Over 22,000 households sought help from King County’s homelessness services in 2017. Many of these individuals have been pushed into homelessness due to a single incident—an unforeseen medical bill for a sick child, a divorce, a sudden rent increase, or an unpredicted layoff.
That’s why GeekWire is partnering with Bank of America and The Seattle Foundation for the annual Geeks Give Back campaign. Geeks Give Back is raising funds that will help local organizations create the innovative and collaborative solutions needed to ensure thousands of families won’t have to sleep outside each night.
Both the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) and Plymouth Housing, two of the campaign’s recipient organizations, are working tirelessly to build permanent housing opportunities that end the cycle of chronic homelessness.
DESC focuses on those who live with mental illness, substance abuse, and disabilities. The organization first opened a single supportive housing building 25 years ago. At this time, many housing programs required that individuals were already “clean” and/or enrolled in mental health programs in order to be eligible for housing. But DESC took a new approach. They began housing people upfront, prior to treatment—and found their clients were still seeing success.
“We started housing people upfront, and found that people were just as likely to succeed than if we waited for them to receive services. Mental health issues or drug addiction don’t necessarily prevent people from being successful in housing as they receive treatment. In fact, individuals have been more successful in these programs if they first have the stability of permanent housing. Without a roof over your head, even the best treatment doesn’t necessarily get you there,” says Megan Mayes, DESC’s Director of Fund Development.
Plymouth Housing, another key leader in the fight against homelessness, takes a similar housing-first approach. Serving primarily veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those experiencing chronic homelessness (anywhere from 2-25 years), Plymouth works to fill the gaps that other social services and public safety nets have failed to properly address.
“Our housing-first philosophy helps us serve the most vulnerable populations in our society—those who don’t always find success. Our residents have really complex lives and we need to find new solutions that help meet their needs,” says Amanda Vail, Plymouth’s Senior Communications & Development Manager. “When you’re living on the street, getting into regular medical appointments or preventative care is nearly impossible. Providing housing first creates a snowball effect of success in these other areas”.
And this housing-first strategy seems to be working. Latricia, one of Plymouth Housing’s clients, was left homeless at the age of 25 after she started experiencing schizophrenia. At the time, she was completing nursing school and left without a support system when her mother moved away from Seattle. For the next twenty years, Latricia transitioned in and out of institutions, shelters and living on the street in between.
After finding Plymouth services, Latricia feels she has regained her life. “We have social activities and that support helped me get stable. The psychiatrist says those who have a good support system do better at staying out of the hospital than those who don’t, and I’ve been out of the hospital five years now. I’m proud of that. Plymouth gave me a second chance at life,” Latricia says.
But these solutions take time. Plymouth broke ground on a new 105-room permanent housing facility in the International District just earlier this month. Residents will begin moving in early 2020, almost two years after the original plans and funding for this project started.
“Building permanent homes is a long-term solution, and it’s a permanent solution. But it isn’t a quick solution. Permanent housing is what’s going to end homelessness in Seattle and nation-wide,” Vail says.
If you want to be part of the housing-first strategy to end homelessness in Seattle, make your contribution to the Geeks Give Back campaign today.
Gifts to Plymouth will continue providing new permanent housing communities that move veterans and individuals with disabilities off the streets of Seattle. Donations to DESC will help the organization create new, innovative housing-first services for those suffering from substance addiction and mental health issues. Contributions from community members are critical for these organizations new programs that will help end homelessness for the most vulnerable populations.
Don’t wait—the Geeks Give Back campaign closes December 6th.