Skyrocketing prices for housing and basic staples have led to an uptick in homelessness across the country. From the fully employed living in their cars to the less fortunate making do on city sidewalks, the U.S. unhoused population is rising even while 16 million homes remain empty. As more and more people lose hope, the grip of the fentanyl crisis grows stronger, now claiming more than 150 lives every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although crime rates haven’t statistically increased in most U.S. cities, a rising fear of crime and conflict has many people avoiding downtown areas and business districts — leaving local governments scrambling to bring these areas back to their former glory. Seattle’s Third Avenue is no different. Where the city stands out is in its choice of solution: building relationships with people on the street, showing them they have neighbors who care, and providing resources to improve their lives.

Co-founded by CEO Dominique Davis and COO Stephenie Wheeler-Smith, We Deliver Care is a public safety company born out of the period following the murder of George Floyd and ensuing calls to defund the police.

“In Black and Brown communities, people became concerned about a strategy of removing police and what they would be replaced with,” Tabatha Davis, the organization’s director of operations, told TriplePundit. With the potential for the pendulum to swing the other way and lead to over-militarization or over-policing, the company’s founders asked a bold question: “What does it look like for community to heal community?”

We Deliver Care is dedicated to increasing safety through community outreach. As one of many agencies involved in the city-affiliated Third Avenue Project, the program’s community safety ambassadors are forming relationships, connecting people with much-needed resources, de-escalating conflicts, and helping to restore the peace so that businesses, customers and residents — whether housed or unhoused — can feel more secure. Most importantly, they’re also saving lives.

It all started with a three-year partnership with CoLEAD (Let Everyone Advance with Dignity), a Seattle organization tasked with providing temporary hotel stays for unsheltered people when many of the services they relied on were shuttered in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The hotels were full of people in crisis, and they didn’t want the only solution to be calling the police,” Davis said. We Deliver Care was contracted to support hotel and CoLEAD staff.

Those de-escalation and support services were so successful that others started to notice. “When the Third Avenue need arose, we reached out to them,” said Lisa Daugaard, executive director of the Third Avenue Project.

The project brings local organizations together to improve the area on Third Avenue from Stewart Street to University Street. This stretch goes through the heart of Seattle’s downtown business district, just blocks away from the Seattle Art Museum and the iconic Pike Place Market, where residents say high crime rates in the area have them concerned about safety.

Groups involved in the Third Avenue Project include LEAD and its CoLEAD offshoot, as well as the homelessness outreach initiative REACH, the Downtown Emergency Services Center and more. Among them, We Deliver Care “is like the connective tissue,” said Sean Blackwell, project manager for the Third Avenue initiative.

“The bulk of our staff have lived experience,” Davis said. “Everyone has a passion for their community and some sort of desire to heal their community,” she added. “As overcomers and survivors, they are problem solvers.” She credited We Deliver Care’s community safety ambassadors with an abundance of good ideas on how to help those who are struggling.

Read the full article about community alternatives to policing by Riya Anne Polcastro at Triple Pundit.