Committee to End Homelessness to Change Name, Mission

funding by strategy

The Committee to End Homelessness, a county-administered clearinghouse for the many groups working on homelessness-related issues in King County, started in 2005 with the explicit, state-mandated mission of eradicating homelessness in King County. But despite successful efforts to increase housing for formerly homeless people over the intervening decade, King County didn’t come close to reaching the ten-year goal. Instead, homelessness in King County has increased dramatically since 2005, and the committee is now searching for a new direction forward.

Part of that direction? A new name (one that presumably won’t include the phrase, “end homelessness”) and a new communications strategy.

According to a request for proposals issued by CEH and the United Way of King County, the committee plans to hire a communications consultant, at an estimated cost of $50,000 to $75,000 for five months’ work, to “re-imagine the continuum of homeless services in King County to better fit the needs of our homeless neighbors, and to re-invigorate the multi-faceted network of partners engaged in homeless issues.” In addition, the consultant would come up with a new name and logo for the committee.

“While our community has achieved success and learned from our mistakes, the overwhelming increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in King County generates skepticism from our key audiences—system stakeholders, elected officials, and concerned community members—that homelessness is a solvable social issue,” the RFP continues.

By “overwhelming,” the want ad is referring to the stunning 21 percent increase in the number of unsheltered homeless (people sleeping outside) during the January 2015 One Night Count of homeless people in King County. That overnight winter count found more than 10,000 homeless people living in King County, either outdoors or in temporary housing or shelter, which is itself an 8 percent increase over the number counted in 2014.

CEH director Mark Putnam, one of three King County staffers charged with administering the plan, says the new message is in no way an admission of defeat. Instead, he says, the branding push is aimed at spreading the group’s new emphasis on making a homelessness rare, brief, and one-time crisis. (Along with the new branding, there’s a new strategic plan, which fleshes out how CEH plans to move toward that goal.)

“In 2014, there was a general realization that we weren’t going to meet our targets,” Putnam says. “When you look ten years out, you think you might be able to achieve such an audacious goal. [In reality] no community has been able to meet the goal.”


One significant issue (in addition to the booming economy and the resulting rent increases) is a lack of funding for traditional shelters and very short-term housing, which have been sidelined in favor of what’s known as “permanent supportive housing,” which provides formerly homeless people not only with housing but with mental health counseling, job training, and other supportive services. These services, while invaluable for those who need them, cost a lot of money, and are of little immediate use to people forced to sleep outside in the winter because there are no shelter beds. Putnam says half of all homeless people in King County are newly homeless, and many have jobs but simply don’t make enough to keep a roof over their heads.

Putnam says CEH recognizes this disconnect between the need and the amount of available shelter, and is trying to address the problem by giving people short-term housing outside the shelter system, known as “shelter diversion.”

“We’re asking them, is there anything we can do to get you housed tonight? We ask, where have you stayed in the past, is there any financial assistance you can get, can we drive you somewhere?” And they provide direct cash assistance, mostly from private funders, often to put families up in motels and give them lifelines to more permanent housing. The average cost of such direct assistance, Putnam says, is about $1,300 per family, but the investment saves money in the end by reducing demand for shelter beds and giving people a lifeline to help them stay off the streets.

But ultimately, all the efforts of CEH’s hundreds of partner organizations weren’t enough to end homelessness. Nor were they enough in 2005, when the aspirational ten-year plan was adopted. “If there had been a natural disaster and there had been 3,700 people sleeping outside in January, the governor would have declared a state of emergency,” Putnam says. Instead, it’s 2015, and the committee to end homelessness has a new, sharper, less sanguine purpose.

7 thoughts on “Committee to End Homelessness to Change Name, Mission”

  1. Could I see a list of the organizations that made up the Comm. to end Home?

  2. I lived an worked in Seattle in 2003. I worked for Seattle Emergency Housing Services from 2002-2003. I sat on the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. So this information is wrong. It started before 2005.

