We all need a second chance at some point in our lives. Many of us have done something in our past we regret. That said, our mistakes should not define us, especially when we’ve paid the price for what we’ve done.
Council Member Herbold has been championing in her Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee the “Fair Chance Housing” legislation, creating a policy that would give individuals who have been convicted of criminal offenses and completed their sentences another chance at getting stable housing. It would restrict landlords from considering convictions when deciding whether to offer tenancy to a person. In other words, a person who has served his or her term in prison will get a fair chance to get housing.
This is bold legislation. I support this approach because it is another step to help people acquire stable housing rather than dooming them back to the spin-cycle of the street to prison pipeline. We need this tool.
The level of incarceration in our country remains shockingly high. According to research offered by Professor Katherine Beckett at the University of Washington, nearly 25 percent of all the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in the United States. That percentage is higher than in China or Russia. “We’re number one” is not a badge of honor here.
From a race and social justice perspective, the statistics are even more alarming. The data varies from state to state, but the strong pattern is adult black males have felony convictions on their records five to seven times more frequently than adult white males. Arrests and convictions for drug-related crimes continue to be disproportionately frequent and severe for black males.
For individuals leaving prison with a felony on their record, their sentence never truly ends. Former inmates tell me they are penalized in so many ways: they struggle to find work, receive loans, gain an education, acquire social service benefits, or successfully reengage with the community they left behind when incarcerated. Race, class, gender and sexual orientation create additional barriers to success. The inclusion of the phrase “felons need not apply” in rental housing ads—or a door slamming before a conversation can begin—makes it nearly impossible to return as a fully participating community member.
This situation was made painfully clear to me by a 56 year old man named Carl who had come back to Seattle after years of prison time in Walla Walla. I met him through a re-entry program. He was full of hope. He held a high school diploma from a mid-west city but he whispered to me “I can’t read.” Clearly, he had been passed on and passed over much of his life. I spent time with him working on his reading and basic math skills. He was a smart guy. He looked for work; he looked for housing; he slept on his friends’ couches until they would put up with him no more. He wanted to find a two-bedroom unit so that he could bring his daughter to live with him. It didn’t happen.
Today in Washington, a landlord can use criminal records to screen tenants for up to seven years after the date the person is released from jail or prison. This is profoundly demoralizing for the person released from jail, because his or her jail sentence in effect continues on. It further contributes to our growing homelessness issues because people without options go back to the street.
Being refused housing based on past convictions is especially unfair because empirical data fails to show that having a criminal record affects someone’s ability to be a good tenant. In fact, the reverse is true. Those returning from prison report they WANT housing. Statistics back this up. With a bit of coaching and a job, they can be responsible tenants.
Rather than further punishing those who have served their sentence, I want to try a new approach. I am committed to increasing our housing supply and working with landlords to get housing for those who have challenges. Programs are set up in prison offering good-tenant training to those who are returning. Part of our human services investments should expand these programs.
I am supporting the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, including the proposed amendments.
The Ordinance with amendments will allow more people to access housing. Under our proposed legislation, arrests that did not lead to conviction or convictions that have been expunged, vacated, or sealed may not be used to screen tenants.
Under this legislation—even with the amendments—a landlord may conduct a credit check, evaluate prospects’ income, look at their tenant history, check references, restrict sex offenders, and remove a bad tenant. What they can’t do is ban a person solely because of the time served in prison.
Our current system is flawed. Passing Fair Chancing Housing, without a “look back” period will help get people stabilized, reunite them with their family, open doors for jobs, and help us heal from the epidemic of mass incarceration. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it will help those who have served their sentences—as well as their families—get a second chance.
The City Council plans to vote on this legislation this month. I will be voting yes.
I frequently meet with neighborhoods to talk about what we are doing to end homelessness. This post — albeit lengthy — offers updates you can share with your neighbors. If you read this to the end and follow the hyperlinks, you may be surprised at how much is really happening and the scope of the efforts to solve the problem. For starters, keep this regularly edited website Homelessness Response Blog close and you’ll be in the know about the latest actions.
