Housing and Homelessness Are Regional Issues, Requiring Regional Solutions: A Recap of Our 2022 Sub-Regional Town Halls

By Felicia Salcedo, Executive Director of We Are In

Collaboration is the key to solving the issues of homelessness and housing affordability, which affect all of our communities and require a regional effort on resources and solutions. To hear from each community across King County –– and to share the incredible progress that’s happening across our region –– We Are In partnered with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) to host a series of town halls in South King County, East King County, and North King County. We’ll host a town hall in the Snoqualmie Valley in early 2023. 

A special thanks to all the elected officials, advocates, service providers, and Lived Experience Coalition members who joined us: King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci; Kirkland City Councilmember Amy Falcone; David Bowling, Executive Director of Congregations for the Homeless; Bellevue City Councilmember Jeremy Barksdale; Redmond Mayor Angela Birney; Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus; Renton City Councilmember Ed Prince; Robin Corak, CEO of Multi-Service Center; King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski; Bothell City Councilmember Jenne Alderks; Silje Sodal, Executive Director of the North Urban Human Services Alliance; William Towey, Executive Director Lake City Partners Ending Homelessness; and Marvin Futrell, LEC member.

During all four events, we shared progress on the important work happening across our region. See below for an overview of what we shared, or watch any of the recordings. 

Getting More Accurate Data

Data-driven decision making is a core value for many people in our region, and we understand that solutions must be informed by the best available information. Decisions about resources and investments in workforce, housing, shelter and services must be informed by an accurate picture of who is experiencing homelessness and why. Unfortunately, traditional methods of identifying homeless populations consistently undercount people. Nationally, we’ve relied on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-In-Time Count, an annual survey of individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. But homelessness is a dynamic problem; and we can’t solely rely on a count conducted only once a year. 

That’s why the KCRHA is using a different approach, including multiple data sources, for identifying and counting the county’s homeless population — which not only produces a more accurate number, but also a better understanding of people’s lived experiences, their challenges, small victories, system barriers, and other milestones on the path to housing stability. 

The Washington Post recently praised KCRHA’s innovative strategy, which included setting up 10 hubs at locations across the region, from libraries to food banks to health clinics where volunteers could walk people through a series of questions about their experiences with homelessness: Where are you sleeping? During this time, what things or people have been helpful to you? During this time, what things or people have not been helpful — or may have been harmful — to you? The KCRHA will release a detailed analysis of their new survey data this Fall. 

Emergency Housing Voucher Program Exceeds National Average

King County’s Emergency Housing Voucher program is ahead of the nation, with a leasing rate nearly double the national average and three times that of communities of comparable size. As of October, over 1,100 households have been permanently housed through the EHV program.

KCRHA worked to target King County’s allocation of vouchers towards people living unsheltered and in vehicles — an unusual prioritization, as many other communities around the country focused on people deemed “easier to house.” KCRHA CEO Marc Dones said, “we worked with service providers to build on the trusted relationships they had already established with people experiencing homelessness, and that relational framework made all the difference.” Read more about the success of the King County’s Emergency Housing Voucher Program from the KCRHA and other local coverage.

Health Through Housing Initiative Has Housed 600 Formerly Homeless Individuals 

Nearly two years into the implementation of the county’s Health Through Housing program, 10 facilities have been purchased, 600 formerly homeless households have been housed, and 1,600 additional units are expected to soon be available. 

In August, King County Department of Community and Human Services announced operators for two of the newest Health Through Housing sites in Auburn and Federal Way that together will house 200 people experiencing or at risk of chronic homelessness. Compass Housing Alliance will operate the former Clarion Inn in Auburn and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle will operate the former Extended Stay America in Federal Way. 

Read King County Executive Dow Constantine and Community & Human Services Director Leo Flor’s reflections on the success of the program here.

Looking Ahead: Services Database and Gaps Analysis 

As part of their work to defragment and improve our homelessness response system with transparency and accountability, the KCRHA is developing a comprehensive database of all available homeless services across the region, information that will be publicly accessible and regularly updated. The database will include types of shelter and services they offer, and other details, for instance how many meals are served and whether there’s private storage available or pets allowed. This is the first time this information has ever been collected in one place and it will fundamentally change the way we serve individuals experiencing homelessness.

The KCRHA is also in the process of conducting a Gaps Analysis in partnership with Cloudburst, a national firm already working with the State Department of Commerce, that supports federal, state, and local governments as well as private sector and non-profit organizations to develop and manage solutions to social challenges. This analysis will look at what currently exists and what is still needed in our emergency housing and shelter inventory. 

The Services Database and Gaps Analysis will inform the KCRHA’s 5-Year-Plan, which is expected before the end of the year.

To watch the full Eastside Town Hall, click here.
To watch the full Southside Town Hall, click here.
To watch the full North King County Town Hall, click here