

Unfortunately, sometimes, individuals miss out on a bed (mats on the floor) or don’t make the curfew. “So for those individuals who may be left out, these Shelterbags are a great opportunity for us. It brings me peace of mind knowing that we’re able to help somebody stay warm.” Jimmy knows from experience how important it is to feel understood by your community, and how vital second chances are.

“Some of these people are battling the same type of afflictions that I was when I was young and it feels good to be able to relate and help them out for some time. I wish I had that.”

– Jimmy, Salvation Army

Jimmy believes a lot of people care, but don’t know how to help.“Being more informed about the problems that are happening in your community can be a good way to start. Sometimes knowledge and information lead to a lot of individuals focusing their minds on one problem. And when we have lots of minds on one problem, we come up with better solutions. It’s crazy to think I used to be one of the people you see talking to themselves on the street, and now I’m the program manager here. So understanding that that individual is not a lost cause is extremely important. Sometimes we need to be informed about the individual’s trauma. That’s why we focus a lot on trauma-informed care here and understanding that that human-to-human connection is what we need. When we don’t feel as if we have a strong community around us, it can feel pointless at times. We don’t want to lose anybody in this community, and the only way that we can do that is if we just try to look at this problem together.”

The King County’s Coordinated Entry for All program aims to streamline and standardize the process of navigating homeless services, making it easier to access the available resources. But the program depends on the availability of affordable housing and support services, which are often in short supply, leading to long periods of time in emergency shelters or sleeping unsheltered.

Therefore our Shelterbags were well-received by our distribution partners when we delivered half of our Pacific NorthWest shipment of 750 to local Seattle organizations including Facing Homelessness, Angel Resource Connection, Union Gospel Mission, and Build a Bus Home. These organizations are committed to offering assistance, housing options, and support for those experiencing homelessness.

“If she had access to a Shelterbag,
she might still be alive today.

Penelope, Angel Resource Connection


For Penelope, founder of Angel Resource Connection (ARC), staying warm is personal. Her sister, Kim, passed away from hypothermia while sleeping on the streets after experiencing domestic violence and becoming homeless. Penelope says a Shelterbag could have prevented this. “And if she had the chance to connect with an organization like Angel Resource Connection on top of that resource, she might have found her way back into housing.”

Penelope expresses her hopes to distribute more Shelterbags each winter in the future, recognizing that while they may not solve all the problems related to homelessness, they can make a real difference. „It’s personal for me, every time I see these people, I see someone’s brother, sister, son, or daughter,“ she says.

Penelope personally drove a truck down to Portland and back to pick up the load of Shelterbags for her entire community. We joined ARC on two separate distributions, one in the center of Seattle in front of Pioneer Square Station and another in Everett, about an hour north of the city. On both days long lines of people showed up, but there was a different kind of atmosphere. In Seattle, there was a noticeable urgency for both Penelope’s team and the people in line.

Although thankful, most people did not linger and went off about their business. In Everett, we set up in front of a church and spent the whole day talking to people dropping by who had gotten wind of the free sleeping bags and Shelterbags.

Unsheltered people in the Pacific Northwest face a constant struggle to stay dry. When their sleeping bag or clothes become wet, it’s not just a minor inconvenience but a major problem as they lose their source of warmth and have to deal with the challenge of replacing their ruined gear. Carie Claxton, a board member of Angel Resource Connection, notices that a shortage of resources often constrains the organization.

Back at the men’s shelter, I run into Dave*. We met earlier that week when he had just landed a job as a waiter in a “swanky fish restaurant”. His first week went well and he’s studying the menu, expressing his surprise at the price of the steak. He is determined to get himself into an apartment sooner rather than later.

“Just because this place is giving me food and a bed, doesn’t mean it’s home. If you don’t show up for one or two nights, you lose your bed. Now with this job, I am one step closer to having that place of my own.”

– Dave

“I think you’re spearheading something that needs to happen over and over throughout the world. You cross oceans and borders to spread kindness. And that’s needed in our communities. If we feel a sense of connection, and people caring about us on the other side of the world, it makes us stronger. And as a world, we need to be united through kindness. A sense of love and connection is powerful. I think Sheltersuit rocks. A lot of systems are broken, but kindness is not.

– Penelope, ARC

* Carnegie Resource Center
* *
*Name changed for privacy

Newsletter abonnieren

Sie möchten keine Updates von Sheltersuit verpassen? Melden Sie sich jetzt für unseren Newsletter an!