Let’s talk about homelessness—part III: What is being done and how can I help?

  • Mon Oct 7th, 2019 4:30pm
  • News

Editor’s Note: Parts I and II of this series of columns on the issue of homelessness ran last Wednesday and Thursday.

By Derek Peterson

Northwest Justice Project

Washington State law requires each county to develop and regularly update a five-year plan to address homelessness consistent with guidelines issued by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The most recent five-year plan for Grays Harbor was just adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in May 2019. The five-year plan represents the community vision for addressing homelessness and, by law, dictates how local housing funds can and will be invested.

Among other things, the plan prioritizes investment in a relatively new approach to addressing homelessness called “rapid rehousing.” Rapid rehousing is a program that quickly connects families and individuals experiencing homelessness with short-term rental assistance and intensive case management services tailored to individual needs, for example employment assistance, health care, educational resources, legal services, etc. The intervention is premised on the idea that if you provide temporary rental assistance and targeted support services to families and individuals, most people will become self-sufficient and achieve stability. Compared to other alternatives, rapid rehousing has been shown to be extremely cost-effective. In particular, the Family Options Study found the average monthly cost of rapid rehousing per family was $880, whereas providing emergency shelter costs five times as much — $4,819.

Another program addressed in the five-year plan is called “permanent supportive housing.” In contrast to rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing combines indefinite rental assistance and intensive case management to help families and individuals who are chronically homeless. Permanent supportive housing is an evidence-based intervention. Data from the point-in-time homeless count indicates investments in permanent supportive housing have helped decrease the number of chronically homeless individuals in the United States by 26 percent since 2007.

Although rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing are the twin pillars of the five-year plan, the funding for these programs is severely limited. As the plan states, based on the current funding allocation, the Grays Harbor County Public Health and Social Services Department projects it can serve only one in four individuals who apply and qualify for these programs. For more information, you can access the five-year plan online at http://www.healthygh.org/directory/housing.

In addition to learning more about the plan, many individuals are interested in learning what they can do to help end homelessness in Grays Harbor. According to the Grays Harbor County Public Health and Social Services Department, one may get involved in the following ways:

1. Attend a Housing Stakeholder Coalition meeting. The Housing Stakeholder Coalition is a group of community stakeholders who meet quarterly to discuss housing issues and help guide efforts to address homelessness in Grays Harbor. If you are interested in attending, the next meeting will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 22, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Pearsall Building in Aberdeen.

2. Donate your time and money to a local nonprofit who serves the homeless. Local nonprofits like Catholic Community Services always welcome new volunteers. You may also consider donating to nonprofits like United Way of Grays Harbor, which has established a designated fund called “Pooled Benevolence,” where donations are pooled and provided to families to prevent homelessness.

3. Talk to your church about joining Family Promise of Grays Harbor as a host congregation. Family Promise is a nonprofit that provides shelter and meals to homeless families using a network of local churches. The network ideally consists of approximately 10 to 14 congregations who take turns hosting families who are experiencing homelessness.

4. If you or someone you know is a landlord, consider partnering with local nonprofits to house households in need. In Grays Harbor, many landlords can be reluctant to rent to a prospective tenant if they have concerns their property may be damaged. Fortunately, many programs — such as the Landlord Mitigation Fund — now exist to protect their assets. For more information, you may contact the Landlord Liaison at the Coastal Community Action Program.

In closing, I hope these columns have been helpful to you in deepening your understanding of homelessness and how to support people experiencing homelessness in our community. Homelessness can make us uncomfortable, but I am convinced our community has the tools and compassion to constructively confront it. I look forward to the day when homelessness is meaningfully reduced, if not eradicated. Thank you for your attention.

To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services:

For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program and school discipline issues), debt collection cases and tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.

For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at nwjustice.org/get-legal-help. Be sure to also check out our law library at: www.washingtonlawhelp.org.

Derek Peterson is an attorney with the Northwest Justice Project’s Aberdeen office.