Johnson v. Grants Pass ruling elevates need for DESC’s long-term solutions–Housing First and PSH

(June 28, 2024)

From DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone

The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has just ruled to uphold laws targeting homelessness with criminal penalties

City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson asked if criminalizing people experiencing homelessness is cruel and unusual punishment. 

(Graphic from Johnson v. Grants Pass, the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC)

As we said back in April when SCOTUS heard the case, jailing someone for having no place to go is cruel and counterproductive. The perspectives we shared then drew on our long experience and evidence to show that people will accept something better for themselves if it meets their needs. We appreciate statements from jurisdictions such as Seattle indicating they do not plan to pursue incarceration of people in these circumstances. 

At DESC, we know that homelessness is the result of decades of policy and budget decisions, and solving it requires our community to collectively come together to build better solutions. That is why we have been working for decades to create alternatives. For example:   

  • This year, we’ve opened our first Permanent Supportive Housing site outside Seattle in Burien, Wash., providing homes for 95 people. 
  • Our Navigation Center removes barriers that keep people from accepting offers of help and meets our clients where they are with appropriate and effective support. 
  • Next year, we’ll open the ORCA Center, which will provide post-overdose care, medication for opioid use disorder as appropriate and resources for people to start or continue their recovery.  
  • We’re also building 320 new units of Permanent Supportive Housing to end homelessness for our most vulnerable community members.  

Housing First practices and affordable Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) built at scale to meet the needs of everyone who is unhoused are the solution.  

There are better solutions than criminalizing homelessness. Thank you for being an important part of our community helping to solve our toughest challenges, and for standing with us as we advocate for our most vulnerable community members. 

We look forward to keeping you up to date in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

Office of Housing awards funding for Lake City PSH

SEATTLE, Wash. (Feb. 7, 2024)–The Seattle Office of Housing announced funding awards for affordable housing, anti-displacement and energy efficiency at the Annual Housing Celebration at El Centro de la Raza today, and DESC Lake City is one of four rental projects to be awarded funding.

The project will provide 120 apartments with wrap-around services for adults living with disabilities and experiencing long-term homelessness. The city is awarding a total of $53.3 million for the four rental projects, which together will add 443 homes for low income families and individuals, including seniors. Thank you to SMR Architects for the rendering and display board!

Read more about DESC Lake City on our website.

ORCA Center will provide quick stabilization and resources following overdose

Determined to save lives, a multi-agency partnership will fight the fentanyl crisis with a new strategy beginning early-to-mid 2025. That’s when DESC is expected to open a $12 million Opioid Recovery & Care Access (ORCA) Center on the second floor of the Morrison, at 517 Third Avenue. 

Here, people who overdose in King County will be stabilized, receive care, start on buprenorphine or methadone as medically appropriate, connect to resources to continue their recovery, and eat, sleep and shower in safety for their brief stay. People with an opioid use disorder who have not recently overdosed will be able to walk in during certain hours to discuss starting on a medication treatment. 

The idea for such a center originated from Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, research professor at the University of Washington Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute (ADAI), through conversations with leaders at the Seattle Fire Department, who often are called to respond to individuals experiencing an opioid overdose in the field. UW ADAI partnered with DESC to design and advocate for the ORCA center and will be conducting evaluations of its implementation and effectiveness once services begin.

Thanks to a private donation, an award from the city of Seattle and grants from King County and Washington state, DESC is able to convert the former main emergency shelter in the Morrison into a behavioral health clinic featuring opioid use disorder stabilization services and other mental health and substance use disorder treatment services relocated from DESC’s 216 James Street facility. 

“It’s great to have this project continue to move forward,” said DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone. “We are working toward a completion in the first few months of next year.” 

“The ORCA Center adds another important link to our continuum of services for people who experience drug overdoses and who have opioid use disorder,” Daniel said. “By providing much-needed treatment such as medications for opioid use disorder, as well as access to harm reduction supplies, education and other services, we aim to prevent the next overdose and cut down on emergency room use. 

“This will be one of many services and strategies designed to reduce fatal overdoses and fentanyl harm and increase well-being in the city and the county. Thank you to our multiple city, county and regional partners in crisis and behavioral health services who share those priorities and goals. And thank you to the City of Seattle, King County, Washington state and a generous private benefactor without whose investments this center wouldn’t be possible.”  

Additional needs DESC has identified include the creation of dedicated emergency housing for people who use the ORCA Center but do not have stable housing to return to.    

DESC Medical Director Richard Waters, M.D., said the center is “one important and notable but small piece in the landscape of services and strategies in reducing overdose deaths and the harms of fentanyl in the city and county. Its success hinges on the success of longitudinal outpatient teams to continue MOUD (Medication for Opioid Use Disorder) and other supports to the well-being of individuals that ORCA will serve.” 

In a press conference at DESC on May 9, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the city’s commitment of $5.65 million toward the ORCA Center. The award is part of a $27 million investment supporting Harrell’s executive order addressing the drug crisis in Seattle. Evergreen Treatment Services (ETS), an important DESC partner whose services include a mobile clinic providing methadone treatment, received a $1.35 million award from the city. 

