Long-term supportive housing is just part of the solution. There’s also tremendous need for temporary shelter.

Share story

During a 2019 “Point in Time” count there were more than 11,000 homeless people living in Seattle. Every one of those people has a different story — but the one thing they have in common is a need for shelter.

The goal for many is to get into a long-term housing solution. For those who have experienced long-term, chronic homelessness, Plymouth Housing is an option that fills many of their needs.

“We’re not targeting folks that just need a home,” says Plymouth Housing CEO Paul Lambros. “We’re not targeting folks that got knocked off their feet and are going to go out and get a job. Ninety percent of our folks are on some sort of disability. They’re there for the long term because they need ongoing support services,” he says.

Specifically, Plymouth Housing offers a solution for single adults (many of them seniors) in need of medical services to help address both physical and mental health issues on a long-term basis. Since its inception in 1980, the organization has worked to place people in a setting that is safe and stable.

“We’re what’s called a ‘Housing First’ model,” Lambros says.

“We believe it’s really hard to deal with mental health or substance use disorders when you’re homeless on the street. And saying that you need to deal with that before getting housing just doesn’t work.”

Plymouth boasts a 94% success rate for residents coming in and remaining stable across 14 buildings. The nonprofit has recently launched a capital campaign to open eight additional buildings, the first of which is set to open spring of 2020.

It’s been shown that the cost of one year in a Plymouth Housing building is equal in cost to three days in a hospital emergency room or three months in the county jail.

That’s why three local health organizations were the first to step up to support Plymouth’s campaign to build eight more apartment buildings. Providence St. Joseph Health, Swedish and Premera, together, contributed $15 million to the campaign in May.

“When hospitals and emergency departments are the default solution to the homeless crisis, we perpetuate an unsustainable, unaffordable cycle,” says Mike Butler, president of strategy and operations at Providence.

“What inspired us about the team at Plymouth Housing is that they are not just advocating for momentary fixes or seeking incremental change. Plymouth is making real headway to find sustainable solutions,” Butler says.

Still, this kind of long-term supportive housing is just part of the solution. There’s also tremendous need for temporary shelter. But what do short-term housing solutions look like?

One option that is increasing in popularity is what’s called a mobile shelter. These units offer a safe space for individuals to stay for a short time. Providence St. Joseph Health made a gift of $200,000 to a mobile shelter project as part of The Pearl Jam Seattle Home Shows last summer. The mobile shelters project, developed by Catholic Charities and King County, has room for up to 72 individuals per night.

“Providence is interested in identifying and pursuing permanent solutions. But we also recognize that there is a crisis today and we need to identify solutions to address this crisis today to get people off the streets today,” says Tim Zaricznyj, Executive Director Supportive Housing, Providence St. Joseph Health.

A mobile shelter unit can be a more attractive solution than a traditional shelter for many reasons; cost, permits, construction and time among them.

“If we had contributed our resources into a traditional shelter project, that project would probably still be in a design phase. It probably would have not left the architect’s desk,” says Zaricznyj.

In contrast, a mobile shelter unit is assembled off-site in a controlled environment and trucked in to a predetermined location, ready to go.

The benefits for potential residents are firstly that this provides a safe space to keep their belongings, sleep and live — if even for a brief amount of time. Additionally, whenever there is a concentrated population, it’s easier to concentrate services around them.

“Maybe there are some health issues we can help address, but more importantly maybe there is entitlement work that we can help with. So, getting someone enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare, getting them enrolled for VA benefits or Social Security benefits; sometimes it’s a matter of having lost identification, we can help them get their identification so they can access the entitlement benefits,” Zaricznyj says.

Additionally, there are opportunities to get into a system to be added to waitlists for long-term housing opportunities, see medical professionals, or just have an amount of time to gain a feeling of safety.

Zaricznyj says he likes to think of short-term housing solutions in medical terms.

“It’s triage. We kept them off the streets, so we’ve staunched the most critical injury. And then we can move forward,” he says.

For some that might mean safe, secure housing with proper services like those offered at Plymouth Housing. For others, it might be the bridge they need to help them get back on their feet. Homelessness is not one size fits all, and neither is the solution. But any housing is a step in the right direction.

Providence St. Joseph Health is a national, not-for-profit driven by a belief that health is a human right and continuously innovates to ensure access for all. PSJH is based in Renton, Washington.