Gates Foundation, Puget Sound-Area Counties Collaborate to Prevent Family Homelessness

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, has pledged $60 million over six years to prevent homelessness in the region, the Seattle Times reports.

The funding from the foundation will be used to simplify the overwhelmed labyrinth-like support systems all three counties currently have in place. The counties, in turn, will be expected to leverage the funds to cover the costs of new systems, including staffing for programs and helping families with expenses such as rent, transportation, and child care. Having evaluated successful models for helping homeless families across the country and studied the results of its own Sound Families initiative, the foundation is urging the counties to put greater emphasis on preventing family homelessness, making it easier for families that do become homeless to quickly get the right help, and to fast-track most already-homeless families into permanent housing, focusing on their underlying problems after they get settled.

Even as the counties work to develop new systems to address family homelessness, however, the biggest concern among advocates for the homeless is how and where county agencies will house families that qualify for new programs. Under the current system, families typically leave shelters and enter transitional housing — often for upwards of two years — where they work with caseworkers to become "house-ready" for their own place.

Without some explicit provision for creating additional affordable housing, experts fear that the number of homeless families in the region will grow. But while Gates officials agree that affordable housing is crucial to the success of the initiative, its commitment does not include funds for new housing, which it believes is the responsibility of the public sector.

"The concern is that as we roll this out and get better coordination, we'll find a long and heart-wrenching wait list," said Sue Sherbrooke, CEO of the YWCA of Seattle. "No amount of coordination will increase the number of apartments or beds available."

Lornet Turnbull. "Gates Housing-First Plan Doesn't Come With Housing Money." Seattle Times 08/30/2010.