The Cost of Solving Homelessness: Dones Calls the Bluff

-

A few weeks ago it was reported that the proposed five-year plan of the King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) would cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The exact figure is up for debate; depending upon who you ask (and how much they dislike the KCRHA), the price tag could be $12 billion, or even $25 billion

And then the pearl-clutching began. The Seattle Times called it “unrealistic.” King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove said, “I don’t see a realistic pathway. I just simply don’t,” while a “deeply concerned”  County Councilmember Reagan Dunn thoroughly decried it – while trotting out time-worn and debunked statistics about how nearly 50 percent of the county’s homeless population moved here because of our “generous services.”

You know the services he’s talking about: the same ones that Dunn also tells us are dysfunctional, run poorly, and just plain don’t work. Trust me, almost no one is moving here to take advantage of our homeless services; even the annual “Point in Time” report that Dunn points to says that 84 percent of the county’s homeless population were already living in King County when they became homeless. (Every metropolitan area in the United States spreads the same myth that homeless people are moving there for the services.) 

Source: 2019 Point in Time Count for King County

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said “If you’re going to put that [$12 billion price] out there, then you have to help leaders find the route to it.” Sharon Lee, who runs Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the organization managing Seattle’s “tiny home” villages, managed her own hand-wringing, arguing that we should really just build more tiny-home villages. Never mind that such tiny homes are no magic solution. They are the most expensive program per exit from homelessness, the average length of stay in a tiny home is nearly a year, and the length of stay for someone exiting to permanent housing is a whopping 524 days. 

The list of naysayers and pearl-clutchers goes on. Few of them had anything nice to say about the KCRHA.

But here’s the thing: none of the politicians and stakeholders were truly surprised at the price tag for addressing homelessness at the true scale of the problem. They were only surprised that KCRHA director Marc Dones actually said the number out loud. They all know that it will cost billions; that much has been clear for years.

Between the affordable housing that needs to get built; the permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless who may never be able to live independently again; the scaling up of behavior health services – addressing both mental health and substance abuse – that have lagged for years; the need for more emergency shelter and day centers; the transitional housing; and diversion programs for those just entering the homeless system — it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that it will cost billions of dollars.

But our local politicians have been either unwilling or unable to come up with a plan for addressing homelessness at the scale of the problem. Instead, they talk incessantly of how much we’re spending and engage in sideshow arguments over encampment removals. They hope that if we see the amount of money they have approved in the budget and the demonstrated level of their passion, we’ll ignore the fact that they don’t have a credible plan. To Seattle’s credit, it has been pouring money into building affordable housing and, to a lesser extent, permanent supportive housing; that is a necessary part of an eventual solution to homelessness, but it alone is far from a real plan.

The most generous thing you could say about the creation of the KCRHA is that it was a recognition that any plan to address homelessness that hopes to make real progress will need to be regional (and perhaps even wider). The most cynical thing you could say is that it was an attempt by local politicians to make solving homelessness someone else’s problem – and to set that person up for the fall when it inevitably fails for lack of sufficient funding.

It’s a convenient catch-22:  the KCRHA can’t get more money unless what they’re doing now is shown to work, but they don’t have enough money now to do anything that would work given the scale of the problem.

Dones (who uses they/them pronouns), to their credit, didn’t take the bait. They could have come in, taken the money that Seattle and King County gave them, muddle along with the same poor results for a few years, and then exit stage right. But they didn’t. Instead, Dones tried to honestly answer the question: What will it take to solve homelessness in King County? They wrested away control of the process of quantifying homelessness in the county so that it was no longer driven by the arcane, bureaucratic requirements of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and replaced it with a system that gave more useful data. They then used that data to do a real “gap analysis” – something that I pointed out we needed SIX YEARS AGO – looking at the difference between the need for services addressing homelessness and what is actually provisioned in the county. (Dones’ is only a partial gap analysis, since it doesn’t cover all of the services.) They then ran the numbers to calculate the costs to fill that gap: in the billions. Here’s a presentation they gave to the KCRHA’s Implementation Board back in December, laying out the analysis (there is more detail in the full report).

The report also points out that social-service workers are paid a pittance – barely above minimum wage – in King County, which has led to chronically short-staffed nonprofits trying to keep up with the demand for services. Fixing that, and consequently making the homeless response system more sustainable, will require even more money.

As an aside, Dones’ modeling isn’t very good. They chose to organize it around the idea that a certain number of people (about 23,000) will become homeless over the course of a year, so the resources need to be available to provide services to them. That approach fails for several reasons. First, it ignores the “backlog,” if you will, of people already in the system who continue to have needs for the KCRHA to address. Second, it’s the wrong way to model capacity-planning for an ongoing service: what’s most important is understanding the PEAK capacity, the maximum number of homeless people who will need services at the same time. 

