3. Homelessness continues to be the top issue facing Seattle, yet we have made little progress toward housing our homeless population. In your estimation, what is the City’s role in addressing this crisis? Where would you spend your energy, leadership and resources to have the greatest impact?
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King County is facing a homelessness rate of about 0.5%, in line with other West Coast cities (SF – 0.85%, LA – 0.54%, PDX – 0.63%). While we can and should reduce this rate through policy improvements (particularly land use, see Q4), we should expect that we will need to provide services for about 13,000 unsheltered individuals county-wide on an ongoing basis. Right now, we provide shelter (and related services) to only 6,000 individuals—6,500 bed deficit.
Evidence shows that the Housing First model is the most eﬀective way to address the compounding issues (mental & physical health, addiction disorders, etc) for those experiencing homelessness. As such, I see closing the 6,500 bed deficit as the highest priority for addressing homelessness in the region. We will need to be thoughtful about how we expand services to provide a continuum of care. Some individuals will be able to exit into self-suﬃciency, others will need community support in some form on a continuous basis. Our expansion of services will need to be matched carefully to the needs of each underserved cohort of homeless individuals.
It is also worth noting that New York City spends approximately $230 per capita per year on homeless services while the King County area spends approximately $95 per capita per year. In essence, we are funding a cut rate level of services and are receiving cut rate quality of service. I do expect we can use our existing resources more eﬃciently, and there are significant deficits in monitoring and accountability for some of our contracted service providers; both issues I intend to address. I do expect, however, that once we have improved the eﬃcacy of our existing spending, we will need to return to the voters for additional revenues if we wish to truly address homelessness.
Homelessness is a region-wide issue and will require coordination with the county and neighboring cities and towns, so additional discussion will be necessary before we can identify the best route forward on this front.
Seattle communities should be healthy, safe, and vibrant. Seattle has a core responsibility to shelter and house our unsheltered population. I would work on expanding the number of low-barrier 24/7 shelters available (and put them throughout the city); prioritize treatment on demand, using in part the additional funding coming from the state legislature for mental health and substance abuse; create incentives to bring back online apartments and hotels which have laid unoccupied for decades using Economic Opportunity Zone tax deferrals and other programs; implement a program similar to Atlanta’s “Open Doors” so the city has market-rate apartments available immediately for low-income, temporarily homeless individuals and families; and explore any other possibilities that will expedite the availability of affordable housing.
With our expanded partnership with the county, I would also look into a large bond to fund more than 1000 supportive housing units for our chronically homeless, work to waive the permit fees for those new developments, and ask the state to waive sales tax. I think we have to look at every stage of the journey from the street to permanent housing and make sure we have a comprehensive data-driven model to inform our decisions. Let’s make sure our funding is being used efficiently, defund programs that aren’t working, and give programs that are working the support they need.
Homelessness is a regional issue that requires regional solutions. The new joint King County/Seattle approach is long overdue.
It is the City Council’s duty to find a solution to Seattle’s homelessness crisis. I would commit my time addressing the problems and solutions highlighted in the Seattle’s Housing Services Department audit report. This would include investing in a software for resource organizations to communicate and collaborate and funding more around the clock hygiene/bathroom centers. In addition, I would work on funding working training programs for homeless and formerly homeless individuals and collaborate with employers to hire homeless individuals and/or individuals with criminal records.
Watching my representative’s lack of urgency in addressing this issue is what motivated me to run for this seat in the first place. Both as someone who has experienced homelessness/housing instability and in my current role as Program Manager with All Home King County, I have grown deeply in my expertise on the issue of homelessness. My work at All Home centers around two important areas, youth homelessness and prevention & diversion services. As it pertains to youth, we know that 48% of adults experiencing homelessness experienced homelessness as a young person. This means, if we shift our focus toward preventing and addressing youth homelessness, we can easily disrupt the pipeline into an experience of homelessness. Plus, the Diversion approach in homelessness has shown to cost a fraction of other interventions with high rates of exits to permanent housing. We need to more deeply invest in what’s working and right size our funding for other interventions. Overall, the role of local government is to ensure that our city is a place where everyone, regardless of means, can live with dignity. This means meaningfully and thoughtfully addressing the homelessness crisis. This issue is intricate and complex, and will require all of us to come together to implement effective solutions. Fortunately we already have evidence-based solutions that work, programs such as Diversion; enhanced shelters; by name lists; increased bedcounts in no-barrier shelters; a ‘housing-first’ approach – which believes that getting people into housing, even temporary housing, is the first necessary step towards helping them address their other problems; increasing summer employment and other opportunities for our young people; and others. I will not only work carefully with the funds we already have dedicated towards this issue, to ensure we are investing in the most effective and cost-effective solutions, I will also fight for other progressive revenue sources to combat this crisis.
Additionally, this is not a problem that the city of Seattle can, or should, solve on its own. It is time that our surrounding cities step up their investment, and partner with us. It is also imperative that we work with at the state level on funding and investments in this crisis.
We can’t call everyone on our streets “homeless” and expect to provide the proper solutions. Barbara Poppe’s report of our failure to adequately address the homeless crisis did not contain the words ‘drug’ or ‘addict’. We can’t bring people into proper shelter without determining each person’s needs and addressing them. We need to provide a different set of services for the economically homeless (housing vouchers, job counselling and caseworkers) from those who are living on our streets due to mental health and/or drug addiction (residential treatment, proper medication, caseworkers and mentors to closely follow their progress).
Our City leadership has failed to follow Barbara Poppe’s thoughtful recommendations regarding homelessness in general and fund programs to align with a well-conceived plan of action. It was frustrating to watch the City Council budget hearings as they added their pet projects to the mix without regard for a bigger vision or the previous outcomes of those agencies.
If elected, I will audit the over 100 agencies that are being funded to address ‘homelessness’ and determine which agencies are not producing any measurable results. Going forward, I would want to consolidate the effort into a few effective agencies that would continue to be monitored for outcomes and measurable results.
Since we have a housing crisis, we must act expediently to address the problem: contract directly with builders to build SROs on surplus city property (which could later be converted to youth hostels); work with King County to convert the nurses’ dorm across from Harborview into a residential treatment program for drug addiction; temporarily use long-vacant properties to serve as emergency housing. We can act swiftly and decisively by working with our Governor to bring additional resources to Seattle to address the problem and assist with the construction of proper shelters. Long-term, I want mandatory, inclusionary affordable housing in all new developments, across the affordability spectrum.