Creating the Seattle Success Story for those who are unsheltered

Home » Creating the Seattle Success Story for those who are unsheltered

On September 8 in my Human Services and Public Health committee we explored the conditions of being homeless in Seattle.  National experts offered their research and recommendations here: Barb Poppe, Focus Strategies, and the Mayor’s Pathways Home reports. You can watch the Seattle Channel video of the meeting attended by a majority of my Council colleagues here.


Sally touring the East Duwamish Greenbelt under I-5

We know that nearly 3000 people were counted as unsheltered in Seattle this past January.  Leaving people outside –especially in unsafe and unsuitable locations — is both unhealthy and inhumane, and is contrary to emerging national best practices.  Fortunately we have a new roadmap, and there are things you can do, too.  Read on, and please read the challenge from Joe Casalini at the bottom!

What’s happening now;  The Mayor’s 3-pronged strategy to reduce homelessness builds on national best practices and offers us a new approach that has been successful in cities including Salt Lake City, Houston, Minneapolis, Hackensack, San Francisco and more. I agree that we must

1)  increase the supply of affordable and very-low income units,

2) integrate the work our service providers do so well to create a cohesive system

3) address the immediate needs of people who are unsheltered.

The Pathways Home Initiative provides an concrete ideas. The basic principles are sound:

  • Create a person-centered systemic response that builds on the “Housing First” model.
  • Invest in models that have a proven track record nation-wide and demonstrated success.
  • Address racial disparities by expecting and measuring results.

Many of the recommendations incorporated in Pathways Home are already underway.  For example, we are coordinating our efforts and investments with King County and All Home to increase housing supply and to offer health care options such as our mobile health vans.  We are adding 24/7 shelter in the form of a Navigation Center, working with faith institutions to increase the number of  beds and shelters where people can return from night to night,  making space for people and their partners, pets, and possessions.

We are aligning efforts with King County and United Way to increase our investments in diversion and rapid rehousing. These types of investments have been tested in other cities, and have proven to bring big gains for the dollars expended.


Tents on public right of way at Royal Brougham and Airport Way. Photo courtesy of Sally Bagshaw.

Our immediate goals are to get 500 more families and people who have been chronically homeless into stable housing within the next year.  We are  piloting proven programs with partners including Mary’s Place, YMCA, YWCA, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), and YouthCare.

What can make a fast difference:  Stable places to be and protection for belongings:  I have spoken with scores of people who have been or who are currently homeless, and they tell me that in addition to a stable place to be for themselves, their pets and partners,  they need lockers and spaces to safely store their belongings. I am working to add lockers and storage spaces across our city when we contract with service providers and housing providers to address their needs.  I’ve written about this before (read more here). People must have lockers or other secure locations for their possession to have time to take next steps toward health and stability.  Creating  a policy to protect possession will also help keep our city cleaner.  We can do so much better than requiring the schlepping of everyone a person owns in bags and backpacks; no more need for shopping carts full of wet and mildewed stuff; no more excuses from the city.

True, we have a tight rental housing market, but other major cities have found that by working with private landlords and entering into agreements with organizations such as the Rental Housing Association, we can identify and add adequate spaces including apartments, rooming houses, single room occupancy dormitory style housing. Our Human Services Department has committed to locate 1300 units in 2017, and connect the most vulnerable and those who have been on the streets the longest to housing through a new Housing Resource Center.

This can work to reduce homelessness.  Why?  Because these ideas have been tested and proven to work in other big cities.  In Pathways Home,  we are re-creating some of the best ideas and applying them to our own unique Seattle situation.

King County’s public health data confirms that leaving people outside is bad news for all of us –questioning our collective humanity as well as increasing emergency health care costs locally.  See:  King County AIM High report here.  Various studies internationally conclude that the average life expectancy of someone who is unsheltered is as much as 30 years less than the rest of us who have homes and healthcare.  This is neither fair nor reflective of the compassionate city we want to be.