In most neighborhoods in our city, the vast majority of us are housed and we are eating well. In some parts of our city, however, pockets of poorly sheltered people are constant reminders that we are living the Tale of Two Cities. Most of us live in relative comfort, and over 3000 of us are just trying to survive. In tents. In RVs and cars. In shelters. Seattle is home to both great opportunity and real despair.
Many housed neighbors call my office to say they don’t like to see the tents along the streets or in our parks. I understand the desire to live in a city where poverty does not exist. Yet this is what I have learned: people living in tents may have once been our neighbors, they may be our neighbor’s brother or a long lost cousin. Most are seriously struggling, many with mental illness or addictions, and many simply can’t afford to live in a rental unit in this city. It’s a rare family in our city who doesn’t have someone who needs assistance or who doesn’t have first hand knowledge with mental illness. Those of us who have resources are fortunate.
I find myself in the middle of this debate: some Seattleites who are living comfortably are frustrated by the encampments and the mounds of accumulating garbage and debris associated with them.
Then we have the debates about the “sweeps” – and under which circumstances encampments can be removed from public property. As I’ve discussed many times in the past, everyone needs housing and stability; yet no one has the unconditional right to camp at schools, on busy sidewalks, or in our parks so that public use is impeded. That is the frame for the polarizing debate: Many say “we’ve paid their taxes” and want to be rid of tents and RV’s. Others argue that until we can provide decent housing for everyone, people should have the right to sleep wherever they can find space. Neither of these polemic views helps solve the bigger problem.
So, what’s being done?
We are building residential units in unprecedented numbers across the city, yet demand for affordable housing is outpacing supply. In our full out effort to address the crisis of homelessness, we’ve connected with other cities across the nation to learn what they have done that is truly working to address homelessness. We’ve consulted with national experts including Barb Poppe who authored our Pathways Home recommendations.
I’m quoting myself here: there’s no silver bullet to eliminate homelessness, but there is silver buckshot. This buckshot approach is what we are doing and we’ve seen progress in 2017.
Here’s what’s changed:
1. Emergency Operations Center Activation and Homelessness Response:
Beginning in February, the City took a new approach to responding to unmanaged tent encampments and garbage and abandoned debris.
Five days a week, Monday – Friday, at 8:30 in the morning, police officers, outreach workers, city staff from the Human Services Department, Facilities Management, Transportation, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, and King County staff from corresponding departments gather in the same room to actively problem solve around Seattle’s emergency homelessness response. This is a “person centered” approach designed to implement the Pathways Home recommendations, and identify individuals on our streets.
In the past ten weeks, city, county, and social service providers have made significant progress on the following goals.
Mission 1: Make an additional 200+ safer living spaces available
The Navigation Center, a 24/7, low-barrier shelter, focusing on connecting residents with stable housing, is under construction and scheduled to open in the late summer.
91 new spaces have opened in shelters and 24-Hour managed encampments
175 new spaces are in development, including a new 100 person, 24-Hour shelter run by Compass Housing.
Special thanks to the private sector: While the City and County have been leveraging levy and tax money to get more people stably inside, the private sector has stepped up and been amazingly generous to house more people.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation donated $30 million for supported family housing. Mercy Housing NW will assume development responsibility.
Starbucks donated $4 million for operational expenses for Mary’s Place.
Amazon offered Mary’s Place the rent-free use of two buildings for shelter for women and children and has just announced that it will build permanent homes for residents of Mary’s Place in its new office tower on 7th and Blanchard St.
More conversations are underway with philanthropic organizations, and the business community is engaged in deep new ways. It is making a big difference.
Mission 2: Reduce Trash
Seattle Public Utilities Department took on responsibility to clean up visible debris along our streets and highways. In the past ten weeks, as street trash cleanup has been enhanced, 1793 tons of trash and debris have been collected from identified hot spots. (To get a sense of how much that is, imagine the equivalent of 10 blue whales lined up head to tail).
