What is viewed by many as an invisible problem in Edmonds got a face Tuesday night, as the Edmonds City Council heard real-world stories about community members who are homeless.
Among them: a middle-aged man who grew up in Edmonds, and has been staying in a park for the past eight years. A couple in their 20s living out of their van. A middle-aged couple living in their RV. Some were thrown into homelessness due to family crisis. Others lost their savings due to chronic health challenges. None of them expected to be — or chose to be — homeless, consultants hired by the city said.
A dozen local homeless residents were interviewed as part of the study, the first step in an Edmonds City Council initiative aimed at addressing homelessness in Edmonds. The council in 2017 allocated $250,000 toward addressing the homelessness issue. An assessment conducted by Edmonds-based Koné Consulting reported on the extent of homelessness here so the council could “make informed decisions” on the best ways to meet the community’s needs, Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said in introducing the presentation.
You can view the entire report here.
Koné President Alicia Koné, who was assisted in her presentation by consultant Karin Ellis, said her company was assigned four tasks: To estimate, to the best of their ability, the number of people in Edmonds who are either homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless; to inventory services in Edmonds for homeless individuals; to look at existing or potential funding streams that could support homeless services; and to interview other cities about “promising practices” they have implemented to address the issue.
In compiling the report, the consultants interviewed 63 people with a range of perspectives on homelessness, including faith-based leaders, human services providers, emergency responders and grocery store managers. They also collected data, and found that population-level information from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was most reliable, Ellis said. That’s because it could be aggregated by the 98020 and 98026 ZIP codes — minus the Town of Woodway — to get city-specific information.
By using that data, the consultants determined that approximately 230 Edmonds residents are currently experiencing homeless. That was defined as living in an emergency shelter, in someone else’s home (for example, “couch surfing”), or somewhere “that is not typically sleeping quarters for humans” — which DSHS uses to define homelessness under state law, she added.
Family crisis was the most common reason cited for being homeless, but environmental factors mentioned included rising housing costs and stagnant wages. Unique to Edmonds is fact that 60 percent of the city’s housing is single-family homes — two-thirds of residents are homeowners and one-third are renters. As of 2015, more than 30 percent of Edmonds residents are “cost-burdened,” meaning they are spending 30 to 50 percent of their income on housing, Ellis explained. Also unique to Edmonds: Homeowners are more cost-burdened than renters — the opposite is true in surrounding areas, including Seattle and King County, she noted.
Many think Edmonds doesn’t have homelessness because you don’t see people sleeping on the street. But being homeless is often hidden here, Ellis said. “These are situations where people are staying with friends and family, couch surfing, maybe staying in an RV in someone’s backyard, maybe staying in an RV in church that’s offering a safe place but not as visible to the public.”
Based on DSHS data, over 80 percent of those who are homeless in Edmonds are between the ages of 18-64, and people of color are disproportionately affected. “Though white people represent over 80 percent of the Edmonds population, they only represent 66 percent of the homeless population,” Ellis said. African Americans are 1 percent of the Edmonds population, but make up 10 percent of the city’s homeless, she added.
About 20 percent of the homeless population here is elderly, blind or disabled, she said
Senior citizens are the smallest portion of the current homeless population but they are believed to be at the most risk of becoming homeless due to fixed incomes and rising property taxes and costs of medications.
While there are a range of resources available in Edmonds to help those who are homeless — from churches to the Edmonds Senior Center to the Edmonds Food Bank — a missing element is a cold-weather shelter. The Edmonds Senior Center used to serve as a cold-weather shelter but that was discontinued in anticipation of the building’s demolition to make way for a new multigenerational waterfront activity center.
When the consultants asked service providers what their greatest needs were for assisting the homeless, the first one listed — not surprisingly — was affordable housing. The second priority was community engagement, reflecting a concern by service providers “that people in Edmonds — in this community — don’t realize that there are people in need who live here. And that there is some community education, engagement and outreach are needed,” Ellis said.
In terms of best practices from other cities — among them Beaverton, Ore., Salt Lake City and Spokane — that Edmonds could implement to address homelessness, the consultants summarized those as follows:
– Develop a regional collaborative response, especially in an area like South Snohomish County where the geographic boundaries between cities isn’t well-defined.
– Work to preserve the affordable housing that Edmonds has and help landlords ensure that existing units are healthy for people to live in.
– Conduct ongoing data collection and monitoring.
– Seek new funding sources to address the issue.
The study also examined human services funding across nearby municipalities — along with those included in the “best practices research” — and noted that, unlike the other cities, Edmonds doesn’t currently dedicate any city funds to human services needs, nor are their city staff “solely” dedicated to human services. The city could also provide its own grant money in order to attract matching dollars for projects, she added.
Given the nearly $200 million in both public and private funding currently allocated to Washington State’s homeless housing systems, the City of Edmonds has an opportunity to attract funding to prevent and address homelessness, Ellis said.
When it came time for final recommendations, community outreach and education is a good place to start, Ellis said. This includes sharing stories of community members who are experiencing homelessness. Increasing the city’s collaborative efforts with other municipalities and agencies is also important, as is preserving affordable housing and preventing displacement of current residents. Having a staff person dedicated to addressing these issues would also help.
Finally, the consultants stressed the importance of taking a proactive approach to address the problem of homelessness, before it gets worse.
“We’re relatively well off in this community and in my experience we are filled with good-hearted people,” Koné, an Edmonds resident, said. “And I believe that the city has an opportunity to prevent crisis by doing more for the people who need help here.”
The council then discussed the results of the report and asked questions of the consultants. One item noted, in terms of community collaboration, was the fact that the city has set aside $250,000 to be used toward a City of Lynnwood proposal to purchase the Rodeo Inn Motel on Highway 99 — with the goal of housing homeless families in the Edmonds School District.
Fraley-Monillas said the council will have an hour to discuss the matter further at its March 5 meeting, with the goal of developing policy recommendations aimed at addressing homelessness in Edmonds.
Councilmember Mike Nelson said that he hopes the report will reinforce the idea “that we’re not just talking about homeless, we are talking about people. We’re talking about veterans. We’re talking about children. We’re talking about someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s son. And this is something that we clearly need to take a serious look at in our city.”
The council also:
– Held a public hearing on an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic dining utensils and straws. After a suggestion by newly announced city council candidate Vivian Olson that the measure could hurt the city’s numerous bubble tea shops, which use plastic straws for their unique product, the council passed an amendment would allow for waivers for those businesses that can’t find an acceptable substitute. The council agreed to place the amended measure on next week’s consent calendar for approval. The effective date of the ordinance would align with the effective date of council-approved ordinance in January 2019 that bans non-compostable food packaging items in Edmonds.
– Heard the 2018 Public Defender’s Office annual report and an update from Community Transit.
— By Teresa Wippel