By Janet Pope
During the very early morning hours of Jan. 23, volunteers with the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) filtered through Seattle and King County with a single and heartbreaking purpose: to count the number of people in our community living without shelter. Compass Housing Alliance supports the annual One Night Count as host of its downtown headquarters and by providing dozens of staff volunteers.
What they found that night brought many to tears. Volunteers counted 3,772 people living outside that night. That’s a staggering increase of 21 percent from last year’s survey. These people – men, women and children living in tents, under bridges and overpasses, in doorways and in their vehicles – are our neighbors. In a region known for its innovation and home to some of the world’s most recognizable companies, this is simply unacceptable.
We at Compass believe that housing is a human right. But beyond our moral obligation to create housing, there’s an argument to be made that housing the homeless is also the most financially prudent course. When factoring in the burden on police and emergency responders, health care and the judicial systems, it is almost invariably less expensive to provide a person with a home than to leave him on the streets — often significantly so. Recent cost studies in such diverse locations as Seattle, Central Florida and Portland, Me., all suggest that funding permanent housing for the chronically homeless produces a savings to taxpayers in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per person housed. One two-year study in Florida found that each chronically homeless person cost the community about $31,065 per year – or $10,051 if given housing.
To get there will take a significant investment in the affordable housing stock in our region. That’s where you can help. Right now in Olympia, legislators are considering how much money to commit to the Housing Trust Fund, one of our state’s most important tools for the financing of affordable housing projects. Lend your voice to this cause – call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and tell your lawmakers to invest $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund.
Be an agent of change. Help us erase homelessness.