King County, cities ask for help to combat growing homeless crisis

AUBURN, Wash. – County and local city elected leaders announced a new plan on Friday to battle homelessness across our region.

The plan of attack is being called ""Open Table" and it’s an attempt to bring more voices together to help stem the rising number of people who don’t have a safe place to sleep.

Officials say 11,000 people spend the night homeless each day in King County and almost half of those do not have any safe shelter.

Now county and city leaders are asking help from the business and philanthropic communities to come up with ideas to create a soft place to land – so people struggling don’t end up on the street in the first place.

“It’s really upsetting that as a person, I cannot support myself,” said 36-year-old Zephra Taylor of Auburn.

Taylor says she doesn’t look homeless but after a divorce, and not being able to find full-time work, she’s now living in a neighbor’s living-room. Without her friends help, Taylor says she would be living on the street.

More homeless people are finding their way into the City of Auburn and South King County, say officials. As affordability becomes a barrier in Seattle, some are looking for opportunity in other areas.

“Once rents are raised in South King County, it could be your last best hope,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.

“This is not normal, it’s not inevitable and it must not be accepted,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine during a press conference Friday morning.

That’s where elected leaders announced a new plan to retool their efforts to deliver affordable housing, mental health and addiction services, and job training opportunities across the county.

Called Open Table, the new approach is also meant to bring business leaders and people with deep pockets into the mix to come up with new ideas to keep people off the streets.

“How do we get job training into not just supportive housing, but perhaps into tent cities and our tiny home villages so people really getting access to opportunities,” said City of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “That’s going to require great work with labor, with business, and also philanthropy. You look at some of these resources, we’re going to need everyone at the table to come up with resources.”

That could mean asking for more money from federal and state lawmakers – and potentially expanding tiny homes and sanctioned tent camps.

But concepts that officials say could work in Seattle won’t always work elsewhere.

“The gaps are not just about shelter or even just about housing the gaps are about getting to the root causes of homelessness, to try to keep people from reaching that point,” added Constantine.

“I’m literally living paycheck to paycheck right now,” said Taylor.

Taylor worries until she gets a full-time job or training, she could be stuck on her friend’s couch or worse.

“It is very much just running in place and trying to maintain just what little you have,” she said.