Seeking Solutions with Project Homeless
Seattle Times editors share perspectives on homelessness challenge during panel discussion
March 30, 2018
By Kristin Dizon, Director of Communications
Seattle Foundation hosted a conversation with the editors who oversee the Seattle Times’ Project Homeless, a multi-year effort to report on the challenges to ending homelessness in our region and the solutions to address the problem. Tony Mestres, Seattle Foundation President and CEO, moderated the March 29 discussion with Seattle Times executive editor Don Shelton, managing editor Michele Matassa Flores and Project Homeless editor Jonathan Martin.
The project is following the spending on homelessness services to see if it's gaining traction on the problem and is humanizing those who become invisible to most of us, said Don Shelton, editor of the Seattle Times. The first step is to change the conversation to one that’s focused on solutions rather than defeatism.
Project Homeless editor Jonathan Martin said it’s a myth that most homeless residents are chronically homeless. He said about 40 percent are families and that many youth are also living without shelter. Another myth is that most homeless individuals aren’t working and that many move here to take advantage of services. Martin said many unsheltered individuals are working, and that a survey by All Home King County found that only 5 percent of respondents said they came here to access services.
“There are people who are chronically homeless – who have significant problems in their life like mental health or substance abuse. But we’ve actually found far more people who are working, families that are dealing with domestic violence situations, youth who are running away from home for a variety of reasons,” Martin said.
He added that the county’s one night count of homeless individuals that totaled 11,600 is an estimate that’s far lower than the actual numbers. In new reporting by the Project Homeless team, they discovered that about 30,000 people per year request homelessness services.
“If you overlay the rent increase charts in King County and Seattle, and especially for those at the bottom of the market – the cheapest housing – those numbers have gone up sharply and they overlap almost perfectly with the rise in people who are living outside, the unsheltered population. So one of the concerns I have going forward is that we have now permanently reset the cost of housing, which is almost half the budget for low-income people,” Martin said. “That speaks to me that we have a homelessness crisis that is here to stay.”
There are earlier points where helping someone who’s fallen on hard times by covering a utility bill or finding affordable job training, can prevent a slide into homelessness. “When people are given the opportunity to make their lives better, they do,” Martin said.
Panelists talked about the recent and ongoing One Table effort by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and a wide variety of thought leaders, experts, service providers and people who have experienced homelessness. They are coming together to address the root causes of homelessness, with a goal of making significant inroads on this issue. The challenge for the group, Martin said, will be to come up with a major game changer and to address the fragmented pieces of the response system to homelessness, as well as the lack of one responsible agency or party.
The panel agreed that there are many ways that the private and social sector can engage on this problem, such as in developing affordable housing, expanding economic opportunities or in supporting shelters, which are often privately funded in other cities or areas of the country.
Martin said thus far, it appears that the region hasn’t acted urgently on this problem.
“This is the time to do it and this is the opportunity to do it,” he said.
Project Homeless is community-funded journalism with support from Campion Advocacy Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, the Seattle Mariners, Starbucks and Seattle Foundation. For additional details on community-funded journalism projects and Project Homeless, visit https://company.seattletimes.com/community-impact/.