February 19, 2019
Why we are stepping out of “our lane” to address homelessness in Seattle, King County
By Katie Hong
Director, Special Initiatives

Last year, McKinsey and Co. released a report on homelessness that spelled out in stark detail what many of us who live in and around Seattle already knew—despite everything we have done to stem the tide, homelessness is getting worse.

The report cited the region’s painful lack of affordable housing as a chief culprit among an array of compounding factors, including loss of job and substance abuse. It also, counterintuitively, showed how much our homelessness crisis response system has improved over the years. From 2016 to 2017 alone, our government partners moved 35 percent more households into permanent housing, and yet the number of people on streets has continued to rise. There’s no doubt we’re getting better at helping people move from homelessness to housing—but as it stands the system simply can’t keep pace with the number of people falling into homelessness.

And at precisely the time that we need all hands on deck to solve this challenge, excess energy has been spent on political infighting in the absence of a clear coordinated plan to address the problem. The truth is that, as a community, we haven’t yet come to agreement on a shared understanding of the problem, let alone our goals and what it will take to solve it.

At the Raikes Foundation, we have prioritized preventing and ending youth homelessness since 2012 because we believe every young person deserves a solid foundation on which to build their lives—a safe home, an enriching education and support from adults who can offer guidance and help. We’ve honed in on a strategy to ensure that youth homelessness is rare, and if it does happen, it is brief and that it only happens to a young person once. We believe strongly that when we prevent youth from experiencing homelessness, we prevent a lifetime of chronic adult homelessness.

And while the foundation will remain focused on preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness as a key priority, we have decided to step outside of our “lane” to work alongside a wide coalition of advocates, service providers, government, philanthropy and business leaders to solve the growing homelessness crisis in King County. This will include exploring how we can add value and the level of investment of resources and time required.

Why are we taking this on?

First, it is just the right thing to do. Our trustees recognize that when our community is experiencing a crisis of this magnitude, it requires everyone to work together toward a solution. We are neighbors, and we owe it to each other to help people who are already experiencing homelessness and those who inch closer every day.

Second, the work we’ve been doing to prevent and end youth homelessness has given us a strong foundation of knowledge and know-how to contribute to a solution for the region. We have experience in supporting the use of improvement science to test and scale new strategies to both reduce the number of young people who fall into homelessness and improve the system’s ability to move young people into permanent housing. We have also helped to center input and guidance from young people with lived expertise in our community’s response to youth homelessness.

I will be supporting this regional work, as well as other time-bound projects, in my new capacity at the foundation: Director of Special Initiatives. I’ll be working in concert with our co-founder Tricia Raikes, as well as in close partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ballmer Group, Vulcan, Microsoft, Campion Foundation and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

I am also excited that Casey Trupin, who has been my colleague and partner in the youth homelessness strategy since 2015, will be stepping into the Director of Youth Homelessness position starting in April 2019. You can read more about that exciting change here

Homelessness is an urgent and complex challenge, but I’m confident our city and our region can rise to meet it. I am gratified by the wide and deep level of commitment I’m seeing across our community to end homelessness once and for all. Everyone can and should have a safe place to call home, and I’m confident our region will lead the way in proving it can be done.