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Five ways to end homelessness in Seattle

Guest Opinion: Seattle's 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness didn't work. But new strategies, revenues and resolve can ensure that every Seattleite has a home.
Some 20,000 Seattleites live on the streets.

Some 20,000 Seattleites live on the streets. Ed Yourdon (Creative Commons)

After eight years and millions of dollars spent on the ambitious 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, we still have roughly the same number of homeless men, women and children living on our streets.

The roughly 20,000 adults and children who experience homelessness each year in King County suffer in an extraordinary way. This year, 30 to 50 will die on the streets. Many will become victims of rape and other physical violence. Others will struggle with untreated health problems. Most will suffer the stigma our society attaches to homelessness, where the daily struggle for the basics of food and shelter stymie the potential for productive lives.

As a founding member of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEHKC) and as someone who works closely with homeless men it’s clear we’ve reached an moment of decision: Will we get serious about ending street homelessness or not?

A confluence of events makes this a good time to ask that question. The 10-year plan, which called for building thousands of new housing units to quickly move people from homelessness to permanent housing, is at the end of its lifecycle. There are leadership vacancies at key local agencies (CEHKC and the Seattle Department of Human Services). Seattle’s mayor and some council members face re-election. The economy is reviving.  It’s time to adjust our strategy and renew our efforts to end street homelessness.

Here’s how:

1. Create a single point of entry into the homeless services system
Every time a homeless person comes to my church door asking for help, which is often, I have to explain the labyrinth of our shelter system. Try this agency at 9 a.m. This one after 5:30 p.m. Don’t forget your referral slip. Seattle’s homeless must learn when and how to shuttle between agencies from SODO to First Hill, downtown, Belltown and SLU. On days when the shelters are full, latecomers get sent out on the streets with a blanket and a pat on the back. We need one intake center, at a single location, with extended hours so that homeless people don’t need a map, a bus pass and a Ouija Board to find shelter for the night. This “intake center” should be open seven days a week and in the evenings for the many homeless people who work, and should include staffers from agencies such as DSHS and the VA.

2. Lower the bar for transitional housing
The 10-Year Plan tried to move people from shelter to transitional and permanent housing as quickly as possible by building as many new housing units as we could. But the building couldn’t keep up with the demand, which meant that people stay in shelters for two or three years while they wait for subsidized housing. Instead, let’s subsidize motel rooms for those shelter residents, a strategy that worked for the Center City Initiative and the Nickelsville project. One bed in a well-run Seattle shelter can cost $10,000 a year. That’s $28 per night, which could help pay for a safe, comfortable motel room, and relieve some of the shelter-to-housing bottleneck. This happens in other major cities. Why not Seattle?

3. Create a semi-permanent indoor/outdoor shelter
Nickelsville and other tent cities lack adequate infrastructure, but they offer some attractive amenities: community, 24-hour access and the freedom to live with a partner or pet. Let’s set aside a parcel of public property, build some simple, inexpensive shelters with sanitation facilities. Portland has a version of this in its Dignity Village. The City of Seattle seems open to the idea as it works to find Nickelsville’s next steps. Surely, we can design a low-cost, low-hassle option for homeless people who don’t fit into the traditional shelter system.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jul 30, 4:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah, finally some common sense a bout this problem.

Good on you.

Geezer

Posted Tue, Jul 30, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

All makes great sense, especially #3, until I get to point #5. How many 'home-free' are really people who reject being in group shelters? One reason is for a mattress in a group setting that one cannot be with family, partners or pets, and has to pack their things up. Another is that many people with PTSD, phobias, or aspergers, being around a lot of people creates more anxiety than finding some spot in a park behind a tree (even with inherent danger) to sleep.

I challenge #5 as largely a myth and further challenge those apodment builders to provide REAL low income/fully subsidized SROs for those who need to be housed but with a pet or alone. Another option is small trailers in some areas outside of the dense urban situation. Then, let's talk about the 'home-free' and whether that is much of a factor to consider.

