The short answer? This King County effort is a Big Deal.
At the Campion Advocacy Fund, we have been working for some time with local leaders to harness the world-class innovation our region is known for and apply it to the biggest crisis of our time: ending homelessness.
In 2019, the City of Seattle and King County created a unified, regional approach to homeless emergency services with the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). This new agency—which uses an equity and social justice lens in its decision-making—coalesces policy, funding, data, and services.
Why We Should Be Rooting for this Effort
Getting two government entities with different cultures, systems, and approaches coming together, committed to working differently does not often happen—but it’s happening here.
Nevertheless, it will take more than government change to end homelessness in our region.
As with all big efforts, leadership is everything. I wrote in The Seattle Times recently, “The hiring of Marc Dones (KCRHA CEO) is a breath of fresh air, and they are a strong leader to root for. We should be celebrating and encouraging innovation in this sector, just as we do in the business sector.”
Partnerships in Progress
In 2020, we helped establish We Are In, a coalition to provide support, accountability, and most of all, communications and outreach by people with lived experience to bring better understanding of the issues to the community and share with them how they can be part of the solution. We Are In also acts as a resource for you to stay informed, participate, and support regional efforts to end homelessness. Please take time to sign up for their updates.
A year ago, We Are In partnered with KCRHA to launch the Partnership for Zero—an all-out effort to end chronic unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle. Additional partners include elected leaders, businesses, and philanthropic organizations (including Campion).
Partnership for Zero was designed to bring innovative emergency response techniques and thoughtful and supportive outreach to unhoused people living downtown. It is both an immediate response to critical needs and a way to collect accurate data to track our progress. In the five months since Partnership for Zero has been up and running, 152 people downtown have moved inside and an additional 214 are in the process of securing housing.
A crucial first step was launching the Housing Command Center (HCC) which provides real-time assessments of downtown’s housing needs. The HCC is staffed by System Advocates, a team of outreach workers with lived experience who are building trust with over 900 unhoused residents downtown and connecting them to services.
Treating homelessness as an emergency may seem obvious to you but within the “systems” of services, it’s a new idea and an essential perspective if we are going to break through to being a fair and just community with access to housing for everyone. As Marc Dones recently said in The Seattle Times, “Homelessness is an emergency, not just in language, but in structure.”
These are a lot of new partnerships. Why? The old ways weren’t working. We can do better. But it will take time.
How Much Time?
New projects necessitate a significant amount of time and work to develop the infrastructure. The steps required to move people from homeless to housed have proved complex and time-intensive, but we have confidence in the strategy and are seeing successes that will lay the foundation to scale it throughout the region.
We have learned a lot from our partners, from the Systems Advocates, and from our unhoused neighbors—all of which are informing foundational changes to how we address homelessness. How much time will it take? More than we would like, but this is not a process that can be rushed; not when real peoples’ lives are involved.
Over the course of 2022, more than 5,600 individuals, couples, youth, and families moved out of homelessness and into housing, including nearly 1,600 people who moved into housing thanks to three new programs administered by KCRHA (one of which is Partnership for Zero).
And more communities in our region are buying in to this model. Several North End cities, including Shoreline, Woodinville, Bothell, and Lake Forest Park have signed an inter-local agreement with KCRHA, giving greater strength to a cohesive, regional approach. This means that communities are combining their resources and innovation to accelerate housing for people experiencing homelessness, no matter on what side of the city borders they are. Progress will pick up speed as additional communities come on board.
All Eyes on Us
The country is watching. In August, the Federal government sent a team of experts in disaster response and emergency management to Seattle to provide guidance and support in launching the Housing Command Center. This project is already considered a national model that other cities are closely watching
The process takes time, patience, and all of our support. As Gordon McHenry, CEO of United Way, recently said, “We’ve seen how it works the other way—when various agencies, organizations, lawmakers, and stakeholders work to solve King County’s homelessness problem without a united front.”
I understand that the slow pace responding to this urgent need is frustrating, but we have taken the first step to break down the silos, and the next step is to engage the wider community—that’s you!—in solutions.
It is my hope that now that we have the critical ingredients in place for success—community will, government focus, and decision making rooted in equity and data—that as a community we can do better.
I will continue to interpret the progress of King County in this blog and offer ways for you to get involved. I encourage you to also sign up for We Are In’s blog to stay informed and to educate yourself.
Our region is known for our innovation. Now let’s be known for building a community where everyone is safely housed at night so that they can get up the next morning with hope and meaning in their work and lives. Gordon also said that we can never forget that at the heart of this crisis are people going through trauma, most likely the worst time of their lives.
We can do this.
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