The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

By United Way of King County, on March 2, 2015 | In Fighting Homelessness

Ten years ago a group of individuals representing nonprofits, philanthropy, local government, the faith community, and the business community came together to discuss our community’s response to the growing homeless issue in King County.  Early on that group agreed that it wasn’t good enough to simply continue to manage the needs of people in our community experiencing homelessness.  The group agreed that we needed to take a profoundly different approach and commit to the vision of ending homelessness.  The group was in unanimous in agreeing that in a community like King County – with our vast financial and intellectual resources – it was simply not acceptable for families and individuals to not have a safe and stable place to call home.  That group developed and launched our 10-year plan to end homelessness.

United Way of King County was one of the organizations that was instrumental in bringing the community together to create the plan.  United Way helped facilitate many difficult conversations as we worked collectively to re-frame the approach and goals to how our community approached homelessness.

In May 2015 our 10-year plan will come to an end.  In the ten years since the plan was launched we’ve literally helped tens of thousands of individuals and families escape the hopelessness of being without a home.  We’ve created new programs, we’ve launched new partnerships, raised lots of money, and engaged an entire community in a conversation of how we approach the issue with creativity and compassion.

It’s no surprise that ending homelessness is incredibly complex.  Despite our community’s commitment to the vision of a future without homelessness the problem has gotten worse.  We’ve struggled with forces over which we have no control.  We’ve also struggled to change our approaches and realign funding to support our vision.

We knew from the beginning that ending homelessness would be complex. There’s a lack of affordable housing. People continue to be discharged into homelessness from foster care and the criminal justice system. Despite these complexities, our community does have the ability to take on these system-wide issues.

When we reflect on United Way’s contribution to this effort over the last 10 years, two things rise to the top:

Win:  2,241 units of supportive housing were built for people struggling with chronic homelessness.  With these units we were able to house over 3,000 of our community’s most vulnerable individuals and save our community money while doing so.

Our role in the win:  Our $20M Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness was key to leveraging the dollars for these units and provides the wraparound services necessary for this vulnerable community.  The Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness helped leverage over $200M in capital, operating, and service dollars.

Miss:  Not enough shelter beds exist in our community to help people in immediate need.

Our role in the miss:  Maintaining rather than growing our investments in shelter beds over the lasy 10 years. Many funders reduced their shelter funding over the years.  While we were one of the few funders that maintained our base level of funding, it was not at a high enough level.   Since we launched crisis response we have added new shelter money and others have followed us.

We now know that for many people shelter can be the place where they quickly transition out of homelessness and into long term housing.  Through our Crisis Reponses initiative we will be focusing on making certain people have a safe place tonight, quickly connecting people to the right services, and transitioning people rapidly into long-term housing.

Clearly much work remains to be done.  Remarkably the individuals and organizations that helped in the development of the original 10-year plan remain deeply committed to the vision of ending homelessness – of making homelessness rare, brief, and one-time.  Despite the challenges we face there is a sense of determination and renewed confidence that we still can fundamentally change the way homelessness looks in this community.  It’s our job, it’s our mission, and it is what people are counting on us to do.


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