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Apodments have nothing to do with housing the homeless. They are for trendy young white 20-something technology workers will to live in a dorm room on their first job out of college.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 6, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Boo! Your challenge to #5 is based in personal opinion and beliefs. Your thoughts are representative of the general populace in regards to the simple question: Why would some ever WANT to be homeless (or as this author calls it, "home-free")?

There are in fact MANY people that actively choose to be homefree and they are a huge part of the negative opinion of the homeless. People and sometimes teens actively choose to live in the situation because it does provide liberty. You can work the system and get every meal you would like, sleep in shelters when necessary and you are largely left alone to drink, drug, or do god knows what else. No debts are incurred and you can be simply left to your own devices.

Upstate

Posted Tue, Jul 30, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Great advice from someone who walks the talk. Thank you Sandy.

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Cant stress enough how much I agree with Sandy! I know he worked very hard on the 10YP... as did many many in our region. Course adjustment is common for business, but government and nonprofits have a VERY hard time with the concept. It's time to make some drastic changes.
Sandy... I stand behind and beside you! Lisa

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

CLARIFICATION: there are some pieces of Sandy's Opinion Letter that need to be clarified; most importantly that the Gates Foundation is a leader in addressing the issue of Family Homelessness in the Pacific Northwest Region. The Foundation has commits millions of dollars each year that directly benefit homeless families, who are the most "unseen" in our communities. To say that they are ignoring homeless people on their doorstep is both unfair and inaccurate.
In addition, Single Point/Coordinated Entry systems do exist in King County for families and, most recently, youth. It's true that single adults do struggle with a more disjointed system.
Sandy's opinion appears to be written from the perspective of a pastor who sees the suffering of chronically homeless men, not homeless families. I applaud his courage to speak his mind and boldly offer suggestions. Public debate and dialogue about homelessness is critical to ending the crisis for all who struggle.

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the clarification, Lisa. Crosscut editors updated the article to include your clarification which somehow was needed after our editing process removed the original language which was more accurate.

The Gates Foundation has been great with Sound Families, however 80% of homelessness in our area is single men, and programs for them unfortunately are excluded from Gates Foundation money. It'd be great to have a partnership with the Gates Foundation for the homeless men who are on the Gates Foundation's doorstep.

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 9:26 a.m. Inappropriate

It is not realistic to think that Seattle can shelter all the homeless from King County (statewide or countrywide) nor is it fair to ask that of the residents of Seattle. Rev. Brown why don't you make it your mission to guilt trip the other 37 municipalities into taking care of their own homeless or we should require some proof of residency in Seattle for assistance from City of Seattle taxpayers. First we need to distinguish between the "home free" and "homeless" and the "homeless" that want help and are willing to make an effort into bettering their lives. I have no issue with helping those that want to help themselves, but I do have issue with putting all this money into the drunks and drug addicts that litter our streets and parks that will not comply with any rules or requirements for them to get assistance -- such as complying with no drinking or drug requirements for housing -- the new "Housing First" approach. The City's new approach through the Center City Initiative where these chronic vagrants are actually ticketed, and warrants issued has encouraged some of these guys to move on. We have been far too lenient and wasted way too much money on these types of vagrants and as the police captain who is the head of this program has stated, Seattle is known as Free-attle throughout the homeless enclaves. With the Free-attle approach, we will never make a dent into the homeless issue and there will always be a nightly count of 3000 people on the street. If you church people want to save these poor souls do it at your own expense without taxpayer funds -- you pay no taxes on these programs, yet are able to set up for profit corporations to care for these individuals in the "housing first" models.

Norge

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

The fact is that there are people who have addictions that are not at all likely to be cured, but maybe only mitigated by such means as Methadone programs. Many of these people are not suited for steady work due to either psychological or physical problems, or commonly an interaction of both. You can be a sanctimonious twit if you wish, but the question boils down to: are you willing to step over these peoples' bodies rotting in the gutter.

