Ending homelessness regionally

“Homelessness has no boundaries or jurisdictions,” Kirsten Jewell told 65 people who gathered to address Ending Homelessness Regionally, at a Nov. 20 forum hosted by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Chief Operating Officer Annette Nesse welcomed the forum attendees, saying tribal communities have “many of the same issues — too little resources to meet ever increasing need.”

Collective effort is the key to addressing those needs and maximizing available resources, participants agreed.

Rural-suburban areas “don’t attract the same level of support as urban,” said Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County. “Regional planning allows us to go a step beyond.”

Wahto and Jewell both serve on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Ending Homelessness.

Jewell, who is the housing grant programs manager for Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, hoped the regional planning begun between Clallam and Jefferson counties in 2011 “can expand a little south to include Kitsap.”

The Kitsap council is an inter-governmental agency founded to work on transportation and land use issues, that later recognized the need to also address housing and homelessness planning regionally.

Kitsap’s Ten-Year Plan to end homelessness “took a step further to look at who’s not getting services,” Jewell said. That led to working much closer with the Department of Corrections on early release programs, which reduce incarceration costs, and to look at ways to reduce recidivism and its costs.

“Early release people are required to have housing plans, but those who serve their full sentence are released without a housing plan,” Jewell said, but a recent study on people returning from prison “really shows higher recidivism for those not supported with housing.”

Better data is coming. In 2014, the state will perform an affordable housing needs study that will gather current equivalent data, looking at what is available now and what needs to be produced looking to future.

“This is an exciting opportunity to look at affordable housing on the regional level,” said Jewell.

Equivalent data, which doesn’t exist now, will be updated every other year and will lead to better planning across the region, said Wahto.

Pam Tietz, outgoing executive director of the Peninsula Housing Authority, said the attendees, who represented 28 entities, are “a good representation of what we’re trying to accomplish.

“We have great power in regional partnerships,” she said. “Open your minds and hearts to think beyond what you might think regional is — it might be beyond contiguous counties.  Finding common ground has really helped us.”

Supportive housing program

Examples include a two-county Supportive Housing Program that master leases housing for adults with disabling conditions who were chronically homelessness. Shelter Providers Network of Clallam County established the program which was carried out by a partnership of the Housing Authority, Serenity House, West End Outreach and the behavioral health agencies in the two counties.

Starting with a grant for 15 units, SHP has served 28 households since inception, currently houses 21 individuals and could serve more people under a second grant that doubled program capacity.
Veterans are served by multiple collaborative programs, including VASH housing vouchers, rent assistance and housing at Sarge’s Place in Forks, with four more units called the Outpost being prepared to open in January in Port Angeles.

“SHP and VASH both provide longterm stability for the first time for many of the participants,” Tietz said. “Some were homeless more than 10 years.”
Paired with SHP and VASH, is a five-county regional Northwest Rural Supportive Services for Veteran Families partnership, which was the only rural SSVF grant awarded in the nation.

“It was our idea,” Wahto said, “but we partnered with Whatcom because the Opportunity Council in Bellingham had the capacity to serve as lead is the lead. Smaller counties would not have been able to carry administrative load on grant of this size.

“By partnering together, we present a more attractive package for those providing funding, and more effective outcomes,” she said. The rural SSVF is rated No. 3 in the country for productivity and outcomes after three years.

Such partnerships fit the advocated by United Way agencies’ Collective Impact Initiative, said Jody Moss, executive director of United Way of Clallam County. The framework of a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing actions, continuous communication and backbone support works for any project, she said.

New partnerships

Two emerging partnerships that are building capacity were highlighted.

In Jefferson County, a grassroots Shelter-to-Housing Partnership started meeting in June, said Kathy Morgan, director of Olympic Community Action’s housing programs. Community members, partnering agencies, city council and planning commission members reformatted the Housing Action Plan Network to be more like Clallam County’s Shelter Providers Network. A subcommittee meets every other Tuesday to work on updating their 10-year plan. News goes out to an e-mail list of 60 people and 20-30 are active at every meeting, Morgan said.

On the other side of the peninsula, the West End Housing Collaboration has begun meeting, organized by Ann Simpson, executive director of Forks Abuse Program, and Sarah Sanders, housing director and contracts coordinator for West End Outreach Services, the mental health division of Forks Community Hospital.

A lot has been accomplished in the West End because “we all play well in same sandbox,” said Cheri Tinker, formerly with WEOS and now with Sarge’s Place. Connectivity and connections have enabled them to “identify what’s needed and make it happen,” she said.

The new collaboration sub-committee builds on those connections, Simpson said. “The West End is more distant and we learned from Shelter Providers and the Homelessness Task Force the importance of partnerships.”

Forks Community Hospital is stepping up as an active housing partner, Sanders said. It will donate land on which to build 20-30 units for those hardest to house — felons and chronically mentally ill people who need intensive case management “so they don’t blow out of housing,” she said.

Tribal perspective

Representatives from the Quileute and Hoh Tribes are attending the West End meetings, as both those tribes work to create safe housing, on-reservation, on recently acquired dry land.

