City Audit Shows Major Shortage of Services for Homeless

By Erica C. Barnett April 26, 2010

The city's human services department completed a study late last month that looked at the effectiveness of street outreach services to the homeless in Seattle. (Street outreach programs address immediate safety needs, give crisis intervention, and connect people to basic services.)

The study is part of council member Tim Burgess' five-point plan to address "street disorder" downtown; the most controversial part of that plan, a crackdown on aggressive panhandling, will not withstand a veto by McGinn.

Among the study's findings:

Although most of the homeless people the city surveyed said they wanted to find housing, they face "significant barriers to accessing housing, including just getting on a housing waiting list." And even if service providers could hook every homeless person in the city up with housing, the survey found, there isn't enough housing—transitional, permanent, or chemical dependency treatment beds—for everyone who needs it.

The city needs to develop alternatives to shelters to entice people who'd prefer to camp out at night than stay in traditional shelters (which don't allow all-day access or include storage) to come indoors, such as living with roommates or paying weekly rent.

The city should, but does not currently, provide financial assistance to help people with apartment move-in costs and monthly rent to help people who want to move into apartments but can't afford it.

The city should give more warning before raiding illegal outdoor encampments, including specific times. "A specified time motivates people to leave and potentially accept shelter or services," the report says.

Overall, the report concludes, "Outreach and engagement activities and service delivery to persons experiencing homelessness in Seattle are not sufficient to address current needs. Our system would require substantial funding and investments in affordable housing and mainstream service systems."
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