Dones did a good job of debunking the value of the old annual “point in time” count that simply told us how many homeless people could be found on a given night in January. That produced a dramatic undercount, chronically wrong, that varied substantially from year to year based upon the weather that night and the number of volunteers canvassing neighborhoods to count homeless people.

But they replaced that flawed count with a new figure, the number of people who will experience homelessness over the course of a year. This count tells us nothing about how long they are likely to remain homeless, what services they need, and most importantly the maximum number of people who will be homeless at the same peak time. Solving homelessness means provisioning for peak capacity needs, not for run-rate. 

But those aren’t the criticisms about data gathering that our local politicians are raising. Their complaint is a more fundamental one: Dones dared to be honest about what is required to solve homelessness. In so doing, they exposed the hypocrisy of local leaders, who want to appear as if they are solving homelessness but are unwilling to (or incapable of) going to bat for the resources it will take to truly do so. Their response is not unexpected: attack the messenger.

We should be thanking Dones, who did what the job required and, at least in theory, what the intended purpose was of creating a Regional Homeless Authority in the first place. Their modeling is imperfect, but its rough order is correct: it will cost billions of dollars to solve homelessness in King County, and the cost increases every year that we don’t try to address it at scale. But now Dones has called the politicians’ bluff: by calculating the gap analysis and telling everyone how far off we really are, we all have a way to measure the inadequacy of our politicians’ proposals. Don’t get tricked into focusing on the dollar figures; look at the gap analysis. We’re not close to making a dent, or even to treading water. The resources the city and county are provisioning don’t even cover the new homeless people entering the system, so with every passing year the problem increases (as we have all witnessed). 

Coincidentally, NASA spent about $25 billion on the Apollo moon program in the 1960s. Solving homelessness in King County is our moonshot: it is an incredibly ambitious goal, prohibitively expensive, and fraught with problems at every step. It will take bold leadership, dedicated funding (and passing the hat broadly), the support of the community, and great people with big hearts and big brains to make it happen. 

Alternatively, we can spend a fraction of what it will actually cost to solve homelessness, convince ourselves that we’re making a difference, watch the problem continue to balloon, and look for someone to blame when we don’t get the results we want. Dones wants to do the former; our local leaders – the same ones who created the Regional Homeless Authority – want to continue doing the latter, and to blame Dones when nothing gets better. 

But if the politicians insist on short-term results before they invest at the level actually required – which they will – then Dones and the KCRHA should once again call their bluff by picking one specific demographic within the homeless community and solving homelessness for them. There are plenty of worthy candidates that could be moved to the front of the line, including:  families with kids, youth and young adults, veterans, and members of indigenous tribes.

That doesn’t imply that all other homeless individuals are unworthy of urgent support, but the current system that largely peanut-butters the same under-provisioned services across the entire community of homeless persons ultimately fails all of them, whereas a smaller subsystem optimized for the needs of, say, families with kids, could work. Mary’s Place has already developed a mix of services for homeless families that has proven to be successful, but it needs partners, resources and support to scale it up to serve all of King County. The day we can announce that there are no homeless families with kids here anymore is the day that the homeless response system begins to earn credibility.

This would need to be paired with a program for a second key demographic: bringing the chronically homeless in off the streets. They are the most visible, the greatest risk to public health and public safety, and the ones whose fate is the benchmark that most people use to evaluate the success of the homeless response. They are also the ones with the greatest needs and are the most difficult and costly to serve. A targeted program on a limited budget won’t “solve homelessness” for them overnight, or even in five years; that would take the full investment in permanent supportive housing, behavioral health programs, job programs, and other social services that we apparently are unwilling to pay for. But it could provide something that is a step better than being on the street, and it would start getting them stabilized enough that they could sign up for other services to the extent that they become available. And if done well, it could convince the voters and taxpayers of King County that a moonshot might just be worthwhile.

Kevin Schofield
Kevin Schofieldhttp://sccinsight.com
Kevin is a city hall reporter and the founder of SCC Insight, a web site focused on providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and Seattle City Hall in general. In a previous life, he worked for 26 years in the tech industry in a variety of positions but most notably as the COO of the research division at Microsoft. Kevin volunteers at the Woodland Park Zoo, where he is also on the Board of Directors. He is also the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of Harvey Mudd College.

48 COMMENTS

  1. Would love to see a crosswalk to other cities and how they approach it. Homelessness is famously low in Seoul, South Korea. Houston TX keeps getting some attention for how it has had successes with low income housing. If any cost estimate is to be taken seriously, we should be thinking very critically about it. The per person cost of ending homelessness (on the upper end, close to $1M??) is quite high.

