Pierce County signs on to end homelessness

The Washington Families Fund, an unprecedented public-private partnership led by Building Changes, announced March 19 it is embarking upon a new approach to end homelessness among families with children throughout the state.

The goal is to reduce the problem by 50 percent in the next decade.

The State of Washington, in collaboration with King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett and several philanthropic and corporate partners, affirmed their commitment to ending family homelessness by signing a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Under the agreement, all parties pledged to redouble their efforts to minimize shelter stays and provide critical, ongoing support services for homeless families with children, and to help families on the brink of homelessness. The MOU signatories also agreed to align existing family homelessness funding streams so that current resources can be used more efficiently and effectively and, where possible, to tap new resources to address the growing problem.

Beginning this year, King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties will pilot and tailor new strategies for meeting the unique needs of families in their communities. Pilot projects will test innovative ways to help stabilize homeless families with children, as well as those struggling to pay their mortgages or rents before they lose their homes. Lessons learned in the pilot counties will eventually be applied across communities statewide to ensure that no more Washington children are without a safe place to sleep at night.

Funders from the private sector — including the United Way of Pierce County, Boeing, Microsoft, the Campion Foundation, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and the Ben B. Cheney Foundation — pledged to coordinate resources to help support this work. The strategy outlined in the MOU will be led by Building Changes, a Seattle-based nonprofit which has guided the Washington Families Fund since 2004.

Despite much progress and support, and an estimated $200 million in combined annual funding by the state, counties, cities and private funders, the number of homeless families appears to be on the rise. Economic conditions have continued to worsen across Washington, dramatically increasing the demand for services and support.

To meet this growing need, the MOU partners have embraced five proven principles that will guide future family homelessness investments made by both public and private funders: early intervention and prevention; coordinating access to support services; rapid re-housing; providing services tailored to meet each family’s individual needs; and increasing economic opportunity through education and workforce services. The new Washington Families Fund strategy is based on innovative work in other communities across the country that have succeeded in reducing family homelessness rates.

As a lead investor in the initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committing up to $60 million over 10 years, starting with funding to support family homelessness planning efforts in the three pilot counties.