A regional solution to homelessness is long overdue. Ask those on the front lines

Nonprofits and service providers are making progress, but we need more help.

Tent

A tent is seen near the railroad tracks in Seattle's InterBay neighborhood, April 27, 2018. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

At this moment, as winter descends in the Pacific Northwest, there are well over 11,000 people living unsheltered and unhoused in King County. Many are veterans and single parents. Many are escaping abusive households, have lost jobs, have experienced eviction or are exiting the foster care system. And far too many are children. This is a state of emergency, and we are long overdue for building a system that addresses this issue with impact.

Behind the scenes, there are hundreds of nonprofits and service providers that are over capacity and doing everything they can on tight budgets and lean staff to provide shelter, warm clothing, food, legal services, job training and so much more. At FareStart alone, we’ve seen a record-breaking number of youth and adults come through our doors looking for job training and an opportunity to thrive — and nearly every one is experiencing homelessness or housing instability. If people don’t have a safe place to sleep at night, they cannot focus on obtaining or keeping a job, which is why we provide housing and other wraparound support services.

While nonprofits and service providers are working harder than ever and making great progress — in the past few months, 3,014 households were enrolled in rapid rehousing programs, and over 77% of them will soon have a permanent place to live — they are only one piece of the puzzle. Our region can and must take measures to ensure that all our systems are working efficiently and effectively and that our service providers are best positioned for widespread impact.

That’s why the recently proposed King County Regional Homelessness Authority, slated for approval by the Seattle City Council this afternoon, has so much potential. With a regional system in place, we can build on the best of what works, with better coordination, collaboration and a unified plan to respond to this crisis.

Currently, service providers working with the city and county have a myriad of different contracts, often with overlapping or conflicting measurements of success, even if they serve the same populations. Duplication of contracts makes delivering services complicated and time consuming — and makes tracking outcomes even more difficult. Streamlining the contract process allows service providers to spend less time with paperwork and more time doing what they do best: helping people with basic, immediate human needs, like food and shelter.

Additionally, the proposed collaboration is inclusive and depends on our ability to work together. The authority would involve local city governments — both Seattle’s and those of the surrounding suburban cities — encouraging community-driven plans that address each community’s specific needs.

A diverse set of voices would inform solutions: businesses, neighborhood associations, faith communities, philanthropic organizations, nonprofits and, most importantly, people who have experienced homelessness themselves. Centering the voices of people who have experienced homelessness is innovative, as few places have put such a priority on making sure the response systems run by service providers remain effective for the people these programs directly serve.

We already know that business-as-usual is not working. That’s why, for the past year and a half, officials and key voices have come together to discuss the best path forward, including analyzing different approaches in regions across the country experiencing homelessness on different scales. They’ve determined that while the proposed authority won’t fix everything immediately, it is a necessary first step to systematically reducing homelessness and getting people out of the cold and back inside. Because that’s what this is about — the lives of our unsheltered neighbors and friends. The time for deliberation and political jockeying is over. We must act now.

It is time we build on the successful programs we see on the ground and not just create an entity, but make sure that it empowers experts to make effective solutions a reality across the county. We must work together across sectors, removing barriers and coordinating many targeted solutions to ensure King County remains a region where all can thrive.

About the Authors & Contributors

Angela Dunleavy-Stowell

Angela Dunleavy-Stowell

Angela Dunleavy-Stowell is the CEO of FareStart, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that works to transform lives, disrupt poverty and nourish communities through food, life skills and job training.