  2. Perhaps we should just dispense with the absurd notion that King County and its related jurisdictions can “end” homelessness and focus on better managing it?

    (Vision Zero is also dumb as dirt, too)

  3. Hi Kevin, I can agree that social workers should be paid better, and mental health systems need much more focus.
    But do we agree that the majority of the chronically homeless are hard drug users and/or mentally ill?
    Do we agree that many of them are unwilling to accept shelter, or unable to live in any sort of apartment community without behavior incompatible with community living?
    If King County did start spending many billions annually on the problem, but public squatting and rampant meth dealing was still tolerated, what makes you think we would succeed in ending homelessness?

    • The data says that a large portion of the chronically homeless have substance abuse or mental health issues. I don’t recall off the top of my head whether it is the majority. But to be clear, the data also shows that for most of them, the substance abuse and mental health issues were not the cause of their homelessness; rather, they were the result of the trauma of coping with homelessness. That doesn’t mean that no one ever develops a drug problem and subsequently becomes homeless; of course some do. But that isn’t the primary dynamic out there. We should be building policy around the common cases, not the edge cases.

      The data shows that nearly all chronically homeless persons are willing to accept shelter and services when they are a better alternative to their current situation. Again, it’s not 100%. But today for many of them accepting shelter means being separated from their partner and/or support network of friends, giving up a pet (in many cases their only companionship and like for many of us a part of their family), getting rid of almost all of their remaining possessions, and going “cold turkey” on substance addiction. Understandably, many of them see that at not a better option than just staying on the street; many also have learned not to trust “they system” when it has repeatedly screwed them over and made promises it then didn’t keep. Indeed, many of them will have difficulty transitioning to an apartment community, which is what permanent supportive housing is intended to address.

      The rampant meth and fentanyl drug dealing is indeed a problem. I am not arguing for not enforcing the drug dealing laws, and I have never argued for that — or for decriminalizing drugs.

      Public squatting is a public health and public safety hazard. I am not a “Stop the sweeps” advocate by any means. But at the same time, strong enforcement of public squatting ordinances has not been shown to contribute to “ending homelessness.” In fact, it can make matters worse, because throwing the homeless in jail not only destabilizes them more, it increases the likelihood that they will lose their job while they are in jail and it gives them a criminal record that makes it even harder for them to gain and sustain employment. The data shows that a large portion of the homeless population is actually employed; they just don’t make enough money to afford housing. Criminalizing homelessness just turns the employed homeless into the unemployed homeless.

  4. Thanks for this analysis, Kevin – I find it surprising that rental assistance (preventing homelessness) is not part of the five year plan.

      • Neither of those is preventative “rental assistance” – ie, keeping people in their homes in the first place vs rehousing in some way once they are unsheltered.

    • A quote from Marc Dones:
      “ … Marc Dones, who also noted that the current homeless response system is moving between 5,000 and 7,000 households from homelessness into permanent housing each year.”
      (https://kcrha.org/nearly-800-formerly-homeless-now-housed/)
      If this is true, it would seem we would have a far smaller crisis soon, simply by continuing the same processes that are already in play. *Kevin, do you trust these numbers in the KCRHA site?

      Most of the newly housed appear to be relying on rent vouchers. Right now the strategy for making the rental market more “equitable” has been to pile risk onto landlords. Rather than forbidding background checks, making eviction nearly impossible, and requiring landlords to take the first person who applies who fits the rental criteria, what if instead the county and city acknowledged the physical risk to housing when addicts or people unused to indoor living move in? As compensation for risk the city or county (through which organization or vehicle I’m not sure) could post a damage bond, guaranteeing to make a landlord whole in the event of damages?

      In the building boom in Seattle we have lost much of our Section 8 housing. This could be a way of restoring the function of Section 8 on a local level.

  5. Bravo. This is what needs to be faced. Some of the billions must come from state and federal governments; the scale of need is far beyond local governments.

  6. Giving homeless people a free house while thousands of low wage people work hard to pay for their apartment is not a sustainable long term solution.

    Also asking homeless people to choose what kind of shelter is acceptable is not a proper solution. Many homeless just don’t want to be a productive member of society. As an example, there was an ATM machine and UW student’s electric bike at the I-5 homeless camp. We’re asking tax payers to literally pay for those who are stealing from us.

    Clean 24 hour shelters need to be a primary component of a solution. If that’s not acceptable to homeless individuals, that is just unfortunate for them. Any real solution will focus help those who want to help themselves. Yes drug treatment needs to be more available as well.

    The Dones plan will never work and is not really serious. To much spending and focus on admin, not enough on immediate shelter and treatment.

