An organization formed by unlikely allies in business and homeless advocacy sectors proposed a $1.6 billion plan to end chronic homelessness within five years by building 6,500 units of permanent supportive housing, but funding for the idea has yet to be finalized.
The Third Door Coalition — a group of business-people, academics and nonprofit leaders — alongside elected leaders from Seattle and the state said that the plan would house the people who are most visible and vulnerable in the community, and those who have been outside the longest.
Getting people who are chronically homeless into housing would mean a massive change in the quality of life for those individuals as well as the already housed residents of the city and county, said Sara Rankin, a co-chair of the Third Door Coalition and head of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University.
“We believe that if we can make an impact with respect to the hardest to house, we can change minds and create momentum to solve homelessness more generally,” Rankin said.
The backbone of the idea is straightforward: more permanent supportive housing.
Permanent supportive housing is not just an apartment. It comes with wraparound services and costs roughly a third of a household’s income, whatever that may be. At $1.6 billion over five years, it sounds like a lot of money, particularly for Seattle which would fund 10 percent of the effort even as the coronavirus decimates public coffers.
However, the same population is only a third of the homeless population in Seattle and King County, but accounts for a disproportionate amount of services, be it emergency response, hospitalization, police or time in jail.
It’s the humane thing to do, but it’s also the most fiscally responsible, which accounts for the strange bedfellows that make up the organization, said Chad Mackay of Fire & Vine Hospitality.
“Data, not drama, was our mantra from the start,” Mackay said in a press release.
The data is stark.
The Third Door Coalition estimates that there are 6,500 people experiencing chronic homelessness in King County, a figure that is roughly double the number found in the annual point-in-time count that takes place in January. Chronic homelessness is defined by the federal government as whether or not a person has a disability and the amount of time that they’ve lived outside.
As a result, people who are chronically homeless tend to be more visible and have more complex symptoms, which means they can play an outsized role in people’s perception of the homelessness crisis.
They also account for a large amount of public spending on the homelessness crisis, spending that could be directed elsewhere if they were inside. One year of permanent supportive housing costs the same as three months in King County jail and three days in Harborview Medical Center, according to Plymouth Housing.
One weakness of the plan is that it is, at its heart, a public-private partnership, marrying public money with funds raised from businesses or other outside parties. So far, there are no firm funders lined up, although the city of Seattle would be spending roughly $160 million to make it happen.
“We share this framework today knowing it doesn’t have all of the details,” Rankin said. “Today was a really important step toward offering space for everyone to come together and work together on the proven solution.”
The concept of “Housing First” — getting people into homes without requiring certain behaviors of them first — is old hat in the homeless services community, and widely viewed as one of the most effective interventions at hand. However, the intervention relies on the availability of land as well as many, separate funding streams, often pieced together using federal tax credits.
It also depends on the public’s willingness to allow such a complex. Seattle City Council meetings around affordable housing projects and legislation to fund or make housing projects possible are often met with commenters who say they support affordable housing, but it’s not right for their neighborhood.
The plan does not offer a solution to that critical hurdle.
However, with homelessness topping the list of problems in the state’s pre-coronavirus era, the Third Door Coalition’s cross-sector nature does suggest that even groups with disparate notions on many subjects are ready to come together over solutions driven by data, and theoretically put money behind them.
“Government alone cannot end homelessness,” Rankin said. “It has always been our collective responsibility.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the May 20-26, 2020 issue.