Mission 3: Connect people with services and mitigate most hazardous encampments
The Navigation Team, consisting of police officers trained in deescalation strategies and professional outreach workers, meet with residents of unmanaged encampments and offer services and resources that meet individuals’ needs. This is what is called a “person centered response.”
During this 10-week span, the Team made 933 contacts with 377 people.
131 individuals have exited to alternate living spaces. To put this in context, between February – November 2016, using traditional outreach methods, 191 people moved from unmanaged encampments to alternative living spaces. In the past 10 weeks alone, we’ve helped 131 move to other living spaces.
Here’s a lovely example of success: One of our outreach teams located a woman living in the bushes around Golden Gardens Park. She had been assigned housing, but didn’t know it because her case manager couldn’t locate her. The Navigation Team found her and let her know that their records showed she had been selected for housing. She has now moved into her new home.
Mission 4: Implement revised protocols for removals of encampments from public property
Under our new protocols, those who camp on busy city sidewalks or dangerous city streets are notified they cannot stay there. If they do not move within a few hours after receiving notice, their tents are moved to storage. The city recognizes there are significant impacts to individuals when their belongings are removed. So, we have streamlined a process where people’s tents and belongings can be returned to them. Rather than storing stuff that is rarely picked up, the City will deliver property that was stored after an encampment removal back to its owner if the owner identifies the belongings and calls the designated phone number. The delivery system was created to reduce the barrier to retrieving property.
Mission 5: Increase access to housing through the creation of the Housing Resource Center (HRC)
The expertise of the private real estate sector is needed to identify and make available existing housing units for people experiencing homelessness. The city cannot build enough new apartments fast enough and affordably enough to address the demand for housing. So a new program – building on previous success in other cities – is being implemented with the private sector, with the goal of devising new solutions. Detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), designated rental housing through the Landlord Liaison Program and shared dwellings are all options that will get more people safely sheltered.
One goal of the Housing Resource Center is to identify and put units under contract that the city can designate and make available to hard-to-house individuals. The city and county will offer a risk management pool to encourage landlords to participate, make the landlord whole in case of a tenant problem, and provide a 24/7 case manager contact for the benefit of the renter and the landlord. Programs like this work in Hackensack, NJ, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis. We can expand our housing options following this model.
City staff is developing workshops to provide information to private landlords and property owners about the Housing Resource Center.
Mission 6: Engage the public and mobilize community response
The City organized and attended multiple meetings with business community representatives to discuss issues that result from people experiencing homelessness and who are in a health crisis within business districts.
If you are interested in joining the conversation, contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-684-8801.
Mission 7: Maintain Situational Awareness
It sounds like military command-speak, but it’s important. By “maintaining situational awareness”, the City is measuring both the outcomes of the EOC activation and the costs to the City. Future decisions will be based in part on this information.
Mission 8:Employee training and communication
Renewed efforts are underway to train employees and contractors before encampments are to be removed. The emphasis is on reaching out with compassion and real alternatives, protecting the safety of encampment residents, and deepening the skills of employees who do this work.
2. Tiny Houses – Finding comfort in our managed encampments
I have frequently written about building tiny homes and how we can offer people experiencing homelessness a dry place out of the mud, out of tents , and into a secure place they can call their own – for now.
Tiny homes are one step toward a longer term solution. They are not the final solution.
What they offer is an 8×12, insulated, dry space with a door and windows. A space where a couple can stay together, their pets can join them, and they can lock their possessions indoors too. These homes provide stability while we are building and acquiring more permanent units.
In Seattle’s new managed encampments, primarily dominated by tents, more tiny homes are being built. At the Low Income Housing Institute’s managed encampments at Othello, at 86th and Aurora, and in Georgetown these tiny home villages provide a modicum of safety and respect. An article in the Wall Street Journal acknowledged these tiny home communities are expanding in other cities as well.
Courtesy of Sharon Lee
Many volunteers are lending a hand. Organizations and community groups are building a tiny home in one day or weekend and donating the home to those who are running our managed encampments. Late last month, I accepted an invitation from Dale Bright of Laborers Local 242 to build tiny homes with volunteers from many unions, including the Aerospace Machinists, Roofers, Concrete Workers, and Painters. By noon we had two tiny homes framed. Roofs and doors were added in the afternoon and the homes painted and readied for delivery. Our progress was captured in this short video.
