King County program: Helping keep people from becoming homeless

SEATTLE -- A new shift in fighting the homeless crisis aims to slow the problem by stopping life on the street before it even starts.

King County announced Tuesday that it helped more than 3,000 people stay in housing instead of falling into homelessness.

County Executive Dow Constantine was joined by dozens of families for the one-year anniversary of the homeless prevention program funded by a voter levy.

“We were homeless for a bit, sleeping in our car,” said a woman named Adrina, flanked by her young son Antonio. She lost child support and a job, and faced domestic violence. She saw what was happening around her and reached out for help. Now she has housing. And a new job.

“I`ve noticed such a positive turnaround for not only him, but myself,” she said.

Some of the program’s initial $4.1 million has gone to job interview training, transportation options to get there, some help with lagging utility payments and more.

It's about prevention, says case manager Tanya Robertson-Brooks.

“To get families and children before they cross over to that homelessness threshold,” she said.

Part of that includes rent help to avoid eviction. It's called stabilization. Robertson-Brooks said she has helped keep 30 clients’ living situations secure.

But she said it underscores the serious need for more affordable housing, especially in south King County.

“So that families don't struggle once they do stabilize. Because it seems once they stabilize, then the rent's up,” she said.

Constantine and the county say these aren't just handouts though. If people get this assistance, they are very limited for other forms of aide.

It's an issue of accountability.

They say nearly one-quarter of people in the program have gotten no money at all. That could mean job assistance or negotiating with a landlord for free. Simple services that make a difference.

Constantine says the endless cycle of spending on shelters isn't an option anymore.

“This is a dramatically less expensive approach for the public, not even factoring the harm that's prevented,” he said.