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With homelessness rising, KCRHA-backed nonprofits call for more housing, funding

(The Center Square) – Nonprofit organizations working to address the worsening homelessness crisis in King County say the need for housing is higher than the region’s current capacity, even as more public dollars are funneled to the cause.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has served as the organization responsible for coordinating funding and services for unhoused people across all of King County since 2019.

The agency funded 60 organizations with $167.8 million as part of its 2024 budget, according to documents obtained by The Center Square. The agency’s funding for nonprofit organizations increased from approximately $134.7 million in 2022 to $169 million in 2023.

The majority of the agency’s funding stems from a partnership between both the City of Seattle and King County, with Seattle providing 42%, or $104.67 million, of the agency’s 2024 budget.

Despite the increased funding, King County’s latest count of unhoused people revealed 16,385 homeless people living throughout the region, a 22.6% increase from the last point-in-time count conducted by the county in 2022.

The five nonprofit organizations with the largest portion of funding from KCRHA are: Catholic Community Services ($19.7 million), the Salvation Army ($17.4 million), the Downtown Emergency Service Center ($15.6 million), the Low Income Housing Institute ($14.5 million) and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

Catholic Community Services and the Salvation Army are faith-based organizations.

The consensus solution to solve homelessness among the KCRA-backed nonprofit organizations that spoke to The Center Square is more housing.

This mindset aligns with KCRHA’s housing-first approach, which the agency estimates to potentially cost $450 million to $1.1 billion per year over the next 10 years as part of a plan to increase housing.

Mary’s Place is a nonprofit organization that works to address family homelessness specifically by providing emergency shelter and other resources for families who are unhoused. Only 17% of the organization’s budget comes from public sources, according to Mary’s Place CEO Dominique Alex.

KCRHA is providing Mary’s Place with $2.67 million this year.

Alex told The Center Square that the need for homeless services has greatly increased in recent years, with the organization seeing a daily waitlist of 50 to 60 people looking to use its services. According to Alex, all shelter providers across King County “are filled to the brim and there are only one to three beds available each day.”

“Last year around this time, we had between 20-30 callers a day,” Alex told The Center Square in a phone call. “It has now doubled and needs are becoming more complex.”

Mary’s Place has 650 beds across three shelters in Bellevue, downtown Seattle and Burien. Prior to June 30, the organization had five shelters, but consolidated in order to move away from operating congregate shelters, where guests live in open rooms divided by curtains. The three shelters provided individual rooms for health and safety reasons.

The Low Income Housing Institute, also referred to as LIHI, is one of the region’s biggest providers of affordable housing. It provides affordable housing to people exiting homelessness and working-class people, as well as shelter through its Tiny House Village program.

According to LIHI CSO Jon Grant, the organization has more than 3,500 units of housing across six counties in the broader Puget Sound region.

Grant told The Center Square that KCRHA manages LIHI’s contracts, with Seattle and King County funding the organization to support its Tiny House Village program, which served 1,172 people last year.

Grant added that more progressive tax revenue sources will be needed in order to build more affordable housing in the region. Seattle already has the JumpStart Payroll Tax, which is projected to generate over $285 million this year. The tax is paid by Seattle businesses with at least $8.5 million in local annual payroll.

A representative from the Downtown Emergency Service Center, also known as DESC, did not speak with The Center Square, but DESC Communications & Community Relations Manager Claire Tuohy-Morgan explained in an email that DESC helps homeless people with complex needs to address substance use disorders and serious mental illness.

DESC has built 17 affordable permanent supportive housing sites for single adults who are chronically homeless and are living with disabilities, including substance abuse disorders, mental illness and physical infirmities.

While the majority of nonprofit organizations working to address homelessness emphasize a housing-first approach, some also provide services related to substance abuse and behavioral health care. For instance, DESC partners with Harborview Medical Center to provide primary care and behavioral health care to people in need.

Both DESC and Mary’s Place conduct outreach on the streets and provide mobile crisis care as well.

DESC and LIHI received a combined $30.1 million from KCRHA. That represents 18% of KCRHA’s $167.8 million in distributed funding. Both DESC and LIHI had employees with salaries of over $250,000 in 2022, the most recent year of tax filing information available.

DESC Psychiatrist Christopher Gross made $251,732 in 2022. LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee had a salary of $308,766 in 2022, which was a 21.8% increase from her 2021 compensation of $253,462.

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