Congratulations to the Career and Technical Education winners!
First Place–Rogers High School, Puyallup
Second Place–Raymond High School
Most Unique–Walla Walla High School/SEATech Skills Center
Model Home–Bates Technical College
If you or your group want to build one of these homes, or donate money for lumber and supplies, we welcome your help. We have space for up to 90 more in our new managed encampments. Contact my office at (206) 684-8801 and we will connect you with the service provider.
3. Homelessness Needs Assessment — the results were surprising.
I have heard a version of the following statements over and over again: “This is Free-attle, the police say their hands are tied, and people on the streets are molly-coddled. They should just get a job.”
Our best data does not support these assumptions. These beliefs distract us from creating solutions because they are frankly wrong.
Last fall, we surveyed over 1,000 individuals living both unsheltered and living in our shelters and convened six population-specific focus groups. We wanted to know why people were homeless and what they needed to locate and stay in housing. We hired Applied Survey Research, which has completed social research across the country, to do the work. Data collected confirms that people experiencing homelessness in Seattle are largely from Washington State, they were living paycheck to paycheck, and with the loss of a job or a rent increase, they weren’t able to maintain their housing.
93% of those surveyed said they would accept an offer of safe and affordable housing if it were available,
41% are employed in some capacity,
35% have graduated or completed some college,
28% are aged 30 or younger.
1 in 4 have history in the foster care system
73% were last stably housing in Seattle or King County
Some of the saddest circumstances related to kids on the streets. Jody Waits from YouthCare told a group at a community event earlier this month that she had never, ever met a 17 year-old who chose to be on the street because it was a good life. Many of the kids on the street are there because home is –tragically — a worse option. The kids were running from abuse or rejection. And, as confirmed by my own anecdotal experiences, most of the youth want jobs. They often need both technical work skills and soft skills because they have none. Understanding the challenges that our homeless youth and young adults face is key to creating housing solutions that meet the needs of this specific population. I’ve learned that the best way to understand people’s challenges is to ASK them respectfully and directly. Don’t assume, ask.
4. Looking Forward: Pathways Home
Our focus for the remainder of this year is to create a homelessness services system that prioritizes connecting clients with stable housing. This is the proven and data-supported “housing first” model. It is imperative that people are able to obtain housing so that they aren’t stuck in emergency shelter or encampments. Under Pathways Home, Seattle has identified six priority actions, listed below, and this year we’ve made progress.
House 500 families living unsheltered
The City has created a Family Impact Team to case manage each family on housing wait lists.
In partnership with Mercy Housing NW and the Paul G. Allen Foundation, we are creating permanent housing with services for approximately 100 families.
Expand 24-Hour Shelter Options
The Navigation Center is under construction and scheduled to open this summer.
Compass Housing will operate at new 24-Hour shelter for 100 people.
Problem-solve wait lists for housing
The City has helped 14 people who were long-term shelter stayers find housing. These are people that have spent years in emergency shelter.
Each emergency shelter bed serves around 5 people per year so moving these 14 into housing opens up beds for 70 or so people.
Connect people to services
Creation of the Navigation Team which pairs police officers and outreach workers.
Outreach organizations worked together to create a comprehensive outreach plan.
Make more rental units available
The City has increased investments in rapid rehousing, which provides flexible funding for rental assistance and supportive services.
Ensure good government and performance
The City of Seattle, King County, and United Way, primary funders of the region’s homelessness services system, adopted new standards of performance and have been working with our human service provider partners to meet these standards.
This summer, the City will competitively bid our homelessness services system, around $30 million, for the first time in over a decade.
The new performance metrics will be included in all contracts between the City and its provider partners.