Conlin just whined about the County not doing its share, and although two tent cities now exist in King County and none (presently) in Seattle, he is correct by and large, so why isn't he in Constantine's office leaning on the county. Tell him that the Council won't allow rapid transit that enables people to live comfortably in the 'burbs and still take advantage of Seattle's advantages, while not paying our outrageous property taxes. Sharing costs of ministering to the homeless is perhaps the least of King County's crimes against the citizens of Seattle.

kmeyer

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

If the "homeless advocates" want to persuade anyone of anything, they could start by laying off the offensively smug crap about "step(ping) over these peoples' bodies rotting in the gutter."

And you have the nerve to call anyone else a "sanctimonious twit?" Go look in the mirror. And if you keep trying the guilt-trip tactic, don't be too surprised if some people answer "Sure, why not?" to your question about the bodies. I salute Rev. Brown for taking a pragmatic view, at least in this article. The more Seattle smugness I see from these people, the less sympathetic I become. Tell me what you want to do, and how you'll do it, and I'll listen.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

And the Righteous have spoken. Because the "Council won't allow rapid transit that enables people to live comfortably in the 'burbs and still take advantage of Seattle's advantages, while not paying our outrageous property taxes," Seattle should pay for the costs of ministering to the homeless? You obviously want the "ministering to the homeless" in Seattle so it doesn't come knocking in your comfortable neighborhood now do you, nor do you want to pay for it? And, last I checked there is a tent city in Seattle--Nickelsville. And before you say anymore -- it is still standing.

Norge

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

This is a good article, especially points 1 and 5. I'm not so high on point 3, but could accept it with tight supervivion. I also think Norge has excellent comments. This should be a county-wide effort.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 3:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks NotFan. It's an uphill battle against the religious folks that can't do enough for these vagrants. The city is turning into just a mess. Pretty soon it will be all renters, vagrants and non-profits that don't pay taxes. I wonder who the City will fleece when that happens!

Norge

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

One potential problem I see is that the "homeless advocate community" uses Rev. Brown's seemingly sensible idea as a starting point for something much broader, more expensive, and more intrusive.

It's hard to trust them, basically. I look at what they're doing to Ballard, and fear for every neighborhood in the city.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jul 31, 8:12 p.m. Inappropriate

"The fact that the Seattle City Council quickly came up with $500,000 – a huge amount in public service dollars – to dismantle Nickelsville shows that there is money out there."

Bravo!

afreeman

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 4:43 a.m. Inappropriate

"After 8 years and millions of dollars spent," CEHKC has kept Seattle's homeless population from more than doubling as recession-generated foreclosurres and unemployment steeply rose. United Way, the Gates Foundation, Seattle Foundations, Medina Foundation, and other organizations public and private have enabled hundreds of people in dire straits to scrape by and keep their homes by providing small, temporary financial subsidies, and have saved hundreds of others forced out of their homes because of sudden poverty, by increasing the supply of affordable and subsidized housing units. The numbers of single chronically addicted homeless men living on Seattle streets has sharply declined because of new housing with support services. King and its border counties to the north and south now have sophisticated single-point-of-entry electronic systems whereby homeless families can access housing and services. (The Gates Foundation focus on family homelessness makes sense to me, and not only becaue money spread thinly over multiple missions is less likely to solve systemic problems. It's also because children should not have to live in tents or vehicles or camp on relatives' couches, and because we need to keep even larger future generations, whether made hopeless or merely hardened to homelessness since childhood, from overwhelming the region later on.)

Eight years ago, before the economy tanked, it was possible for CEHKC to aim at putting an end to homelessness in the region. But since 2007 there's been a disgracefully diminishing supply of affordable housing in the Pacific Northwest. Poverty has risen, with half of all Americans now living at or near the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census. And public budgets, including federal housing subsidies, are cut more deeply every year.

