Addressing Homelessness

Our region's current needs are outpacing care system shelter and affordable housing capacity, leaving too many seniors, families and individuals sleeping on the street and in vehicles. Many have lost their jobs, experienced a sudden financial challenge, or are temporarily "down on their luck". A recent Needs Assessment in which more than 1,000 individuals were surveyed shows that when we address homelessness, we are addressing a diverse group of people who all have unique stories.

number of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle

In 2016, HSD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with All Home (the HUD designated Continuum of Care provider), King County, and United Way of King County committing to collectively advance homeless system shifts through investment and other strategies to accelerate the vision of homelessness as rare, brief and one-time in our community. In 2017, HSD's Homeless Investment Strategy Division released $50 million to community-based organizations that provide emergency services, permanent housing support, diversion, and general services for people experiencing homelessness.  

homelessness funding

Response to homelessness

A state of emergency was declared in November 2015 because continuing "business as usual" was not an acceptable response to this crisis. That declaration came with additional authority and funding to open more temporary shelters, expand services and create more safe spaces for those sleeping on our streets, and signaled that the city would do all it could to help people go from living in the streets to shelter, and to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place.

Pathways Home: is the City of Seattle's policy framework for addressing homelessness. It is driven by three guiding principles:

  • Create a Person-Centered, Systemic Response;         
  • Invest in Programs that Work; and          
  • Address Racial Disparities. During 2017, HSD is implementing actions in six key areas that work together to improve services for people who are homeless.

  pathways home focus areas

The Human Services Department provides services for people experiencing homelessness by funding agencies and organizations in the community. As part of Pathways Home, HSD is releasing a competitive Request For Proposals in 2017 for homeless investments. In releasing the Homeless Investments RFP, HSD aligned its investments with the Pathways Home principles (Create a Person-Centered, Systemic Response, Invest in Models with Demonstrated Success, and Address Racial Disparities) and with broader system transformation efforts. 

Key 2017 Initiatives

  • Navigation Center: Based on successful facilities in San Francisco, the Navigation Center is a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter designed to connect homeless individuals to services and transition them to permanent housing. The Navigation Team, comprised of outreach workers paired with specially-trained Seattle Police Department officers, is tasked with working with unsheltered people who have urgent and acute unmet needs. They will serve as the primary access point for people to be served by the Navigation Center. This enhanced shelter model is a key recommendation found in Pathways Home, the City's action plan for addressing homelessness.      


  • 100 Day Challenge Washington: 100 Day Challenge to end youth and young adult homelessness. The City of Seattle, in partnership with King, Pierce and Spokane Counties will execute identified tactics to accelerate housing placements for young people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.     


  • Compass at First Presbyterian: Also part of an enhanced shelter model called for in Pathways Home-Seattle's plan for addressing homelessness. Compass at First Presbyterian is a 100-bed shelter with on-site services. Open 24/7, the Compass Shelter will work with men and women, store possessions, and even welcome pets.  

Six Action Areas for 2017

During 2017, HSD is implementing actions in six key areas that work together to improve services for people who are homeless:         

Commitment to Unsheltered Families - A Family Impact Team is now dedicated to addressing the unique circumstances of each family in order to connect them to housing faster.  Families with young children are now prioritized for shelter and housing so they can move inside quickly and stay inside. And, HSD funds have been increased to help families stay housed.         

Expand 24-hour shelter options -The Seattle community has an existing shelter system made up primarily of overnight "survival" shelters.  Limited hours, segregation by gender and the inability to bring possessions and pets often prevent people living unsheltered from coming indoors.  We are focused increasing 24-hour availability, decreasing barriers, and building connections between shelter and housing. Two enhanced shelters are opening in the summer of 2017 that remove some of the common barriers that prevent people from coming inside; pets, possessions and partners.           

Make more rental units available- Staff from public and private sector agencies are working together to create a single resource center that connects people in need of housing with landlords with available units.        

Actively problem solve wait lists -Part of providing person-centered assistance is knowing who is on each list, and becoming familiar with their names, their needs and their circumstances.  To date, social workers have been going through lists for youth and young adults, as well as for people who have been in shelters, perhaps even for years. They are working with them to find solutions and get them into housing.           

Connect people living unsheltered to services -  In February 2017, the Emergency Operations Center was activated to accelerate the Pathways Home Implementation.  This included launching the Navigation team, a group of outreach workers and specially-trained police officers, who go to hazardous locations and work to move people to safer alternatives.        

Good government and performance-based outcomes - Making sure that tax-payer money is put to the best use to help people into housing is a paramount action item for HSD.  To this end, there are three initiatives HSD is undertaking to make sure programs can show results:

  • Performance Based Contracting: All 2017 contracts include performance metrics (the same as found in King County and United Way Homeless Service Contracts) and an increased focus on efforts that result in exits to permanent housing.
  • Technical Assistance: The City is helping to provide technical assistance to service providers and non-profits on performance-based contracts so they can be more successful in serving their clients.
  • Driving toward RFP for 2018 Homeless Investments: Seattle's investments in homeless services have not been competitively bid in over a decade.  This year, HSD is putting approximately $30 million in funding opportunities to bid through a Request for Proposals process.