These actions are being coordinated through multiple city and county departments, agencies and programs. I want to commend our Human Services Department, Office of Housing, All Home, and our King County partners for working collaboratively to move Pathways Home forward. We know that Seattle can’t do it alone. We need our county, state, and federal partners; unfortunately, the cavalry isn’t coming and we need to do our best to care for our residents through our own local efforts. I’m proud to represent Seattle’s values in caring for our community members, both housed and unhoused.
I have received many emails from friends and neighbors asking “Why don’t we do what Albuquerque and Portland, Maine are doing – HIRE people who are homeless?”
Good news, we do.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico the city started a program called “There’s a Better Way” which reaches homeless people and connects them to jobs throughout Albuquerque.
I first learned about this Albuquerque program last year from our friend Sgt. Paul Gracy of the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct. In turn, I reached out to Downtown Seattle Association and the Millionair Club. DSA offers work through their successful Metropolitan Improvement District, and the Millionair Club now has joined with United Way of King County to provide job opportunities to people who are homeless through a new program called “Jobs Connect.”
The Millionair Club’s model in Seattle takes Albuquerque’s program a step further. Workers go through background checks, an orientation process, and job training prior to going out to work. More employers are willing to participate in the program this way.
Additionally, workers in Seattle are paid by check, provided with L&I insurance, and the employee pays appropriate taxes. And Jobs Connect helps workers find housing and links the workers to job ready services, such as warm showers, laundry, meals, work, clothes, cell phones, and job licenses.
This holistic model is what many people need to stabilize and to get up and on with their lives.
In the first six months of operation, Millionair Club’s Jobs Connect has seen reasonable success. Those involved agree that combining outreach, job training, job placement and housing placement is a winning combination.
In six months between July 2016 and January 2017 Jobs Connect achieved the following benchmarks:
Reached 3,631 people- This step is crucial in building trust and relationships. It often takes several tries before a person feels comfortable to join MCC’s Supportive Employment Program
715 people have completed at least one day of work
82 people have obtained a long-term job
Here’s a first hand story I have permission to print:
Homeless when he arrived at the Millionair Club Charity, Claudio said he had “hopes, but nothing certain.”
Claudio emigrated to the United States from Brazil and has been a U.S. citizen for 30 years. He speaks seven languages, and ran his own interpreter business in Massachusetts.
Claudio returned to his native country after he and his wife divorced. But employment opportunities in Brazil were few and far between. He thought to himself, “what have I done with my life?”
So he returned to the United States and started working for fish processors in Alaska. The work was hard –often up to 18 hours a day– and his employers were erratic in their payment. So, in February 2017, Claudio moved to Seattle to find something else.
Claudio moved in to the Bread of Life mission and came to the Millionair Club Charity last month. He said there is a difference in the people he met here: “You know, I’ve lived in many places around the world. But Seattle is a great place to be and restart your life. There is more respect here, and more opportunities. At the MCC, my life started to become different.”
Millionair Club Charity reports that while progress is being made for many people like Claudio, they seek help in two things:
More employers are needed—thereare more willing and trained workers than there are jobs.
More affordable housing is also necessary to house the workers. This is why it is imperative we work with our county, state and federal partners as well as the business and nonprofit community to increase our affordable housing options in any way we can.
Next time someone says “Why aren’t we doing what Albuquerque and Portland Maine do?” You’ll know the answer. We do. And you can let them know they, too, can help by calling Jacki Lorenz or Bill Miller at the Millionair Club at 206-728-JOBS (5627) or hiring a local worker through their website here.
I have heard some concerns about location, and I will say that nearly every neighborhood initially has concerns about the location of human service facilities. That said, we have seen in Seattle over the past year movement toward the idea that every neighborhood can be part of the solution, that neighbors have a right to expect amenities such a garbage cans, running water, and more police presence at shelters and encampments, and simultaneously people experiencing homelessness can be welcomed as good neighbors.
Establishing the Navigation Center is a critical piece of our Pathways Home Plan in developing a person-centered effort, and moving individuals inside and ultimately helping them secure housing and needed services is our best approach to reduce homelessness. We are modeling this Navigation Center after what has been successful in San Francisco.
