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Ending homelessness: King County sees progress

During the January 2011 homeless count, Roy Andresen prepares to search underneath a highway overpass off Interstate 5. This year’s count found fewer homeless than in 2010 and 2009. A total of 2,442 homeless were counted this year, compared to 2,759 in 2010 and 2,827 in 2009. In Federal Way, 124 were counted this year, compared to 181 in 2010. - Mirror file photo
During the January 2011 homeless count, Roy Andresen prepares to search underneath a highway overpass off Interstate 5. This year’s count found fewer homeless than in 2010 and 2009. A total of 2,442 homeless were counted this year, compared to 2,759 in 2010 and 2,827 in 2009. In Federal Way, 124 were counted this year, compared to 181 in 2010.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Five years ago, King County took on the daunting task of attempting to end homelessness in the region.

Through the creation of the Committee to End Homelessness, and the adoption of a 10-year plan, the county set out to find the ways and means to get people off the streets and into stable housing.

Bill Block, project director for the committee, gave a five-year update to the Federal Way City Council on Oct. 18. The committee has seen a lot of success in those five years, Block said, but there is still a lot of work to do going forward into the next five years.

“We’ve transformed the program for the chronically homeless single adults, the folks who are struggling with mental illness,” Block said. “We figured out how to get those people into housing and stabilize their lives. 1811 Eastlake, one of our early projects, had 75 units. The folks who moved into it dropped their emergency service usage $4 million in the first year alone.”

Another successful program has been Client Care Coordination, which looked at people who were consistently in jail and in hospitals. The program has helped these people break their cycle of being shuffled through those systems, Block said.

“(We’re) seeing an 85 percent drop in jail time, a 96 percent drop in sobering center time, and a 75 percent drop in psychiatric hospitalization,” Block said. “(That program) really changes their lives for those folks.”

The Landlord Liaison program assists people who are trying to do right, but may be running into obstacles because of a few past mistakes, such as bad credit or a criminal conviction.

“We created Landlord Liaison, which is actually based in South King County, and we went out and said to landlords, ‘If we promise to be there for you…will you open those doors?’” Block said. “And they were hoping to get 100 landlords. They’ve got 300 now. They were hoping to house in the first year about 250 families, and they’ve housed over 700 now.”

One last success in the campaign to end homelessness in the county is the Funders Group, which is a coalition of groups including King County, the City of Seattle, United Way, the Gates Foundation, Seattle Housing Authority, King County Housing Authority and regional cities. The Funders Group helps centralize and streamline the funding process for various groups that are working to end homelessness in the region, Block said.

“We do one notice of funding availability, there’s one application grading round, there’s one set of rewards, so a project gets everything it needs,” he said. “So you fund eight projects fully, instead of 16 projects that are trying to get along on half of what they need.”

Block said all of these efforts have added up to some impressive numbers: 18,000 people have been able to avoid homelessness through these programs, and more than 30,000 individuals have been helped into housing.

Some of the areas that need to be addressed going forward are veterans’ homelessness; youth and young adults at risk; immigrant and refugee populations that are at risk; and vulnerable seniors, Block said.

“We know what to do, we’ve proven we can do it, we’re a national model,” Block said. “It’s not going to be easy in these economic times, but every community is stronger, and I think we all realize that.”

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