Conversations for Change: Preventing Homelessness

By United Way of King County, on June 6, 2024 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Fighting Homelessness, News

This blog post was written by Kayla Dunn, United Way of King County editorial associate.

This year, King County tallied more than 16,000 people facing homelessness on our streets; that’s almost the same number of people who would attend a sold-out Kraken game in Climate Pledge Arena.

It is the largest number of unhoused people ever recorded in King County’s history.

Moreover, that 16,000-person tally is likely an undercount.

The tally, a federally sponsored Point-In-Time count, or PIT—is conducted biennially when a crew of government employees and volunteers take to the streets quite literally to count every homeless person they see. To include an individual in the tally, however, that individual must agree first to be surveyed. Anyone not surveyed is excluded from the PIT count.

This year’s PIT count marks a 23% increase in homelessness from 2022. Still, the reality is likely far more jarring, considering those excluded from the count—especially for a region with such staggering, contrasting wealth.

At United Way, we believe the best option for ending homelessness is to prevent it in the first place. Last week, our Change Makers affinity group hosted Conversations for Change, an open discussion about King County’s housing ecosystem, its barriers to entry, and how we can work to prevent homelessness.

“The homelessness system is the emergency room, and prevention work is the primary care doctor,” said Shkëlqim Kelmendi, founder/executive director of Housing Connector and a United Way of King County board member.

Shkëlqim Kelmendi, founder/executive director of Housing Connector (left) and United Way of King County president and CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

“Our goal is to invest more—focus more—on connecting folks to the primary care doctor, so they never have to go to the emergency room because they had, you know, broken foot, or they had whatever it may be that has now been untreated and led to the point of crisis.”

Gordon McHenry, Jr., CEO and president of United Way of King County, led the conversation with Kelmendi, fielded questions from audience members, and discussed the tax-payer cost of managing homelessness.

“Prevention is not just the right humanitarian approach, it’s the right fiscal approach,” Kelmendi continued.

Kelmendi and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees following the Kosovo War. His experience growing up in a society torn by war and navigating a new country fuels his personal and professional commitment to serving his community.

In 2020, Housing Connector was recognized as a Fast Company World Changing Idea, and Shkëlqim was selected as a Puget Sound Business Journal Innovator of the Year.

“Prevention is not just the right humanitarian approach, it’s the right fiscal approach,”

Shkëlqim Kelmendi, founder/executive director of Housing Connector

Imagine vying to secure a lease while already homeless: Maybe you don’t have the technology to access online listings, the credit score to beat out your competition, or even a place to get ready before meeting a landlord for a tour. Plus, most applications require a non-refundable fee.

Gordon and Kelmendi also discussed easy, immediate steps to prevent homelessness, like paying rent in installments instead of one lump sum.

“Most of us get paid in two paychecks,” Kelmendi said, “but we find that families basic put their entire first paycheck to rent, and then they’re struggling to put food on the table.”


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