King County, Seattle, cities unite on regional plan to fight homelessness

Today, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new regional effort to help people experiencing homelessness receive services and access to a permanent home. Along with city leaders, service providers and All Home, Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine will convene a joint task force to assess needs and resources, and propose a strategy that will get people living unsheltered into permanent homes, keep people in their homes and out of homelessness, and coordinate responses to root causes such as behavioral and mental health and substance use disorders. The scope of the effort reflects the reality that homelessness is a regional crisis, and presents an opportunity for a robust, coordinated response.

The effort would be funded by a 0.1 percent sales tax increase that would go to King County voters in 2018. Seattle, King County and other jurisdictions have been working together closely to address this regional crisis, creating a more coordinated system that focuses on the individual needs of people living outside and that uses a data-driven approach to ensure programs are accomplishing the goal of getting more people into permanent housing. Today’s announcement will lead to increased coordination and accountability, while the City of Seattle continues its work to address other impacts, such as increased trash and needle cleanup.

This region-wide, $68 million per year funding package would replace the previously-proposed, Seattle-only property tax levy.

“Homelessness is a regional and national issue, which is why we’ve always worked closely with King County to help people get access to services and housing,” said Mayor Murray. “We came together to have national experts review our service system and have seen progress implementing their recommendations. But we need to accelerate and intensify that effort, to move more people inside faster, get people on the pathway to a permanent home and ensure people experiencing homelessness can access the services they need. This path is an opportunity to make a more dramatic impact with our partners and to show accountability to the public before we move forward.”

“Homelessness is a regional challenge that heeds no boundaries. Our approach is to work with partners in all of the region’s cities to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time,” said Executive Constantine. “We will develop a comprehensive proposal, with the right people around the table – including our dedicated housing and homelessness service providers and the community. We all feel concern for those who are unsheltered, and we know the urgency of the task before us: to ensure everyone has a place to call home.”

Homelessness is a region-wide crisis, with significant increases across King County over the last two years. Housing affordability, a major cause of homelessness according to the recent needs assessment, is a major challenge in Seattle and King County, with every $100 increase in rent associated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness in urban areas and a 39 percent increase in rural and suburban areas.

Cities and King County each contribute to addressing the crisis based on specific government functions and available funding. Both King County and Seattle make significant investments in homeless crisis response services and affordable housing with the federal, state and local funds they administer. Seattle and King County work to ensure coordinated deployment of these resources, plugging in the right funding for the right programs at the right times.

The City and County have already seen successes.

  • Seattle launched the Navigation Team, a team of outreach workers and specially trained police officers who connect with people living unsheltered and offer services and alternative shelter.   Early results are promising – nearly 60 percent of people engaged by the Navigation Team have accepted services compared to less than 5 percent previously.  This includes 85 people who left unsafe unauthorized encampments to stay in shelter, at authorized encampments, in a motel or have reconnected with family.
  • Between King County and Seattle, the City’s Navigation Center and 5 additional 24/7 new enhanced emergency shelters are in process (2 in Seattle, 1 in Bellevue, 1 in Kirkland and 1 in Kenmore).  One recently opened for families in White Center.
  • King County, Seattle, and United Way have agreed to use common performance metrics in contracting for homelessness services, with a primary focus on exits to permanent housing.  United Way and King County have both completed their first RFP using these agreed upon metrics.  Seattle will do so later this year.
  • Seattle has lead the implementation of the “By Name List” practice in partnership with King County and service providers to address the housing needs of 200 people residing for in shelter for extremely long periods of time.  After 5 weeks of effort, 14 individuals have moved out of shelter and into permanent housing, freeing up shelter beds that will serve 70 people over the next year.  The By Name List efforts for Veterans, Families with Children and Youth/Young Adults are also underway.
  • King County has brought 46 new inpatient mental health treatment beds online since August 2016 and will bring another 46 on line by 2017.
  • King County, All Home and the City of Seattle have reduced barriers that impeded access to housing programs. Prior to these efforts, there were 105 distinct screening criteria that precluded many from accessing the programs that were supposed to help.  Now, there are only 5 core criteria and none related to eviction history.

As part of this announcement, a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between King County Department of Community and Human Services, Seattle Human Services Department and Seattle Office of Housing, will further align investments and the group will report on progress by the end of this year.

In the coming weeks, Mayor Murray will send legislation to the City Council to create an expert review panel to oversee and monitor City work on homelessness, to ensure the City is making progress toward the goals laid out in Pathways Home, and so the public can see that progress.

Today’s announcement will accelerate this work by helping ensure the system is more inclusive to those who need services and housing, and will significantly increase housing options, whether short-, medium-, or long-term. Offering these options and tying them to needed services helps get more people through to permanent housing quickly.

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