  3. I noticed in the fairly extensive plan for the new program, with lots of data and tables, that they never talked or inquried (or at least didn’t report the results of any inquiry) about the clients’ immediate pasts. Where were they two years ago? Did they move to Seattle from a place where they were not making enough money, thinking they might get a job, and thinking they would get free housing? When I think of ending homelessness, I think of the mllions of people only a few days’ drive away who would love to come to Seattle for free housing. I don’t think that’s reasonable to expect Seattle taxpayers to cover.
    I know that there are many people who have roots in this community who are now homeless, but I am suspicious that that number is not quantified. It could be. And yes, it does matter.

    Another thing the report does not talk about is how much tax money is not paid by developers because they set aside a few low-income units for below-market rates for a few years. I know that is a common tax abatement scheme by the big corporate developers, and I have not been able to find out how much tax money the city is losing by offering these rebates. If even half that money were collected and given to the shelters, perhaps it could shelter all 3000 of those people.

    1. You can find the spending amount in the annual MFTE report. 2014 was exemption on 1.32 billion dollars. This equates to about 12 million dollars of tax relief. half as you suggest would be 2000 dollars per person. Dont think that would cover expenses. But still it is an interesting idea to put the money to shelters instead of housing. to do that it would it couldnt be a tax relief program though and probably never get past the voters.

  4. I agree with Mark Waldin:

    — there is no political will to end homelessness. That has been clear from the actions or lack thereof of our elected representatives to adequately fund affordable housing and services. So those of us who do care do need to focus our efforts on keeping people alive and safe while we wait for that political will to develop. Better coordination between service providers would help for sure.

    — distributing services more equitably around the region would help a lot. Even within Seattle, people who are homeless are often reluctant to leave their neighborhoods and community to access services where they do exist.

    — Nearly one third of people counted as “unsheltered” are living in vehicles. This population goes largely unserved. There are some great programs and ad hoc efforts to help vehicle residents, e.g. Seattle Road to Housing and a couple of churches on the east side. However, as Mark notes, they are inadequately resourced to meet the need.

    — Bottom line is THERE IS NOT ENOUGH AFFORDABLE AND LOW INCOME HOUSING! We have some wonderful low income housing developers ( LIHI, Plymouth Housing, and others) that could go a long way toward meeting the need but the funding from the Federal government and local governments just is not there. What funding there is keeps getting slashed. The Federal government began the slashing in the 1970s. I encourage people to read the WRAP report to get an historical perspective on the problem:

    — Food for thought: Maybe it’s not just our elected representatives but we ourselves who lack the political will to end homelessness. It’s not that difficult. Look at what Utah has been able to do to end chronic homelessness with the “Housing First” model. Seattle’s own “1811 Eastlake” is an example of this as well. Look at what the Federal government has done to reduce veteran’s homelessness. It can be done if we have the will to do it.

  5. I run the South Snohomish County Emergency Cold Weather Shelter so I know something about homelessness. I have interacted with various agencies including the ending homelessness effort. From the first time I encountered it in 2009 it was clear to me that it was not focused on solutions that come any where close to ending homelessness. Not to say the efforts are bad. They are not. They are good for certain. However, I think there are better things to do with money and homelessness.

    I believe we should recognize that homelessness is a permanent situation as long as government funding and social services are in their current state. Instead we need to find ways to improve the living conditions and services for homeless people WHILE they are homeless. I had a call yesterday from a young pregnant lady who is recently homeless and no where to go. All I could tell her was that there are no shelters with space and she would have to remain unsheltered. We should have a homeless coordination program that does intake of homeless individuals, registers them, finds safe places for them to be homeless, provides light sheltering (tent or the like), provides restroom, shower services etc. I am not talking Tent City type of solution but individual sleeping spots.

    I realize some of these services are available in Seattle but many/most of the homeless I know are scared to enter that scene and don’t want to leave their community. A distributed approach with localized services would be both humane and inexpensive to provide ( showers, washer/dryers, tent space, … )

Comments are closed.