Everett Explains Low Barrier Housing

May 20, 2016

Everett, Everett Government

low barrier housing

An ariel view of the site provided by the City of Everett.

On May 11th the Everett City Council approved a request for proposals for an organization to build and operate low barrier housing at a site selected near Pecks and Evergreen Way.

The City has promised there will be lots of outreach and public involvement on the low barrier housing campaign. As far as local neighborhood outreach, MyEverettNews.com spoke with several businesses in the area and all said they have not yet heard directly from the city.

Yesterday though, the City of Everett released this Q+A on how it plans to move ahead with this development…

1. What are Housing First principles?
Homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem and should be treated as such. Housing is a right to which all are entitled. People who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness should be returned to, or stabilized in, permanent housing as quickly as possible, and connected to resources necessary to sustain that housing. Issues that may have contributed to a household’s homelessness can best be addressed once they are housed.

2. Who is homeless in Everett?
In 2016, during the annual homeless census, 286 people were found without housing in Everett. More than half (153 people) had no access to shelter- 14 of them were veterans, 25 were youth under the age of 25, and 114 were identified as chronically homeless individuals.

3. Why are they homeless? Do they choose to be homeless?
Most people without housing are not homeless by choice. Homelessness results from the interaction of complex and dynamic circumstances. The most commonly cited reasons for homelessness in Snohomish County were job loss (31%), a family break-up or crisis (25%), alcohol or drug use (22%), mental illness (14%), eviction (14%), and medical problems/illness (11%). Nationally, additional reasons for homelessness include lack of affordable housing and high enough living wage.

4. Will people move to Everett because they want to take advantage of this housing?
Research has shown that people without housing move to various locations for many of the same reasons, and at similar rates, as non-homeless people. In most cities, approximately 60-80% of people experiencing homelessness had their last permanent residence in that same city. About two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness stay in the same city after becoming homeless there. For those who did not become homeless in the city they were residing in, commonly reported reasons for moving to their current city included having family or friends in the area, or hopes of obtaining employment.

5. Why is chronic homelessness so prevalent?
Despite some reductions in the total number of people experiencing homelessness, we are observing increased rates of homelessness among certain groups of people. The largest of these groups is unaccompanied, single males. There is very limited funding (and hence few housing programs) for this population, so there has not been significant positive progress in reducing homelessness among this group.

6. Why do we need low-barrier housing in our community?
Many supportive housing programs require sobriety (some require substantial clean time) for adults with chronic substance use issues and/or require people with a mental illness to be taking psychotropic medications. Many others will not take people coming directly from the streets, people with criminal histories, or people with poor credit. With an estimated 40-60% of chronically homeless people having a chronic substance use issue, or a severe and persistent mental illness, and more than 40% having a history of incarceration, these requirements make permanent supportive housing out of reach for a huge number of vulnerable people who are chronically homeless.

7. What are the requirements for low-barrier housing?
Admissions policies for permanent supportive housing are designed to “screen-in” rather than screen-out applicants with the greatest barriers to housing, such as having no or very low income, poor rental history and past evictions, or criminal histories. Housing programs may have tenant selection policies that prioritize people who have been homeless the longest or who have the highest service needs as evidenced by vulnerability assessments or the high utilization of crisis services.

People experiencing homelessness are offered permanent housing with no programmatic preconditions such as demonstration of sobriety, completion of alcohol or drug treatment, or agreeing to comply with a treatment regimen upon entry into the program. People are also not required to first enter a transitional housing program in order to enter permanent housing.

Many people experiencing chronic homelessness may experience anxiety and uncertainty during a lengthy housing application and approval process. In order to mitigate this, Housing First permanent supportive housing models make efforts to help people experiencing homelessness move into permanent housing as quickly as possible, streamlining application and approval processes, and reducing wait times.

8. Why did Everett select this model (single-access point) and not tiny house village or something else?
‘Tiny homes’ are one model for subsidized permanent supportive housing. Everett has considered a variety of housing ideas including ‘tiny homes’ and determined that focusing on a single-access facility would be the most effective goal to address the necessary utilities, supportive services, and 24-hour-a-day safety measures that are critical for low-barrier supportive housing. Discussions with local low-income housing developers helped determine that the best long-term strategy for Everett is to build a permanent, secure, supportive apartment building.

9. What will the facility look like?
The brand new high-quality facility will be designed by the selected housing developer with the local neighborhood in mind. At this point, no design plans have been made nor has it been finalized where the final site will be located on the property. The facility will have a secure entrance with access for residents and professional staff only.

10. What do the units look like? What’s in them?
Most permanent supportive housing facilities are equipped with studio and one-bedroom units that look like any other apartment unit you would see elsewhere in the community. They are sturdily built with safety features in mind.

11. How are we choosing who gets housed and who doesn’t?
The county utilizes the Coordinated Entry System for all who are seeking housing. It has criteria for measuring an individual’s risk of illness and harm, which helps identify who is in greatest need for housing. In addition, CHART, the Chronic Utilizer Alternative Response Team, will prioritize the individuals who have been identified as our highest users of multiple systems and who need a supportive living environment to become stable.

12. What types of supportive services are in Housing First sites?
Supportive services are voluntary, but will be used to persistently engage tenants to ensure housing stability. While supportive services are proactively offered to help tenants achieve and maintain housing stability, tenants maintain their choice to participate. Encouragement and support with substance abuse and mental health treatment will be offered at all stages of tenancy. Best practices such as harm reduction and motivational interviewing for individuals who are treatment resistant are also useful.

13. What kind of rights do tenants in low-barrier facilities have?
Tenants have full rights, responsibilities, and legal protections. The ultimate goal of the Housing First approach is to help people experiencing homelessness achieve long-term housing stability in permanent housing. Permanent housing is defined as housing where tenants have leases that confer the full rights, responsibilities, and legal protections under federal, state, and local housing laws. Tenants are educated about their lease terms, given access to legal assistance, and encouraged to exercise their full legal rights and responsibilities. Landlords and providers in Housing First models abide by their legally defined roles and obligations.

14. What about providing housing for youth and families?
There is a wide range of housing needs in Everett and Snohomish County and many local organizations are working to increase available housing stock for everyone who needs it. This facility will house individual adults; other local agencies such as Housing Hope and Cocoon House provide services for families and youth.

15. How is this different than unregulated “clean and sober” housing?
This housing will have 24/7 trained staff on site to monitor and provide case management support. Many”clean and sober” homes do not have any staffing or support services on site.
The provider that will be selected to manage and operate the permanent supportive housing facility will meet the qualifications set forth by the City and will have direct experience in the financing, development, construction, and operation of low-barrier housing. The organization will be required to follow all regulatory statutes.

16. Is this a treatment center?
No, this is a housing facility – but services that directly support the residents, such as addiction support groups or medical screenings, may take place at the site. The facility is not intended to become licensed as a treatment center or medical facility.

You can see more on the plans for low barrier housing and Everett’s Safe Streets Initiative here.

About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

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