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A Defining Moment in Addressing Homelessness

Kira Zylstra of All Home King County shares progress and the need for affordable options, funding and political will to prevent and decrease homelessness


July 31, 2018

Guest blog by Kira Zylstra, acting director of All Home King County

Note: All Home is a broad coalition of government, business, faith communities, nonprofits, people with lived experience of homelessness and homeless advocates working together to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time, and to address the root causes of the problem in our region.

Kira Zylsta headshotOur community faces a defining moment as we grapple with how to move forward in the midst of a housing crisis and the related ongoing emergency level of homelessness. As thousands of people across King County lay their heads down each night in doorways, tents, cars and other locations never meant for shelter, and thousands more are at deep risk of becoming homeless, inaction is not an option. All Home stands firmly committed to comprehensively addressing this crisis on all levels by preventing homelessness whenever possible, prioritizing existing resources and making additional investments at scale to address the severe lack of affordable housing that provides pathways out of homelessness.

The performance of our regional homeless response system overall has significantly improved over the last four years, from housing 3,410 households in 2013 to 6,851 in 2017, an increase of 101 percent. Our community has also made progress for certain populations with targeted resources, coordinated attention and added funding, yielding a 22 percent decrease in homelessness among minors and a 31 percent decrease in veteran homelessness. These successes are not achieved by accident. We know what it takes to see similar progress across the system but we chronically lack the funding and sustained political will to implement solutions at scale.

Local government, nonprofit providers and partner organizations are working hard every day to do more with the limited resources available. Accountability is paramount in our work, with performance evaluated quarterly through public-facing data dashboards. Further, contracts for homeless services have built-in minimum standards and require measurable success. The City of Seattle and King County have committed to further align investments and to explore a more effective governance structure to maximize the efficiency of the regional homeless response system. While we have dramatically increased our capacity to house more people each year, the basic fact remains that the system is unable to address the volume of people who need services. Since 2014, as the number of households accessing homelessness services grew by an average of 11 percent a year, funding only grew by an average of 2.4 percent a year.

Although our region continues to experience record economic growth, the benefits of that prosperity have not reached those with the lowest incomes and highest vulnerabilities. Since 2014, the fair market rent (FMR) has risen by an average of more than 12 percent a year across King County. These historic rent increases, far exceeding hikes in other communities across the country, have a direct correlation with increases in homelessness, as documented by research conducted by McKinsey & Company and UCLA. Currently, you need to make at least $36.12/hour to afford a modest two-bedroom home in Seattle, which costs an average of $1,878/month according to the most recent Out of Reach Report. Since 2011, the availability of affordable housing stock for a family of four making $57,600 a year (half the area median income) has dropped by nearly half. Given these realities, it is no surprise that more than 30,000 individuals experience homelessness over the course of a year in King County.

People experiencing homelessness need housing. Additional investments are required to make King County a region where all people have a place to call home. No single organization, no one system, can end this complex crisis on its own. We have to form new partnerships rooted in a commitment to meeting this urgent and growing need, partnerships that create political and public will to truly end the preventable experience of homelessness. We need more partnerships to create innovative solutions like the Block Project, which is building BLOCK Homes in the backyards of single-family lots while building connection, healing and compassion through the collaboration of neighbors, volunteers, local businesses and municipal partners.

We need the commitment of all sectors in supporting regional solutions. We call on business, government, philanthropy, nonprofits, faith communities and citizens to engage in solutions that do not place blame or shame, but hold us all accountable to the health and wellbeing of our community. We have faith and hope in the people of King County, where innovation, collaboration and deep respect for one another as human beings guides our collective path. Homelessness can end here and we are committed to doing our part. Will you join us? There are many ways to get involved -- Stay informed or volunteer -- and we need every one of us.

Note: This guest blog expresses the opinions of its author, who was invited by the Foundation to share a community-based perspective. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Seattle Foundation and the forwarding or reposting of this content should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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affordable housingHomelessnessBasic Needs

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