Former director of Committee to End Homelessness in King County: 10-year plan was not a failure
Bill Block, former director of the Committee to end Homelessness in King County, wrote in a recent Seattle Times column that no one chooses to be homeless — and told a skeptical Dori Monson that it’s all to do with a feeling of fear to fail yet again at life.
“Nobody wants to be out there where it’s cold, where it’s wet, where it’s dangerous,” he said. “But if they have failed time and time again, it’s actually too scary to try again … the street just feels safer, it feels less traumatic.”
Although the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County was launched in 2005, and 13 years later, Seattle’s streets are still filled with people living in tents, Block does not see the program as a failure. He said that he is proud of the people whom the county has been able to help since 2005.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot of things for the people we’ve actually need helped,” Block said. “I think we weren’t prepared for the degree to which the mental health system would expand using homelessness as their discharge, or the criminal justice system, or the chemical dependency system.”
He believes that the economic crash of 2008, as well as Seattle’s skyrocketing housing costs, have contributed to sending people to the streets through simple bad luck.
“Somebody making minimum wage, even if that job is open, just can’t afford housing,” he said. “And if they are just barely hanging on by their fingernails, one car break-down can be the difference between keeping their housing and homelessness, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
He also pointed out the role that trauma can play in keeping people from getting their lives back to stability. Women he knows of who were abused, he said, are afraid to live behind a closed door in an apartment again because that reminds them of the places in which they suffered domestic violence.
“You have to sort of look at what is going on in a person’s life — and someone who has been abused, or in jail, or in prison, which is pretty scary, may well be self-medicating on the streets,” he said. “And it takes some work to convince them that, in fact, they can get into housing and succeed.”
Block puts blame for homelessness in King County on the federal government, which he thinks should play a role in building affordable housing.
“In all other developed countries, the national government is responsible for ensuring that there’s an adequate supply of housing for low-income workers,” he said. “And this government stopped doing that in the early ’70s. And that’s a major difference between us and England, or France, or Germany, or the other developed countries.”