Reducing Homelessness in Seattle

Posted August 7, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog reducinghomelessnessinseattle 2017

Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle Navigation Team

Two pub­lic sec­tor lead­ers in the Seat­tle area are work­ing to make home­less­ness rare and brief by apply­ing lead­er­ship skills and tools they gleaned from the Foundation’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship®. The Fel­low­ship has been bring­ing togeth­er lead­ers in gov­ern­ment and non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions for more than 25 years to build their capac­i­ty to deliv­er spe­cif­ic, mea­sur­able results.

Cather­ine Lester, the direc­tor of the City of Seattle’s Human Ser­vices Depart­ment, par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Fel­low­ship in 2013 – 14. She has been focused on shift­ing more than $30 mil­lion in depart­ment spend­ing to con­tracts that can demon­strate results, includ­ing mea­sur­able suc­cess mov­ing peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness into per­ma­nent and sta­ble hous­ing. There are five spe­cif­ic per­for­mance mea­sures in the city’s most recent Request for Pro­pos­als for home­less­ness-relat­ed investments.

Watch videos on lead­ing for results

These five per­for­mance mea­sures are shared sys­temwide among the city, the King Coun­ty Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ty and Human Ser­vices and Unit­ed Way of King Coun­ty as min­i­mum and tar­get stan­dards for home­less invest­ments and fund­ing. By align­ing and mak­ing explic­it their expec­ta­tions for ser­vice providers and review­ing met­rics quar­ter­ly, the part­ners are able to track the effec­tive­ness of pro­grams to move peo­ple into housing.

Lester has a like-mind­ed coun­ter­part at the coun­ty lev­el from the just-con­clud­ed Class 10 of the Fel­low­ship: Josephine Wong. Wong is the deputy direc­tor of the King Coun­ty Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ty and Human Ser­vices and shares Lester’s com­mit­ment to being results based, data dri­ven and col­lab­o­ra­tive in order to admin­is­ter resources strate­gi­cal­ly. Casey Fel­lows are steeped in the Foundation’s Results Count™ approach, which blends five com­pe­ten­cies, two foun­da­tion­al skills and two foun­da­tion­al frame­works — the 522 for short.

Wong says hav­ing data is crit­i­cal to demon­strat­ing what works and what doesn’t. But she makes clear that con­cern for peo­ple — espe­cial­ly chil­dren and fam­i­lies — lies at the cen­ter of her work, not numbers.

By hav­ing an open mind and open heart, I can get more done than by being rigid,” Wong said. I’ve learned to lean into my smart sys­tem part­ners. When we bring the sys­tems togeth­er and make sure the right peo­ple are at the table, we can con­nect the dots.”

Lester and Wong also rec­og­nize how race, class and cul­ture affect out­comes and oppor­tu­ni­ties for vul­ner­a­ble indi­vid­u­als. In King Coun­ty, near­ly two-thirds of those expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness are peo­ple of col­or. African Amer­i­cans are five times more like­ly to expe­ri­ence home­less­ness than their white coun­ter­parts in King Coun­ty, and Amer­i­can Indi­ans and Alas­ka Natives are sev­en times more like­ly to expe­ri­ence home­less­ness. Lester says that these dis­par­i­ties often are symp­toms of the struc­tur­al and insti­tu­tion­al racism in the jus­tice sys­tem, health­care, edu­ca­tion, hous­ing poli­cies and that results of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the widen­ing of income inequality.

As a result, the two lead­ers are set­ting equi­ty goals for access to per­ma­nent hous­ing by break­ing down data on key per­for­mance mea­sures by race and eth­nic­i­ty, such as the total num­ber of exits from home­less ser­vices to per­ma­nent hous­ing. They are work­ing to bring the rate at which Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alaskan Native fam­i­lies exit to per­ma­nent hous­ing up to the lev­el of oth­er groups, even as they work to improve this mea­sure overall

It takes years to build a results cul­ture in the depart­ment and to build a data cul­ture,” Lester said. We’re close, now, to this being in the agency’s DNA.”

Learn more about the lead­er­ship lessons of Casey’s Fellowship

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