Seattle homeless report includes many ‘lessons learned’

Oct 16, 2017, 8:10 AM | Updated: 11:06 am
A homeless encampment in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)...
A homeless encampment in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

One year after Seattle started its Pathways Home program to tackle the homeless crisis, officials say that the city still needs to “scale up” its response to the problem.

“Progress rarely happens quickly, nor does it follow a straight or simple path,” Human Services Director Catherine Lester wrote in a report to the city council. “That has never been truer than in the first year of Pathways Home.”

“…much of the past year has been focused on changes to the system in order to scale impact for people living unsheltered in our community,” the report states.

RELATED: City jobs grow out of homelessness crisis

The September report from Seattle’s Human Services Department boasts many successes. But as Seattle Magazine reports, it’s not all good news. For example, the Navigation Center (which opened in July) has 75 beds and served 105 people in its first six weeks. It aims to house people within 60 days, but it was only able to get two people into housing within that time — one person went into transitional housing, and the other went to live with family.

Of those 105 people served at the Navigation Center, 32 exited the program within the first 45 days, half of whom would not say, or did not know, where they were leaving to.

Another shelter, the Compass Center, was opened in September for 100 people. There are currently about 72 people living there.

“People coming inside from being unsheltered have a big adjustment to make and multiple issues to address and many barriers to housing stability,” the report reads. “The Navigation Center is finding that mapping out a strategy to get them housed could take more than 60 days.”

Points such as this provide many “lessons learned” sections of the Pathways Home report.

Homeless lessons learned

Many of the lessons and identified issues from the report were already known. Consultant Barbara Poppe reported as much after assessing the city’s response to the crisis.

  • The housing wait list system used by the city and the county is inefficient (called Coordinated Entry for All), resulting in families waiting for long periods of time.
  • Shelters in the city still do not chiefly offer low-barrier entry. The report finds that living outside is often preferable than going to a shelter that will not allow them to keep their belongings, stay with partners, keep their pets, or make decisions about their own lives.
  • Many people have chronic health conditions that make it difficult to stay at a traditional shelter
  • There remains a shortage of housing, making it difficult to exit homelessness. Additional resources are needed to scale up the response to this issue.
  • The region still has a “disjointed patchwork of programs rather than an integrated response system to help people in crisis.”
  • The city has not competitively bid for homeless services, meaning service providers are not required to meet nationally recognized best practices or measure results. The city will start new contracts in 2018 and monitor results. It will then start a pay-for-performance standard.

Successes in Seattle

  • Comparing the first quarter of 2016 and 2017, use of homeless programs went up from 74 percent to 84 percent.
  • Average length of stay at shelters decreased from 93 to 74 days.
  • Emergency shelter utilization rate went from 51 percent to 74 percent; average length of stay went down from 55 to 32 days.
  • Rapid re-housing programs placed people into permanent housing at a higher rate, going from 63 percent to 70 percent.
  • Use of transitional housing programs went from 79 percent to 90 percent.
  • A total of 738 families were sheltered; 20 percent have exited to permanent housing.
  • Seattle established the Navigation Team with police officers and outreach workers to engage the homeless community. The team has made 5,127 outreach contacts to 1,340 individuals; 39 percent of individuals exited an encampment to alternate living arrangements, such as a sanctioned encampment or shelter; 64 percent accepted services such as medical treatment or signing up for benefits; 33 percent declined offers for any services.
  • Three more sanctioned tent encampments were established. Seattle now has six managed sites, totaling 245 spots for people to camp.

Lack of housing

If there is one constant thread through the report, it’s that access to affordable housing continues to be a common factor preventing peoples’ exit from homelessness.

“To meet the challenge of homelessness we must increase access to housing regionally, scale our successes to meet the needs of a growing population in crisis, and invest in programs that are proven to reduce homelessness,” the report reads.

It also states that “housing is the only way to end homelessness, but there is a significant shortage of affordable housing units in our region.”

But even when housing is available, people exiting homelessness have added hurdles, such as poor credit scores or criminal backgrounds. This often keeps certain people homeless.

The most recent count found more than 11,500 homeless people in King County. The latest data shows 5,485 people unsheltered — about 70 percent of those people live in Seattle.

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Seattle homeless report includes many ‘lessons learned’