The media event brought together all the partners in this project: 

  • University of Washington–Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute (ADAI) 
  • Public Health–Seattle and King County  
  • King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (BHRD) 
  • Seattle Fire Department 
  • City of Seattle Human Services Department 
  • Harborview Medical Center 
  • Evergreen Treatment Services 

Why do we need a place like the ORCA Center? 

New medications and approaches show promise. Long-acting injectable buprenorphine medications seem to strongly increase a person’s ability to continue with treatment, but it’s difficult to provide to the population we serve if they don’t have safe places to be and to recover. People will be able to receive this form of rapid care and treatment in a physical space such as the ORCA Center. 

The ORCA Center will also provide 

  • Peer Specialists to connect individuals with service options   
  • Medical staff to support starting MOUD   
  • Case management staff who offer low-barrier harm reduction-oriented care, and connection to outpatient behavioral health and other needed resources   
  • Basic need accommodations during treatment 
  • Access to continued care/treatment for MOUD and other behavioral health services.   

What are our goals for the ORCA Center?  

  • Lower fentanyl mortality rates for our client population   
  • Increase MOUD initiation rates   
  • Lengthen the time people stay on MOUD  
  • Cut down ER use  
  • Enhanced research and best practices related to long-acting injectable Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD).  

The joy of opening 95 new homes in Burien

DESC leaders express the joy we feel at opening our newest permanent supportive housing.

BURIEN, Wash. (May 23, 2024)–We’re welcoming tenants into our new Bloomside permanent supportive housing, the first DESC housing built outside of the city of Seattle! At full capacity, 95 people living with disabilities and experiencing long-term homelessness, will have brand new homes with full wrap-around services in Burien.

We celebrated the grand opening of Bloomside on May 23 with remarks from King County Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone, President and CEO of the King County Housing Authority Robin Walls and Acting Director of DCHS Kelly Rider, followed by an open house and public tours of this beautiful building. DESC Director of Organizational Equity Rhonda Banchero was our emcee.

Daniel’s remarks opened the program.

“Good afternoon. There is nothing better than being able to change someone’s circumstances from homeless to permanently housed.  Today is the 17th time I have had the deeply moving experience of being able to celebrate the creation of new homes for DESC’s most vulnerable clients. The first time was 30 years ago this month when we opened DESC’s first permanent supportive housing facility called the Union Hotel in Pioneer Square. We built it in Pioneer Square because back then that’s where people experiencing homelessness were concentrated in our region.

“There has been a lot of change over these past 30 years. In May of 1994 the Sonics had just completed the regular season with the best record in the NBA, a feat they haven’t achieved since perhaps mostly due to the fact that they ceased to exist. But I keep being told that they are coming back. Let’s go.

“Another thing that changed is that homelessness began to appear much more significantly in places outside downtown Seattle. Burien is one of the many places that have had far too many people struggling to live without a stable home. As we saw this happening in places like Burien, we determined as an organization that the kind of housing we know how to create and operate is needed in more of these places, because that’s where the people are. I appreciated being able to walk around Burien during the day of New Year’s Eve in 2020 with Burien Police Chief Ted Boe. He showed me many locations where people were living outdoors for long periods, and what kinds of needs some of those individuals seemed to have.

“One thing that hasn’t changed over the past 30 years, or really since pre-historic times, is that everyone needs a safe, stable place to live. One thing we know from the data is that the best predictor of continued homelessness is how long someone has already been experiencing homelessness. And the people that tend to experience homelessness the longest are those with the toughest obstacles to overcome, like serious and persistent mental illness, longstanding substance addiction and complex medical problems.  Imagine having a combination of those conditions and living on the street. That’s a recipe for struggle, community isolation and worsening symptoms. It used to be thought that the harder things got for someone, the more he or she would develop motivation to change and we simply had to let those problems run their course. But we saw over and over again that the opposite happened, and situations turned hopeless and chronic. A change of mindset and some experimentation over the last 30 years brought to us the realization that support and care are what makes the real difference in situations like these, and the foundation for providing genuine support is housing.

“This is the Housing First philosophy, and it has proven to be far and away the most effective tool for ending chronic homelessness.  Not only do people want this kind of housing but once housed their lives improve in many ways.  Health improves, stress declines, use of crisis services lessens, and finally, after years of extreme marginalization, people again have a shot at participating more fully in the life of the community.

“So that was the proposal we brought to Burien.  Let’s create homes for many of the people in the community who don’t have them.

“When we began the process of developing this building, we embarked on a series of meetings with community members through information sessions DESC held, through formal City of Burien planning commission and City Council meetings, through invited appearances at regular and ad hoc community and business groups, through tours of existing DESC facilities, and through countless individual conversations. Many people had questions for us, and some people were pretty unhappy about what we were proposing, but the welcome and support we received from so many people from the Burien community was truly touching and inspiring. To everyone who engaged with us through your questions, your notes of support, your testimony to City Council, and your advocacy, thank you so much.  We are delighted to call Burien home, and can’t wait to support 95 Burien community members with safe and supportive permanent homes.”