  7. Can We Prevent Homelessness?
    John Dunne
    There are many reasons people become homeless. Chronic unemployment, disabilities, severe mental illnesses and addiction to substances are the reasons we usually think about. However, there are also other causes of homelessness, such as divorce, fleeing domestic violence or teens fleeing abusive or rejecting families. As we just witnessed in Florida, natural disasters can create massive homelessness. Those who become chronically homeless share three common characteristics: they have lost important connections with family and friends who might help, they despair of ever changing their situation and (to state the obvious) they have no place to live.
    Some would like to keep the homeless out of sight, some would like to criminalize homelessness or at least where they camp and many want to help but don’t know how. As we have learned, trying to re-house the homeless is very expensive. The unhoused create garbage in our streets, parks and wooded areas, add to petty crime, adding significantly to city expenses, and contribute to declining business where the homeless congregate.
    But can we prevent homelessness? Unequivocally, yes! Can we eliminate homelessness? Emphatically, no! There will always be some who become, at least temporarily, homeless. Bellingham has invested in dealing with all three phases of homelessness: prevention, sheltering and rehabilitation and rehousing. These efforts need to continue and, if possible, expand to better meet the need. Unfortunately, none of these efforts has stemmed the tide of homelessness. Why is that?
    It’s a complicated problem with many contributors. The most important proximal cause is the lack of affordable housing. The population of Bellingham has surged recently, at least some by people fleeing more expensive housing markets in the Seattle metro area. The stock of available housing has not kept pace, a characteristic referred to as housing inflexibility, leading to increased competition for housing and rapidly rising property values. This not only increases the price of single-family homes but also pushes up rents. At the same time inflation eats away at low-income individuals’ ability to pay for the higher rent since wages and entitlement payments have not kept up with inflation. The effect is that, with an increasing population and a relatively restricted growth of housing, those with the lowest incomes will be squeezed out of housing, adding to our homeless population.
    Efforts to combat this situation has two main components: increasing the degree of housing flexibility, and improving the ability of those with extremely low-incomes to afford the higher rents.
    The lack of available housing is the critical factor concluded the authors of a recently released book “Homelessness is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain US Patterns” (See a review of the book published in the Salish Current, Oct. 7). They cite many examples to support their conclusion. One example they give is Charlotte, NC which has had a substantial population increase without a rise in homelessness because the city sits on a broad savanna giving it plenty of room to grow. Bellingham is not so blessed, although there are a number of things the city can do to increase housing flexibility. Most significantly, the city could change zoning to allow more multifamily housing along transit routes. Another change, less dramatic, would be to simplify the permitting process for new buildings, including ADU’s. Currently, it can take a year or more and several design changes to comply with complex code requirements. Those delays and revisions add to the cost of obtaining a permit, which increases the price of new housing. A more difficult change would be to extend the city’s boundaries, incorporating undeveloped land. That brings a host of new problems and expenses: adding water and sewage lines, building and maintaining new roads and extending other infrastructure and services. The city is already struggling with how to best upgrade its sewage treatment system.
    To help those who are on the verge of losing their housing for financial reason, providing housing subsidies has been helpful. An additional approach would be to increase the minimum wage. To give the minimum wage earner the same purchasing power as the same earner had in 1968, they would need to make at least $22.00/hour (probably more, given recent inflation). The cost of such an abrupt change in the minimum wage would be borne by all of us but also have unforeseen consequences as we reduce discretionary expenses, such as going out to eat. And the combination of housing subsidies and increased wages will also create additional competition for housing. However, to not help those on the bottom rung of our society seems inhumane.
    Obviously, this is a difficult situation for us to be in. It makes no sense to rail against the homeless. There are helpful changes we can make if we have the political will. But to be truly effective both strategies need to be implemented in tandem.
    John Dunne is a retired child and adolescent psychiatrist. After closing his practice in the Seattle area, he held consulting positions at Seattle Children’s and Peace Health. He belongs to the Rotary Club of Bellingham, plays trombone with the North Cascade Community Orchestra and volunteers with the Bellingham School District.

    • I appreciated John Dunn’s response to this thoughtful article, especially because it reflects some important considerations that cause homelessness: “[people] have lost important connections with family and friends who might help, they despair of ever changing their situation and (to state the obvious) they have no place to live.” All of this to my way of thinking can be couched in an overarching emotional of loss of purpose while also carrying the weight of meaninglessness which is embedded in what being physically homeless means in our society.

      Many studies have been done to suggest that a sense of belonging is necessary for both mental and physical health to exist and prevail. Working together to build something worthwhile fosters community which also addresses this issue face on.

