Seattle expands unique program pairing firefighters, social workers to fight homelessness

The City of Seattle announced Thursday that it will expand a unique program that pairs firefighters with social workers.

Mayor Jenny Durkan says it will play an important role in the fight against homelessness.

Seattle Firefighter Roger Webber has decades of experience on a ladder truck but the Health One mobile unit he is assigned to is far from a typical fire engine.

"We have diapers, feminine hygiene products," Webber said.

Many would not sign up for Webber’s job, but he says he is craving the challenge of solving Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

"This is the hardest job I’ve ever done emotionally," Webber said.

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He can share those emotions and the responsibilities that come with the job with social workers like Riley De Hoog.

"We do a trauma-informed approach to our care we try to meet them where they are at," De Hoog said.

De Hoog says most of the people they help are homeless, many of them going through some mental health crisis.

"Everybody will want one of these in every fire station in Seattle," Mayor Durkan said.

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Mayor Durkan announced the city is expanding the program by adding a new unit that will service South Seattle starting early next year. 

Seattle already has two Health One units, each one costing around $470,000 a year to operate.

"What it does not do is reduce the need for police," Durkan said.

Instead, the mayor says it gives the city another tool for non-emergency situations so that police can focus on those high-priority calls.

"I signed up for 6 to 9 months because I believe in this, we are actually connecting those people more where they need to go," Webber said.

Gov. Inslee unveils plan to address homelessness in Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday proposed a host of efforts to address homelessness in the state, including efforts to help people stay in their homes, increasing emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing and expanding services for those struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

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