JustCARE, a pandemic-era program meant to move people experiencing homelessness off the street and into temporary or permanent housing, was able to get more than 70 percent of its clients into housing over six months in 2022, a significant improvement over its numbers in the first 18 months of the program, according to a University of Washington report.
The analysis, performed by UW sociology professor Katherine Beckett and presented to the city’s Public Assets & Homelessness Committee on March 1, is a follow up to a 2021 report on the program. It split JustCARE’s work into two “waves”: a group of 208 individuals served between Sep. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2022 and a group of 144 served between March 1, 2022 and Aug 31., 2022.
While the “housing status at exit” rate for permanent housing for the first wave was 20.2 percent, that measure for the second wave shot up to 70.8 percent. The percentage that returned to homelessness also shrank, from 51.9 percent to 17.4 percent.
Just under 90 percent of all program participants also left the program with “housing ready” status — meaning they had all necessary documentation to qualify for permanent housing — and the same percentage left enrolled in medical insurance.
The figures are particularly notable because 99 percent of the JustCARE cohort have a mental health diagnosis, a substance use disorder diagnosis or both.
JustCARE, which grew out of the Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (LEAD) program, has been praised for its unique approach to bringing chronically homeless individuals inside. Instead of offering shelter and leaving it up to homeless people to accept, JustCARE’s outreach workers focus on finding unhoused people at their encampment sites and spending several weeks meeting with them there and figuring out what kind of help they need. The program is also set up to offer lodging, which took the form of emergency hotel shelters during the pandemic, and insists on individual rooms and privacy. Another key tenet is a harm reduction approach, which means that participants are not required to be clean and sober, and outreach workers instead focus on making sure participants are using as safely as possible and stably housed while doing so.
JustCARE’s alternative approach, Beckett said, demonstrates that homeless people do want housing.
“We also found that the vast majority of encampment residents were offered and did accept temporary lodging,” she said. “And this is significant because again it kind of counters the narrative that people with behavioral health needs [or] with criminal legal system involvement are service resistant in some way.”
While councilmembers have been largely bullish on JustCARE from the jump, its inability to get people indoors drew questions early on about its efficacy.
After Beckett’s 2021 report was published, Kevin Schofield of SCC Insight criticized the relatively low number of program participants JustCARE was able to place in permanent housing. At that point, only 21 out of 255 program participants had gotten permanently housed. Many remained in the hotel rooms rented for them as part of the program.
“To be sure, there is a critical lack of permanent affordable housing and permanent supportive housing in Seattle to place them into, which is not JustCARE’s fault; but that doesn’t make the program successful just because the clients are still enrolled. Rather, it means that we don’t yet know whether JustCARE will be successful.”
The new report arrives at a convenient time for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), currently under fire from the Seattle Times for slow progress on their Partnership for Zero project, which targets visible homelessness in downtown Seattle. The massive jump in permanent housing placement rates is, according to the report’s findings, attributable to, “Newly available longer-term funding from the KCRHA and City of Seattle, which made longer term arrangements and planning possible; the availability of additional permanent housing resources; and PDA’s coordination with the KCRHA that yielded them.”
Researchers also noted the higher rate of exit to housing among Black and Latinx participants in JustCARE — 44.4 percent and 58.3 percent of participants from both waves, respectively, as opposed to only 36.7 percent of white participants — praising the KCRHA’s intense focus on equity.
In even more promising news, the report found that many of the people who made it to permanent housing ended up living independently. Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the committee chair, flagged that researchers said they housed people via a mix of permanent supportive housing placements and emergency housing vouchers, asking after the presentation for a breakdown of those numbers. It was somewhere in the area of 60/40, said Crystal Erickson, housing manager for the Public Defenders Association’s Co-LEAD program, which falls under the umbrella of JustCARE.
The high rate of voucher usage means that many of JustCARE’s participants were able to find apartments on the private rental market and live on their own after participating in the program. Many were not at that point when they arrived, said Lisa Daugaard, the PDA’s executive director, and were able to utilize vouchers after “some months” working with JustCARE program staff.
Reached for comment after the presentation, Lewis said that he would like to see the approach adopted more widely and that it already is the approach that KCRHA’s 26 direct service employees, called “system advocates,” take.
“Over time, as we get more integrated with the King County Regional Homeless Authority, this will be the dominant approach,” he said, “I’m very confident of that.”
However, the city’s Unified Care Team (UCT) conducts many sweeps at locations that KCRHA has never been to. At a tent site removal and RV remediation in North Seattle, by Comcast’s dispatch facility, campers reported that they had only sporadically met with members of the city’s HOPE team and had by and large been offered only spaces in “enhanced” shelters.
Asked if he would support a requirement for JustCARE workers or KCRHA system advocates to ply their trade before all future encampment removals, Lewis stopped short of saying it should be mandatory, instead offering that, “I would like JustCARE to be resourced so that they can serve that function.”
Hinting at the fact that he’ll soon be hitting the campaign trail, he added that, “I’ve got some potential ideas I can’t talk about right now. But the hope is that it will be scaled to the level to do this because there is broad public support for seeing an approach like that.”
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Mar. 8-14, 2023 issue.