      What about considering expanding or coupling the land resources of Seattle/King County/Washington State with the agency offered by organizations like Habitat for Humanity or something similar that involves the hands-on involvement and energies of people who are homeless? Actively participating in re-building future homes could simultaneously offer potential new skills in addition to the important “soft” but vital benefit of building community while working with others toward a shared tangible goal.

      Simplistic though it may be, offering those people who are homeless an opportunity to be actively engaged in their own success seems worthy of consideration when thinking of solutions to this issue. (And, it might also simultaneously help dampen the high projected costs of developing affordable housing.)

  8. We can’t paint all homeless persons or families with the same brush. Every homeless person(s) has a story that needs a hearing and appropriate services. Kevin, I appreciate your perspective, but it leaves some important elements out.
    Having worked at DSHS, there are real educated professional social workers plus one of the finest schools of social work in the U.S. at the UW. We need trained professionals to work with homeless folks, not caretakers and enablers as in the so called homeless industrial complex. Every homeless person could have a church, citizen, civic group as a ‘sponsor’ to help them get back on their feet. And the Seattle Housing Authority seems to be left along with trained social workers. Subsidized housing, along with treatment AND employment options make three legs on the stool. Employment Security is also left out of the equation. Point being, existing agencies & professional social workers, employment counselors should be engaged. By leaning on Seattle taxpayers for more money there will be more homeless folks as property taxes rise to pay for the housing the KCHA thinks is the answer. How much can taxpayers take?

  9. Terrific analysis, Kevin. Yours is one of the best writings on the topic yet.

    One part of the puzzle that I invite you to dig further into is the tiny home villages as part of the solution. Here’s Sharon Lee from LIHI on the issue:

    “In 2022 close to 50% of people who exited a tiny house moved into permanent housing. This is from HMIS data on the performance of LIHI’s tiny house villages in Seattle /King County. HMIS data tracks performance and stands for Homeless Information Management System. https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/hmis/

    The RHA Five Year Plan itself documents the success of tiny houses as they perform much better than congregate shelters.” [And notably KCRHA has put $0 into operations for tiny home villages which makes no sense because villages are a fast and short term win- SB].

    Back to Sharon Lee: “Not only do tiny houses perform better and have better outcomes and more exits to permanent housing, the tiny house villages are in high demand and have high occupancy rates compared to congregate shelters.”

    Kevin, please come with me to see The Hope Factory run by Sound Foundations NW and participate in building a tiny home. I have volunteered regularly for the past year. We volunteers build these homes for less than $5000 of material. Each home is warm, safe, and dry, and not so perfect that anyone would want to stay there once they have a better option.

    Operating a village with 50 homes with 24/7 security (keeping drug dealers out) and hygiene centers and case management costs roughly $1.2 million annually. This is a pathway to health and stability, and costs taxpayers way less than other system demands such as jail, hospitals, criminal justice and more.

    Of course we need all the regional solutions you mention, and the latest Boston Consulting Group study* makes that clear. The villages won’t put an end to homelessness alone, but they are a cost effective bridge from soggy tents to a stable life.

    BCG Study: https://www.challengeseattle.com/_files/ugd/e29733_79f2eacd75d34c24861a6b2273c50ff4.pdf

  10. Kudos to Kevin “they/them” for putting a dollar figure on the cost of “solving” homelessness. He also agrees, I think, that the $ figure is an educated guess.
    In my opinion, there is no “solving”; no matter how much money is put into the fix – rapid rehousing, low barrier, affordable – and mental health/drug efforts. Frankly, we don’t know and everyone has their own opinion, backed by statistics, and they have their elected official who will support them because it is a mutual support system: You give me my needs, I will make sure you are re-elected.
    This is so similar to protecting fish and wildlife. The Act says treat them equitably but no one defined the term either legislative or by rule. Basically it’s “send more money for my program” and I will tell you when “equity is achieved.”
    An even better analogy is a bank loan with no pay off: Keep sending $ monthly and the bank will let you know when it’s “enough”
    So kudos again to Kevin and King County Homeless- there will never be enough $ and “we” will let you know when no more is needed.

  11. It’s heartening to see so many serious responses to Kevin’s (“theirs”? Really?) challenge. Did it need to be expressed so rudely? “Pearl-clutching?” I thought that one had been hung up long ago, along with “limp-wristed”. But macho personal abuse remains permissible when you want to portray “the other side” as weak, timorous, afraid of facing hard facts. Try to avoid the posing when dealing with such a mountain of human misery as we’ve allowed to accumulate in our Land of the Free.

  12. I’d like to see a Schofield story on tiny homes, too, if you want to make a career of homeless housing analysis. There’s certainly a faction of believers, but maybe also some grounds for skepticism. Go to the place Bagshaw is talking about, but if the Northlake Nickelsville is still in business that might be an interesting part of the story. Ask LIHI what they’d think about tiny homes run by the city, on the premise that substantial permanent city functions should be staffed by people responsible to the executive.

