Plymouth Housing’s announcement that donations will enable construction of 800 new supportive housing units promises more potent traction in Seattle’s long homelessness crisis.
The generosity of Puget Sound corporations and citizens in contributing nearly $50 million toward a $75 million goal for this project — which also requires $250 million in public funding — is awe-inspiring.
Amazon, Microsoft, Connie and Steve Ballmer, Wyncote Foundation NW, Swedish Health Services, Premera Blue Cross and Providence St. Joseph Health each contributed $5 million — amazing generosity in perhaps Seattle’s direst area of need.
Credit must be given to Plymouth Housing for lining up this series of contributions. The variety of donors who stepped up shows both a success in outreach by the nonprofit and a shared realization that our city needs rejuvenation of a magnitude government alone has failed to provide.
The eight new buildings of apartments where chronically homeless people can obtain social services and health care, including one focused specifically on homeless veterans, can be the beachhead in managing homelessness Seattle’s leaders have flailed at for years.
Seattle stands at the epicenter of both Puget Sound’s homeless population and of the resources intended to address it. Yet even since the 2015 proclamation of a civil emergency, official city action has been beset by a series of feckless efforts, including the abortive head tax debacle, perpetual clearouts of ad-hoc encampments and troubled relationships with services contractors.
Philanthropy is no panacea for getting everyone experiencing homelessness into better ways of living. But it is a valuable mechanism to move solutions forward, as well as a key indicator of how much a community cares about an issue. The willingness of big-money donors to throw in behind Plymouth Housing’s proposal shows how acutely the need for better help is felt.
Thousands more King County residents than these new apartment buildings can house are badly in need of help to break the cycle of chronic homelessness, but the Plymouth Housing project can help. Plymouth Housing counts a 94% success rate in getting people out of chronic homelessness. If that holds as the nonprofit almost doubles its capacity in scaling up to serve 2,000 clients, the results will stand as an accomplishment.
The overarching solution to homelessness Seattle longs for remains beyond even this admirable effort. The problem is so multilayered that the necessary treatments present a web of complexity. However, the demonstrated success of supportive housing shows that progress can be achieved. The cost is steep, and Seattle’s housing levy and money from county, state and federal sources account for the necessary public side of the equation.
As Amazon senior vice president Jay Carney told The Washington Post, ensuring adequate affordable housing is a government function, not an obligation for a private business. The large-sum philanthropy exhibited in the Plymouth Housing donations displays a willingness to help a city in crisis. Within a few years, eight new buildings blended into Seattle neighborhoods will be vibrant evidence of an exemplary giving spirit in Seattle’s hour of urgent need.