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Seattle, King County leaders discuss homelessness … again


Thursday was all about homelessness in Seattle and King County. It began with a lunch presentation at City Hall, and ended with a county board of health meeting across the street — each event with officials tackling the crisis plaguing the region.

But the conversations were filled with echoes from past discussions, presentations, and expert opinions. It added up to something King County residents already know: homelessness is getting worse and officials are still talking about it.

“As much as I spend my career playing with data, and I love data, I think we often get too hung up on collecting data and looking at it and thinking about it, and not enough about doing something with it,” said Dr. Bill Daniell, a member of the King County Board of Health. “And thinking about what it is we want to do, and what data do we need to do that. So data serves us, rather than drives us.”

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The Board of Health discussed homeless guidelines and recommendations Thursday.

“It’s hard for me to understand how you could say there is a concrete attempt to balance (needs) when I don’t see a business plan,” Daniell said. “Where if we’re going to sit down and provide shelter for everybody it would cost this (for example). You tell me it costs too much and it would take away from these efforts, but you can’t tell me how much it would cost or how you would do it. And the fact that when I ask for data (and I’m told) ‘We can’t get it, it’s complicated’ means that we are not really doing it, we are just assuming it’s too complicated.”

Seattle has had successes in its fight against homelessness. The city already funds 4,450 affordable housing units specifically for people leaving homelessness. It is currently expanding its shelter capacity by 25 percent, which includes adding beds inside City Hall. Seattle spent $54 million on homelessness in 2017. The results: A total of 3,030 households moved into permanent housing or maintained their housing in the first quarter of 2018 (compared to 2017). This is much higher than in 2017 — an increase of 1,241 households.

Poppe warned us

But homelessness persists in King County. One echo at Thursday’s proceedings could have come from expert Barb Poppe, who was hired by Seattle — for $80,000 — to assess the situation in 2016. She famously told city officials that if they wanted to house everyone on the streets of Seattle, they could have done it with the resources they had then. A year later, Poppe told city officials they were acting too slow and the situation had already escalated. The “scale and pace” needed to be greater than what the city was putting in.

“I love all of you in Seattle. You’re great folks — smart strategic providers,” Poppe said in 2016. “But it is not a community that … you’re much more inclined toward discussion and planning and process that goes on and on and on.”

Timeline: Understanding Seattle’s homeless issues

“I think there is some progress being made,” Poppe told city officials in 2017. “But what I’m not seeing is the rapid innovation that needs to happen between community members, the providers, the government, the business sector. It seems like there is some block in your culture. You want everything all figured out and everybody gets everything, and once we have a master plan, we’ll go forward. And I think sometimes the accountability is just, ‘It’s the mayor’s problem.’”

By the end of 2017, Poppe told KIRO Radio that Seattle’s plans at that time would help the homelessness crisis — a little.

Familiar homelessness

Before the Board of Health meeting Thursday, Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda held a lunch meeting at City Hall to hear a presentation from Transform Health. The organization is part of Sacramento’s effort to build an integrated system of care to fight homelessness.

The discussion was about a Californian city, but it too might sound familiar to King County residents. Lisa Chan-Sawin with Transform Health told the council that the Sacramento model supported “individual ability for self-sufficiency.” It has also been suggested in Seattle that an individual approach to homelessness can make a greater difference. The city’s Navigation Team is designed to do this.

Chan-Sawin also mentioned that Sacramento is bringing multiple agencies together at a “common table” to tackle the problem. That also might sound familiar, though the local term has been coined as “One Table.”

“A key component of this is building out the IT infrastructure that allows for shared care planning and shared coordination,” Chan-Sawin said. “So if different organizations are trying to serve the same individual, they are seeing the same care plan and know what their partner organizations are doing. By designing our model, and keeping the focus on both the patient at an organizational level, that allowed us to use a collective impact model to achieve the system change we are trying to do.”

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