It’s not that the organizations that provide services to homeless people don’t like Mayor Ed Murray’s new plan to combat homelessness in Seattle. They’re just not sure how it can possibly work.
The Seattle Human Services Coalition, a group of service providers, released its analysis of the plan, known as Pathways Home, which is predominately informed by a report by Barbara Poppe, former director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
While the membership generally agreed with the theme of the plan — that homelessness is a difficult problem that can be solved only through a radical reimagining of current practices — they found fault in the conclusion that the way to accomplish its goals is to focus resources on the chronically homeless individuals to the exclusion of other vulnerable groups and cut funding of emergency shelter beds and transitional housing.
It’s critical that service providers continue to be funded to take care of other demographics that make up the homeless population in Seattle and keep emergency beds open, they wrote.
“As a community we have the capacity to do both and anything less will simply shift the experience of being homeless to a different, more vulnerable group of people, which we find unacceptable,” the analysis reads.
In budget talks, council members appeared to be moved by the argument, which asks them to invest the city’s projected 2017 revenue increase in homeless services rather than cutting services to people who currently access them and will still need them in the future.
“It’s a concern if they haven’t had the time to look at if this is going to help or hurt than I don’t think it’s responsible for us as an elected body to ram it through,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Sawant raised the concern that several providers have also broached, that taking money from transitional housing programs and putting those dollars toward rapid rehousing — which substitutes rental assistance from a long-term program to one less than half the length — will send individuals and families back through the cycle of homelessness.
Providers also worry that the plan focuses too much on the chronically homeless rather than preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, a priority enshrined in coordinating body All Home King County’s mantra of making homelessness “rare, brief and one time.”
The Seattle Human Services Coalition did not take on another controversial statement in Pathways Home that recommends getting people into housing whether or not the available unit is in Seattle, but Councilmember Lisa Herbold did.
Herbold took to Twitter after the Oct. 7 budget briefing to affirm her stance on the issue, noting that Pathways Home should not be “a pathway out of town.”
“I don’t feel like the Poppe report did a good job identifying solutions and strategies that matched our high-cost housing,” Herbold told staff at the briefing.
Objections to Pathways Home comes at a critical time when council members are deciding what to fund in the 2017–18 budget. The current proposal, put forward by the mayor, funds the full rollout of Pathways Home, which is the centerpiece of Murray’s attempts to take on the homelessness crisis.
Whether or not council members choose to follow suit has yet to be seen.