From the CEO: Here for Our Neighbors—Now and Always

By Gordon McHenry, Jr., on May 29, 2023 | In Fighting Homelessness, News, Racial Equity

Memorial Day weekend regularly marks what many folks term the launch of the summer travel season. This Memorial Day weekend comes amid news that Seattle is once again being lauded as a top destination place for both visitors and newcoming residents.

For visitors who have helped make Seattle second only to Orlando as the nation’s top vacation destination, we say welcome—or welcome back. We also extend greetings to new arrivals who now call Seattle home, helping to make it, once again, the fastest growing big city in America.

Your presence at the start of one of the most picturesque times of the year in the Puget Sound is proof that you can’t keep a good region down; while detractors and pundits in recent years have highlighted our problems—particularly our homelessness crisis—and have all but penned Seattle’s epitaph, we continue to tackle our problems with guarded optimism. There is much work to be done, but it’s being done.

Last month, the mayor’s office reported a 42% decline in people living in tents and a 29% reduction in encampment RVs in the first three months of 2023 compared to December 2022 levels, although officials still acknowledge that there still isn’t enough shelter to house everyone indoors. Seattle City Council also unanimously approved legislation in May to renew and expand the Metropolitan Improvement District, an area in downtown Seattle spanning 285 square blocks in six downtown neighborhoods.

The legislation safeguards funding for programs and services for at least 10 years, ensuring that beautification projects, free concerts and outdoor events and commitments to public safety will continue to be priority.

A view of Downtown Seattle from the Columbia Center Sky View Observatory

Indeed, from our Downtown Seattle offices, we can see the hustle and bustle growing as the weather improves, and we appreciate that more people are out and about enjoying the benefits of the Great Northwest. We appreciate that folks continue to prioritize the expectation that we can and must do better when it comes to folks who are struggling with homelessness and housing instability.

We share that, we think about that, we act upon that every day. And at United Way we see our role around prevention, and we see the benefits. We understand the fact that for folks who don’t have housing instability, it is an unseen benefit that our community prioritizes eviction prevention in programs like Home Base.

And during one of the worst crises that the nation has experienced in recent memory—the COVID-19 pandemic—we and key partners administered millions of dollars in rental assistance, enabling thousands of households to benefit from this life-affirming support that is a critical part in achieving housing stability. It is why United Way continues to prioritize that and continues to advocate; even as the federal government reduces the amount of COVID-related dollars, we continue to advocate for more robust state, regional and local rental assistance support.

We’re excited to see that more folks are visiting Seattle and seeking to call it home. Yet our focus continues to be centered on those who have been here for years—the people who continue to struggle to keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads in an area where personal wealth is so prevalent and income inequality is so rampant.  Our work is often in communities that tourists are told to avoid and realtors don’t show new homebuyers. They’re our neighbors.

Our work is often in communities that tourists are told to avoid and realtors don’t show new homebuyers. They’re our neighbors.

United Way of King County CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Just as much of our ability to be successful with rental assistance during COVID was enabled by strong support of the federal government, United Way applauds the White House’s recent pledge to include the Seattle area among five major U.S. cities and the state of California to receive federal help to get unsheltered residents into permanent housing as part of the Biden administration’s larger goal to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025.

And we want people to know that we’re not going to back off prioritizing prevention as a key strategy to address the area’s homelessness crisis. We have been working over the past several years with more than a dozen local nonprofits aligned around the power of prevention. Together, we affirm the fact that we need more affordable housing with supportive services for those who need and want it, you also have to have support for folks who are challenged to stay in the home.

With the start of the travel season now upon us, as more people will be engaged in local activities from downtown to the south sound to North Bend, we hope everyone will stay abreast of United Way’s work to support and advocate for our neighbors and join in our efforts to help make this area a place that everyone enjoys—from those who visit to newcomers to lifelong residents, summer time and year-round.


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