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This page provides examples of local government homeless prevention efforts in Washington State, as well as regulations on activities commonly associated with homeless individuals.


Under the requirements of the Homelessness Housing and Assistance Act (Ch. 43.185C RCW) and in order to qualify for most funding sources, jurisdictions must complete a plan to address homelessness in their communities. Specifically, plans are required at the county level, which usually involves a cooperative plan between city and county governments together with local nonprofits, businesses and faith communities. The Act does allow cities to independently opt-in to the planning process and one city, Spokane, has done so.

The state Department of Commerce acts as the main coordinator of local and state-level homeless programs and resources through its Homeless Assistance and Preventions Programs and the Office of Homeless Youth. As well as providing funding, guidance, and technical assistance to local communities, Commerce also coordinates the annual, point-in-time count of homeless persons in Washington and tracks and reports progress on reducing homelessness in conjunction with local jurisdictions. MRSC highly recommends contacting them regarding any homeless prevention efforts.

In 2017, the Seattle Human Services Department released the results of a survey of 1,050 people living outside and in public shelters to further understand their situations and needs, and to better inform the city’s responses to homelessness. Survey responses confirmed that affordable housing availability, substance abuse and mental health issues are key contributors to addressing homelessness.  Additionally, the survey showed that homelessness affects Black/African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community disproportionately.

Prevention Planning Efforts

Since homelessness is a regional challenge with workable solutions that are often beyond the resources of most local governments, most planning efforts take place at the county level or higher. Typically city and county governments work with and through nonprofits, both to build and to operate facilities and related programs for the homeless. Money may come from a variety of sources including private, city, county, state, and federal funding. Building a regional network of partners and stakeholders is critical for a successful plan.

Below are a number of examples highlighting some partnership approaches. The Department of Commerce also has countywide plans.

  • Chelan-Douglas Counties Plan to End Homelessness – After developing the local plan, participating jurisdictions signed an interlocal agreement, naming the City of Wenatchee as the implementing agency for the Chelan-Douglas County Program. A Homeless Housing Task Force, made up of local agency representatives, meets periodically to update priorities for homeless services/programs and reviews progress made on achieving objectives and activities identified in the plan.
  • King County All Home – This collaborative efforts brings together 39 cities, over 300 community partners, and the King County government to support a single goal of making occurrences of homelessness rare and brief in King County. The committee’s efforts are codified in the All Home initiative and their governance structure involves a complex network of relationships and agreements to ensure implementation and tracking.

MRSC and the Association of Washington Cities have a Homelessness & Housing Toolkit for Cities that provides real-world examples of tools and actions Washington cities have used in responding to the issues of homelessness and affordable housing, including information on housing levies, tenant protections, tax exemptions, regional coalitions, emergency rental assistance, and more.

Homeless Housing

There are many different types and forms of housing that can provide shelter for homeless individuals. Our Temporary Sheltering Options and Amenities for Unsheltered People webpage is a guide to temporary shelter options and amenities for people experiencing homelessness.

There are also a number of housing types that are usually geared specifically toward homeless populations. 

  • Emergency Housing: Temporary housing for individuals and families for periods not longer than somewhere between 60–90 days, though stays can also last only a day or so. These may or may not include additional supportive services.
  • Transitional Housing: Temporary housing for individuals and families for periods up to two years, which may also include job and/or self-sufficiency training and other supportive services to help people transition to independent living.
  • Supportive Housing: A form of permanent housing that is geared toward chronically homeless individuals (as well as others) who need continuous support to help maintain housing and access to community services.

For a full description of temporary shelter options for homeless individuals and families, please visit our Temporary Sheltering Options and Amenities for Unsheltered People webpage.

Codes Defining and Regulating Housing for the Homeless

Zoning and regulation on these types of housing differs between jurisdictions and may or may not include location limitations, development standards, and operation restrictions.

  • Chelan Municipal Code Ch. 17.13 – Limits the size of emergency and transitional housing facilities depending on the zone. Does not allow them in downtown zones. Also requires conditional use permits for use of recreational vehicles and park models for these housing facilities.
  • Sultan Municipal Code Ch. 16.44 – Sets a limitation on how close such facilities can be to each other. Also requires facilities to maintain the “general character” of a surrounding neighborhood.
  • Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 18.31.160 – Limits supportive housing facilities in residential zones to higher density areas and requires a minimum separation of five miles between facilities. Also requires a management plan to be submitted to the planning director.

Job Descriptions Related to Programs Serving the Homeless

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: July 14, 2021