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Homelessness: Rare, Brief, and One-time

More than 10,000 people experience homelessness in this region on any given night.  For more than a decade, Seattle has been working with King County’s Committee to End Homelessness (CEH) to house these people, yet each year the number of unsheltered continues to grow.

Part of this can be attributed to the lack of housing affordability in Seattle.  A recent study highlighting key predictive factors to homelessness found that an increase in rent of $100 correlates with a 15% increase in metropolitan homelessness. Additionally, persistent disparities related to race, health, education outcomes, and the criminal justice system speak to broader underlying societal challenges that need to be confronted.

In the last Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resilience meeting, Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) stepped to the plate to discuss the mushrooming problem.

In 2014, HSD invested over $40 million to end homelessness with roughly half going towards shelters, transitional housing, and housing stability services.  Relatively speaking, much less was spent on “up-stream” prevention and on permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing efforts, which have more long-term effects on homelessness than intervention models.

In its analysis, HSD recommended that the City shift course in two major ways.  First, the City should move towards an evidence-based practice, where funding decisions are made based on an objective evaluation of all services, comparison of outcomes, and alignment with longer term goals.  Second, the City should focus new resources primarily on effective prevention and diversion services.

In a letter to the CEH governing board, I relayed the City’s position along with our support of CEH’s new strategic plan.  The governing board will vote to adopt the plan tomorrow, and CEH will brief the Council once the plan is adopted so that we may continue to align our strategies to make homelessness in the region rare, brief, and one-time.

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