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Seattle ‘showing a promising trend’ in revived homeless approach

(File, Associated Press)

It’s been pretty clear that Seattle’s approach to the homeless crisis hasn’t been good enough. The problem only got worse since a homeless emergency was declared in 2015.

RELATED: Seattle is boasting success in housing homeless

Transparency and accountability are often questioned.

Last year, for the first time in a decade, the city started fresh by making all the agencies that receive money from the city for homeless programs and shelters re-bid for their contracts. That led to some losing contracts and others getting less money than they had before.

The city also declared new benchmarks agencies would have to meet to show success if they hoped to keep getting money, including showing they were moving more people into stable housing, lowering vacancies at shelters, and shortening the amount of time people stayed in them.

In the end, 39 agencies got a share of the $71 million the city’s Human Services Department has budgeted for 2018.

RELATED: How Seattle spent $54 million on homelessness in 2017

Last week, the department released a progress report on those homeless response investments for the first three months of 2018 compared to the same time period last year.

Meg Olberding with the Human Services Department says they like the trend they’re seeing in these initial numbers.

“And what you see with the first quarter numbers is that the agencies in town that we fund are indeed starting to get more people into housing or helping them maintain housing,” she said. “And another significant thing is we’re trying to prevent people from falling into homelessness and we have several projects underway to do that and we’ll be tracking those this year as well.”

The city invests in three main categories:

  • Prevention — Homeless prevention services help people in homes that face imminent risk of becoming homeless from losing their housing with one-time financial assistance or case management.
  • Emergency — Includes everything from outreach and engagement with people living on the streets, basic shelters, hygiene centers, transitional housing and enhanced shelters that offer more services and longer hours and, according to the city, are much better at getting people off the streets. In fact, in the first quarter of 2018, enhanced shelters got more than 20 percent of who used them out of homelessness; compared to just under 4 percent for basic shelters. Emergency response also includes tiny house villages. The city says its seven tent villages helped 17 percent of people in them find housing in the first three months of the year. That’s down about 1 percent from the year prior, but Olberding stressed human services has invested a lot in the management of the tent villages and adding services like case management, so they expect that number to get better as the year progresses.
  • Housing — Includes three services, all of them saw better numbers this year over last. The first is diversion services, which assists people into housing and avoid the shelter system by hooking them up with family, dealing with their landlord, or giving one-time money. That helped move 19 percent of people into housing this year compared to last year with a more than an 80 percent success rate.The second service is rapid rehousing, which helps people quickly get out of homelessness with rental assistance for up to a year, and also saw better results this year with 10 percent more people getting houses with a more than 80 percent success rate.

    Finally, permanent housing, which usually involves single adults with medical issues who are chronically homeless who get services and housing permanently.

    Overall, the city says just more than 3,000 households moved into permanent housing or were able to stay housed because of city investments in these programs — that’s more than double the number helped in the same period last year.

“This is early in the year but it’s showing a promising trend,” Olberding said. “We’re glad to see a lot of these programs are showing increases in the people they’re serving and while it’s early data — and we’ll certainly be monitoring it very closely — we’re hoping it continues to go in an upward trend to help more people.”

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