  13. Thank you for this story. As you say, the current level of homelessness—here and nationwide—has been a long time in the making, serious attempts to solve it have been too long postponed, and it will take a long time to fix. It’s time for everyone to stop performing and politicking about it and get to work on fixing it. Dones has done a lot to get the ball rolling.

  14. I want to clarify something, because my comment about tiny homes seems to be running off on its own tangent. I am not against tiny homes and tiny homes villages. Tiny homes, though expensive, clearly have value and have a place in the mix of shelter options the city and county are offering. That said, Marc Dones and others have offered some valid concerns about scaling up and broadening their use. Over the past few years since they were introduced, tiny home villages have become multi-year homes for some individuals, and for some communities — to the point where the community bond is strong enough to overcome the desire to move to better housing. At that point, tiny home villages stop becoming emergency shelter and become semi-permanent housing — and trying to move someone out of a tiny home village into permanent housing looks like we’re trying to dislodge someone out of their community. And we should not be funding or promoting a system that encourages semi-permanent housing in glorified tool sheds; that is not a humane solution to homelessness. We have seen cases in recent years where a THV has rejected LIHI’s management and oversight, restricted outreach workers, and demanded to be left alone to manage themselves. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/seven-months-ago-residents-locked-the-city-out-of-their-tiny-house-village-now-seattle-officials-plan-to-cut-its-funding/

    Before we scale up investment in tiny homes, we need to come to grips with which option we believe a tiny home is: emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, or very-low-end permanent housing in small communities. Because our current laissez-faire approach is not helping.

    • Dear Mr. Scholfield,

      My name is Barb Oliver. I am the Director of Operations for Sound Foundations NW. (www.SoundFoundationsNW.org). We build the majority of the tiny homes for the tiny home villages. Let me address a few of your concerns.

      The tiny home villages have always been and will continue to remain TRANSITIONAL, TEMPORARY housing. The median length of stay of a tiny home village is 114 days. Nearly half of all tiny home residents go into some form of permanent housing (the national average is around 10%). Ours is one of the highest transition rates in the country. Delegations from Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities come to Seattle to visit LIHI and Sound Foundations NW to see how we are doing it. Currently 27 other cities are specifically using our construction system to build tiny homes for their cities.

      Is the LIHI model perfect? Of course it isn’t. But it works more often than not. Before we moved into The Hope Factory, our current location, we built our tiny homes at a tiny home village called Camp Second Chance. I saw how this program works over and over again.

      I would like to personally invite you to The Hope Factory for a tour or even to spend some time in community with other like-minded individuals who want to end homelessness. By email is below: please feel free to contact me anytime.

  15. Impacts on current housing costs?

    What would be the impact on land prices and construction costs of spending $12 billion to the existing housing market? In a matter of 5 years?

    This agency (if it’s to be effective) will have power of eminent domain.

    The agency is going to have HUGE power —I suspect that it would have to have the ability to nullify local zoning — how else could it overcome building so much low-income housing so quickly?

    (I’m not even raising the issue of whether this brand new agency has the competence to effectuate such a program without vast waste of money, and even corruption.)

  16. Impacts on current housing costs?

    What would be the impact on land prices and construction costs of spending $12 billion to the existing housing market? In a matter of 5 years?

    This agency (if it’s to be effective) will have power of eminent domain.

    The agency is going to have HUGE power —I suspect that it would have to have the ability to nullify local zoning — how else could it overcome building so much low-income housing so quickly?

    (I’m not even raising the issue of whether this brand new agency has the competence to effectuate such a program without vast waste of money, and even corruption.)

  17. I agree with Roger Downey that Kevin Schofield’s analysis is damaged by dismissing critics of the Regional Homeless Authority as misinformed, nay-saying pearl clutchers. (I’m surprised he didn’t add nattering nabobs of negativism.)

    Homelessness is an urgent humanitarian crisis for which there is no cohesive plan or credible leadership. As funding in our region to address the problem approaches at least $100 million in city funds a year, there’s now calls to expand that number, counting city and other funding sources, to $12 billion or more over the next five years.

    People suffering from life on the streets and addiction certainly deserve results from public investments in their name. And yet there’s little accountability that tax dollars for this purpose are well used. The Seattle Times doesn’t scrutinize the spending, nor do any public entities.

    It’s a mystery to me why there’s no accountability.

    • “It’s a mystery to me why there’s no accountability.“

      Who benefits with accountability?

      Conversely, who benefits with no accountability?

  18. Casey has it exactly right. There is no accountability and no one is scrutinizing the spending. Maybe KCRHA is great, no one really knows.

