Homelessness:  We Know the Problem and We Know How to Solve It.

Home » Homelessness:  We Know the Problem and We Know How to Solve It.

Last month All Home issued its comprehensive count identifying the number of people who are homeless in Seattle and King County.  King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles and I held a joint committee on May 31, 2017 where the results were issued publicly for the first time.  You can watch the presentation on the King County channel here.

During the 2017 One-Night Count, participants found an astonishing 5,485 people county-wide without shelter, including people living in tents, vehicles, encampments.  This number is nearly 1000 more than counted last year.  What differed from previous years is that we used a nationally recognized count methodology, and did a multi-week person-to-person survey.  Many of the people involved in this personal contact work had been formerly homeless themselves, giving us new insights and inroads to encampments we had not reached previously.

This year’s count is deemed more thorough and accurate than in the past,  which is important for acquiring limited federal funding.  And, because of the new point in time data and information received, we will build on what we’ve learned and prioritize moving more vulnerable people into housing faster.

You can read the entire report here:  Count Us In Comprehensive Report.

If you prefer to read the shorter Executive report, the summary is here.

Here are five key points shared by our Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester, and Adrienne Quinn, King County’s Director of the Department of Community and Human Services:

  1. A new, more comprehensive point in time count for 2017 reveals 11,643 people were experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County.  That includes the 5,485 people who were found unsheltered, and 6,158 people living in transitional housing and emergency shelters.

2.   People who are experiencing homelessness in our region are our neighbors.  77% of people interviewed said their last stable home was within King County.

3.  We are transforming the way Seattle/King County helps people move from homelessness to housing and increasing our impact. We have a solid data-backed plan and are implementing it.

4. The three-fold challenge of skyrocketing rents, stagnant wages, and limited access to behavioral health resources must be addressed if we are to solve homelessness.

5.  Homelessness will only be solved with the commitment and resources of our entire community. Big thanks to the private sector including Amazon, the Allen Family Foundation, Starbucks and others who have recently provided millions of dollars to Mary’s Place, Mercy Housing and others to build hundreds of units of stable family supportive housing.  We need every bit of it.

I also want to recognize the  growing partnership between the Public Health and Human Services leadership in Seattle and King County departments.  Last week in my June 14, 2017  Human Services and Public Health Committee, leaders from Public Health, Department of Community and Human Services as well as the City’s Department of Human Services gathered in the City Council Chambers to discuss how we are working together to increase the public’s interest in increasing both the housing supply and investments in medically assisted treatment that works both in Seattle and across King County.    The problems go way beyond Seattle’s borders. There are 39 incorporated cities and towns across King County, and all should be doing their share to help us address this homelessness crisis.  You can watch this section Public Health Presentation here.

The key recommendations from the Health Department: invest in basic public health efforts, increase the stops for the mobile health vans, and assure medically assisted treatment-on-demand for people with drug addiction and mental health issues.  We have established clinics across the county and these must be funded and the availability of buprenorphine increased significantly in every city

These investments are supported through funds received from many sources including federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).  If federal funds are reduced or eliminated by the current administration, and if our state legislature does not continue to support or increase investments in these services, our ability to invest in what we know works will be significantly compromised.  The result?  More people on the street, more debris, more tragedy.

City and County voters continue to do their part and we can’t do it alone. Quoting Dow Constantine: “We have a plan to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time, and the renewal of [King County’s] Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy is a big part of it.”  Voters will have an opportunity to vote on this levy renewal come this November, 2017.

In short, we know what will help move people permanently out of homelessness county-wide:   Increase the number of 24/7 shelters and temporary housing options, add low income and affordable units to the housing supply across neighborhoods, and invest in mental health and drug addiction treatments.  These are investments that work and they must not be short changed on the state and federal levels.