Changing the way we think about homelessness, which is deeply embedded in our internal and cultural biases, is critical to our ability to meaningfully address the crisis we face today. While we are housing more people through homeless services than ever, our efforts have failed to match the increasing need. Homelessness has reached emergency levels in Seattle/King County and it is no accident that we find ourselves in these current circumstances.
Over 90 percent of people experiencing homelessness would take safe and affordable housing if it were offered. Criticism of homeless people instead of homelessness itself and belief that government programs breed dependency-that some “choose homelessness”- are factually incorrect. More importantly, they are incredibly damaging to efforts aimed at reducing this problem. They misplace blame for the issue of homelessness to the individuals and families suffering from its damaging effects.
Homelessness is 100 percent preventable. No one should ever experience the trauma of homelessness. Shelter is a basic human need and should be treated like a basic human right.
Personal “deficiencies” and character flaws are not root causes. Homelessness is a reflection of our larger society, forcing us to bear witness to our collective failings.
Stagnant wages and increasing costs of living cause homelessness. But there are many other root causes:
- Historic and current discriminatory housing policies.
- Racist systems that jail black men at 10 times the rate of their white counterparts.
- Antiquated resettlement requirements for immigrants and refugees.
- Criminalization of substance-use disorder.
- Insufficient mental health services and basic healthcare.
- Rising rents and decreased funding for affordable housing.
While these factors are vast and daunting, we know what works to end the immediate crisis and make it rare, brief and one-time in King County.
Funding entities such as All Home, King County, the City of Seattle and United Way of King County have worked in partnership with direct service providers to increase efficiencies in the homeless response system. This better serves individuals and families. Thanks to these efforts we experienced a 50 percent increase in households exiting homelessness when compared to data from 2013. We also measured fewer days waiting for a connection to permanent housing and fewer returns to homelessness. Driving results with the best available data, cultivating a culture of accountability & continuous improvement will continue to increase our capacity to better serve our communities.
7,500 households moved from homelessness to permanent housing in 2016, a 50 percent increase compared to 2013.
Unfortunately, changes made to our homeless system will not fully address the growing gap between housing costs and what people can afford.
How can we help to address homelessness in our community?
- Reach out to local legislators. Federal, state and local governments need to prioritize substantial and sustainable funding to holistically address this important issue.
- Encourage large enterprises to be part of the solution. Following the path of local giants like Amazon, Starbucks & Vulcan, businesses need to expand their engagement in solutions leveraging and complementing local efforts.
- Consider joining them of their grants and philanthropic activities. Philanthropies, including United Way, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation and more, have invested significantly in addressing homelessness. Faith communities and individuals have also stepped up to contribute time, expertise and resources, including buildings and land for shelter & housing.
We all can and need to play a role in addressing homelessness to make King County a place where all people can have a place to call home. Get in touch with All Home with your ideas for taking action.
Original piece by Mark Putnam, Director of All Home. The organization works with local governments, nonprofits, shelter and housing providers, the private sector & more. They seek to coordinate efforts on the homelessness crisis and address its root causes.
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