In Seattle and King County we have about 1,700 beds of emergency shelter. Ninety-one percent of these beds are located in Seattle. In the winter months we have about 550 more beds, and during severe weather conditions we can open an additional 250 temporary beds. Still there are nearly 2,600* people in King County who don’t have any shelter whatsoever.
Because there are still so many people without shelter, despite the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness’ success in adding 5,130 housing units for homeless people, the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH) established the Single Adult Shelter Task Force. The Task Force was charged with finding ways to address the immediate needs of individuals who are unsheltered and to increase efficiencies to move people through shelter to permanent housing.
I am a member of the CEH Governing Board. A group called, “Occupy CEH,” has begun to attend Governing Board meetings. Over the last several months, this group has asked that the Governing Board look to partner with homeless people in seeking solutions to meet the emergency needs of homeless people. In particular, they have been concerned that long-term housing has been pitted against the immediate survival needs of people without any shelter at all and that “partnerships between existing tent cities and their host communities should be nurtured to build the political will to end homelessness.”
The Governing Board met today to hear the Task Force recommendation that the CEH adopt a shelter strategy as part of our solutions to end homelessness in our community. This may not seem like news to some reading this, but it is significant shift in policy considering that, since its inception, the 10 Year Plan has recognized the important role of shelter but has recommended to partner-cities and funders that they focus new investments on housing rather than emergency shelter.
In particular, the Task Force recommended the development of additional shelter capacity outside of Seattle and the development of 24-hour shelter options throughout the shelter system, including Seattle. The Governing Board voted to approve these recommendations. I’m heartened by this change because, although shelter may not end homelessness, it does keep people safe.
* During the January 2012 One Night Count of People Who are Homeless in King County, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness reported there were at least 2,594 people who were without shelter. There will be another count this week, on Friday morning. I will be joining a street count of 900 volunteers with 125 trained team leaders in parts of Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Shoreline, Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville, Kent, Federal Way, Renton, Auburn, and White Center.