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Seattle homeless crisis could be mostly fixed in a year, report says

Experts told the city council that there is enough resources to address the Seattle homeless crisis if the city focused its efforts. (AP)

Seattle already has the ability to house all unsheltered people in the city. The city is just not efficiently using its own tools to fix the Seattle homeless crisis.

That’s essentially the message from experts given to a Seattle City Council committee Thursday. Seattle has problems with its approach to homelessness — which is largely uncoordinated — that is preventing progress addressing the problem.

Focus Strategies and Barbara Poppe presented results from their individual assessments of the Seattle homeless crisis, current approaches, and what the city can do to solve it.

Less talk, more action: Homeless consultant critiques city council

Both came up with similar recommendations.

Solving the Seattle homeless crisis

Megan Kurteff Schatz with Focus Strategies said that if Seattle implemented their recommendations, every unsheltered person currently in the city could be sheltered by the end of 2017.

Both Kurteff Schatz and Poppe stressed that rapid rehousing needs to be emphasized for the Seattle homeless crisis. And further, the city needs to prioritize its approach to housing. For example, Poppe said that pregnant women and children under 1-years-old need to be put up front and not put on a waiting list; then prioritize children under age of four.

Currently, the city’s rate of placing people in permanent housing is well below national standards.

• 12 percent of adults find permanent housing through emergency shelters
• 31 percent of families find permanent housing through emergency shelters
• 60 percent of adults find permanent housing through transitional housing
• 73 percent of families find permanent housing through transitional housing

On a national level, moving from transitional housing into permanent housing is around 85 percent and above. As for the Seattle homeless crisis, Kurteff Schatz said that the low numbers speak to the fact shelters are not designed or staffed to help people get permanent housing.

Both experts also said that the city needs a person-based system where individuals are addressed, not a one-size fits all approach. That could translate to more outreach employees to handle cases. But outreach in Seattle is also not currently a coordinated effort between providers, Poppe noted.

Seattle’s shelters are not open 24/7, and that is also a significant problem. Those experiencing homelessness need to a stable shelter in order to move off of the streets, instead of moving in-and-out of a shelter each day. Those shelters also need to refocus their efforts. Many are helping those experiencing housing insecurity, which is a related problem but not directly related to the Seattle homeless crisis.

“You have a huge unsheltered population, yet much of your inventory is going to people who are unstably housed and seeking shelter services and other programs,” Kurteff Schatz said. “In order to see a reduction in unsheltered homelessness here you will need to focus all of your capacity on people who are already homeless.”

To do all of this, Seattle will have to defund under-performing programs. The city needs to start collecting data more efficiently, and setting performance standards for shelters and services. One thing that was mentioned is that Seattle needs, at least, quarterly reports on the effort. Counting the homeless population once a year barely counts as accurate data collecting. Ideally, Seattle would have daily data and know if a bed is free for a homeless person 24/7.

Affordable housing

Another key point that was repeatedly brought up was the issue of Seattle’s housing in general, and how affordable it is. It’s well-known that housing is scarce in Seattle, and very little — if any — is affordable. That is adding to Seattle’s homeless population and acting as a barrier for people to leave homelessness.

“You’re in a high cost rental market. It’s really hard for people to find affordable housing,” Kurteff Schatz said. “We know there is a strong connection between the high cost of housing and homelessness.”

“But you are a community that has invested a lot in affordable housing … You’ve got available affordable housing that does have vacancies that turn over,” she said. “But right now there is no systematic way to access that.”

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