The new funding plan marks the first time the city has asked Seattle organizations to rebid for funds for services for homeless people. In the process, some longtime providers lost their city contracts.
Seattle homeless-service providers say they can double the number of people who are helped out of local shelters or off city streets and into homes of their own by the end of next year.
And the city of Seattle, which is awarding $34 million in new city-funded contracts to fight homelessness, says it will hold those providers to their promises with new performance benchmarks.
The city’s new contract awards go to 30 agencies chosen from a pool of nearly 60 applicants under the first rebidding for the city’s spending on homelessness in more than a decade. The city received $105 million in requests from providers for that $34 million in city general-fund dollars.
Based on the proposals and the city’s projections, Seattle officials believe the new contracts can deliver dramatic impact. Combined with federal funding for 2017, Seattle had projected 3,026 “exits from homelessness” into stable housing.
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The new 2018 funding plan projects 7,399 exits in 2018 — a whopping 145 percent increase. It is especially ambitious because of Seattle’s white-hot housing market and its steeply rising number of unsheltered homeless people.
To get there, the department will spend more on short-term rental subsidies with Rapid Re-housing programs, which offer homeless people time-limited vouchers on the private marketplace. It also will increase funding for wraparound social services at low-cost housing facilities and other programs serving racial groups disproportionately affected by homelessness.
Interim Mayor Tim Burgess said he’s confident that the city can meet its ambitious new goals because they come from the providers and were vetted by the city human-services department.
“Business as usual is no longer an option. The scale of the human crisis that we face requires that we set high standards for accountability,” said Burgess, whose stint in the mayor’s office ends Tuesday. (Jenny Durkan, winner of the Nov. 7 election, will be sworn in on Tuesday at five neighborhood stops, starting at 3 p.m. at the Ethiopian Community Center at 8323 Rainier Ave S.)
Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, said she’s dismayed that the city deepened its investment in Rapid Re-housing, which she says is not as effective as other programs.
Relying more on rent subsidies will require cooperation from the landlord community. But both Seattle and King County have struggled to find a private-sector partner to connect homeless people with apartments.
“The effectiveness of Rapid Re-housing has been oversold,” said Lee, whose organization saw reductions in city contracts in Monday’s announcement. Lee said she is not convinced that the city’s new plan will help it meet its ambitious goals.
In awarding the new contracts, the city followed through on a promised overhaul of its large shelter system. Seattle will spend less on emergency and overnight programs, moving away from a traditional mats-on-the-floor model that emphasized survival but often offered limited help finding treatment or permanent housing for those staying there.
The new contracts shift millions in funding to “enhanced” shelters, which include more case management and access to treatment, and are thought to more quickly connect people with housing.
The awards are the culmination of a process begun under former Mayor Ed Murray, as the Seattle Human Services Department initiated the first competitive bidding round for homeless-service contracts in years. It followed years of analysis by national experts and the city’s own consultants, who called on the city to reform a “provider-driven” system that was not driven by results.
“The bottom line is that we’re no longer comfortable with managing homelessness for people,” said Jason Johnson, Seattle’s human-services deputy director. “We want to make sure that we are part of ending it, and that the investments we’re making are aligned with that goal.”
The new contract awards come more than two years after Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness.
A recent snapshot count found an estimated 3,857 people living on city streets or in vehicles, a sharp rise from the year before. That number does not include more than 3,300 single adults in shelters countywide on the night of the snapshot. Nor does it include the thousands who newly become homeless each year.
One of the biggest losers in the contract rebidding process is the nonprofit Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), a longtime co-op of homeless people and a source of strong activism.
The city committed $791,951 to fund the operation of local SHARE shelters in 2017. Together, SHARE and its sister organization, Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), asked for around $1.1 million in city funds for 2018. Both applications were rejected, although the city will continue to pay for sanctioned tent camps run by SHARE.
According to recent data, SHARE either did not report, or did not record, a single exit from homelessness. Representatives of the nonprofit could not immediately reached for comment.
The city will provide funding to keep SHARE’s nearly 200 shelter beds operational through June, and help its clients transition to other shelters, Johnson said. But the organization is “no longer a good match for the city’s investments,” he added.
Seattle’s new contracts require service providers to meet benchmarks in a quartet of performance categories — including more moves to stable housing, lower vacancies and shorter lengths of stay in shelters.
Operators that fail to meet the minimum benchmarks could face a reduction in their award from the city.
Several other shelter programs will also lose city funding in the next year.
Seattle human services rejected applications from Immanuel Community Services, the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches (REACH), YWCA Downtown Emerge and several other operators that previously received city support.