County must increase funding to housing solutions

The OlympianApril 25, 2014 

Is Thurston County pursuing a lasting solution to homelessness? The answer will come in the next few weeks when the HOME Consortium awards about $1 million in funding to local housing and shelter providers.

For at least the last four years, the consortium has given the largest share of its funding to shelter projects. But national studies show that rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing strategies tend to be cheaper and more effective in reducing homelessness.

We’re urging the HOME Consortium to begin shifting its historic funding model toward housing solutions, while continuing to support shelters that focus on moving people into housing. As other counties have found, this strategy can reduce the need for additional temporary shelter beds over the long-term.

Rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing programs work by getting homeless people into housing immediately through coordinated entry services. Both programs use a scattered site approach, housing people in existing apartments throughout the community, though some permanent supportive housing models congregate residents.

Permanent supportive housing is geared toward the chronically homeless who require intensive mental and/or physical health care, and may have chemical dependency issues. Rapid rehousing targets people with more moderate needs and who have been homeless for shorter periods.

Permanent supportive housing is more expensive — about $14,000 per year compared with a one-time $1,300 cost for rapid rehousing — but can generate two times its cost in savings to hospital emergency rooms and the criminal justice system. Such entities usually help fund permanent supportive housing programs.

Rapid rehousing projects, such as those provided by the Family Support Center and Sidewalk, received only a portion of the funds they requested last year, while shelter projects received the lion’s share of available funding. The consortium should turn that around this year.

We agree with Family Support Center Executive Director Schelli Slaughter who was paraphrased in the consortium’s August 2013 meeting minutes as saying, “Rapid rehousing was identified as one of the (county’s) top five gaps, and is recognized nationwide for reducing homelessness. Their funding is being reduced each year rather than increased. Cannot reach the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness by reducing rapid rehousing for families.”

The 100,000 Homes Campaign says “we must offer housing first, not last, if we want to help people out of homelessness … it is just too difficult to battle addiction, take care of serious physical and mental health conditions or find steady employment while simultaneously battling homelessness.”

Other counties, such as Whatcom and Kitsap, have joined the national movement toward permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing strategies. Thurston County can jump aboard this year by shifting its funding priority to housing solutions.

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