Our new Navigation Center will provide safe and supported indoor space for people experiencing homelessness. I wrote about my visit to the San Francisco Navigation Center last May that addresses many needs that other shelters can’t address, including space for possessions, pets, and partners and offering “radical hospitality” where people’s individual needs are addressed.
Seattle Met’s Rianna Hildago recently wrote about the San Francisco Navigation Center and the impacts on people who are experiencing homelessness. The success San Francisco is having in the Mission District has been documented, so much so that San Francisco intends to open up three more Navigation Centers. Yes, like in Seattle, some San Francisco neighborhoods have pushed back when sites are contemplated in their neighborhood, but things are changing there, too. A new Navigation Center to be opened this March has actually been embraced by neighbors and welcomed by the Dogpatch neighborhood.
In Seattle, support staff and residents will work together to create personalized plans to find permanent housing while providing the basics – restrooms, showers, storage and a place to call home — for now. Seattle is also committed to working with neighborhoods so that addressing homelessness is something we can all get behind with parameters. As I have said repeatedly, government cannot solved the problem of homelessness alone. We all need to get involved in one supportive way or another.
I am encouraged that San Francisco neighborhoods have shown that Navigation Centers can be positive additions. Seattle is providing needed 24/7 shelter –with storage facilities — and I am proud to partner with DESC, our neighborhoods, our caregivers, service providers and police to provide care and a pathway to a better life for some of our most vulnerable residents.
The Seattle Public Libraries (SPL) offer a lifeline for people who are experiencing homelessness.
Libraries offer community spaces to get warm, rest, access the internet, use the bathroom, and read without being disturbed. SPL has also worked hard to reduce barriers to using the library, like issuing library cards to people without a permanent address and taking mobile libraries to tent cities.
Realizing that its “Daily Readers”, in the compassionate parlance of SPL, need more specialized assistance than librarians could offer, the library acted to connect its patrons with social service resources beyond its walls.
With funding from the Seattle Public Library Foundation, SPL worked with the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) to welcome a community resources specialist to the library. Hallie, the first-ever social service worker in our libraries, helps patrons find resources that meet their basic needs. Accessing affordable housing and services is very difficult when a person does not have a permanent home.
Hallie now completes housing assessments for Coordinated Entry For All, the new system through King County that assesses the needs of people experiencing homelessness and matches them to housing resources, and assists with filling out housing applications for other potential options; helps replace lost identification cards; finds storage for personal belongings and connects people with health care.
After working in family shelters since 2010, Hallie works primarily with single adults in the thirty hours she spends per week with SPL. She offers both drop-in hours and meetings by appointment at the Central Library from Tuesday – Friday and recently expanded to the Ballard Library, where she offers drop-in hours between 11:00 – 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday. You can learn more about what Hallie offers here.
SPL Community Engagement Manager Valerie Wonder, Community Resources Specialist Hallie, CM Sally Bagshaw, and City Librarian Marcellus Turner
In addition to spending time in these two libraries, Hallie occasionally joins the mobile services teams when they visit our managed tent cities, allowing her to connect with library patrons around the city. Among the resources that these teams offer when visiting are mobile devices known as a HotSpots that allow connection to the Internet.
Funding from Youth Voice, Youth Choice, a youth participatory budgeting project managed by the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), expanded SPL’s HotSpot program to provide additional mobile internet access to people living in encampments. These HotSpots can checked out for up to two months as part of the Library’s digital equity programs. One device can support up to 15 people and provides access to a basic utility for people experiencing homelessness.
We asked whether the HotSpots get returned to the library, and the answer was yes, at the same frequency and rate as the public at large who have addresses and homes.
We hear a lot about the progress that Seattle has yet to make on the crisis of homelessness, and I agree that the implementation of Pathways Home is critical. We have a lot more work to do.
I want to recognize that our city departments, many philanthropic organizations, human service providers, and community members are creatively and compassionately working to assist vulnerable people right now.
Thanks to City Librarian Marcellus Turner and the Seattle Public Library Foundation, Hallie is available to support the Daily Readers and the library staff who serve all of us.