Working Together to Serve our Most Vulnerable Neighbors

  • Daniel Malone
  • Executive Director
  • DESC

On any given day, DESC serves almost 3,500 clients.

Half of this group, 1,679 to be exact, are safely housed now but were homeless when we first encountered them. Many live in buildings we own and operate, while some live in other housing but receive ongoing treatment or other services from DESC.

Additionally, we serve 1,700 currently homeless clients in one way or another every day: in shelters, employment programs, behavioral health treatment, crisis intervention, and other services. Our aim is to end their homelessness and help restore them to fuller participation in the life of the community.

It isn’t easy. Every day, Seattle's population grows by 50 people, but adds only 12 units of housing. This puts pressure on rent prices, which results in more people with low incomes unable to afford a place to live. It’s clear we need to be doing a lot more to come up with enough housing for everyone who needs it.

Here are a few things that illustrate the kind of wrap-around support we provide our clients every day:

  • Creating more housing and shelter: in the last year we added 100 new emergency shelter beds, 97 new permanent supportive housing units, and 200 additional apartments through rent subsidy programs. We broke ground on a new building with 91 more apartments in November. -Ending homelessness: We will help a few people move into housing today, lowering the number of people living on the street. One exciting effort we have had identifies the people living long-term in homeless shelters, who also have substance use disorders, and works to get them into housing. This team has housed 128 people from this group in the past 18 months.
  • Providing wraparound support with case management: Last year, our case managers held more than 85,000 sessions with clients to help them manage their finances, set goals for mental health and chemical dependency counseling, and overcome various barriers to housing.
  • Helping clients pay their bills: We help our clients manage their money, serving as protective payee for more than 500 of them, processing roughly $18,000 of client funds every weekday. We write checks for rent and other expenses, and distribute cash to clients in amounts they can manage.
  • Helping clients access their medicine: We also help our clients manage their medicine. The volume is high: about every 70 seconds between morning and bedtime a DESC staff person is helping a client access and take their medicine.
  • Working with first responders and other emergency services: Every day, we can expect our phones to ring at least 12 times with referrals from law enforcement, hospitals, or the King County Jail seeking shelter or other survival services. Additionally, 10 times today, a first responder unit in King County will call asking for help in diverting a person in crisis from the hospital or jail. Our team will travel across the county to come up with a safe and appropriate action plan in the best interests of the client.

A largely overlooked portion of our work is partnering with other service organizations to meet our clients' needs in ways that also best serve our community. Nowhere is this more evident than our work with the Seattle Fire Department. Since many of our clients have serious health conditions, DESC is a heavy caller of 911 for emergency medical services. Over the years, we've interacted a lot with the SFD, but we hadn't done much to work together on improving services.

After Chief Scoggins came to the department, he began looking for ways to better manage SFD's resources in order to maintain capacity to respond quickly to life-threatening emergencies. And while DESC only calls 911 for help when there is a real need to do so, we found that there may be situations in which better training or guidance could avoid the need to send emergency medical assistance. With this in mind, SFD has created new training for DESC, and has also given DESC access to a nurse call line to help determine if a 911 call is necessary for a given situation.

This work is helping DESC better manage situations we encounter, and making sure SFD resources are used most efficiently.

The important thing here is that none of this is possible without our supporters and partners throughout the community, like Rafn. We’re grateful for the work your organization does to support this critical work on behalf of people too often shunned by the rest of society.

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