On or around January 23, 2015 most regions of the country – and every county in Washington State – completed local Point in Time Counts. These manual counts of people who are experiencing homelessness give us a snapshot of how the homeless system is performing. Last week King County reported a 21% increase in the number of people they found living in places not fit for human habitation. Clearly, we need to make changes to the way we are doing things to reach the outcomes needed to make homelessness rare, brief and one time.
In press release, Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which organizes the count, reports a substantial increase over those found without shelter last year. “This year’s Count is heart-breaking evidence that we cannot cover our community’s most basic needs. Clearly, the crisis of people homeless and without shelter is growing, and clearly we must respond by using every resource we have. Everyone needs a safe place to rest.”
Even more shocking, the One Night Count numbers don’t include the more than 500 “literally homeless” families who are on the wait list for emergency shelter in King County (there are over 200 who are staying in emergency shelter, and are in the queue for housing.) These are the families who have burned out their social supports and are in their cars, on the street or in tents.
These are more than numbers… we are talking about very poor men, women and children who have no place to go tonight. Every night they spend homeless adds to the time it will take for them to recover.
Mark Putnam, Director for King County’s Committee to End Homelessness, shares his thoughts about the 21% increase in the number of people found outside. Take a look at his ideas of ways YOU can get involved in local efforts to end homelessness… it’s up to all of us to make change happen.
If you’re like me, the results of last week’s One Night Count are still weighing heavily on this sunny Monday. The increase did not surprise me, or most people I talked with, because of what we see all year long. All felt very somber about it. Some felt enraged. I feel some of both, with some measure of optimism, resolve, and conviction mixed in as well.
There should be no more denying that homelessness is a crisis in King County. We can do better and we should not accept 3,772 unsheltered people on a night in January as a part of our culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. We could instead choose to fund our safety net through investments such as ensuring there are enough psychiatric beds for those in need. We could choose to prioritize affordable housing, and renter protections. To ensure we are providing what people need, we need to shift the way we work to be more flexible and creative. We need everyone involved, from congregations to businesses to landlords. And as individual residents we could choose to be more compassionate to our homeless neighbors, to pay it forward by helping them today, tonight, in any way possible.
This mailing list is 1,500 strong, and each of you have networks of friends, business associates, and allies. Reach out to them, and tell them what they can do to support our efforts to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in King County. A friend of mine asked me on Facebook this weekend how he could help. Here are my ideas, and I’m sure you have many as well:
First, you can learn about the issues and advocate. The state needs to fund affordable housing and mental health services, and increase renter protections, among many other things. Read our legislative agenda here and get advocacy alerts from our partners like the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and Housing Development Consortium.
Second, you can give money to nonprofits that are providing housing for people who have been homeless. We are lucky to have dozens of really strong organizations building housing, and providing shelter, job training, and meals in our community.
Third, if you’re part of a faith community join in the conversation at www.faithandfamilyhomelessness.com.
Fourth, if you’re a landlord, rent a home to a homeless person! More than 1,000 people who are homeless have the money to pay for rent (courtesy of government programs) but can’t find a place willing to rent to them — usually because of competition with other renters, past evictions, or criminal histories. Fact is, people need second chances. CEH created a campaign called One Home and you can learn more and sign up here: www.onehomekc.org.
Fifth, share the stories of homeless people in your community by liking Homeless in Seattle on Facebook or sharing the StoryCorps project. Crowd funding projects like Homeless in Seattle are doing an amazing job of connecting people who want to help to people who need help. They post stories almost daily of people who need help, and give concrete ways you can provide help, by crowd-funding, or asking if anyone can provide a sleeping bag, or a room to rent, etc.
Finally, review CEH’s Draft Strategic Plan. This set of new strategies includes ideas from other communities that have made more progress than King County as well as many more changes we know we need to make to get people off the streets.
Add or edit this list, and send on to your networks.
Make sure each of the 3,772 remain on your minds, today, tomorrow, and all year. Thanks for all you do,
Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County