April 16, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 16

Director's Corner

Latest crisis response briefing offers four areas of proposed work that don’t amount to much

By Timothy Harris / Executive Director

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Sometimes I feel like Johnny One Note. Every other column or so, I say more or less the same thing in a slightly different way. 

Sometimes, I swear to God, I’d almost rather stab myself with my own pen than write the words, “3,123 people were found outside in King County during the 2014 One Night Count after the shelters were full” yet one more time. 

But it needs to be said, because after months of deliberation on “Crisis Response,” the Committee to End Homelessness in King County has bravely chosen to go with the definition of insanity.

Which is, to keep doing the same thing, expecting, for no good reason, a different result.

The latest crisis response briefing offers four areas of proposed work. Collectively, they don’t amount to much.

Solution one is rapid rehousing, a fancy way of saying, “When people become homeless, get them back into housing, fast.” This is hard to argue with, but it’s not new. Stimulus funds from the federal government made this the strategy du jour, and when that money went away with sequestration, local funders like United Way picked up the tab.

And yet, there isn’t much affordable housing around. The programs that exist to creatively find new options — such as the Landlord Liaison Project, which connects landlords, human service agencies and homeless people — don’t come close to meeting the demand. If the resources existed for implementation at any reasonable scale, this is an idea that would have huge impact.  Sadly, they do not.

Then, there’s the second big idea: move the “long-term stayers,” the 600-some folks who’ve been in shelter six months or more but aren’t disabled enough to be prioritized for help, out of shelter and into housing and services.  This would free up shelter space for the short-term stayers. This, too, sounds reasonable enough. 

Problem is, if the housing and services to do this existed, it would have already happened. It’s not like the folks who run homeless shelters are too stupid or incompetent to have arrived at this notion on their own.

This is like your boss saying, “Hey, work faster!” when you’re already doing all you can. In the absence of new resources, it’s just management being a dick.

Recommendation number three acknowledges the need for more emergency shelter. The solution to unsheltered people with nowhere to go is, radically enough,  more shelter!  But the commitment on this point is less than impressive.

The problem here is that shelter is to be expanded “regionally,” which is code for “anywhere but here.” Most of the unmet need is in Seattle, where there is insufficient political will to add more. Unsurprisingly, few of the other communities want it either. 

Finally, the preliminary crisis response plan supports the 2010 recommendations to then Mayor Mike McGinn from a panel of human service providers that self-organized tent cities be supported as part of the solution to homelessness. 

Had I not seen this report supported in principle four years ago and then quietly shelved, I’d be a lot more excited. But at this point, I’m feeling as if Lucy is holding out the football again, and, like Charlie Brown, all I can say is “Good grief!” 

Until someone shows me the money, I’m not running at the ball.

When it comes to those who survive outdoors, in tents, cars, buses, doorways or just walking around, there is little urgency from those who could do better. 

We’ll see what happens next, but I’ll tell you this: Unless homeless people and the folks who support them demand more, it won’t be much.

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