My Inspiring Friends: a Message from Mark Putnam

By Lisa Gustaveson

What difference can one person make?

Just ask the homeless child who calls the back seat of a car home. While Mom is frantically trying to find a shelter that has space for them, the nervous kindergartener knows she has a new backpack thanks to the Project Cool school supply drive. Your donation makes a big difference to her.

Or, when you roll down the window of your car and hand the homeless vet a few bucks to get something to eat? When you meet their eyes and smile, you might be giving them the strength they need to get through another day on the street.

As the Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, Mark Putnam is responsible for the development and implementation of the community’s Strategic Plan. It’s a very difficult job, filled with meetings, policy research and negotiation.

I am honored to call Mark a friend, and even prouder to witness the value he places on relationships and simple acts of kindness. You see, it’s not easy (some would say impossible) to measure the impact of a kind gesture. That doesn’t stop Mark from acknowledging the importance of those gestures amongst official policy and strategies.

Read his heartfelt post below, and reflect on how your simple acts of kindness and generosity make a big difference to local efforts to end homelessness.

By Mark Putnam, Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County

It takes all of us — and our friends, and our friends’ friends — to help the 10,000 or more people experiencing homelessness each day in King County.

This past week a few of my friends, and their friends, blew me away with their compassion and activism.

Helping people manage the heat. Last night, I got a call from an old high school friend. He’s currently living in his car, homeless as a result of health issues and significant health costs. He’s working full-time, but not able to rent in King County. He’s concerned about people living outside not having a place to dispose of garbage or human waste – and worried that they do not have enough water to survive the heat of summer. He’s been bringing gallon jugs of water to people living in tents by the stadiums in Sodo, doing what he can, even as he struggles to get by himself.

Community pillarGetting landlords involved. Another old friend, Rebekah, has launched a program at her company, Zillow, to connect vulnerable renters with housing. The Community Pillar program works with landlords who are open to modifying their screening criteria to help people with potential rental barriers. These landlords will get a Community Pillar badge on their Zillow profile, and renters will be able to find them in the Zillow directory to view active rental listings.

Helping people who are living in their vehicles. A group of friends – Sinan, Graham, Rex, and Bill – and their vast networks of friends – rallied around a group of people living in their RVs in North Seattle. Rex from Homeless in Seattle organized a garbage cleanup. Subsequently, the RVs got notice from police that they needed to move their RVs or be impounded. These guys held informal meetings of RV residents, neighbors, Seattle Police, and local business owners to discuss and problem solve. Their grass-roots leadership has led to finding stable places for a few RV residents, but others still need places to go. Please do what you can to help.

To each of you – I feel honored to be your friend, and thank you for all you did this week, and will do next week, no doubt, to support our neighbors in need. We all have resources we can share – jugs of water, a website to recruit landlords, parking spots for people living in vehicles – but the most important thing we can share is our hearts.

Committee to End Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness
2015 One Night Count Volunteer Breakfast

From the Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County: Turn the One Night Count into Positive Momentum!

One Night Count 2015On 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.”

Courtesy of Dan Lamont

Photo by Dan Lamont

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.

Good afternoon,

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

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:

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,

Mark Putnam,

Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County

Faith and Family Homelessness

A Local Perspective on the 2014 National Conference on Homelessness

Submitted by Mark Putnam, Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County

MOnumentThis past July, several King County based Committee to End Homelessness staff braved the heat and humidity of a Washington, D.C. summer to attend the 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness.

The annual conference offers more than a thousand people from across the United States and Canada who work to end homelessness an opportunity to learn from each other, discuss effective solutions for ending homelessness with leading experts in the field, and offer their voices in shaping effective strategies and policies to end homelessness in their region.

This year’s conference signaled a new tone and energy in the work of ending homelessness. Attendees celebrated the great strides made in developing and implementing innovative strategies that aim to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time. We know what works and doesn’t work, and there’s a renewed energy to take on the challenge of adjusting current practices and systems to undertake these innovative practices.

