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A new chapter in the fight against homelessness: Building a more coordinated, effective regional response

The top challenge our City faces is the crisis of affordability and homelessness. It is a crisis that demands not just urgent action, but new approaches and new innovations. It is also a regional crisis that demands regional solutions because no problem stops at a city border. A key component has been missing from our strategy: a truly coordinated, regional response across Seattle and King County.

That’s why on my third day in office, I joined with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus to announce the creation of One Table, a new effort to bring together local government, service providers, business leaders, philanthropy, advocates and people with lived experience of homelessness and local residents to develop innovative solutions to the homelessness crisis.

Since its creation in December 2017, One Table has met regularly to have honest conversations about our region’s current response to homelessness, asking crucial questions such as: Where are the gaps in serving our neighbors? Where are we duplicating our efforts, and how can we invest taxpayer dollars more effectively? How can we create a more comprehensive, county-wide network of services for our neighbors?

And above all: How can we get more of our neighbors off the streets, address the racial disparities that are being perpetuated, and prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place?

These conversations with One Table members have also focused on a key component: our fractured response across City and County agencies. Until now, the oversight of homelessness services in our City and region has been divided among the Seattle Human Services Department, the Seattle Office of Housing, the County Department of Community and Health Services, dozens of other municipal entities, and All Home as the Seattle/King County Continuum of Care, which has traditionally been responsible for coordinating homelessness services across governments in our region. In addition, philanthropic and private initiatives have played a crucial role in meeting the challenge. But having several separate City- and County-level governance structures addressing homelessness creates a number of problems.

For example, Seattle manages an extensive emergency shelter program, but the County manages all behavioral health programs. Sometimes our funding goes into the very same project, yet service providers must have separate contracts. We also use different language in soliciting proposals, separate contract language, and monitor the programs’ effectiveness in different ways. Seattle also hosts 80% of the County’s shelter beds, meaning individuals who find themselves homeless in other communities often must travel to Seattle to find a safe place to sleep or access a City or County service. This displaces people from their home communities and the networks that could help them get back on their feet. As part of our more coordinated governance structure, we would like to see a stronger safety net that meets that needs of homeless people countywide and where help is meeting those in need where they are.

With a worsening crisis, we need one consolidated system that has governance, authority and resources to address this problem. This is why I’m acting to move our City and region toward a more coordinated, effective, systematic effort to address our homelessness crisis. Today, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Executive Constantine that will strengthen our joint governance of programs. While we’ve already been cooperating for a number of years, this agreement allows us to further harmonize our investments, better share data, deliver services as effectively as possible, and examine a new governance structure. By identifying all the existing service gaps and duplicative efforts, we can move forward on a consolidated system that will increase the effectiveness, reach, and efficiency of our countywide homelessness system.

With this first important step arising from the One Table initiative, we will immediately make a significant step to improve outcomes and strengthen equity, coordination, and accountability for people who are experiencing homelessness in our region.

As stewards of taxpayer dollars, the City of Seattle has a responsibility to ensure our homeless investments are making the biggest impact for the most people. This new approach to regional governance will ensure our investments are yielding the best outcomes for people experiencing homelessness and those who are at risk of becoming homeless.

As I said in my State of the City address on February 20, our City’s work to address homelessness requires a willingness to try new things, to innovate, and to really understand what is working, and what is failing.

With this agreement, we’re taking the first step towards a new approach that best serves our neighbors in need.