“Hi there, outreach here. Anybody home?”
The outreach workers from the Evergreen Treatment Services REACH program don’t have a door to knock on, nor a doorstep to wait on, but that’s how they treat their approach to the tents scattered across a hillside near I-5 on First Hill.
Traversing the steep hill, the team goes from tent to tent, some of which shiver with the gusts of wind and rain. They hand out small packets of food (crackers and cheese) and bottles of water, ask people what they need if they can get them referred to a shelter for the night.
Standing high up on the slope, Sara Mar, the new homeless outreach coordinator for First Hill, gets a man a bus pass and a referral for shelter tonight. Yvonne Nelson, also with REACH, takes down the name of another woman who can get into an enhanced shelter tonight.
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Later, Mar and Jessica Kwan, the new homeless outreach coordinator for the International District, head over to Capitol Hill. Chatting with some people who appear to be unhoused or in need of services, the two make their way from 15th down to Broadway, and then Cal Anderson to meet up with Capitol Hill’s new outreach worker, Mickey Humphrey, who’s been in his role since July. Kwon joined the team last August; Mar came on board last month. With Mar’s arrival, the planned unit of three outreach workers for Capitol Hill, First Hill, and C-ID slated initially to get going this April, is now complete.
CHS reported previously on a $300,000 plan to bring the services of the outreach workers to First Hill, Capitol Hill and the International District, spearheaded by business organizations in the three neighborhoods: the Broadway Business Improvement Area led by Egan Orion, who made the effort to get the outreach workers to return the neighborhood part of his D3 campaign origin story, the First Hill Improvement Association and Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.
In April, the city’s Human Services Department selected the REACH program as the service provider for the Homeless Outreach Coordinator program and awarded the effort $244,400 for the work in the three neighborhoods, which will last into 2020. Because REACH could do the work for less than the planned $300,000, Orion told CHS, the three neighborhood organizations are not chipping in with extra dollars.
But the neighborhood organizations got what they desired: A dedicated team of outreach workers, meant to be the (walking) point of contact for anyone in the neighborhood experiencing homelessness, helping them connect with services (typically without involving the police) and shelter while acting as a liaison for neighbors and businesses. REACH does similar work in Ballard, the U District, SODO, and West Seattle-Delridge area.
Seattle’s Human Services Department requires REACH to refer 60% of the contacts they make into shelter or tiny homes, and the group is expected to contact 450 individuals in all three neighborhoods over one year.
“Our primary goal is to move people inside,” says Chloe Gale, REACH Program Director at Evergreen Treatment Services. But it’s not just about shelter. The team also tries to help people find their way to treatment while engaging in harm reduction by carrying clean needles and a Narcan/Naloxone kit. The team will also hand people a bus ticket to get to a place for lunch or shelter. Sometimes they’ll even accompany people to the right downtown office get a new ID; a first step on the way to a phone, other documents, and social security — steps REACH outreach workers will also assist with.
Establishing ongoing relationships with people living unsheltered, and connecting them with housing and services is chief, but the outreach workers are also supposed to forge connections with neighbors and businesses.
Gale, of REACH, gives this example: Say someone in the neighborhood sees somebody with a behavioral health crisis. They might not know how to respond other than calling law enforcement or a first responder.
“If they’ve had contact with our staff, they can call and say: ‘What do I do about Jerry who’s been in the alley for two days, and I just saw today that he doesn’t have any shoes on, and I don’t know how to respond?’” Gale says.
“If people don’t have a connection, some kind of relationship with people living unsheltered, it’s easy to make assumptions and feel helpless about what a solution can look like. Our staff can provide that bridge.”
For now, Gale says, the three outreach workers are still in the start-up process, making connections, getting to know the people in the neighborhood. The upstart of the new, central Seattle-focused team comes as REACH has somewhat pulled back from its work with the Navigation Team, a city-funded team of outreach workers and Seattle Police Department personnel who remove unauthorized encampments.
The retreat came after the Navigation Team ramped up camp removals. Last month, Councilmember and D3 incumbent Kshama Sawant proposed redirecting funding for the Navigation team to other homelessness services. A competing proposal from West Seattle rep Lisa Herbold would attach quarterly performance measurements to the mayor’s funding of the program.
REACH doesn’t assist the Navigation Team in day-of removals anymore, but still provides outreach with the Navigation Team for “pre-clearing outreach,” and meets with the team regularly to coordinate care for high-need people.
“We worked together with the city to shift the focus of our outreach work away from Nav Team clearings into a Neighborhood Outreach Model,” Gale says.
“We believe that the neighborhood outreach model is going to be more effective [than the Navigation Team] at moving people inside,” Gale continues. She says it’s a better way to take down barriers, build trust and relationships with people and respond to specific needs of different communities.
“The strength of this program is that we really can respond to each neighborhood’s needs. And what we’ve seen is that every neighborhood and community is very different.”
Capitol Hill, the ID, and First Hill require a different approach than other neighborhoods, Gale says. Because of their proximity to downtown, the neighborhoods likely get people with higher needs. There are also fewer vehicles as in SODO, for example, because there are not as many places to park. There are differences among the neighborhoods, too, Gale says. The ID has more communities of color, Capitol Hill sees more young and LGBTQ+ people, and First Hill has its own set of challenges due to its many hospitals.
Gale said REACH has hired with those specific needs in mind. The three outreach workers will also work in the other neighborhoods and do group outreach work together.
“I don’t think outreach is effective as a standalone individual person,” Gale says. “We really want to see ourselves as building a network.”