Pathways Home: Report on the First Year

Seattle Human Services Director Catherine Lester presented the results of the first year of the Pathways Home initiative to the Seattle City Council on Monday, September 25. The City of Seattle released Pathways Home, a framework guiding the city’s response to homelessness in six key areas, in September 2016 in conjunction with two national experts’ studies of the homelessness response and investments (Barbara Poppe report and Focus Strategies report) for Seattle and King County.

Pathways Home recognizes that our region’s homelessness response did not effectively address the scope of our homelessness crisis. Further, the City of Seattle had not competitively bid our homelessness services dollars in a decade; and that, our region supports hundreds of human services providers that are individually successful, but are not integrated to systematically work to end a person’s experience with homelessness.

This past year, the City initiated shifts in how our system delivers services to people experiencing homelessness, moving from recommendation to implementation, and recognizing that all partners in our homeless response system share a common goal: to move people into housing as quickly and successfully as possible. Funding programs through the RFP process currently underway ensures that we remain focused on that shared goal.

We are encouraged that the changes implemented so far are already improving the region’s homeless response. We are seeing key successes from our efforts and remain committed to staying the course for continued positive results.

Accomplishments during Inaugural Year of Pathways Home:

• The mission of our services system is to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time. To this end, we are evaluating city funding of programs based on how they are used and how quickly people move through that program to housing.

• The first quarter 2016 and 2017 compared to second quarter of 2016 and 2017 shows an improved trend system wide:
o Bed utilization rate from 74% to 84% across all types of homelessness programs;
o The average length of stay across all homeless programs decreased from 93 days to 74;
o Emergency shelters utilization rate improved from 51% to 74% and the average length of stay decreased from 55 to 32 days;
o Rapid Re-Housing programs (shorter-term housing assistance) increased exits from the programs to permanent housing from 63% to 70%; and
o Transitional Housing programs ( longer, housing assistance and support services) increased utilization rate from 79% to 90%.

• 1,344 households participating in Coordinated Entry for All (CEA), a resolved their housing crises (housed through CEA, diverted from homelessness, and self-resolved) in the second quarter, up from 700 households in the first quarter of 2017.

• 738 families were sheltered from literal homelessness.

• Released the 2017 Homeless Investments Request for Proposal (RFP) which uses a pay for performance model and incorporates performance metrics to evaluate our investments.

• Opened the Seattle Navigation Center and Compass at First Presbyterian Shelter which provide 175 low-barrier, 24-hour shelter beds.

• Established the Navigation Team, comprised of outreach workers and specially-trained police officers, that have contacted 1,340 individuals resulting in 528 people moving from un-managed encampments to safer living spaces and 864 accepting other services such as medical treatment, identification assistance, connection to other agencies.

This is evidence that the changes our community has undertaken over the last year are yielding positive results.

However, we know our community has more work to do. To meet the challenge of homelessness we must increase access to housing regionally, scale our successes to meet the needs of a growing population in crisis, and invest in programs that are proven to reduce homelessness. This transformation requires all partners – City, County, elected officials, non-profits, providers, and clients – to pull together in the same direction to create an integrated response to homelessness that keeps this momentum going.

Pathways Home, as a policy framework, acknowledged that addressing homelessness requires helping the homeless response system to “flex” to accommodate the growing needs, balanced with the emergency and crisis services. It develops a cohesive system of services, setting clear performance expectations for both the City and service providers, and prioritizes housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness.

Pathways Home also recognized that the City had not contracted with agencies through a competitive bidding process in more than a decade. Furthermore, the significant overrepresentation of people of color in our homeless population requires a different approach that is also addressed through the contracting process.

This initiative demonstrates the City’s commitment to making homelessness rare, brief, and one-time by laying out a set of overriding principles to guide homelessness policy and decision making, including funding for homeless investments. These principles are to: (1) Create a Person-Centered Systemic Response; (2) Invest in Models with Demonstrated Success; and (3) Address Racial Disparities.

The City identified six areas to prioritize in the first year because they were likely to have substantial impact quickly or were essential elements of increasing the efficacy of the entire homeless response system:

1) Commitment to Unsheltered Families
2) Expanding Access to Enhanced Shelter
3) Problem Solving Wait Lists
4) Connecting People Living Outdoors to Services
5) Making Housing Units Accessible
6) Ensuring Good Government and Performance

While many goals have been accomplished in the first year of the Pathways Home implementation, there is much more needed. Much of the past year has been focused on changes to the system to meet the needs of the growing number of people living unsheltered in our community. The recently released 2017 Homeless Investments RFP is the tool for fully operationalizing the commitments laid out in Pathways Home.

There are some priority action items that need additional work to bring them to completion, most notably “Making Housing Units Accessible”. This requires more than the City –it requires participation from the private sector, non-profits, and other levels of government. Other action items have been started but, in the spirit of continuous improvement, will need to be regularly revisited; for example continuing the work of reducing wait times for households through the single portal of Coordinated Entry for All (CEA).

By working together over the past year, we have accomplished so much, including building a solid foundation for significant system transformation and strengthening our resolve to ensure our City’s most vulnerable neighbors receive the support they need to end their homelessness.

Read the full report here.