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Good to see something about the growing reality of homelessness. Let me start by saying it is good we have a 10 year plan (my name is in it as staff toward its production). That said, it has been off the tracks and has come all-too-close to being a lobby-group for the human services orgs that mostly populate its table. Who doesn't get to that table says as much about it as who does. Re: Sandy's comments, he's on target with regard to the fact that we can end homelessness or at least start seriously reducing it. Coordinated entry is critical but in fact even for families all we have is a fancier coordinated wait list with 3500+ on it. I for one would not rest easy and think I'd be out of homelessness with a list number of, say 3,456. "Housing Tonight" is a term we (Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, nee 2001) coined to level the rush to having "Housing First" become the be-all-end-all, but even Housing First cannot happen with the shortage of affordable housing. Sandy is right about more responsible overnight shelter; it is the first contact to a pathway to stability. We, e.g., have asked SHARE to "evolve," be less politically combative and more responsive to those it houses. As for philanthropists, their view is too often from a satellite and their response to those on the ground is also needing to "evolve." They work hard, work to not throw money at it, then they throw money at it. The Family System, that person #3,456, holds that position because the philanthropists didn't listen well enough. We also need fewer cheer leaders who think making noise in-and-of-itself ends homelessness. Anything-and-everything that points AT homelessness does not build the political will to end homelessness. I'd challenge, in Seattle, its City Council even more than its Mayor. It's becoming better at handwringing than action, and each time homelessness comes up they point at what the suburbs don't do (and I last counted 39 cities, so that would mean pointing fingers at 38 other cities and don't forget the County). Not to say all in the suburbs have come to the table. Kudos to Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond,...a controlled wave to Kent (who take 1 step forward and 1 step back), kudos to Renton and its women's drop-in (in City Hall!) and overnight partnership... Lots of great local work by faith/nonprofit partnerships, Lake City, Ballard, West Seattle, Kent, East King, North Bend, Shoreline, U-District.... bubbling up and out with remedies; yet, all need that affordable housing. So, no mention of the State Legislature....AWOL. The Federal government...cut, cut, cut. We cannot end homelessness without everyone...even cheerleading here and there (but not without attached action). How about more articles in the press? A few success stories but more so, the Think Tank idea articles that make it into reality....some of that in this one...kudos Crosscut.

kirhac

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

As a person who has relatives who live on the street or in surreptitious tent encampments (and have tried living in a Tent City), I can say from personal experience that this is a breathtakingly accurate article. Too bad the City Council didn't have it in hand when they turned down a codification of the conditions for tent encampments this very last week (5-4 decision).

The fact is that a shelter bed is no way for a person to have a place to keep their meager belongings or have any expectation of having a place to come home to with their families. The surreptitious camps are periodically cleaned out by the police, and the residents lose all of their accumulated clothes and other means of existence.

On the other hand, Sandy is absolutely correct in his criticism of SHARE/WHEEL,which is run dictatorially by tin-horn martinets such as a guy named Jarvis Capuchion. But having the existence of SHARE gives the Council dissenters the opportunity to do a Pontius Pilate bit and act as if all is taken care of. Not our problem anymore, eh, Council Losers?

kmeyer

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 5:06 p.m. Inappropriate

My impression, which might be wrong, is that the proposal in front of the Council would have effectively allowed for the expansion of homeless camps throughout the city.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Aug 2, 7:12 a.m. Inappropriate

You are correct. They would have limited the size (I think less than 100 tents, maybe even less), the distance between them (2 miles). They would have been allowed on church property, city property -- and private property. The churches don't need a permit any longer, no notification to neighbors needed, but the private property owners would have to apply for a permit. One example is LIHI. Sharon Lee stated in a hearing that she would have allowed it on their property but couldn't at this time. I think there were additional services that private property owners would have to provide to host a tent city, such as services that SHARE operators won't allow.

Norge

Posted Fri, Aug 2, 7:13 a.m. Inappropriate

And, there was no limit on how many.

