The Homelessness Crisis Needs More Urgency
Mark Putnam is the director of All Home, which works with local governments, nonprofits, shelter and housing providers, the private sector and more to coordinate efforts on the homelessness crisis and address its root causes.
Homelessness is the issue of the year here locally. It sure feels that way to me, anyway, in my role as the Director of All Home. Not having a home is life altering for those living outside, and for too many, it is deadly.
Much of the attention in this election was on the candidates’ positions on “sweeps” of encampments and expansion of homeless services funding. There was less focus on what is currently working to house people experiencing homelessness or how we can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
What didn’t get attention:
1) More people than ever are moving from homelessness to stable housing. This year, we’re on pace to house more than 16,000 people in 7,000 households who were experiencing homelessness, an 86% increase (about 1,000 households more each year) compared to 2014. The improvement is mostly attributable to increasing funding for interventions that work, like diversion and rapid re-housing, which support people to move into housing in the community. Many people are finding roommates, moving in with family, and moving to more affordable parts of the county.
2) More people are becoming homeless than we can house. More than 4,000 people in 2,000 households were prevented from becoming homeless last year. Yet we cannot keep up with need. For example, roughly 75 veteran households moved from homelessness to housing per month last year. But 150 newly homeless veteran households were also identified each month.
3) Seattle/King County is not alone. West Coast cities, including Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, are also seeing more people becoming homeless each year, as a result of rising housing costs, population growth, and a growing income and wealth gap.
Voters in Los Angeles and San Jose voted for new taxes to greatly increase housing options for people experiencing homelessness. In San Francisco, voters approved a new initiative and the business community stepped up with $100 million to house the chronically homeless. In Portland/Multnomah County, they created a joint City/County Office of Homelessness and increased shelter and supportive housing funding.
What can we do here in Seattle/King County? Incoming and continuing elected leaders have the opportunity to continue the implementation of the City of Seattle’s $30 million request for proposals from nonprofit partners. The RFP emphasizes reducing racial disparities and getting people experiencing homelessness into housing. Existing and any new funding – from government grants to philanthropic contributions – should center around these goals.
Voters also supported the King County levy to fund services and housing for veterans, seniors and vulnerable individuals. This levy has been effective at preventing and ending homelessness for decades. It’ll expand to address the growing needs in our region.
Voters supported progressive candidates with bold ideas. As they transition into office, we have to help them implement these ideas. This starts by having the discipline to continuing to fund what works, and pursuing strategies to address the root causes of our growing number of newly homeless individuals.
Let’s stop talking about homelessness like it’s a big, insurmountable mystery.
People experiencing homelessness need housing.
Let’s get to work, together, and meet this crisis with the scale and urgency it deserves.