Homelessness is an issue in cities all over the coastal United States – 1 in 4 people experiencing homelessness nationwide reside in Seattle, Los Angeles, or New York. In 2005, Seattle and King County announced their 10-year plan to end homelessness countywide. After the homeless population began to spike between 2014 and 2015, Seattle and King County declared homelessness was in a state of emergency. Since the declaration, the upward trend has continued. The mismanagement of our homelessness crisis has been noticed by all except City Hall.

We can only properly address the homelessness crisis if we address the root causes of homelessness. Homelessness is extreme poverty and poverty extends beyond housing. This is evidenced by the self-reported causes of homelessness recorded during the King County point-in-time count. Job loss, alcohol/drug use, and eviction are the three most frequented causes reported. On average from 2017-2019, “could not afford rent increase” ranks sixth (separation from partner and mental health issues were also ranked higher). Among those experiencing chronic homelessness, 1 in 3 reported alcohol/drug use or mental health issues as the primary cause of their continued homelessness. Despite these findings, quality services for people suffering from addiction or mental health issues has not been priorities in City, County, or State policy.

Seattle policymakers must collaborate with those at the County and State to develop more appropriate and effective programs and services. As a Councilmember I will work with King County to establish a regional framework which includes all stakeholders, working together to design and deliver an effective, efficient, and equitable system. A critical weakness of our current systems is fragmentation in leadership and efforts. Those attempting to access services report disconnected services, duplicative data collection, and unnavigable systems. This new system must be consolidated under one regional authority.  Seattle has the third highest homeless population in the United States but is the eighteenth largest by population – we currently have the highest homelessness rate in the country (about 1 in 89). Despite feedback from third-party expert assessments throughout the last four years, Seattle has failed to improve its system. In order to address the homelessness crisis, we must reorganize. It’s time we truly respond to this as a crisis.

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Let’s look at the details

Coordination Group

Composed of committees from a diverse set of stakeholders, the Coordination Group is charged with the duties of (1) data consolidation and analysis, (2) publishing data reports at least quarterly, and (3) policy recommendations to the Executive Board. Stakeholders that should be considered for this group include; people experiencing homelessness, people from the housed community, law enforcement, the justice system, mental and physical health professionals, the philanthropic community, the business community, and continuum of care representatives.

Executive Board

Composed of a representative from each Coordination Group committee along with representatives from the Office of the Mayor of Seattle, the Office of the King County Executive, Seattle City Council, King County Council, and the Sound Cities Association, the Executive Board is charged with the duties of (1) oversight of the Coordination Group, (2) policy development and direction of the Intervention Group, and (3) submission of Requests for Offer to King County Council, Seattle City Council, Sound Cities Association, and private funding sources.

Intervention Group

Composed of offices representing various effort areas, the Intervention Group is charged with the duties of (1) data collection, management, and reporting, (2) assessment, direction, and management of service providers, and (3) implementation of policies and other directions developed by the Executive Board. Effort areas that should be considered for these offices include; medical management, addiction services, education, bloodborne pathogen prevention, employment services, housing, and financial planning.

Ultimately, this reorganization aims to continuously improve system quality through inclusion of customer voices and a clear organizational structure. By implementing feedback mechanisms (i.e. workshops, interviews, service reviews, and focus groups) and including customers in the planning process, we can integrate lived experience as we develop programs and services.