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Access and recovery: A conversation about the transitional housing of individuals experiencing homelessness

Access and recovery: A conversation about the transitional housing of individuals experiencing homelessness

Homelessness in Seattle is obviously not a new topic. It is constantly in discussion, stemming primarily from the fact that Seattle is home to the country's third largest homeless population. 

It’s a population that continues to grow as the pandemic and inflation cause housing prices to skyrocket in “unprecedented times” — a phrase everyone is most certainly tired of hearing. 

These “unprecedented times” have left an “unprecedented” number of people in need of jobs, homes, healthcare, and education. With more people in need of housing, shelters fill up fast, and people have no choice but to reside on the streets.

Many dehumanize those experiencing homelessness and consider them as more of a “pest” that needs to be removed. But history has proved that simply “moving” those experiencing homelessness to alternative locations does not make the issue disappear.

If it’s not apparent, the issue is not the homeless individuals themselves, but the structure that society has built for them. It is a structure in which you need money and stable housing to succeed, and get punished if you are found lacking.

So, what happens when those with money decide they don’t want you in their neighborhood anymore?

On May 17, Edmonds City Council passed an ordinance making it unlawful to remain on public property overnight. The ordinance was considered unconstitutional until Snohomish County gave the green light to purchase two hotels to be converted into transitional housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, King County pursued a similar course of action, as they too purchased hotels to be used as shelters.

“The initial purpose was to limit the spread of COVID-19, and cause fewer outbreaks,” Gregg Colburn, assistant professor of real estate and contributor to a study of the King County non-congregate emergency shelters, said.

The purchasing of these hotels, while initially solely meant for combatting COVID-19, quickly proved to be effective in other ways.

“Individuals at the non-congregate shelters began to have better life outcomes,” Colburn said. “Their well-being improved, they were less prone to conflict, and had an easier time going to job interviews and doctor appointments.”

The success of the non-congregate shelters in King County proves how important stability is, and suggests that transitional housing shelters will be a positive addition to Snohomish County.

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The hotels purchased by Snohomish County, Days Inn in Everett and America’s Best Value Inn in Edmonds, are reported to go beyond outbreak prevention protocols. 

The county intends to provide “wraparound services,” implying access to more services other than just health care needs. Some of which include providing residents access to employment opportunities, mental health resources, substance use recovery programs, as well as food and hygiene needs.

“With 24/7 housing, a person is often assigned a bed, and it is found more effective because it creates a routine,” Josephine Ensign, professor at the School of Nursing and author of “Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety,” said. “Case managers will know where people are, find what they want, and can build trust.”

Trust is important for people who do not have consistent housing, as well as routines resulting from these 24/7 options.

“Recovery programs do not work if people are forced,” Ensign said.

Shelters or different types of housing should never require residents to participate in their programs, but they should always be required to offer them.

“Have options for people,” Ensign said. “Have a place where other people are going through recovery. It helps with chaos and triggers. It creates a trusting relationship, a form of motivational interviewing.” 

Stability is not just in housing, but in the people surrounding a community. Roles similar to public health nurses are so important because they know the community, and are used to meeting people where they’re at.

It is easy to jump to a solution when you don’t understand the mindset of an individual experiencing homelessness. 

It is not a fault, but simply a truth that you cannot expedite an individual's transition just because you wish them to leave your neighborhood. Only upon providing access to those experiencing homelessness will those individuals be able to recover and transition. 

While it is not as simple as those two words, providing access and stability is a start to understanding a not-so-unprecedented occurrence in today's “unprecedented times.”

Reach writer Emma Schwichtenberg at Twitter: @emaroswitz

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(1) comment


It is doubtful that students want homeless anywhere near campus. A casual stroll through r/udub will show people in quasi-fear of the Ave.

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