The Pathways Home initiative will take several years to fully implement. While this is underway we must support our homeless community to improve the conditions of our city for all of us.

Here are dozen recommendations we can  fund and implement during this upcoming 2017 budget cycle to create a Seattle Success Story:

  1. Fast-track new options for 24/7 extended stay with non-profits, faith institutions, private landlords.  Include managed encampments in the short term.


    Royal Brougham and Airport Way. Photo courtesy of Sally Bagshaw.increasing supply of options in the long term.

  2. Establish by-name lists and expand our case management system. This means working with our service provider partners, All Home, and King County’s Familiar Faces as examples.
  3. Fund improved, coordinated and accelerated outreach. Our current outreach system is woefully under-resourced for a “person-centered approach”.  We need more case managers who coordinate with housing providers.
  4. Solicit funds from our state and federal elected officials to add beds and coordination through our mental health care system. Shockingly, Washington is ranked 49th for the number of mental health beds per capita and have very few detox beds.  This is absolutely unacceptable for Seattle and we need state and federal help.
  5. Implement treatment on demand. When a person addicted to drugs asks for treatment, they should not be put on a waitlist, they should be able to start their treatment immediately.
  6. Thank  providers for the work they do, and ask how they want to participate in the Pathways Home effort.   Ask what they need and with whom they can partner to expand what they already do.
  7. Adopt the recommendations from our Opioid Addiction Task Force.
  8. Provide separate and secure spaces for people who are “dry” and want to stay clean and sober.
  9. Authorize the city’s Director of Homelessness to develop an action team to coordinate with all departments and regional partners.
  10. Stop chasing homeless people around the city by forcing them  continuously to move.  Offer managed encampments while we increase the number of stable units.
  11. Criminal behavior must be addressed but we cannot conflate criminal behavior with homelessness.
  12. airportway4

    We must not set up a space for people without offering sani-cans, running water, an garbage/recycling cans. Photo courtesy of Sally Bagshaw.

    Continue talking with our peers nationwide to identify and implement best practices.

What about sweeps and encampments?  Lastly,  we must not chase people from location to location, nor leave people in unmanaged encampments such as the one set up on Airport Way and Royal Brougham.  Yes, we need to collectively define unsafe or unacceptable locations such as city sidewalks and publicly used parks where camping is not allowed and provide or designate space where camping IS allowed.

The city and WSDOT set  up as temporary space while people were moved out of the East Duwamish Greenway site while maintenance is performed under I-5 but this is not the answer.

I visited the site earlier this week during one of our warm September sunny days.  It was dry that day, but will be a mudbath when the rains come.

This camp is in my opinion an embarrassment, and does nothing to contribute to the campers’ health and well-being nor to a healthy and clean SODO neighborhood. Garbage cans were overflowing and although sani-cans are on site, there is no running water.

We can and must do significantly better for people.    I support managed encampments, such as the ones we have helped create at Othello and Interbay.  Managed encampments should be considered short term options, while we prioritize getting people inside.

I am optimistic that we can create a unique Seattle model to stabilize people who are homeless in the next few months. You can be part of the immediate solution too.  Here’s how:

Amazon donated the former Travelodge to Mary’s Place for a short period of time to provide for families experiencing homelessness.   Other companies are following suit.  Will you be part of the Seattle Success Story?’  Joe Casalini from Republic Waste Management Services suggested we have a regional challenge to get everyone inside and create a “home for now” by the holidays.  Every neighborhood, every company can all be part of the solution.  Do you have property or know of a building that could be used to bring families and individuals inside? If you do, please call me at 206 684 8801.  


This week volunteers from Lowe’s, AGC, and Republic Waste Management Services joined forces and donated supplies to paint and spruce up the Travelodge Mary’s Place is using as a temporary family shelter. Every room for families and kids was painted in one day. “One and done ” said Marty Hartman. Thank you, volunteers!