FOR the first eight years of its life, the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County has mostly focused on the long-term fix.
It operated on the assumption that, with enough subsidized housing to offer homeless people, and enough effort to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place, King County might really end homelessness — or come close. That strategy led to nearly 5,200 units of deeply subsidized housing added since 2005.
But homelessness, of course, is nowhere near its end. The number of people counted on the streets during the annual One Night Count has actually risen (from 1,946 in 2006 to 2,736 this year) since the plan’s launch. Shelters serving single adults — which account for most shelter beds — are routinely full.
And for families suddenly homeless, getting crisis shelter is even harder. New data from Catholic Community Services of Western Washington show there is an appalling six-month waiting list for families to get crisis — yes, crisis — shelter. How those families survive in the interim is a stomach-churning mystery.
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Under pressure from advocates, the Committee to End Homelessness, the public-private partnership that owns the Ten-Year Plan, is wisely re-evaluating its strategy.
But our community must not detour from authentic efforts to reverse and correct this trend. A robust and jobs-rich local economy, a high-quality education system offering everyone a path up the income ladder and a safety net to catch those who fall off must continue to be at the heart of efforts.
In a briefing before the Seattle City Council last week, Gretchen Bruce, the committee’s interim director, said the group is preparing to vote later this month on a renewed focus on the crisis response system.
That effort would start with spending $3 million of existing money in Rapid Rehousing, a promising model intended to get families back into stable housing, as quickly as possible, before the dehumanizing grind of long-term homelessness makes it that much harder.
A renewed focus on crisis shelter services will take an all-hands-on-deck approach. The United Way of King County is dedicating staff to the Rapid Rehousing effort, but more private resources, from corporate and philanthropic partners, will be needed to supplement public money.
And suburban King County cities need to step up and supplement the $35 million Seattle spends yearly on homeless services. Kent is preparing to site a homeless shelter, and another shelter is being eyed for east King County. But withering federal resources require a stronger regional commitment.
But King County currently, with affluence and compassion, allows parents and children to wait six months for crisis shelter. That is an embarrassment that demands immediate attention.