City’s study claims Seattle’s homeless problem is improving

Oct 8, 2018, 4:57 PM | Updated: 5:45 pm

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Seattle’s Human Service’s Department (HSD) released its data on homelessness for the first half of 2018, touting marked improvement across the board over last year.

RELATED: Understanding Seattle’s homeless issues

Suffice it to say, when it comes to cursory optics and anecdotal accounts, things haven’t looked good this year.

However, the city’s Human Service’s Department devoted its focus on transitioning the homeless population to more permanent housing solutions, and the numbers point toward significant improvements over 2017.

Overall, the city says it has seen a 35-percent increase from the first six months of last year in homeless households exiting to permanent housing.

“HSD began 2018 with clear goals – invest in programs that work and help more people connect to housing from all points in the homeless services system,” said HSD Interim Director Jason Johnson. “We’re encouraged by the increases in placing people in housing and grateful for the hard work human service providers have demonstrated in helping vulnerable people.”

The first solution: Enhanced shelters, defined by HSD as facilities “which provide 24/7 or extended hours of services, storage for belongings, and case management,” going far beyond the offerings of a typical overnight shelter.

Gathered from data over the first six months of 2018, HSD claims that “enhanced shelters have a rate of moving clients to housing that is five times that of basic, overnight shelters.”

Over that period, enhanced shelters served 4,071 households, with 691 exiting to permanent housing. That marks a 7 percent increase over that same span in 2017.

The study also outlines a “diversion” program, that aims to offer one-time financial assistance and case management to move people straight into permanent housing. HSD served 593 households with diversion programs in the first half of 2018, with 72 percent of households that left the program exiting to permanent housing (up 11 percent from 2017).

This comes after the funding for diversion programs was doubled from $1 million in 2017 to $2 million in 2018.

Possibly the most effective arm of HSD’s strategy involves Permanent Solution Housing (PSH). According to its report, “PSH offers ongoing housing and support services for people who need long-term assistance,” and is by far its most successful program.

The program boasts a 97 percent success rate, “helping people maintain their housing or leave supportive housing to to move to other kinds of permanent housing.” This success rate is up 2 percent over 2017.

That increase comes alongside an increase in budget from $9.3 million to $13.2 million, with the stated goal of helping those “who need the highest level of services to successfully obtain and remain in housing.”

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is debating whether or not to erect large tents to temporarily house the homeless population. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who recently visited tests in Los Angeles, stressed the need for urgency. But Navigation Team chief Fred Podesta warned the city council against jumping in too quickly. He wonders if the city’s homeless will actually accept 150-person dormitory-style shelters.

RELATED: Seattle City Council considers erecting giant tents for the homeless

There are obviously a few loose ends to consider in HSD’s data, namely how long those who are exited to permanent housing remain there before ending up back out on the street. It’s one thing to transition the homeless to Permanent Solution Housing, it’s quite another to keep them there.

Optics remain less than satisfying for locals who have seen homeless encampments continue to spring up around Seattle. For now at least, the numbers HSD provides point to a modicum of improvement in a handful of areas.

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