Throughout the Hoh’s lengthy land acquisition process, they have had a stagnant waiting list of 50 members. “It’s been the same list for years,” Simpson said. Because of the need to build infrastructure first, construction of housing is still 10 years out.

The same issues and timeline impact the Quileutes at La Push.

The desperate need for new housing, combined with lack of employment, has many tribal members, who would prefer to live on their reservation, instead living in Forks, which affects housing availability and affordability there.

Simpson said 75 percent of the women in Forks Abuse Program’s shelter are tribal members. Two low-income housing projects, Catherine of Sienna Village and Burke Place, “filled right up,” she said. The only rentals available are old houses that are expensive to heat, and home prices have been driven up. You can’t buy a nice place to live for $100,000 in Forks now,” Simpson said.

Tribal members are not typically seen as homeless because the culture is for families to take care of their own, but all peninsula reservations report high rates of overcrowded, multi-generational housing, with a growing demographic that cannot be housed due to substance abuse and mental health issues.

At Neah Bay, the Makah Tribal Council is addressing housing as part of a health and wellness program.

The Makah is one of only two tribes in the United States working on service enriched housing for chronically homeless members. A 21-unit Permanent Supportive Housing project is under construction, slated to open in late August, and another 90-plus housing units are being built for tribal members who do not have those high barriers to housing.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe doesn’t have capacity to develop service-enriched housing at this time, but will work toward it, said Casey Thrush, housing coordinator. The majority of the Jamestown housing program is providing rental assistance to tribal members in East Jefferson County and in Clallam as far west as Port Angeles.

“We have a large problem with overcrowding as families like to take care of themselves,” Thrush said, but there is no reservation on which to build housing."

Instead, the S’Klallam Tribe buys homes in the community. Several years ago they bought a seven-unit complex in Sequim and are now purchasing duplexes, getting two units for near the same cost as a single family home.

 “We purchase scattered site homes, based on budget, and we have a very long waiting list,” Thrush said. “It’s first come, first served. When a rental home comes available, it’s offered to the next person on the list, to take or pass and stay on the list.”

Financially secure renters are encouraged and helped to prepare for home ownership with budget and home maintenance classes “to make sure their home will last for their lifetime and their family’s lifetime,” she said.

“We talk about what their desire is – targeting to get the younger generation on the path to employment and home ownership,” Thrush said. “We try to be the primary source for our families, but sometimes we not able to assist so we appreciate partners.”

Housing essential to health

“Housing needs to be part of every community health improvement plan,” Wahto noted, as the forum segued to a conversation on affordable senior housing.

Roy Walker, executive director of Olympic Area Agency on Aging — popularly known as O3A — said 31 percent of the population of his agency’s four-county region qualifies as “older,” compared to 16 percent statewide.

O3A goes through a planning process every four years to identify issues and has seven offices providing service coordination to help people connect to resources in their community.

“Health care reform is taking over a large role and stable housing links to health,” Walker said. “Housing costs are a significant driver to how well seniors can maintain independence.”

He sees an opportunity to shift away from the very expensive medical model to a service model and called for cultural change, reframing what longterm care looks like and thinking about new ways to structure services and actively engage seniors as we develop services.

“Government is not going to come save us,” Walker said. “We’re all on a trajectory of interdependence. We need to recognize there’s a gift in giving and in receiving … and build reciprocity with our community so people will help when we need it.”

“We have a lot of the same issues,” said Cynthia Graham, deputy executive director of Senior Housing Assistance Group, or SHAG, which has more than 4,700 tax credit based, senior housing units in 31 locations in five counties from Olympia to Bellingham. Tax credit projects have no funding source except rent payments.

SHAG’s are in suburban and urban areas, which often lack a sense of community connectedness, but residents need more services they as age in place.

Managers are not trained for social service work, but they are encountering “some extreme issues,” she said, including suicides and substance abuse.
“We have to figure out how to make services happen,” Graham said. “We may not have legal responsibility, but we have moral responsibility to provide services — we’re looking at how we can pay for that.”  

A supportive board of directors formed a secondary sister organization to address supportive services. They are venturing into fundraising and grant writing, pursuing partnerships and beginning to train property manager to make referrals, she said.

For successful partnerships and innovations, Graham said, “Be the best partner you can be. Learn and then get creative.”

Tietz recognized

The forum closed by recognizing Pam Tietz as the Housing Hero of Clallam County and Jefferson County for her leadership and collaborative approach in pursuit of ending homelessness and providing affordable housing during her years of service as executive director of the Peninsula Housing Authority.

Tietz, who has headed the Housing Authority for nearly 20 years, is leaving in December to become executive director of the Spokane Housing Authority.

Clallam County Human Services Director Iva Burks presented a certificate of appreciation from the board of commissioners and lauded Tietz for her vision.

David Rymph, a member of the PHA board, and the last chairman and last executive director of the Jefferson County Housing Authority, took credit for selling Tietz on the idea of merging the Clallam and Jefferson Housing Authorities.

Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said Tietz’s “advice and insight is tremendous.”

“My job has been about building relationships,” Tietz said. “That encompasses our success. My staff is the best and they will still be here and they will still need you. Support them. In going to Spokane, I was hired to do that job — to build partnerships. It’s a two-way street. You have all been partners—incredible.”

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