Seattle's 'supportive housing' for homeless gets boost
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
- Organization: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle's 'supportive housing' for homeless gets boost
National charitable drive, study validate city approach that's 'ahead of the curve'
A civic and nationwide effort to end chronic homelessness received a recent boost with the announcement of a new charitable partnership aimed at providing more supportive housing nationwide.
Local housing advocates received more good news with the release of a national report showing that in Seattle and eight other cities, supportive housing has proven more successful and cost-effective in dealing with the chronically homeless than relying on jails, prisons, treatment centers, emergency shelters and emergency rooms.
"Supportive housing" is housing where an array of services -- such as mental health and employment counseling, and drug and alcohol treatment -- is provided to help end the persistent homelessness seen in about 20 percent of the overall homeless population locally and nationally.
Without such supports, many chronically homeless people repeatedly move from streets to shelters, emergency rooms, prisons or mental hospitals -- and then right back to the streets, advocates say.
The report, released Nov. 23, was prepared for the non-profit Corporation for Supportive Housing by the Lewin Group, a policy analysis organization based in Washington, D.C.
It analyzed the costs of supportive housing, jails, prisons, emergency shelters, mental hospitals and hospital and emergency rooms in nine cities -- Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio.
In Seattle, the cost of supportive housing was estimated at $26 per person per day, in contrast with $87.67 for a day in jail, $555 for mental hospitals and $2,184 for hospitals.
The study is important, local housing advocates and city officials say, since it reinforces what many in Seattle and King County have been saying for some time now: Combining housing with services and supports for the chronically homeless is not only more humane, but also costs less than relying over and over again on emergency services.
Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, one of the shelters surveyed for the report, said he was gratified but not surprised by the findings.
Hobson said the DESC, which serves those with mental illnesses, drug addictions, disabilities, AIDS and other issues that contribute to their chronic homelessness, sees about 5,000 people in a year.
In King County, it is estimated there are from 2,000 to 2,500 homeless people on any given night -- the majority of whom are in Seattle, Hobson said.
"We've learned an awful lot since the '80s about how to engage with this (chronically homeless) population," Hobson said. "Supportive housing is more cost-effective, but it is also more humane than having people languish in jail.
"The good news is we know how to do this, but the bad news is we don't have enough money to do this (supportive housing) frequently enough."
Some help may come from the new charitable partnership that has pledged $37 million toward a national, 10-year goal of ending chronic homelessness.
Partners include: the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation of Los Angeles; the Rockefeller Foundation of New York City; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, N.J.; the Fannie Mae Foundation; Deutsche Bank; Melville Charitable Trust; the Corporation for Supportive Housing; and the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The philanthropic donation, combined with leveraged public and private financing, will help create 150,000 units of high-quality supportive housing for individuals and families in various communities, national housing officials said.
While the communities to receive funding have not been determined yet, Seattle may have a good shot at some of it because the city is already ahead of much of the rest of the country in proving the value of supportive housing, housing officials said.
Its track record, and availability of supportive housing and other data, were prime reasons for including Seattle in the study, said Nan Roman, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
"There is a lot of supportive housing in Seattle -- it is ahead of the curve," Roman said.
Katie Hong, deputy director of Pacific Northwest giving programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the creation of a national partnership reflects local partnerships that have been formed to solve homelessness locally, such as the Gates' Sound Families Initiative.
The $40 million supportive housing initiative is at the halfway mark toward funding 1,500 housing units in the Puget Sound region.
Hong said a recent Sound Families evaluation also showed that supportive housing helps stabilize the homeless -- and saves taxpayers money.
"The report is very consistent with what we're finding," Hong said. "We didn't set out to prove that this approach saved taxpayers money; we were trying to stabilize families.
"But our findings also show that it is more cost-effective in the long run to provide supportive housing."
Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, who has long tracked local homeless issues and is on the advisory board of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the study and the partnership show "we're getting a better handle on the problem."
"I'm very pleased the partnership has teamed up to provide funding, and recognizes this approach," Steinbrueck said.
"Now we need to take these findings and move them into action."
P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or firstname.lastname@example.org.