Norge

Posted Fri, Aug 2, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Allowing them on church property is bad enough, but everywhere? That would have been a disaster. I suppose they'd have stuck them in the parks too?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Aug 3, 8:06 p.m. Inappropriate

It's always popular to beat up on shelter providers for not moving people out of homelessness and into housing. However, there is that pesky reality that remains - there is not enough affordable housing!!!

Can shelter providers be asked to do better, to be more efficient, to provide better service? Of course but the ask must be accompanied by the resources to do the work.

I agree with Sandy Brown, the fact that the City Council could come up with $500,000 on the spur of the moment says some more resources are available. However, in order to be really effective, those resources need to be consistently available and there has to be more affordable housing!!!

nwcitizen

Posted Sun, Aug 4, 11:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Norge, NotFan, and the rest of you who complain about homeless people peeing and excreting on the streets but don't want to provide port-a-potties, and who complain about homeless people living in cars but don't want them living on the street either, and who complain about homeless people who want to be homeless but don't listen to the fact that there isn't enough housing...

Just what DO you want? Do you expect them to die so that they won't be visible anymore?

If so, you may be getting your wish. At least twice as many homeless people have died outdoors, some by suicide, this year as last year.

Does that make you feel better? Is that the solution you want?

sarah90

Posted Wed, Aug 7, 4:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey sarah, you "progressive" phony, tell us exactly what you've done for any homeless person other than excrete the usual Seattle hot air. The hypocrisy of your kind really irks me. I've taken homeless people into my own house and given them shelter, you tedious Seattle blowhard. So you can take your obnoxious little lectures and stick 'em where the sun don't shine. You and your "progressive" Seattle jerks specialize in giving nothing but another list of phone numbers to the needy and those who are trying to help them.

I laugh at you and your kind. You are sick jokes. In the end, you do nothing but pose and preen. You are never, ever once about the real thing. For the "progressives" of Seattle, it is ENTIRELY about the artful whine, the never-ending quest to seem as if they give a rat's ass, and to be seen as pretending to care. You have an insatiable need for the sanctimonious, self-affirming empty gesture. Please don't ask anyone to take your bleats seriously, because we don't.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Aug 5, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

It's too bad that we can't figure out a way to combine our need to provide shelter to the vulnerable with our backlog of maintenance and repair projects across the city. We should send city vans around to pick up people who are willing to work on cleaning graffiti or sweeping sidewalks or weeding parks and schools in exchange for a healthy meal and priority for a shelter bed. And if you log in a certain number of hours you move to the top of the list for affordable or subsidized housing. There are people at every major intersection of the city with signs that say that they will work for food - here's the opportunity that they are looking for.

It shouldn't be the only way to get housing or food, of course, since many of the people out there are incapable of working. But it would help that percentage that is homeless due to job loss or missed opportunity. And it also helps them feel that they are a welcome part of the community and the visibility of workers in this program would reduce some of the resentment that employed residents have against a population that they see as a drag on their own income.

talisker

Posted Tue, Aug 6, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Homelessness is not going to end by fighting it on the turf of existing despair, mental illness, and addiction. That approach is all reactive, and all after people have gone over the falls without a barrel. What if we spent those millions of dollars on Early Childhood Development, and stayed there for the next 20 years? Now THAT would very likely make a permanent difference (and the research shows it). But if we continue to treat homelessness in a reactive way, after people are already homeless, we will be spending that money for the next 50 years.

Posted Mon, Aug 12, 12:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Are you suggesting that we stop helping adults who are homeless (the "reactive" approach) and spend resources only on early childhood development? Would you be willing to tell the families with kids who are living on the street that that's what we're going to do?

sarah90

Posted Thu, Aug 8, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The five planks are a good start. To that I would two more: work with non profits to "encourage" long term residents in existing affordable housing communities to move up and out where possible (so that those units could be occupied by people now in transitional housing) and consider allocating a much bigger slice of the housing levy to homeless programs. The problem is deep and has many different faces but we spend 9 million via the seattle housing levy on homeownership at a time when seattle housing was at its least expensive.

neonative

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