System Transformation: Housing-Focused Emergency Shelter

All Home and our partners are engaged in an ongoing system transformation process, shifting to a person-centered, housing-focused, low barrier, and data-driven homeless crisis response system, to reach our collective goals of reducing racial disparities and making homelessness rare, brief and one-time in King County. Centering results for the most vulnerable members of our community helps us determine what is working and what gaps still need to be addressed. And, one question we must consistently ask “Is shelter being used effectively both to provide immediate safety AND to create quick paths to permanent housing?”

Catholic Community Services’ St. Martin de Porres Shelter has been providing critical emergency services to elderly men experiencing homelessness for over 30 years. St. Martin de Porres has increased their diverse case management team and instituted weekly case manager meetings for peer-learning opportunities. Many men experiencing homelessness in their shelter face high barriers to housing and have spent decades living unsheltered, sparking staff’s focus on developing meaningful relationships with clients. One such client who found housing last year had been sleeping at the shelter since 2004.

Though not intended for long-term dwelling, St. Martin de Porres’ 212 mats on the floor are full every night, consistent with the high demand for shelter across King County. In 2016, 123 shelter stayers were housed and so far in 2017, St. Martin de Porres has already housed 80 men, on track for at least 160 by year-end. More people moving out of shelter is significant, in the space created for others to find pathways to housing through emergency shelter, and most importantly in the lives of those served.
Gary was housed in March of 2017 with help from a case manager at St. Martin de Porres. “Housing has made me more comfortable,” said Gary. “I am more able to enjoy life and I can sleep at night.

To strengthen our models of emergency shelter, we must also embrace innovation and change. The City of Seattle, in partnership with DESC will open the Navigation Center later this month. This 24-hour low-barrier shelter is designed to accommodate the unique needs of individuals living unsheltered with intensive, individualized case management services fiercely focused on permanent housing and similar models have shown promising results.

Involvement of the entire community in solutions to homelessness is also critical to impactful change. As Katy Miller, Regional Coordinator for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness shared, “In expensive housing markets, the lack of units and access to affordable housing contribute to the long timeframes that people remain unhoused… Neighborhoods cannot continue to hold contentious meetings about homelessness in their streets and parks without then stepping up to see what they can do to create solutions — be it via their faith communities, as private landlords renting to people exiting homelessness, as vocal supporters of new housing developments, as volunteers in effective Housing First programs, or through many other ways they can help.”

Do you have a system transformation story you would like to be featured in a future All Home newsletter? We want to hear from you.