The Metropolitan King County Council earlier this month overwhelmingly approved Health Through Housing, a plan for new revenue proposed by Executive Dow Constantine that could house up to 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in our region. Supported by a broad and bipartisan mix of businesses, philanthropies, nonprofits and elected officials, this measure could be one of the most impactful we’ve seen at housing people with the greatest needs in our county, those with disabilities who are experiencing chronic homelessness.
At the Third Door Coalition, we are focused on the most visible, costly and solvable subset of our community’s homeless population. We believe that the long term solution to chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing. Bringing people out of shelters and tents and into housing that is permanent and provides wraparound services is not only the humane thing to do, it is also cost-effective. Countless studies have proven that it significantly saves taxpayer money compared to the current system of expensive emergency response.
Health Through Housing allows King County to raise revenue, bond that revenue, and use it to purchase hotels, motels and nursing homes across the county that can be converted to supportive units for chronically homeless people. It is a bold step forward in meeting the needs of people in chronic homelessness, but it won’t work in a vacuum — we still must focus on preventing homelessness before it begins, and on building thousands of new permanent homes.
While a hotel room is no substitution for a real home, it is a significant upgrade from an unreliable shelter bed or place on the street. An impromptu trial, executed quickly in response to the pandemic, was proved to have dramatically helped the lives and well being of residents.
Most important, Health Through Housing is focused on housing those most in need — it specifically will prioritize those who make at or below 30% of the area median income, and will prioritize populations that are disproportionately represented in the homelessness system.
In the process of approving Health Through Housing, several cities chose to opt out and collect tax revenue for their own housing purposes — including Bellevue, Renton and Kent. While there has been encouraging progress in suburban communities thanks to organizations like the Eastside Community Development Fund, that momentum is at risk if we don’t work together. An overall lack of unity disrupts what everyone has agreed on for years: Homelessness is a regional problem, and solving it will require regional solutions. Fortunately, there is still time for these and other cities to commit their revenue toward Health Through Housing, or to ensure that their money is spent in a way that is aligned with the county. Additionally, we hope that cities will work collaboratively with the county to help find facilities that can be purchased and turned into housing.
Chronic homelessness looks different depending on where you’re at in King County, from visible tents in Seattle to makeshift shacks on the White River in Auburn. No matter what it looks like in your community, though, we know what will work to solve it: people having a real place to live, and making sure they have access to services that will allow them to become healthy and start new chapters of their lives.
My perspective on homelessness is shaped by my day job as co-owner of Pagliacci Pizza. We have 24 locations across Seattle and the Eastside, and a production facility in Kent. Our employees and our customers come from all over the region, which informs my belief that solving homelessness can best be done only with a comprehensive regional approach. We are stronger when we work together to solve our region’s challenges.