DESC was founded in 1979 to provide emergency shelter and survival services for men and women living in a state of chronic homelessness and who, due to their severe and persistent mental and addictive illnesses, were not being served by the existing shelters of the time. Today DESC is a recognized national leader in implementing innovative cost effective strategies that end homelessness.

Here's a look at where we've been and where we're going:

On November 19, DESC opens its doors as an overnight emergency shelter in the ballroom of Pioneer Square's Morrison Hotel.

From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., a staff of 14 welcomes nearly 200 homeless adults through its doors on a first-come, first-served system. DESC begins as a partnership between the City of Seattle, the Greater Seattle Council of Churches, and WAMI (Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill) to address the shortage of services in the community.

DESC is granted a license by the State to deliver mental health care, the first step in the development of a full continuum of care for clients.

With increased demand for services, DESC extends its hours. The shelter is now open from noon to 7 a.m.

With long lines at the shelter resulting in people being turned away, DESC develops a lottery system to replace the first-come, first-served method.

DESC clients and staff arrive en masse at Seattle's Public Safety Building to publicly protest the lack of shelter beds. The act results in new community shelters, including the first severe weather overflow shelter opened by the City and King County.

DESC is featured in the nationally broadcasted PBS documentary, Shelter, produced by Seattle station KCTS.

Mary the Nurse

As one of only a dozen sites selected nationwide by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, DESC partners with the newly-created Health Care For the Homeless to further integrate chemical dependency, mental health, and nursing care into its shelter services.

DESC begins coordinating downtown street outreach with DAETN (Downtown Access, Engagement & Transition Network) to establish first contact with Seattle's most vulnerable homeless adults. This eventually leads to DESC being selected for the Federal Demonstration program, ACCESS, and the current HOST program.

Due to ever-increasing demand, DESC's shelter expands operations to 24 hours daily and opens an overflow winter shelter that accommodates an additional 50 clients.

DESC becomes the first agency to partner with Common Meals (now Farestart) to serve weekend meals to its shelter clients.

As demand continues to grow, the lottery method is replaced with a system to prioritize overnight beds for those individuals most vulnerable on the streets - those living with disabilities, women, and elderly men.

Union Hotel

The Union Hotel opens, DESC's first supportive housing program featuring 24/7 on-site clinical and support staff for 52 previously homeless residents.

DESC establishes SAGE, a program delivering Medicaid-funded mental health treatment to clients. This marks DESC's inclusion into the mainstream mental health service community.

DESC develops a scattered site housing program, to assist homeless clients enrolled in DESC's SAGE program in renting affordable apartments while receiving on-going care.

"Homeless women get less attention than homeless men do, even though women face the same difficulties men do plus hardships unique to them - the risk of rape or assault, child-care concerns and, in a majority of cases, histories of domestic violence or sexual abuse."

The Seattle Times, March 24, 1996

Lyon Building

DESC assumes management of the Lyon Building. A 64-unit facility owned by AIDS Housing on Washington (now Building Changes). As DESC's first Harm Reduction Housing model, the program focuses on homeless adults affected by the HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and/or addiction.

Kerner-Scott House

DESC introduces to the region the concept known today as housing first by opening Kerner-scott House, which uses housing as a way to engage people into services. Its 40 apartments are designed to provide stability for homeless, mentally ill, and/or addicted adults with no previous connection to services.

DESC becomes a licensed chemical-dependency provider, allowing both emergency shelter and housing clients with co-occuring mental health and chemical dependency problems to receive critical services.

DESC begins the Crisis Respite Program (CRP) Working in partnership with Harborview Medical Center and King County Medical Health Court, CRP provides shelter and case management for mentally ill homeless adults still emerging from a recent crisis or jail.

DESC launches CHASERS, its internally developed electronic data system that enhances the agency's emphasis on highly integrated services and housing. The system is later adopted by other human services agencies.

DESC's Kerner-Scott House Women's Shelter Opens, providing 25 beds for Seattle's most vulnerable mentally ill homeless women.

The Morrison

A $27 million renovation of the Morrison begins, resulting in a state-of-the-art shelter and day center, centralized administrative offices, and five floors of supportive housing. The Morrison becomes DESC's largest housing project, marking the turning point at which DESC houses more people than shelters them.

