February 16, 2022

Homelessness and Food Insecurity in Yakima County

Observations of Homelessness and Food Insecurity have been ongoing for years. For some, the visualization of these problems has brought little concern, while to others the lack of basic needs appears as utter despair. Add rising costs due to inflation and supply chain shortages brought on by COVID, the effects are becoming increasingly visible to everyone. Those struggling through the more extreme levels of poverty nevertheless feel isolated; few of us realize how bad their situation is.

At Sunrise Outreach Center, our hope is to bring the community together. There are people in need, and others who want to help; we’re interested in both. As a community, we’re better together, and everyone benefits.


Poverty is a lonely position. Many people in poverty do not realize how bad their situation is compared to others, and thus they do not often seek out help or opportunities. They often believe they are just as well off as anyone else. Those who visibly ask for help or make their problems known to others are the minority. Most will work hard, hoping for a better life for their children, though the hardships of poverty may not end with their generation.

While America is seen as the land of opportunity, where people lift themselves out of rags into riches with nothing but their bootstraps, the reality is not so simple. Children that grow up in poor families are more likely to stay poor. Although many will end up making more than their parents, most poor children will become slightly less poor adults.

44% of children under 6 years old live in low-income families. Growing up in a low-income family is a strong indicator for a child having similar issues in adulthood. This is known as inter-generational poverty.

But how poor is poor, really? The federal poverty level is around $26.5K a year for a family of four. But, according to research, $53K, twice that, is necessary to meet the basic needs of a family of four for a year. Unemployed or underemployed parents are a big cause for children growing up in low-income families.

The average cost of a modestly-priced meal in the US is $2.41, as outlined in this paper. A “modestly-priced” meal is one bought by someone that is low income (under 130% of poverty level), but still food secure. That’s just under $30 a day for a family of four, but over $10K a year, just for the cost of 3 meals a day for four people.

Statistics in Yakima

Yakima is the poorest city in Washington, according to a study that looked at cities with populations over 25,000 residents.

In 2017, 20% of children in Yakima (around 15,200) had food insecurity, higher than the state average.

In 2019, around 18,600 of households (22.5% of all households in Yakima) received SNAP benefits (AKA, food stamps). This is twice the state average in Washington, which is 11% of families. To qualify for SNAP in 2019, a family had to be at or below 130% of the poverty line. For a family of four that’s under $34,450. That’s still at least $18,550 under the recommended income to meet a family’s basic needs. In Washington State, 79% of food stamp users are below the poverty line, and 35% are even below 50% the poverty line.

In 2021, SNAP benefits in Washington were increased to include anyone at or below 200% of the poverty line. For a family of four, that’s under $53,000 a year.

According to another 2019 study, 31,070 people in Yakima County are food insecure, and the food insecurity rate is at 12.4%.
While Washington is below the US average for poverty, Yakima is above the US average. 20.4% of Yakima City residents are in poverty. In Yakima County, the cities with the highest poverty rates are Buena (44.9%), Wapato (33.0%), Union Gap, Toppenish, and Granger (all at around 29%). The cities with the lowest poverty rates are Summitview (5.8%), Gleed (6.8%), Selah (9.3%), and Terrace Heights (10.6%). Many of these cities have very small populations, under 1,000.

In 2021, the Point in Time Survey estimated that there were at least 663 individuals without homes in Yakima, and at least 553 households without homes. The difference between individuals and households without homes suggests that many of these individuals are alone in their “households” and do not have families to support or to support them.

In 2020, family homelessness increased by 20% in Yakima, which was one of the largest such increases nationwide. Other homelessness increased 6.2% at the same time. Nationwide, homelessness increased by 2% in 2020.

Yakima is clearly in a unique position compared to elsewhere in Yakima. Services like food banks and clothing banks are even more essential here. With a poorer than average population, more people will need food and other services for free in order to spend the rest of their money on rent and other necessities.

Our Position

Here at Sunrise Outreach, we help those without a house or apartment by distributing basic needs at our Yakima drop-in center. We provide small clothing items as needed such as hats, gloves, underwear, and coats.

In order to help our community, we use case management to track services and establish goals and objectives to support efforts to acquire ID, medical and treatment services, and find housing solutions.

To further help people break out of homelessness, we often refer our clients to camp hope, which leads to ongoing case management, which discovers each barrier an individual has between them and stable housing.

Breaking the Poverty Cycle

Research shows that early childhood programs including food assistance can make a child more likely to finish high school, and it will even affect the future of the next generation after that child. It is possible to break the cycle of poverty, but it requires help from the community and attention to providing for basic needs, rather than just the personal determination and efforts of the disadvantaged.

That’s why we offer backpack programs, which provide elementary school children meals for when they don’t have a stable source of food outside of school meals. We also run six weekly food banks in Yakima County.

The assistance, monetary and personal, of our gracious community members is invaluable. But beyond that, involvement from the larger city government including funding, and programs are necessary to make a substantial difference. It is proven that large-scale assistance from government programs such as SNAP can create the biggest dents in our community’s persistent problems. The state’s aid and cooperation can also be a make-or-break factor in the success of non-profit organizations such as Sunrise Outreach Center.

The problems of poverty and homelessness in our community may seem insurmountable, but we can chip away at them one meal at a time, one stable home at a time, and one helping hand at a time. If you are not a person in need, please consider what you can do to help your community. If you are in need, consider asking for help. We at Sunrise Outreach Center are here to offer help, but we can’t do it alone.

Thank You.


Georgia Center for Opportunity – Intergenerational Poverty Study

National Center for Children in Poverty – “Childhood and Intergenerational Poverty: The Long-Term Consequences of Growing Up Poor

National Center for Children in Poverty – “Basic Facts About Low-income Children, 2008: Children Under Age 6

Chronic Poverty – “Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

New York Times – “Social Welfare Can Break the Intergenerational Cycle of Poverty

CNN – “Historic increase in food stamp benefits starts in October

Hunger in Washington – “Food Insecurity in Yakima County”

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – “A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – “Basic Food Program

Welfare Info – “20.4% Poverty Rate in Yakima, Washington

The Center Square – Washington – “Yakima ranks the poorest of Washington cities, study finds

Washington State Wire – “Homelessness rises 6.2% in Washington State

Urban Institute – Does SNAP Cover the Cost of a Meal in Your County?

Benefits.gov – Washington Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Feeding America –  Food Insecurity in Yakima County Before COVID-19