The 30 agencies selected for city grants have committed to move more than twice as many people into permanent housing in 2018 than in the previous year.
More than a year has passed since I issued a robust set of recommendations to the city of Seattle regarding its homeless population. I have been watching closely to see whether there would be the leadership, political will and courage to transform a patchwork of programs into a more effective, efficient, housing-focused system. The $34 million in competitive funding awards announced on Monday do just that.
The 30 agencies that were selected have committed to move more than twice as many people into permanent housing in 2018 than in the previous year. These agencies have also pledged to be part of a person-centered crisis response system that responds to the unique needs of each family and individual, better addressing the specific needs of African Americans and Native American/Alaska Native peoples, who experience homelessness at higher rates.
At its core, these funding awards represent implementation of my recommendation that the city shift to a competitive and performance-based contracting approach. The city was right to prioritize the quality of the shelter over a basic bed count that does nothing to end homelessness.
I was encouraged to see that the number of enhanced shelter beds, available for use 24/7, will more than double with 71 percent of emergency shelter funding being directed to this best practice model of shelter. And, consistent with another recommendation to help more families and individuals avoid homelessness or exit more quickly to stable housing, the city is nearly tripling funding for diversion and rapid rehousing.
As expected, some currently funded programs did not meet criteria for investment or scored well enough to receive funding. Wisely, the city has set aside some “bridge funding” to help current programs that were not funded to transition the families and individuals enrolled.
In the face of provider concerns about the loss of funding, the City Council may want to revisit the overall funding pool and provide additional funding to invest in programs that scored well but not high enough for the limited resources that were available. This would be far preferable to giving separate funding awards to programs that have histories of poor performance, are not aligned with best practices and/or are not effectively serving priority populations.
These funding awards mark significant forward progress, but there are many other pieces of the puzzle that need to be addressed. More investment to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing, paired with greater innovation, is needed to expedite housing development. Innovations such as the Housing Resource Center, a one-stop access point to affordable housing, is a now-stalled project that needs to move forward. The business community should step up to help get this important effort launched.
The city and King County recently collaborated on a 100-Day Challenge to reduce youth and young-adult homelessness; lessons learned through the challenge need to be implemented.
Finally, the city and county must work together to better use data so that real-time program improvement becomes possible and so that individuals and families can benefit now from all the data that various agencies are collecting.
As Mayor Jenny Durkan steps into leadership, and takes on what I think is Seattle’s most pressing civic challenge, she is encouraged to act boldly and with urgency to build on this progress. Durkan should stay laser focused on creating permanent housing pathways and ensuring urgent implementation of a coordinated crisis-response system to ensure that people spend as little time as possible homeless.
And greater attention and focus is needed to ensure that no infant or child is unsheltered — the consequences to children are severe yet the scope of the problem is one that is imminently solvable. With Durkan’s leadership and the willing partnership of County Executive Dow Constantine, I am confident that Seattle can join the ranks of cities that have made significant progress toward ending homelessness.