Even One is Too Many
3,117. This is the number of unsheltered men, women and children who were outside in King County during 2014 One Night Count, held on a chilly night in late January. That’s a staggering increase of 14% over last year. And for the people affected—and our community—it’s a crisis.
The spike in unsheltered people points to the need for new strategies and new determination. And working with our partners on the Committee to End Homelessness we’ve identified a range of strategies that will help reduce the number of people in King County who are unsheltered.
Here are five new approaches that are getting underway right now with real money behind them. United Way is investing $500,000. The City of Seattle, the County and other funders are putting in still more.
- Increase shelters: We need more shelter beds. Period. United Way is helping build new shelter capacity in underserved parts of King County. That includes shelter for single adults in east King County and shelter for youth in south King County.
- Use shelter better: If someone is staying in a shelter again and again, clearly he or she needs a permanent home. We’ll be working to find that home together with the counseling and other services to make it work. This will also free up shelter beds for others now outside.
- Achieve rapid rehousing: Around the country it’s now clear that rapid rehousing is the best way to keep people from spiraling into sustained homelessness. We’re finding ways to catch people early into (or even before) their experience of homelessness and get them re-established in a stable home, together with financial and other supports like job training. The vast majority of those who receive such help never become homeless again.
- Support other shelter models: No one wants people to be living outside. But the reality is that our shelter system does not have the capacity to meet current need. So while we advance on other strategies above, we need to make tent cities more humane, we need to help meet the needs of people living in their cars and bet people better connected to the services that can help them regroup.
- Channel the energy of our faith communities. United Way is now actively partnering with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, and Catholic Community Services. Working at the grassroots level—person-to-person and family-to-family—we’ll be meeting the immediate needs of homeless families and helping ensure that no child in our community is living without shelter.
Ending the crisis of homelessness will take all of us. What’s above isn’t an abandonment of our long-term strategies to end homelessness. But it is a declaration that even one unsheltered person is too many, and the time for action is now.