  19. Pearl clutching 25B? I don’t think that analogy works when it’s actual money. It is actual pearls… that are clutched here. And for good reason. People don’t just give away money. It took 1B to build the 520 Bridge, by the same measure it would take 25B to build 25 bridges over lake washington. Does that sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.
    Dones job isn’t to stare down tax payers, and hypocrisy isn’t on city leaders. The hypocrisy and false analogy you paint is towards tax payers, because that is where that money is coming from. And rightfully so, spending 25% of the State of WA Total Revenue on 40,000 people is something that has never happened in the history of this state. It means spending $625,000 per person, making you a hyper socialist beyond even the scale of USSR. Fortunately the leaders and taxpayers recognize what a grave mistake that would be.
    Moreover, the moonshot you speak of, was spent on highly qualified scientists and technical hardware, not on druggies looking for their next hit. The “housing first” cracks are starting to show, and I can guarantee you, even if your twisted world we did decide to spend over half a million per homeless person (higher than the net worth of millions in America) it would not work in the slightest. Because this “experiment” is a bunch of self ego stroking idealists, who couldnt even understand what it takes to run even a 100 million dollar company, expect to be written a check for 25 Billion for their quixotic endeavors.

  20. Wow, balking at spending a fortune on a tiny minority of citizens is “pearl clutching?” Let’s start with the most conservative estimate of what we’d be spending on each one of these homeless derelicts and criminals. Take the low end of the KCHRA’s 5 year proposed budget, divided by the high end of Done’s estimate of the number of homeless in KC.

    $12 billion/40,000 works out to $300K per individual.

    Now let’s take the high end of the KCHRA budget divided by the low end of the estimates of King County’s homeless population we’ve been using for years:

    $25 billion/13,000 works out to, drumroll please…. $1,923,077 per individual.

    Nearly TWO MILLION DOLLARS PER PERSON. And that doesn’t even account for the money we spend at the state and city level.

    And you think this would actually, as you put it, “solve homelessness?” I thought you were smarter than that. You covered City Hall. Have you already forgotten the amount of grift and incompetence there is at just the city level?

    • First of all, your math is wrong. KCRHA said that there were approximately 40k people who were homeless at some time or another during 2021. That doesn’t mean that there are 40k homeless people in the county now. Plus, he is proposing the spend over 5 years, to handle the backlog, plus the expected 23,000 new homeless people each year. And to create capital assets that will continue to be needed for years to come after that.

      Second, it’s not “pearl clutching” because of the price tag. It’s “pearl clutching” because they are feigning surprise and shock at the price tag when they have known all along that the price tag is in the billions.

      • Why use the macho, sexist term of “pearl clutching” at all? As Roger Downey pointed out, it’s time to shelve that, the way “limp-wristed” has hopefully been shelved.

  21. The magnitude of the problem requires state action, and only state action. The ineffective efforts by local electeds and Dones should be preempted by the state.

    Only the state has the three things needed to address this growing social problem: unlimited financial capacity, administrative and medical systems that can ramp up in short order, and enough relatively inexpensive land and facilities south of the Nisqually Delta for the needed treatment and housing.

    • Yes. Along with trained social workers, employment counselors, drug treatment and mental health professionals. Funding non-professionals is not realistically dealing with homelessness.

  22. I’ve always admired Kevin’s reporting, but “pearl clutching” – just stop. It manages to be sexist and ageist at the same time. Who wears pearls? Women. Mature women. If you want to be persuasive, don’t start name calling in the second graf.

  23. A Tail of Two Cities:

    LOS ANGELES

    2022 homeless population: 41,980.

    https://www.bing.com/search?q=What%20is%20the%20homeless%20population%20of%20Los%20Angeles%20in%202022%3F&FORM=AFXOHP&PC=AFXO

    2022 Homelessness budget: $1.16 billion.

    https://www.bing.com/search?=What+is+budget+for+homelessness+in+Los+Angeles+in+2022%3F&qs=n&form=QBRE&sp=-1&pq=what+is+budget+for+homelessness+in+los+angeles+in+2022%3F&sc=0-55&sk=&cvid=2DF99F38D1184E1D80FD0622FF32B911&ghsh=0&ghacc=0&ghpl=

    Average cost per person: $26,584.

    SEATTTLE

    2022 homeless population: 13,368

    https://kcr”ha.org/data-overview/

    2022 Homeless budget: $2.38 billion

    (Average per year per the Five Year Plan)
    https://komonews.com/news/local/king-county-regional-homelessness-authority-budget-five-year-plan-12-billion-dollars-spending-homeless-encampments-housing-crisis-transients-kcrha-county-councilmembers-feedback-survey-homeless-people#

    Average cost per person: $178,037

    How can a city with a fourth of the homeless population of Los Angeles have an annual cost of solving homelessness over $1 BILLION MORE PER YEAR than LA?

