On Sept. 8, city and county officials unveiled a new strategy that would target money to help people experiencing homelessness move into housing. But officials acknowledged that the strategy could leave some service providers in the cold.
The plan aims to focus public dollars on families and people who have experienced homelessness the longest. It also requires results-based contracts with local service providers and creates a rubric of performance measures that apply to future contracts.
It addresses recommendations in reports completed by consultants Barbara Poppe and Associates and Focus Strategies that, over the course of more than a year, analyzed the scale and scope of public investments in homelessness in Seattle and King County.
Focus Strategies consultant Megan Kurteff Schatz said the plan would effectively end unsheltered homelessness by the end of 2017. However, the data-driven, results-oriented mentality will require service providers to rethink the way they do business or lose out on public funding.
“Your shelter capacity is sufficient to shelter all unsheltered adults and families within a year’s time,” Kurteff Schatz said.
The analysis revealed an inefficient service network that grew organically over time, but without a master plan or reassessment. Recommended investments focused on emergency shelter and the number of people who slept in shelters each night, as well as other stop-gap measures such as hygiene services.
Overall, these emergency interventions absorbed more than 40 percent of investments to end homelessness, according to the report.
Dusty Olson, of the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) likened the homeless service system to a health care network with first aid, primary care, urgent care and trauma centers.
“Our homeless system has a lot of Band-Aids, and a lot of trauma centers,” she told members of the Seattle City Council at a special committee meeting on Sept. 8.
Under the new paradigm, service providers will have to compete for funding and demonstrate specific outcomes including their occupancy, the number of clients who are literally homeless rather than unstably housed, how long clients use the service and the percentage of clients that get permanent housing.
These metrics will be tracked using the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a database required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that some service providers find too intrusive.
HSD will also implement a “by name list,” which ranks clients by name and need with the intention of addressing their individual circumstances.
The lists are the “secret sauce” that has helped other communities tackle homelessness, Poppe said.
The plan also involves a major shift away from transitional housing, programs that put individuals and families into housing for up to two years, but that the consultants determined were too expensive. Instead, they recommended pulling funding from transitional housing and putting it into rapid rehousing, a different model that subsidizes rents for three to six months.
HSD partnered with 60 agencies using 183 contracts in 2014. Service providers will be evaluated under the new metrics and will be receiving letters within a week to show how they stack up.
Contracts for 2017 will reflect the new standards, but organizations will have almost a year to build capacity before the ax comes down, said Catherine Lester, director of HSD.
At the same time, HSD will train staff for its new role closely monitoring the contracts and potentially bring on new employees, depending on results of budget negotiations expected to start in coming weeks.