The infinite list
Overwhelmed by demand, a King County agency is redefining what it means to be homeless
They wanted to build a better list. To give families a single place to sign up and wait for multiple shelter and housing programs, King County in 2012 created Family Housing Connections, a comprehensive intake program with a single waiting list.
But with about 20 emergency shelter openings a month, the wait could last years.
Now, many won’t get any help at all.
Family Housing Connections is removing most of the 4,000 people on its housing waiting list. It’s an acknowledgment that what was supposed to be a more efficient system has nonetheless failed to meet the high demand.
More than 4,000 people are waiting for an opening in 1,100 shelter spaces, transitional housing units and permanent supportive housing apartments around King County.
Catholic Community Services, which administers Family Housing Connections, announced Dec. 6 that from now on, the waiting list is only available to people living outdoors or in emergency shelter.
This leaves out families who are couch-surfing, doubled up with another family or at risk of losing their homes.
“It’s safe to say that about 80 percent of the folks on the list would no longer be eligible,” said Julie McFarland, division director at Catholic Community Services.
Because people living outdoors had priority, the waiting list was failing those people who were doubled up or couch-surfing, giving them false hope, McFarland said.
Over the next month, Catholic Community Services will contact each family on the list to check their housing status and inform them whether they will get to keep their spot in line.
Those who will stay on the list include about 280 households who are living in places unfit for human habitation and 220 households living in emergency shelter.
The change is overdue, said Bill Kirlin-Hackett, executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness. Soon after Family Housing Connections launched in 2012, the waiting list started growing, he said.
“We’ve questioned the model all along,” Kirlin-Hackett said. “There were too many families and still no housing.”
The program launched after years of planning with area shelter and housing providers and the King County Committee to End Homelessness. It costs $700,000 a year to operate.
When it started, organizers cast a wide net.
Anyone who was living outdoors, in a car or doubled up with family was eligible for the program. Organizers discovered that thousands of families were living with friends and family, couch-surfing or close to losing their home.
With housing prices increasing, families doubling up may be the new reality, said Gretchen Bruce, interim director of the Committee to End Homelessness.
“Maybe doubled up is what happens,” she said. “It keeps families together; it keeps families housed.”
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