Hunger and Homelessness in Seattle: An Empathy Crisis

Hunger and Homelessness in Seattle: An Empathy Crisis

By Brandy Ingram & Kevin O'Rourke

Brandy Ingram is a member of Pongo’s Marketing Committee. Kevin O’Rourke is a member of Pongo Poetry Project’s Board of Directors.

The signs of hunger and homelessness in Seattle seem to be everywhere. For example, it’s almost impossible to walk around downtown Seattle without seeing tents, cardboard signs asking for help, open drug use, and evidence of serious mental illness. A 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documented a 10% rise in Washington State’s homeless population since 2020; over 70% of that increase came from Seattle and King County alone. But there’s an additional crisis we face: an empathy crisis.

For Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week, Pongo Poetry Project invites you to see the people behind the circumstances.

Homelessness and food insecurity can be symptoms of systemic problems

How we understand and speak of homelessness can vilify and erase or validate those at the mercy of factors beyond their control—namely, economic growth and lack of affordable housing. Anyone can be homeless and hungry, even a former Olympian or a former NBA player.

There are approximately 1,802 homeless people under the age of 25 in Washington state alone, and those numbers are climbing, particularly among youths of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+. Because Pongo aims to address trauma through creative expression, we must acknowledge the fact that youths facing various degrees of homelessness (which includes couch surfing) are especially prone to being trafficked, exploited, and assaulted.

Everyone deserves the chance to rest, learn, and dream

In a given year, approximately one out of every thirty youths aged 13 to 17 and one out of every ten young adults aged 18 to 25 endures homelessness. Jayden, whose story YouthCare shared recently, was just one of them. After bouncing between foster families and homelessness, a restaurant closure rendered him out of work and, consequently, without a home. Unable to secure a job without a GED or high school diploma, he sought out YouthCare, which offers comprehensive support for unhoused youth. With their support, Jayden found stability and purpose and was able to pursue his next step: culinary school.

YouthCare addresses youth homelessness from various angles: shelter, education, engagement, safety, and workforce development. They currently need housewares like clean bedding and towels, unused pillows, suitcases, kitchenware, and batteries. See their wishlist and read other stories by formerly homeless youths.

Hunger and homelessness go hand in hand

In a shelter, getting necessary rest can be extremely difficult—doubly so with an empty stomach. It’s no wonder youths facing food insecurity are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and suicidal ideation. Local nonprofit FareStart aims to break the cycle of hunger and homelessness by providing nutritious food every day of the year and preparing those who have faced poverty, addiction, and former incarceration for careers in the food and service industry.

Other ways to help or get help

If you or someone you know is currently homeless and hungry or at risk of becoming homeless, visit The Doorway Project’s resource page for a map of food banks and meal programs, shelters and hygiene centers, mental health services, and employment and education opportunities.

If you want to help in other ways and don’t know where to start, consider signing up for one of The Doorway Project’s Engaging Homelessness Training sessions.

About Brandy

Brandyce (Brandy) Ingram is an educator, jazz-lover, and writer in Seattle. Her poems have been published by Wild Roof Journal, Willowdown Books, Beyond Queer Words, and others. Additionally, her creative nonfiction essays have appeared in The Bangalore Review, Sand Hills Literary Magazine, and The Austin Chronicle. She’s currently crafting a work of historical fiction regarding early 20th-century “lunatic” asylums.

About Kevin

Kevin O’Rourke lives in Seattle, where he works in communications and teaches writing. His first book, the essay collection As If Seen at an Angle, was published by Tinderbox Editions; he is currently working on several follow-up projects, including a book about surviving suicide. Other writing has appeared in the LA Review of BooksKenyon Review, and Think Global Health, among others. Learn more at

Follow @pongopoetry on Instagram