Rapid supportive housing gets Washingtonians out of unsafe living and on the path to permanent housing solutions

Gov. Jay Inslee visits Seattle tiny home village to discuss how his $800 million budget for homelessness will get more people into these programs

Governor Inslee talks with former True Hope Village resident Tracy Williams, who found permanent housing through the rapid supportive housing program after a six-month stay in 2020.

The Seattle area has always been Tracy Williams’ home, even after she couldn’t afford to live here.

“I grew up on 16th and Marion not too far from here,” she said outside the True Hope Village of tiny homes on East Yesler Way. “It really hurts me to see how everything has changed here, especially when you grew up in the area, but I just try to get through it.”

Tracy and her grown daughter — both on Social Security — lived in the same apartment for eight years when one day rent increased by nearly $500 a month. Wherever they moved, they found the same barriers. Once any lease was too far out of reach, Tracy’s daughter left for California. Tracy couch-surfed with relatives, slept in her car, tried leaving Seattle — and ultimately came back.

This is home, after all.

Williams is one of tens of thousands of Washingtonians who have found themselves homeless over the last decade. The latest point-in-time data aggregated by the Office of Financial Management in 2020 put the state’s homeless population at more than 83,000. About half were in King County.

“When you’re homeless, you can’t take care of yourself the way you want to,” Williams said. “There’s always some obstacle getting in your way.”

In January 2020, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Tracy contacted a homeless outreach program and a few days later found herself at True Hope Village, a Low Income Housing Institute tiny home village in south Seattle that gets people off the streets rapidly, connects them to health services, and helps them plot a path to permanent supportive housing.

“When I moved in, I had two storage containers of clothes, I felt very hopeless, I didn’t like myself, I didn’t care about myself,” Williams told Gov. Jay Inslee during a kitchen roundtable Tuesday at True Hope. “But when I got here, I felt safe, secure. I was able to wash my clothes, take showers.”

Inslee was at the village Tuesday as part of a day of meetings with Puget Sound advocates and government leaders on the state’s homelessness crisis while the Legislature considers more spending for policies that are proven to work. The governor’s $800 million proposal would address key gaps in facilities and services by exploring ways to help families and individuals remain in their homes; secure facilities for transitional and permanent housing; and expand behavioral health services.

“Homelessness is a crisis, it’s big, it’s in every city in Washington. We need action,” Inslee said. “We need emergency services, we need rapid supportive housing, we need long-term housing — we need all of these things.”

Tracy Williams talks about the benefits of rapid supportive housing during a kitchen round table with Gov. Jay Inslee.

When Tracy first moved to True Hope, there were long days where she was too depressed to leave her tiny home. But Williams said it wasn’t long before the safety and privacy — as well as the access to dental, vision, and medical services — gave her an empowering sense of hope.

“All these good things started happening to me while I was here,” said Williams, who moved into permanent housing six months after her arrival at True Hope. “I started meeting with my case manager two or three times a week, because I was ready to move.”

Williams isn’t the only True Hope resident to get into permanent housing. Village leaders said about 56% of the residents they’ve seen have moved on to permanent housing.

Williams said she found more than a permanent housing situation — she found a calling. Williams is now a village organizer at another tiny home village in Seattle, talking with people in situations like hers and helping residents feel safe and welcome.

“I’m giving back something that was freely given to me,” she said.

Williams is proof that a successful transition to permanent housing can start with wraparound services and safe, stable, supportive shelter. The Legislature has allocated more for these services over the last three biennia, but more is needed.

Inslee proposed more than $62 million for approximately 500 units in tiny home villages in his 2022 supplemental budget, which is just a portion of the more than $800 million in strategic investments he has proposed this year. Those proposals include $494 million for rapid supportive housing, of which $194 million is to help move people encamped on unsafe rights of way and onto the same path Williams took to permanent housing.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee stand with representatives of the Low Income Housing Institute after touring the True Hope tiny village.

The governor is also asking the Legislature to fund crisis response teams that help de-escalate problems in supportive housing units by having specially trained individuals work with those in crisis.

“We need all of these things, but this tiny home approach is extremely effective, because it’s fast, it’s private and it’s secure. And those things allow people to get back on their feet,” Inslee said. “The advantage of a tiny house is you don’t have to wait five or six years. We want housing in months. And that’s what these do.”

Williams agrees. She said the effort will also need more volunteers working to connect people with services that will get them off the streets. Getting to know people experiencing homelessness leads to an appreciation for individuals’ lived experiences over the stereotypes commonly echoed by passersby.

“When you see someone in that place, there’s something going on with that individual that happened. Something happened that got them where they are today. People want to stereotype homeless people, but they weren’t like that they’re entire life,” she said. “We don’t have one story. We all have our own stories. There’s people whose parents probably gave up on them, or lost housing because of the cost.

“I never thought I’d be homeless. It’s a good feeling to have permanent housing.”

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News and updates from Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration.

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Governor Jay Inslee

Governor Jay Inslee

Governor of Washington state. Writing about innovation, jobs, education, clean energy & my grandkids. Building a WA that works for everyone.

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