  24. For those complaining about my use of the term “pearl clutching”: I recognize and respect that you don’t like it and wouldn’t invoke it, but it’s very much still in use. For example, the Seattle Times’ assistant managing editor for diversity, inclusion and staff development has used it fairly recently in her column. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/this-labor-day-give-hustle-culture-the-boot/

    Here’s an article from last fall in the Washington Post that also used it. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/08/09/global-investigating-former-leaders-trump-sarkozy/ and another one from 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/09/10/democrats-need-feisty-fighter-climate-change/

    • So what? You can always find an example of someone using offensive terminology, generally along the lines of “Karen” (never “Ken). You can always NOT wait for a derogatory term to fall out of favor.

  25. Sure, it’s possible that Dones may be calling the bluff of political leadership, but he could also be giving himself a way out since the cost of the plan alone —$12.5 billion? — is a non-starter.

    Maybe,
    “I produced a terrific plan that would have worked, but it didn’t get funded because of narrow-minded voters.”

    I certainly sympathize with Dones. The problem seems beyond our current political imagination. I certainly don’t have any answers. But I don’t think that the billions he’s talking about are going to be available to him or would be used effectively.

  26. Dear Kevin, Good info even if it is unrealistic that Seattle, the primary funder, could raise that much even if there were a will to do so. I know you are aware that is more than the city’s yearly budget, one that accounts for all city services plus City Light and Seattle Public Utility budgets. Agree that it might require fragmented into helping groups like homeless families etc.
    PS. By all means dump “pearl clutching.” Don’t care who’s still using the term. It is sexist and ageist. There are other words to convey your derisive view.

  27. Coming to this late, but my main takeaway from this thread is that there seems to be a shitload of pearl clutching about Kevin’s use of the term “pearl clutching.” Which has a vaguely East Germanic language policing feel to it.

    That said, saying that it is “unrealistic” to expect we will spend $12 billion over the next five years on homelessness doesn’t really seem all that pearl-clutchy to me; rather, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality.

    If this document is now followed by a new version that examines what KCRHA can do to alleviate homelessness over the next five years within the constraints of the resources that are likely to be available — and my understanding is that there is now a commitment to develop and issue such a follow up plan, after the pushback this received — then good, we’ll have the best of both worlds. An estimate of the scale of the problem and what would required to resolve it, and an assessment of what we can do with existing resources to have the maximum impact.

    • The argument against “pear clutching” seems to be we have a gigantic problem that will require massive spending so let’s stop kidding ourselves and “be realistic.” I’m struggling to get past a sense that King County Regional Homeless Authority has the management talent for the job. What in Marc Dones’ background suggests that? Has the King County Regional Homeless Authority taken steps to earn credibility? No one seems to have a reasonable response to critics who posted here that the numbers coming from the King County Regional Homeless Authority are excessive. The last time we leapt without looking we got the Monorail. Don’t the unhoused deserve thinking that will build support and get results?

  28. “That doesn’t imply that all other homeless individuals are unworthy of urgent support, but the current system that largely peanut-butters the same under-provisioned services across the entire community of homeless persons ultimately fails all of them, whereas a smaller subsystem optimized for the needs of, say, families with kids, could work.”
    This is where I would put the priority: families with children. In King County the number is in the thousands.

  29. Please review your facts about Tiny Homes and correct them in the above article. The median stay in a Tiny Home is 114 days and they have the highest success rate of any type of transitional housing, for transitioning people into more permanent accommodations. Additionally, they have a surplus of Tiny Homes in a warehouse in SODO just waiting for funds in order to house people. They are WAY more cost effective than putting people temporarily into hotels. Each Tiny House costs $4200 to build. They can house three different residents per year, and they last 20 years. So, each home can house 60 individuals over the course of its lifetime. That’s $70 per person. Obviously, that doesn’t include the costs of running the village – that’s simply the structure – but you won’t find anything cheaper that gives a homeless individual private space, a community, and access to a caseworker and services. You should review this plan and then ask KCHRA why Marc Dones’ feud with Sharon Lee is preventing them from a solution that works https://www.soundfoundationsnw.org/the-four-year-plan/

  30. Wow, a lot of KCRHA numbers are pulled out out of thin air! Marc Dones checks all of the boxes for optics, but is really just an opportunistic stuffed shirt who wasn’t even on the short list. They got the $250,000 job when others declined to take it. Let’s hope that the changes coming (per the voters) don’t include them but rather an experienced realist with a relevant resume and real numbers.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.

Popular

Recent