Facing Up To Chronic Homelessness

by Doug Mah, Doug Mah & Associates, Public Policy Director for the Thurston County Chamber

Homelessness is one of the greatest challenges facing our community. For this reason, the Thurston Chamber, Public Policy Division believes that focusing on chronic homelessness may be the best plan for our community. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines an individual as experiencing chronic homelessness if they have a qualifying disability and have been homeless for one year or longer or have a qualifying disability and have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness totaling 12 months out of the last three years.

Those experiencing chronic homelessness are the hardest to reach, stabilize, and house. These members of our community also experience vulnerabilities including physical disabilities, serious psychiatric and emotional conditions, and behavioral health disorders that are oftentimes overlapping and co-occurring.

The Thurston Chamber, Public Policy Division suggests that the region would be well served to focus directly on chronic homelessness. Efforts in Bakersfield and San Diego County, both in California, made significant progress in slowing the growth of their chronically homeless populations. This has made a visible and meaningful difference in their communities.  We support regional implementation of four actions used in Bakersfield and San Diego County:

Rapid creation of emergency housing. California invested $850 million of federal funding into “Project Roomkey,” making available 6,000 housing units for homeless individuals in just six months through the purchase of hotels and motels.

Establishing a command center. A way to focus on individuals experiencing chronic homelessness with an emphasis on equity. The command centers provided coordination across service providers and government agencies. Staffed by case managers and supported by service providers, they created personalized exit plans for clients.

Utilize real-time data. Mobile/tech tools were used to support data accuracy, and planning. The use of mobile technology tools allowed teams to conduct location-based outreach in real time, meeting individuals where they are.

Provide individualized, on-demand services. Bakersfield and San Diego used individualized on-demand services and approached each person experiencing chronic homelessness with the time and attention needed to build relationships and trust. Using a “by-name” list allowed for the creation of individualized care based on the specific needs of the individual. This approach allows for real-time data to support triage services, evaluation, and advocacy for each person.

The Thurston Chamber along with Challenge Seattle, believe that Washington State and local governments should address chronic homelessness using resources from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Using one-time federal funds to address chronic homelessness makes good sense. By dedicating the federal ARPA money to one-time housing costs, it prevents a bow wave of operational costs in the future.

We believe the combination of proven practices with one-time funding presents the single biggest opportunity to make progress on housing and homelessness, especially for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Please ask your elected and appointed officials about the Challenge Seattle special report: Chronic Homelessness: A Crossroad and review the report at: www.challengeseattle.com.

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