DESC extend its prioritization of vulnerability to daytime services, and implements an evaluation tool to objectively measure a client's vulnerability based on his/her health, disability, and level of functioning.

1811 Eastlake1811 Eastlake

After two years of controversy and lawsuits surrounding the project, 1811 Eastlake opens, providing 75 units for chronically homeless people with severe alcohol problems who, previously, were the community's high utilizers of public services. In 2009, The Journal of the American Medical Association publishes a study revealing that 1811 Eastlake annually saves taxpayers $4 million dollars.

DESC launches The Connections program, establishing a center where non-disabled clients can access showers, computers, job-counseling and other services to help them find employment, housing and independence.

DESC launches PACT, a nationally recognized program that works with people with serious and persistent mental illness. The PACT model is distinguished by its intensive outreach and team-oriented, trans-disciplinary approach.

Evans House

Named for a former DESC employee, Evans House opens to provide supportive housing for 75 men and women with serious mental illness, including those who are developmentally disabled or addicted.

An innovative employment program is established to match DESC clients with local employers. DESC's thrift store serves as a valuable training tool to enhance clients' basic job skills and prepare them for retail employment.

Rainier HouseRainier House

Rainier House opens, providing an additional 50 supportive apartments in the Columbia City neighborhood.

DESC breaks ground on Canaday House, which will provide 83 supportive apartments, 25 of which will be designated for veterans.

The Journal of the American Medical Association publishes significant positive outcomes based on an evaluation done by the University of Washington researchers of DESC's 1811 Eastlake Housing First program.

DESC and Harborview Medical Center launch a federally-funded pilot project to provide integrated primary and behavioral health care services to people who are homeless.

Canaday HouseCanaday House

DESC opens Canaday House, an 83-unit supportive housing building named in memory of former DESC volunteer and advocate for ending homelessness, Nick Canaday. 25 units are designated for disabled veterans.

DESC's Multidisciplinary Intensive Support and Treatment (MIST) is funded by a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a period of three years beginning October 1, 2011. The goal is to access sustainable permanent housing, recovery supports and mainstream funding sources for chronic homelessness individuals who have the highest crisis system usage and or the highest scores from DESC's VAT.

DESC receives the Nonprofit Sector National Achievement Award from National Alliance to End Homelessness for its ongoing efforts to end homelessness, particularly among those whose struggle with homelessness is compounded with mental illness and substance abuse.

DESC and NYC's Pathways to Housing presented the first ever national Housing First Partners' Conference in New Orleans, LA on March 21-23, 2012. The conference was attended by over 650 service providers, federal, state and local government officials, researchers, advocates, trainers, peers and thought leaders engaged in ending homelessness through Housing First.


Aurora_House_smallAurora House

Aurora House opens in early 2013 providing 87 units of supportive housing for homeless men and women living with serious mental/addictive illnesses or other disabling conditions.

DESC's launches Crisis Solutions Center (CSC). a County-wide Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan that seeks to improve the lives of those impacted by mental illness and substance abuse.

Cottage Grove Commons, a 66-unit supportive housing building, opens in the North Delridge neighborhood in West Seattle.

cottage_grove_smallCottage Grove Commons

On January 1, 2014, DESC's Main Shelter will have been open for 12,460 consecutive days.

DESC breaks ground on Interbay Supportive Housing, which will provide 97 units of affordable housing with supportive services for homeless men and women living with serious mental/addictive illnesses or other disabling conditions.

MIST (Multidisciplinary Intensive Support and Treatment) program officially ended on September 30, 2014. The MIST team worked tirelessly with referral sources all over King County. The team enrolled 103 people and were able to house 80 people, which is quite an accomplishment given the limited housing resources in the community.

DESC launches the HOME program (Housing Opportunities and Meaningful Engagement) in October 2014 through a three-year grant award from SAMHSA's 2014 Grants for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals-Services in Supportive Housing. The purpose and goal of this program are to engage, stably house and make needed services and treatment available to chronically homeless individuals identified as Long Term Shelter Stayers (LTSS) in Seattle and King County.

DESC continues to expand supportive housing and clinical treatment until there are no more people impacted by homelessness in our community.

Return to the Home Page