Guest Opinion

Getting Home

Using data to guide our fight against homelessness.

By Mark Putnam September 8, 2016

Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, follows the 2002 Oakland A’s as they challenged the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches and scouts) regarding player evaluations. They eschewed the traditional barometers of success (such as home runs and batting average) and using new gauges (such as on-base percentage) of player performance, the A’s were able to field a team that could out-perform clubs with bigger budgets, including, to my chagrin, the Seattle Mariners.

What does all this have to do with homelessness? Winning in baseball is simple—score more runs than the other team. Ending an individual or family’s experience of homelessness is also simple— move them into a home.  

Yet, just as there are many ways to win a baseball game, there are many ways to house people experiencing homelessness. To determine which ways are best, in both cases you need to go to the data and scout what others are doing across the country.

Programs addressing homelessness in Seattle/King County have been recognized as some of the best in the country:  housing first, street outreach, landlord recruitment, and more. These programs and others contributed to more than 7,000 people in King County exiting homelessness in 2015, up 25 percent from 2012.

Even with our current efforts, the number of people becoming homeless keeps rising. The housing market is a huge factor, as research shows when rents rise, so goes homelessness. And yet, we must use data and scout other cities to find new solutions.

I serve as Director at All Home, and together with our partners United Way, the City of Seattle and King County, we are using newly developed analytical tools to model how we could house more people by changing some aspects of our approach. This week we release a report conducted by Focus Strategies resulting in our most thorough and comprehensive understanding of our regional response to homelessness. Our Moneyball statistics are cost per housing placement and length of time homeless, among others. 

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The report finds that we can house many more people by fully committing to:

  • Investing in the approaches that are most effective at housing people
  • Prioritizing housing for those who are unsheltered and have been homeless the longest
  • Providing financial assistance to keep people out of shelters, and supporting those in shelter to move quickly to housing
  • Expanding short-term rapid rehousing rental assistance
  • Bringing government, nonprofits, philanthropy, business and residents together to work urgently and decisively

The stakes here are much higher than in baseball. Homelessness is a traumatic, soul-crushing experience. I believe all in our community want to make homelessness rare here, and be able to help people quickly move into, and stay in, housing.

All Home, United Way, the City of Seattle and King County are committed to using this data to help change thousands of lives.

Mark Putnam is Director of All Home.

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