County Is Not on Track to "End" Homelessness


Kevin P. Casey

The number of homeless people in King County rose two percent since last year, according to a count late last week. That's a modest increase that Bill Block, director of the King County Committee to End Homelessness, points out in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer could have been a lot worse given the horrible economy. That's probably true, and in part a consequence of how the county has dramatically stepped up its production of permanent low-income housing (though at some expense to temporary shelter, as Aimee Curl wrote about last August). But over coffee recently, Block also told me that the county is not on track to produce the number of homes stipulated in its "Ten Year Plan" to end homelessness. Instead of building 9,500 homes by the year 2015 as planned, "we're on track for about 5,000," he said.

This is not a total shock. When in the late '90s and early 2000s cities and counties across the country began promising to "end" homelessness in 10 years, the notion--spurred in part by a shift in federal policies--invited both admiration and skepticism. As it turns out, there was good reason for both. Block concedes that King County's plan "simply picked" a number of homes to be created "without a financing plan." New government funding has appeared to more than double the number of units produced every year--from 200 before the plan to 500 today. But the money is apparently not enough to end homelessness.

Moreover, Block notes that the plan's target of 9,500 (somewhat arbitrary and related to how you count the homeless: people thrust onto the streets for a week, a month, permanently?) was more ambitious than a lot of other jurisdictions. New York City set its goal at 12,000 units, according to a 2006 speech by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "That in a town that has a daily homeless census of 35,000," Block says.

Block is not prepared to admit that we're not going to end homelessness in ten years. "That the job," he says. But the recession, of course, is bound to put the county even further behind schedule. Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed slashing the biannual "Housing Trust Fund" budget by half, to $100 million. And financial institutions, which once had a tax incentive to invest in affordable housing, no longer have any revenue they need to shelter.

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