City lays out roadmap for re-vamping homeless investments

Today, Mayor Murray released the Seattle Human Services Department’s (HSD) Homeless Investment Analysis. The Homeless Investment Analysis provides an in depth look at the City’s current and historical investments to prevent and end homelessness as well as make recommendations to move to a more effective system of homeless services. The analysis is part of a broader strategy for investing in homeless services that included the Mayor’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness, formed last fall, which helped lead to last week’s successful passage of homeless encampment legislation.

“Seattle’s $40 million annual investment in homeless services is one of the highest commitments in the nation. However the number of our neighbors lacking access to safe, decent and affordable housing is unacceptably high. We must do better and we need more help from our partners. The City must leverage its limited resources thoughtfully and strategically,” said Mayor Murray. “The findings in the Homelessness Investment Analysis will set the roadmap to shift City investments and service models to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and one-time.”

“The continuous increase of individuals living on our streets tells us that we cannot build our way out of homelessness,” said Catherine Lester, Director, Human Services Department. “Coordinated investments with regional government partners, service providers and the faith community that are focused on a system of prevention and early intervention services are critical to end homelessness.”

The report released today provides an overview of the scope and impact of the City of Seattle’s nearly $40.8 million in investments in homeless services. These investments are part of a larger system providing homeless services and support to homeless and low-income individuals in Seattle and King County. City general fund support for direct homeless services has increased by 102% when adjusted for inflation, growing from $9 million in 2005 to more than $22 million in 2014. During this same time period, external funding for homeless services has declined by an inflation-adjusted 13%, resulting in an increased proportion of City general fund contributions from 38% in 2005 to nearly 60% in 2014. Despite this increased funding from the City of Seattle, the number of homeless in Seattle continues to grow. According to the One Night Count conducted in January 2015, the number of homeless grew by 21% over those found without shelter last year.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • In 2014, HSD invested $40.8 million across 183 contracts and 60 agencies for services.
  • The current system was built with a focus on intervention services and currently there is no strategic policy and investment framework for determining new investments. Additionally, the City has not used predictive modeling tools to assess current investments and future needs.
  • HSD has multiple service contracts with the same providers, which increases administrative burden. The current system is fractured, and funded and evaluated programmatically rather than systemically.
  • The majority of investments are for basic intervention services (i.e., shelters, feeding programs, day or hygiene centers) with less investments for prevention, diversion and rapid housing services.

Moving forward, HSD will design and implement a strategy which builds upon the 2012 Community Supporting Safe and Stable Housing (CSSSH) investment plan and other local and regional planning efforts. The future actions will focus on ensuring that investments made and services provided will make a measurable impact on reducing instances of homelessness. Actions that HSD will take are:

  • Shift investments and service provision to a progressive engagement model, to deliver a portfolio of services through a pilot with selected service providers. This progressive engagement model combines a portfolio of services aimed at making homelessness rare, brief, and one-time, including diversion, shelter, rapid rehousing, housing search and employment navigation. Administrative efficiencies will be created through a single contract for combined services.
  • Scale recent pilots with continual shift and focus on prevention and coordinated assessment/access. Scale and expand on several new investments and initiatives launched in 2014 and 2015, which are based on best practices and are expected to have a positive impact on housing placement and shelter throughput.
  • Prioritize system readiness within HSD and our provider network with advice from national experts on homelessness. Shifting from a program investment strategy to a system investment strategy will require increased capacity, strategic planning and support both internally and externally.
  • Improve investment alignment within HSD’s funding areas, as well as with other funders that support our shared goals in addressing homelessness. Currently, HSD funding is allocated and evaluated at the programmatic level as opposed to being conducted systemically and objectively as part of a seamless system of services.
  • Improve contract and service efficiencies to decrease the administrative burden placed on providers with multiple service contracts.
  • Invest in the data and evaluation capacity that is required for systemic transformation and to address known issues concerning the HMIS system’s ongoing support needs, data integrity issues and consistent provider participation.

A copy the Homeless Investment Analysis can be found here.