Workshop speakers highlighted:

  • Housing first principles for all populations, including rapidly re-housing families and single adults as a viable and effective approach to help move people off the streets and into housing
  • Strategies to prioritize the most vulnerable people into the homeless housing system as the most effective way to target limited homeless resources
  • Utilizing data to inform decision-making, including developing standards to measure program and system-level performance and re-tooling systems to align with more effective and efficient efforts

The good news is that King County is on track, and in some cases even ahead of the game, in these efforts.

This year’s conference didn’t let us down! With 90 workshops over three days; with dynamic keynote speakers like Senator Cory Booker, HUD Secretary Julián Castro’, the new United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Chair, Thomas E. Perez, and Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Becky Kanis Margiotta, we left DC even more committed and energized for the work ahead.

King County was well represented with local stakeholders presenting at conference workshops, including:

  • Emily Harris-Shears, Catholic Community Services (Targeting and Preventing Homelessness)
  • William Hobson, DESC (Person-Centered Options for Persons in Recovery)
  • Melinda Giovengo, YouthCare (Innovative Collaborations in Strengthening Models to End Youth Homelessness)
  • Jim Mayfield, WA DSHS (Research on Rapid Re-Housing)
  • Kollin Min, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Partnering to Support Young Children and their Parents)
  • Jim Theofelis, The Mockingbird Society (Where Does State Policy Fit in Your Advocacy Playbook?)

And, our very own:

  • Mark Putnam, CEHKC (Strategies to Develop and Strengthen Your Continuum of Care)
  • Megan Gibbard, CEHKC (Transatlantic Practice Exchange: Lessons from Across the Pond AND Systemic Responses to Youth Homelessness)

The last day culminated with the key note from The First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama. Before the First Lady took the stage, the 1,600 conference participants were shown videos, including Seattle University’s American Refugees four animated short films about family homelessness, and a video from the Mockingbird Society featuring youth advocates.

While our own Michelle Valdez was fortunate enough to get a close-up and handshake from the First Lady, we all agree that the opportunity to hear her speak about the work of ending homelessness among Veterans (of which Seattle/King County is also a part of), was the icing on the cake.

We’ll end our brief update with a message from Michelle Obama:

“Yet, when so many others accept homelessness as a fact of life, you refuse to give up.  When they scoff at your idealism, you show them the data and evidence that prove that we can solve this problem.  And when they still throw up their hands and walk away from this challenge, you roll up your sleeves and get back to work.”

Committee to End Homelessness of King County staff attending included:

  • Mark Putnam, Director
  • Megan Gibbard, Program Manager
  • Michelle Valdez, Program Manager
  • Triina Tennelo, Program Manager

To Learn More:

National Alliance to End Homelessness – 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness

Materials and presentations:

First Lady’s key note speech:

Committee to End Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Seattle U

An end to homelessness is in sight, as long as government, nonprofits and the public work together

We are pleased to share this editorial for Real Change News by Mark Putnam, Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. Mark offers an update on the progress of King County’s 10 Year Plan, and invites all to join in the effort.

Real Change News | May 28, 2014 | Vol. 21 No. 22


As the new director of the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH), I am often asked, with a smirk, “Have you ended homelessness yet?” followed by “Do you really believe we can?”

My short answers are “No, we haven’t ended homelessness here yet,” and “Yes, I do really believe we can.”

CEH is a growing effort with partners in government, philanthropy, faith-based groups and nonprofits. Along with individual advocates, CEH believes that it is unacceptable for people in King County to live outside and not in safe, stable homes.

Like other major cities around the country and each county in Washington, we developed a 10-year plan to end homelessness. Our plan resulted in many successes, including raising enough public and political will to create more than 5,400 units of housing. We now have the third highest number of housing units for homeless people in the country.

And yet, we have not ended homelessness. How can we think otherwise when the death rates among people experiencing homelessness are four to five times that of the general population?

This fuels our drive to make the experience of homelessness a rare event in King County, brief for those who do become homeless and only a one-time occurrence. We are tracking the following data closely, and we’re using the information to learn how to house more people, more effectively.

Committee to End Homelessness Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness OutsideIn Real Change