We Can’t Wait

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Yesterday I hosted, with Catholic Community Services, an event entitled, “We Can’t Wait.” At the event, housing providers, funders, elected officials and other advocates tried to figure out how best to address the emergency needs of the more than 248 Seattle families living outside every night


In past years, the Council has made it a priority that no homeless family with a child should have to sleep outside.  For two years we have worked on this effort.  Still we know that tonight there are more than 248 families with children in our area who will sleep outdoors, in cars or in abandoned buildings.  Surely we can find the political will and the resources to fulfill our promise that these families with children should not have to sleep in cars, in abandoned buildings or outdoors.


My approach to governing and public policy has always been guided by a belief that we must use our finite public resources to address the greatest needs of those who have the least, first.


Many of you have done the One Night Count hosted by the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness.  For several years now, I have tried to get City leaders to focus on the issue of not just “ending homelessness” but upon the even more pressing problem of people who are homeless and can’t find shelter or transitional housing and have to sleep outside, in cars, or in abandoned buildings.  This year, the number was 2,736 people in King County and 1,989 in Seattle.  We may not be able to end homelessness for everybody, but I think we should at least provide shelter for everyone.  Don’t you?


In 2011, I led the Council to pass Resolution 31292 to focus on the real safety and health threat that results when we do not prioritize assistance to homeless people who have to live outside.  With it, the Council agreed to review different approaches to addressing the immediate survival and safety needs of homeless people who do not have access to safe shelter.   Acting on the recommendations resulting from this resolution, in 2011, the Council took its first step in prioritizing assistance to unsheltered homeless people.  They approved $435,000 in funding for services specifically for unsheltered homeless families with children.  At that time, the Council also said that the objective of the additional funding was that no family should be unsheltered by the end of 2012.  The funds were primarily used for rapid-rehousing programs, motel voucher programs, and some very minimal shelter expansion.              


Then last summer, I hosted a special meeting of my Housing Human Services and Health Committee at Mary’s Place to hear the Human Services Department report that with these new funds, 22 children in 11 families moved out of Nickelsville, 35 families were moved from the street to shelter, and 42 families moved into housing.


At that meeting we also learned that Family Housing Connections reported that they were seeing about 25 new families each month who were sleeping in places not fit for habitation.   At this time last year, those new families were put on the bottom of a waiting list that was typically 2-3 months long even for the people on the top of the list!  These families had to keep sleeping outside, while other families who had joined the list earlier received assistance according to their placement on the list, though they might already be in shelter.               

After the Mary’s Place meeting, some Councilmembers wrote to ask the Mayor that he redirect investments to unsheltered families with children.  The Council also asked that the City work with Family Housing Connections to prioritize homeless families who are staying in places not fit for habitation.  In response to our letter, in the fall of 2012 the Mayor proposed a budget with an additional $980,000 in new funds to support the same kinds of programs approved in the previous year’s budget for unsheltered homeless families.  But still, there was no significant shelter expansion.


 This year, Family Housing Connections has begun to prioritize homeless families who are staying in places not fit for habitation.  That’s another great step, but these families – even when on the top of the list – have to sleep outside, in cars, or in abandoned buildings while waiting months for an opening that will place them in shelter or housing.


 I don’t know if we can end homelessness for the nearly 9,000 people in King County who are homeless.  I don’t even know if we can get shelter for the 2,737 people who are sleeping outside.  But there are 237 families staying in places not fit for habitation and are prioritized on the Family Housing Connection waiting list.  Surely we can find the political will and the resources to fulfill our promise that these families with children should not have a decent place to sleep at night.


Yesterday we came together once again, this time to say that “We Can’t Wait.” 

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