City endorses plan to end homelessness in King County by 2014

Homelessness is evolving, with fewer degrees separating people from ending up in this condition.

An increasing number of people are one paycheck or fewer away from being out on the street, or if not on the street, in an emergency shelter or other multiple-tenant situation.

“In Auburn, homelessness is a broader conversation, and it’s a broader conversation outside of Auburn,” said Michael Hursh, human services manager for the City of Auburn. “I think there are lots of faces of homelessness that are not the typical ones that come to mind.”

On a frigid night last January Hursh took part in King County’s homeless count, which in Auburn turned up 40 people living under bridges, in woods, in cars and elswhere. That’s just the people the counters could find; the real number is certainly much higher, Hursh said.

Recognizing this, the City of Auburn last month endorsed a plan to end homelessness in King County in 10 years, a plan forwarded three years ago by the Committee to End Homelessness – a broad coalition of government, faith communities, nonprofits, the business community and homeless and formerly homeless people.

The plan sets forth a series of strategies and actions, with goals and measurable outcomes, for local leaders and organizations to pursue over the next 10 years. It guides investment of limited local resources to services that help homeless people best. And it works to ensure alignment and coordination among all the entities in the community that are engaged in meeting the needs of homeless, building on local and national best practices for resolving homelessness.

Its key strategies are to:

• Work together to ensure that an adequate supply of appropriate housing and supportive services are available to help people stay in their homes. These services include help with rent and utilities, job training, employment and education assistance, health care, mental health counseling, foster care and chemical dependency treatment.

• Place homeless people as quickly as possible in permanent housing and help them to stabilize and function independently by providing them with the supportive services they need to be successful in their homes.

• Expand the community’s commitment to ending homelessness by educating the public, tracking successes and building on them, and establishing steady funding.

“The plan depends heavily on private actions and non profit and government actions,” Hursh said. “It is going to take many levels of conversation, and it’s going to take all of us participating. So Auburn signing on to the initiative of the 10-year plan to end homelessness in King County is really important.

“… What it is is an endorsement of a plan that has already been presented to other communities around that have officially endorsed it,” Hursh added. “This simply means the city is going to participate in increasing ways. There’s going to be a lot of funding sources needed to make the initiatives work, because they are pretty aggressive initiatives as far as development of new housing and the rehabilitation of present housing, and the change in social structure as far as how we view homelessness.”

Faith Richie, chief executive director of Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation in Auburn, said that because of the 10 year plan, King County already has contributed funding to apartments that Valley Cities has committed to build for local homeless people or people at risk of being homeless, including veterans.

“We have already done some good things. In the first three years of the plan countywide, we have got 2,780 new units available for people,” said Richie. “And these are apartments or housing units for low-income people who otherwise couldn’t afford housing. Most of the units come with services that can help them, such as mental health services and case management assistance with budgeting and vocational training. And the other nice thing that has happened is all the funders got together and did planning and developed joint funding cycles so that the funds could be efficiently distributed, so that organizations like ours do not have to apply all over the place.

“If you don’t really set forth challenging goals, you don’t make progress,” Richie said of this ambitious plan. “We have made process so that validates the strategy. There has also been lot of success on the advocacy front, with not just King County but the state being supportive. They have increased the amount of funding in the state housing trust fund so that there is more money available to develop and build housing.”