In other cities across the nation, the number of HOMELESS continues to decrease. Yes, decrease. The federal government conveyed the good news recently: the number of un-sheltered people is down 25% since 2010.
New York City, New Orleans, and Phoenix reduced homelessness among veterans by more than 60% since 2011. Memphis reduced its overall homelessness by more than 20% since 2012. The City of Seattle, however, is seeing the opposite trend even though it spends more to help the homeless each year. The One-Night Count of unshelted homeless reported an increase from 1,989 individuals in 2013 to 2,303 in 2014, a jump of 16%.
How are other cities achieving improvements for their most vulnerable people? Their leaders (1) rigorously implement only best practices (programs proven to reduce homelessness) and (2) boldly require those programs to measure results. That’s why it was not ideal when City Council recently sprinkled more tax dollars onto a patchwork of unproven programs before allowing Mayor Murray’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness and his Human Services Director to issue their strategic recommendations (due in just a couple of weeks). [The Seattle Times reached a similar conclusion in its editorial on Nov 30, 2014.]
Here are some ideas we hope are considered:
- The Mayor should hire (from one of the successful cities) a “Homeless Point Person” with the authority to direct city agencies (Human Services, Police, Parks, etc.) to row together toward the same goal: reducing Seattle homelessness by specific and ambitious percentages each year.
- Look beyond our borders for proven solutions. Swallowing our parochial pride and understanding how other cities do it right has already rewarded us with effective evidence-based programs like Nurse Family Partnership and the new Seattle Preschool Program. Leaders from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness have said they will help Seattle.
- Fund only programs that measure results and reduce homelessness, such as Rapid Re-Housing, Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing, Landlord-Liaison Project, and other best practices.
- Make it clear we will prioritize housing and taxpayer-funded services for Seattle and King County residents. Some adult shelters and encampments report a significant number travel here from other states because Seattle is branded across the country as “a Mecca” for services. But they arrive disappointed and unsheltered. If practical, we should connect them with better support systems near their original homes.
- Coordinate with, but do not wait for, the King County Committee to End Homelessness and the City’s overall housing strategy due in May 2015.
On October 19th, the leaders of Tent City 3 in Roosevelt near I-5 asked me to spend the night there and I did. Spending time with the men and women there, listening to their stories of being in even worse environments, and melding that with my experience working at HUD makes it all clear: rather than temporarily treating symptoms, City leaders should fund only what is proven to reduce homelessness.