Homeless encampments are working, city report finds

A recently released report has found that the three new homeless encampments in the city, including the one in Ballard at the west end of NW Market St, have “met and exceeded the contracted performance measures.”

The report, issued from the Seattle Human Services Department, states that from September 2015 through May 2017, 759 people have been served through the sanctioned encampments, and 121 people have transitioned into a safe, permanent place to live as a result.

Nonprofit organization Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) operates the encampments, including the encampment 2826 NW Market St, in partnership with Nickelsville and SHARE.

The Ballard encampment was highly controversial when it was announced in 2015. Residents worried about an increase in crime, and nearby business-owners worried about how a camp might affect business. However, the report says, “one of the most frequently mentioned positive outcomes is the increased neighborhood resident engagement and support.”

What makes this program different, the report indicates, is due to the incorporation of structured case management services into the self-management model. “The model was without historical experience or comparisons, which meant much of the operating norms and expectations were created simultaneously with the physical setting up of the sites,” the report states. “More than one person interviewed described the experience using an analogy like, ‘We were building the airplane in the air.'”

The system seems to work: the HSD found that the self-managed governance structure allowed residents to “positively contribute to day-to-day operations and community engagement efforts while building individual confidence and leadership skills.” A general camaraderie emerged amongst residents; “Residents tell stories about how they help each other out and, how they celebrate successes and milestones.”

Other key findings of the report include the following:

  • The model is successfully serving people who have been living outside in greenbelts, on the streets, in cars and in hazardous situations.
  • Overall, the neighboring communities have responded positively and, there is no significant increase in crime when the permitted encampment moves in.
  • The encampment self-managed governance structure offers residents a way to positively contribute to day-to-day operations and community engagement efforts while building individual confidence and leadership skills.
  • The success of the first two years of the permitted encampment validates the value of adding case management and services to the self-managed encampments.
  • More research is needed to provide insight into any detrimental racial equity practices or program barriers that may exist at the permitted encampments for Black/African American, American Indian or Alaska Native and Hispanic Latino people experiencing homelessness.
  • It would be beneficial to evaluate the potential changes needed for the level of case management, staffing and supportive services offered as the make-up of the permitted encampment shifts to serve more people who have been living without shelter for long periods of time.

Photo courtesy LIHI

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