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Seattle wrestles with how to house homeless families with kids

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Seattle recently spent a big chunk of money to improve services for homeless families with children, but city officials are at odds over whether it was spent solving the right problems. They grappled with it at a public meeting Wednesday, where homeless mothers told members of the city council that many were without a place to sleep that night.

Seattle’s Human Services Department has already been beefing up help to homeless families, funded by 435-thousand dollars from the city council. But there’s some question about how much help is going to the most needy. For example, the human services department used the money earmarked for “shelter and transitional housing” entirely for transitional housing – none went to add shelter capacity.

Council member Nick Licata said before the meeting that those middle- and long-term programs are great, but it's unclear if the most vulnerable families are getting the help.

“It’s difficult to tell how many of those families were actually taken off the street or were already in shelter or transitional housing. And that is a different focus than what we had requested,” Licata said.

The council had specified the money be used in part to address “the immediate survival and safety needs of homeless people,” as distinct from wide-ranging but slower-moving strategies to fight overall homelessness.

Human Services director Dannette Smith says she agrees that mo family should be sleeping outside, but getting there is complicated.

“I think it’s a very delicate balance of triaging families and moving them quickly into housing or into shelter, as well as keeping those folks who are in shelter, moving them in housing or keeping them in housing once they get there,” Smith said.

The department presented its progress report on how the money’s been spent. Licata wants them to rework it, spelling out more clearly what they’re doing to get homeless families out of harm’s way right away.

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