It’s Time to Change the Narrative on Homelessness
Director of All Home Mark Putnam shares how working together, we can address root causes and policy failures of homelessness
August 08, 2017
Guest blog by Mark Putnam, Director of All Home
Changing the way we think about homelessness, which is deeply embedded in our internal and cultural biases, is critical to our ability to meaningfully address the crisis we are faced with today. While we are housing more people through homeless services than ever, our efforts have failed to match the increasing need. Homelessness has reached emergency levels in Seattle/King County and it is no accident that we find ourselves in these current circumstances.
Criticism of people experiencing homelessness instead of homelessness itself and beliefs that government programs breed dependency and that some “choose homelessness” are not only factually incorrect, but are also incredibly damaging to efforts aimed at reducing homelessness. They misplace blame for the issue of homelessness to the individuals and families suffering from its damaging effects.
Homelessness is 100 percent preventable. No one should ever experience the trauma of homelessness. Shelter is a basic human need and should be treated like a basic human right. Personal “deficiencies” and character flaws are not root causes of homelessness. Homelessness is a reflection of our larger society, forcing us to bear witness to our collective failings.
Stagnant wages and increasing costs of living cause homelessness. Historic and current discriminatory housing policies cause homelessness. Racist systems that jail black men at 10 times the rate of their white counterparts cause homelessness. Antiquated resettlement requirements for immigrants and refugees cause homelessness. Criminalization of substance-use disorder causes homelessness. Insufficient mental health services and basic healthcare causes homelessness. Rising rents and decreased funding for affordable housing causes homelessness.
While these factors are vast and daunting, we know what works to end the immediate crisis and what it will take to truly make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in King County. Funding entities such as All Home, King County, the City of Seattle and United Way of King County have worked in partnership with direct service providers to increase efficiencies in the homeless response system to better serve individuals and families. These efforts have resulted in a 50 percent increase in households exiting homelessness when compared to 2013 data, fewer days waiting to be connected to permanent housing and fewer returns to homelessness. Driving results with the best available data and cultivating a culture of accountability and continuous improvement will all continue to increase our capacity to serve the most vulnerable residents of our community.
Unfortunately, changes made to our homeless system will not fully address the growing gap between housing costs and what people can afford. Federal, state and local governments need to prioritize substantial and sustainable funding to holistically address homelessness. Following the path of local giants like Amazon, Starbucks and Vulcan, businesses need to expand their engagement in solutions to homelessness, leveraging and complementing local efforts. Philanthropies, including United Way, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation and more, have invested significantly in addressing homelessness. Faith communities and individuals have also stepped up to contribute time, expertise and resources, including buildings and land for shelter and housing. We all can and need to play a role in addressing homelessness to make King County a place where all people can have a place to call home. Get in touch with us with your ideas for taking action.
Mark Putnam is the director of All Home, which works with local governments, nonprofits, shelter and housing providers, the private sector and more to coordinate efforts on the homelessness crisis and address its root causes.