The numbers aren’t good. But at least there are now some numbers to work with on the cost of ending homelessness in King County.
That’s the upshot from homeless advocates and members of the county’s Committee to End Homelessness on a 2007 draft business plan presented April 25 to the committee’s board of governors.
Eight months in the making, the business plan is the first attempt to itemize which resources exist to meet the goals of the county’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, which started in 2005 and calls for adding 925 units of housing each year. To do that in 2007, the business plan estimates a cost of $82 million, plus $7.5 million for essential mental health or other services to help people stayed housed.
While county staff caution that the numbers are very much in flux, the draft plan shows a 2007 funding shortage of $1 million for the services and $24 million for the housing – a number, says 10-Year Plan coordinator Bill Block, that is likely to go up after a review by Seattle’s Office of Housing.
The good news, Block and others stress, is that the effort is paying off in progress and support. This year, the Legislature passed more funding to combat homelessness, including increasing a primary source of construction money, the statewide Housing Trust Fund, from $100 million to $130 million. Lawmakers also raised document recording fees at the county level by $8, which will provide King County with an extra $3.5 million each year for homeless housing or services.
But, in 2005 and 2006, a total of only 981 units were built or leased, just half of each year’s goal, and those units were planned by various agencies before the 10-Year Plan was adopted. With the 2007 business plan showing only 646 units in the works over the next 18 months, some advocates are pointing to an elephant in the room: the resource gap, and where the political clout will come from to close it in an era when the federal government is getting out of the affordable housing business.
“The crisis ends up being a resource crisis in part,” says Bill Kirlin-Hackett with the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness. “One of the continuing issues that everyone raises when they talk about shelter or [the] Housing First [concept] is, ‘Where do you put folks?’ It’s not only a fair question, it’s almost still the question.”
The 10-Year Plan’s new business “dashboard” lists a number of possible new funding sources for the Committee to End Homelessness and its member agencies to work on. Among them, CEH could push for a countywide housing levy and encourage King County to pass a one-tenth of 1 percent local sales tax increase authorized by the Legislature to expand services for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
But the increase, which could raise $43 million in new funding, is currently mired in a political battle between mental health providers and the Service Employees International Union, which says it will withhold support for the measure if the mental health providers don’t open their doors to union organizing efforts.
Despite the wrangling, Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that community support for ending homelessness is strong. It’s just a question, she says, of turning that support into sustained funding at the local, state, and federal level.
“We need to harness that public will,” Eisinger says, “by basically turning out voters and reminding elected officials that this has to be a budget priority in order for our plan to succeed.”
Staff at the regional office of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, the federal umbrella for the nation’s 10-Year Plans, say it’s not just a matter of putting more money into the plan, but targeting existing funds to show results. That, in turn, will bring gifts from corporations and large philanthropies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But Bill Hobson, director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, says charity alone can’t build the housing that’s needed. “I’m happy to approach the philanthropic community, the business community, the religious community,” Hobson says. But, “compared to the government, their resources are very small and they have other targets.”
“Could a Bill Gates Foundation wave a magic wand and come up with the money?” he asks. “Of course, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Hobson thinks it’s the same with the federal government — that no one should expect more money, even if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
Though the city, county, and state are all looking for the federal government to step up, he says, “We can sit here for the next 10 years and excuse ourselves because Uncle Sugar didn’t come to the table and, in 10 years, we’ll still be talking about a homeless problem.”
By CYDNEY GILLIS, Staff Reporter