Mayor Bruce Harrell has repeatedly said that charitable giving from the private sector and not new taxes should be part of Seattle’s strategy to combat homelessness.
Thursday, Harrell was set to join a cadre of officials and representatives from the giving wings of some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the region to announce a new $10 million package of philanthropic giving to power “peer navigators, flexible funding, a command center and data” in an effort to to “dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle.”
It is a relatively small beginning hoped to boost the King County Regional Homelessness Authority — especially considering the major list of donors.
The Partnership for Zero will coordinate some $10 million in funding from “major businesses and philanthropies in King County that have formed the We Are In homelessness charity effort led by the Ballmer Group, and including Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Campion Foundation, Costco, Expedia Group, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, JP Morgan Chase Pacific Northwest, Kaiser Permanente Washington, Madrona Venture Group, Microsoft Philanthropies, Nordstrom, PATH, Puget Sound Energy, Raikes Foundation, REI, Russell Investments, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Symetra, T-Mobile, Weyerhaeuser, and Zillow Group.
“The King County Regional Homelessness Authority is an incredible asset to our region, helping to design a stronger, more coordinated county-wide response to a humanitarian crisis. We and the philanthropic community are pleased to be able to provide bridge funding to support the Authority to quickly launch Partnership for Zero, a proven approach to substantially reduce homelessness,” Connie Ballmer, co-founder of Ballmer Group Philanthropy, the “lead funder of Partnership for Zero” said in the announcement.
Publicola was the first to report on the new “peer navigator” program that represents the biggest new investment for the philanthropic project:
Peer navigators are case managers with lived experience who help “navigate” people experiencing homelessness into services, shelter, and housing. Last year, the KCRHA asked the Seattle City Council for $7.6 million to hire 69 navigators who would each work with about 15 clients in downtown Seattle. The council declined to immediately fund the program, and asked the authority to come back with a “system-wide needs assessment” that would look at other organizations doing similar or redundant work and include a plan for sustainable long-term funding.
Officials form the partnership announced this week say the project will be led by KCRHA director Marc Dones “and receive significant private funding through the members of We Are In.”
“Together, the goal is to build a future where homelessness is rare overall and brief when it occurs, by combining resources and investing in targeted infrastructure and capacity to put every person who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the path toward permanent housing,” the announcement reads.
The new King County Regional Homelessness Authority is hoped to better organize the various county and city services currently addressing homelessness in the area even as Seattle has been left footing most of the bill.
Harrell, meanwhile, has promised his administration will do more to address issues of public safety and clearing encampments. During the campaign, his homelessness plan called for more housing and “a capital campaign” supported by charitable giving from the private sector, not new taxes.
The Partnership for Zero campaign is being announced following this week’s first results for Seattle’s tax on its largest employers that showed higher than expected revenue for the city.
Harrell, meanwhile, warned this week in his first “State of the City” address that Seattle is heading toward a $150 million budget gap due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
The campaign launched Thursday is being described as a five-phase rollout:
Phase 1: Ramp Up and Unified Command Center. The establishment of a Unified Command Center with clear lines of decision-making authority over resources, to facilitate a coordinated emergency response in Partnership for Zero’s target areas. The Unified Command Center includes representatives from the Lived Experience Coalition, the City of Seattle, King County, and the King County Regional Homeless Authority.
Phase 2: Development of a By-Name List. A “By-Name List” includes granular, real-time information about who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and what they need to move to stability. This tool relies on relationships built by outreach workers, and enables effective case planning and service matching.
Phase 3: Case Planning and Service Matching. An assessment of what services and resources are needed to successfully support people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and put them on the path to stable, permanent housing. The gaps identified between available resources and population needs will inform the expansion of infrastructure and capacity.
With funding from We Are In’s business and private partners, KCRHA will hire and manage sufficient staff to do the hard work of caring for people. The workforce will include 15 trained incident responders and up to 30 peer navigators who can provide longitudinal support to get people to stable outcomes. Peer navigators have lived experience of homelessness and an understanding of how the system works and how to access resources, enabling them to establish the trust needed to help people move from homeless to housed.
Phase 4: Draw Down. The majority of housing and shelter placements will happen in Phase 4, as outreach workers and peer navigators facilitate the movement of people into shelter or housing that matches their needs.
Phase 5: Hold Steady. Once Phase 4 is complete, KCRHA will maintain the infrastructure necessary to immediately respond to new individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in target areas.
The plan calls for “phase 5” to be reached in “as fast as 12 months” in Seattle’s downtown core. An additional “set of regional communities to be named soon” will also be included in the plan.
“Partners expect that there will be learning and adjustment over the course of the project and will operate with full transparency to keep the community updated,” the announcement reads.
While the $10 million start is significant, the full funding of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is a much larger endeavor. Its annual budget was planned to be around $132 million with Seattle city government pulling around 56% of the load.
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