We’ve learned that meaningful progress on homelessness will require two things: Unified decision making and accountability, as well as an ambitious plan to address this crisis.
Given how many of our fellow citizens we see sleeping under bridges, in tents and in their cars, it’s easy to be skeptical that there is a path forward to addressing homelessness in our region.
What’s less visible, however, is the steady progress our region has made. Since 2017, homelessness among youth under 18 is down 22 percent, and veteran homelessness has been cut by a third. Service providers, working in tandem with government partners, doubled the number of people connected to housing through homelessness services from 2013 to 2017.
Sometimes it’s hard to see those successes. After all, how can you tell someone used to experience homelessness? But those successes hold important lessons for how we move forward together.
We’ve learned that meaningful progress on homelessness will require two things: Unified decision-making and accountability, as well as an ambitious plan to address this crisis.
To the first point, this week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced their intent to create a new unified entity that will set policy, improve the existing use of resources and fund solutions to make experiences of homelessness in our community rare, brief and one-time.
While this governance change alone will not solve the severe lack of affordable housing, behavioral-health resources and other root causes that contribute to homelessness, it is a first and important step in the right direction. Rather than seeing and acting on bits and pieces of this complex problem, this entity will be responsible for seeing and studying the whole problem and executing a plan that best leverages our resources.
To the second point, our next step should be to build an ambitious action plan — one that has clear metrics and milestones for measuring success and is clear about what it will cost us to achieve quantifiable results. We must examine policies that are barriers to addressing the root causes of this complex problem.
Homelessness involves affordable-housing shortages, mental and physical health care, the criminal-justice system, child welfare, job loss and structural racism, to name just a few — and it requires an integrated array of solutions. But those can’t be implemented when the many organizations responsible for them work in silos, based on different understandings of both the problem and solutions.
This is why our path forward must integrate decision making and accountability under one roof and unite us around a bold plan to solve this crisis.
These two steps are rooted in widespread observations and concerns among agencies serving people experiencing homelessness. They’re based on an independent review of more than 1,000 pages of budget and policy documents, as well as more than 50 interviews and 12 workshops with 200 people — including those experiencing homelessness and the dedicated front-line staff who serve them.
We are committed to working with our government partners and other leaders to do this work in 2019 and beyond. Effectively addressing this crisis will require all of us — government, business, philanthropic and civic leaders, service providers and people who have experienced homelessness.
These recommendations are important first steps. Silver bullets and quick fixes are enticing, but they won’t serve our region for decades to come. This effort represents a fundamental change in the way we see and respond to our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. It should give us the confidence that there is indeed a path forward.