As the new director of the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH), I am often asked, with a smirk, “Have you ended homelessness yet?” followed by “Do you really believe we can?”
My short answers are “No, we haven’t ended homelessness here yet,” and “Yes, I do really believe we can.”
CEH is a growing effort with partners in government, philanthropy, faith-based groups and nonprofits. Along with individual advocates, CEH believes that it is unacceptable for people in King County to live outside and not in safe, stable homes.
Like other major cities around the country and each county in Washington, we developed a 10-year plan to end homelessness. Our plan resulted in many successes, including raising enough public and political will to create more than 5,400 units of housing. We now have the third highest number of housing units for homeless people in the country.
And yet, we have not ended homelessness. How can we think otherwise when the death rates among people experiencing homelessness are four to five times that of the general population?
This fuels our drive to make the experience of homelessness a rare event in King County, brief for those who do become homeless and only a one-time occurrence. We are tracking the following data closely, and we’re using the information to learn how to house more people, more effectively.
Is homelessness rare? Annually about 9,500 households experience homelessness in King County and are served by our shelters and transitional housing programs. Of these, half were homeless for the first time and more than half were people of color, a disproportionate number.
On a single night, more than 3,123 people were living outside and another 6,200 individuals were in shelters or transitional housing, per the One Night Count conducted by the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless.
Is homelessness brief? On average, people are homeless for 140 days or more than four months. Many are homeless a lot longer, sometimes lingering in shelters, while others get out quickly.
Is homelessness a one-time occurrence? The 2013 data shows that two years after finding stable housing, about 15 percent who were homeless have become homeless again. For families, this number is just 7 percent, while for young adults it’s closer to 30 percent.
Homelessness is not yet rare or brief, nor is it a one-time occurrence. We must do more for our neighbors without homes, especially those living outdoors.
Which leads to my answer to the second question — “Can we really end homelessness?” — and why I believe that yes, we can, with your help.
Real Change is coordinating a drive called Outside In, which aims to move 1,000 people to safer housing by the end of 2014, a goal that we support.
We will reach this goal by testing strategies that divert people from shelters and rapidly rehouse people who become homeless. This year, we will house approximately 3,800 more men, women and children in 2014 than in 2013. Local governments, philanthropic organizations, congregations and nonprofits have stepped up to sustain shelter capacity, extend winter shelters and host encampments.
Yet even this surge of support will not house all who are homeless here. We must keep piling on to get the job done. For CEH and all those working to end homelessness around the county, there is a reinvigorated commitment to do just that.
And yet we need more partners:
We need more landlords to rent to people who have been homeless and not exclude those with past evictions.
We need employers to hire people who need jobs to stabilize their housing and families. We need local governments and neighbors to support locating our programs in every community.
We need individuals to donate to nonprofits, volunteer and show compassion to our homeless neighbors.
And we need state and federal partners to increase funding for housing, services and employment programs.
Partner with us. We truly cannot do this without you.