A Coalition of Service Providers and Business Organizations Signal Strong Support for the Bill
This morning Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced legislation to broaden $12 million of Council spending authority authorized earlier this spring to expand emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness. “When we originally passed this legislation there was no American Rescue Plan or updated revenue forecast.” Said Councilmember Lewis. “These new conditions give us more options to quickly stand up necessary enhanced hotel shelters to get more of our neighbors experiencing homelessness inside as Seattle re-opens this summer.”
Council President Lorena González, and Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda are co-sponsors of the legislation.
As City resources have recovered the deadline to re-open has inched closer to reality. Governor Jay Inslee announced last month that COVID-era orders limiting many activities will be rescinded by June 30th, or potentially even sooner.
“The crisis of homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorder demands an urgent and compassionate response to help those in need get off the streets,” said Jon Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association. “The situation today is harmful to people living unsheltered and makes it difficult to reopen small businesses and arts and cultural venues downtown. We are grateful for Councilmember Lewis’ leadership to expand JustCARE, a proven and compassionate program to bring people inside and connect them to essential services.”
Pre-pandemic, an estimated 348,000 people worked in the Downtown neighborhood on a daily basis. “Getting our large and small businesses back open and people back to work in one of our region’s biggest job centers is vital to a strong and inclusive economic recovery. And taking action to keep people safe and support our unsheltered residents is an important part of the equation,” said Rachel Smith, President & CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “This proposal will help us get people inside – and get the supports they need – and begin to restore the confidence of employers that Seattle can tackle the challenges we face.”
The proposal seeks to build on the work done by a consortium of service providers known as JustCARE which came together to offer a response to issues encountered by the Pioneer Square and Chinatown/International District neighborhoods last year. JustCARE has not had the resources to fully respond to the needs of those neighborhoods and, until now, no resources to work in the rest of downtown Seattle. When the alliance has been resourced adequately, the impact has been compelling. During a Seattle City Council presentation last month Professor Katherine Beckett shared the preliminary results of a University of Washington study indicating significant public safety, housing, and public health benefits from the JustCARE model. According to the UW study, areas near encampments saw a nearly 40% reduction in emergency calls after JustCARE interventions. In those areas, there were more than 100 fewer 9-1-1 calls compared to the same period the year before. Only 3% of people screened by JustCARE are not suitable for the program and only 13% of participants have unsuccessful outcomes. Even without any dedicated channel for permanent housing, the JustCARE hotel-based teams already have been able to place 36 participants in permanent housing in recent months (15% of those who have entered to date), with about half taking less than 5 months to complete that process.
The hotel-based shelters are specifically staffed to attend to the needs of people with high-barrier challenges related to substance use and mental health. “If you treat people with dignity, listen to what their needs are, and structure a program to deliver, you can have success,” said Dominique Davis, a principal at Wheeler Davis, a company formed to de-escalate safety issues in lieu of police response, which has a scheduled presence at the hotels used by JustCARE.
Only a handful of those assessed by the REACH program for JustCARE hotel placements as having needs that would be met by hotels, have declined these offers. JustCARE also engages LEAD staff at REACH to address dynamics that are challenging for the neighborhood but don’t need a hotel placement response.
“JustCARE is a model that lets us assess the entire ecosystem on the street and mobilize the best available answer to each facet of these often complex dynamics, which ends up with the optimal outcome both for people living on the street and for the surrounding neighborhood,” said Chloe Gale of Evergreen Treatment Services/REACH.
“JustCARE is a model we built with our hearts and our heads. We knew we had the skills to support most of those living on the streets of our neighborhoods, if we could provide a safe, dignified, stable location and could have some time to work with participants. Everyone who’s been doing the work is committed to continuing,” said Victor Loo, who has led the Asian Counseling and Referral Service JustCARE team since last fall and was recently appointed Executive Director at Seattle Counseling Service, which is contemplating joining the JustCARE consortium.