More than 11,000 people are experiencing homelessness in King County and Seattle. That is a big problem — but communities around the country have implemented effective policies and solutions, and so can we.
As former executives of King County, we know firsthand that past local efforts have been well intentioned, but our fragmented and siloed approach has failed to address a problem of this complexity and scale. Now we know what needs to be done to make this work.
The first step is to form a regional homelessness authority that consolidates funding and policy, makes services accessible countywide, brings a diverse set of voices and perspectives together to inform solutions, and uses real-time data to drive action — all to make significant reductions in people experiencing homelessness. It is time for King County to come together as a region around an approach that works for us — one that, as The Seattle Times editorial board recently pointed out, will help us better understand the scope and complexities of this issue and make for a more effective response.
This month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed the creation of a regional authority tasked with executing a countywide action plan. This important first step brings together key organizations and government entities — along with their respective resources and perspectives — around a common objective. County and city council members will soon be asked to vote on applying this approach to our region. It’s imperative that they not only vote to support it but actively champion it as an essential step to a regional homelessness response system.
What’s exciting and encouraging about a regional response is that it goes beyond just policy. The regional authority will be the first in the nation to bring together a host of local community leaders, philanthropists, business leaders and individuals with lived experience to build the support and infrastructure needed to successfully move forward. It uses resources already at our disposal, and it integrates an array of perspectives and expertise — reflective of our region’s diversity and innovative spirit — to shape solutions that ensure racial equity and help build public support. The countywide action plan would ensure that each city and neighborhood in every corner of the county — from Seattle to Burien, Shoreline to Kent — has a strong and consistent say in the shaping and direction of the authority. Input from King County’s different cities will be critical to developing solutions that work for the specific needs of each community.
Most notably, the regional authority will put those with lived experience at the leadership table so that solutions and subsequent execution are thoughtfully and effectively implemented. People who experience homelessness in King County are parents, students, veterans, youth exiting the foster care system, those struggling with mental- or physical-health conditions, and hardworking individuals who could not afford housing with our region’s skyrocketing living costs. We need these voices representing these perspectives at the decision-making table.
This is not business or politics as usual; it’s the collaborative effort that we cannot do without. If we collectively sign on and support the plan, we have a real shot at moving forward long-overdue solutions to a crisis that, if unaddressed, threatens what our communities across King County believe to our core: that all people deserve opportunity and the right to live with dignity. We are all impacted by the decisions and actions we take next, because what’s at stake is nothing short of who we are as a community and what makes us proud to call this forward-thinking, vibrant region home. This regional response represents a more effective path forward. Let’s follow it.