Homelessness Not On the Mend

The numbers aren’t good, and the recession won’t help King County meet its 10-year goal.

The number of homeless people in King County has risen two percent since last year, according to a recent count. What's more, King County Committee to End Homelessness director Bill Block says the county is not on track to produce the number of homes stipulated in its "Ten-Year Plan" to end homelessness. Instead of building 9,500 homes by the year 2015 as planned, Block says "we're on track for about 5,000." When in the late '90s and early 2000s cities and counties across the country began promising to "end" homelessness in 10 years, the notion—spurred in part by a shift in federal policies—invited both admiration and skepticism. Block concedes that King County's plan "simply picked" a number of homes to be created "without a financing plan." New government funding has helped double the number of units produced every year, from 200 before the plan to 500 today—but the money is apparently not enough to end homelessness. Moreover, Block points out that the plan's somewhat arbitrary target of 9,500 was more ambitious than that of many other jurisdictions. New York City set its goal at 12,000 units, according to a 2006 speech by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Notes Block, "That in a town that has a daily homeless census of 35,000." (King County's recent tally yielded 2,862 people living on the streets of King County, but did not take into account an additional 6,000 or so living in shelters or transitional housing.) The current recession is bound to put the county even further behind schedule. Governor Christine Gregoire, for one, has proposed slashing the biannual "Housing Trust Fund" budget by half, to $100 million. Still, Block is not prepared to concede that the county will fail its 10-year plan. "That's the job," he says.

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