[Hpn] seattletimes.com: The homeless need our help

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The homeless need our help
Full story: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/southeastkingcountynews/2004045202_seop02.html

By Dini Duclos
Special to The Times

It is important to remember our homeless neighbors as we approach the coldest part of the year. During last winter's one-night count of people living on the streets and in shelters, there were 7,839 people in King County, 271 of these in South King County.

Only Kent, Renton, Federal Way and White Center were counted. Of those living in shelters that night, 48 percent were families with children. While these numbers are grim, they are also likely to be conservative in painting the true picture of homelessness. National studies estimate that as many as four to five times as many people will be homeless in any year as are homeless on a given night. Social-service agencies have worked to help people get out of homelessness and stabilize their lives, but those of us in the human-services field quickly learned that to fix homelessness requires delving into a host of multipronged issues.

No one chooses to be homeless. True, homelessness can be a result of bad decisions made earlier in life, such as dropping out of school and being unable to find a living-wage job as a result. Sometimes, though, homelessness can come as a result of a medical situation that ate up a family's savings, or a mental illness that is difficult to control. Homelessness is deeper than the lack of housing.

Despite its complexity, the problem of homelessness must be fixed. King County is currently in the second year of a 10-year plan, which calls for an end to homelessness in our county by the year 2015.

At the core of this plan is the elimination of the current three-step system of housing, which has been guided by federal funding requirements for decades. Currently, in moving from homelessness to housing, an individual or family applies to stay for a limited time in an emergency shelter before they can be admitted into transitional housing. Once in transitional housing, they can stay for up to two years before they must find permanent housing.

This system of moving regularly disrupts family life, and as children switch from school to school depending on where they live, their education suffers. Under the 10-year plan, there will be only one move from homelessness to a permanent home.

Because you cannot simply take someone off the streets and move them into an apartment without addressing the issues that made them homeless, the plan also calls for "Permanent Supportive Housing."

In the case of our organization, Multi-Service Center (MSC), which serves more than 16 cities in South King County, these supportive services include working with a case manager, who helps clients set and meet goals leading them off welfare toward self-sufficiency. Additional support includes access to MSC's other programs, such as GED classes, energy assistance, and our new cutting-edge program called THRIVE, which connects homeless people with living-wage jobs after job-skills training and successful internships.

When people have this kind of wraparound support, they have greater success in becoming and staying self-sufficient. But all the support will not help if affordable housing does not exist.

Because of the 10-year plan, there is a growing effort to add more affordable housing in our county. But we absolutely need the public and political will to move it forward. We need the public to demand affordable housing. We need incentives for developers to build it. And we need communities to embrace these developments and the progress they reflect.

We need more political funding. Already, King County and Washington have begun two changes that allocate new money to affordable housing.

Passed by King County voters in 2005, the Veteran and Human Services levy is a six-year property tax that dedicates approximately $6 million a year for human-services support, including the development of affordable housing. Additionally, the state's Homeless Housing and Assistance Act, also passed in 2005, dedicates an estimated $12 million annually for housing and services for homeless persons.

It's a great beginning, but more is needed. In this season of cold and rainy nights, you can pledge to make a positive difference in the fight to end homelessness. Become informed on the issue and be an advocate. Persuade our elected officials that we can and must end homelessness.

Dini Duclos is CEO of Multi-Service Center, an independent nonprofit agency with offices in Federal Way and Kent. The agency serves 43,000 people in South King County.

To read the 10-year plan and find ways to help, go to: www.cehkc.org


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