Business community forum highlights how other cities have reduced homelessness

By: Alicia Teel Posted: 03/27/2017

Leaders from Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles County share lessons learned


A panel of leaders from around the country who have successfully reduced homelessness in their respective areas spoke to a packed room of over 250 community members at Town Hall on March 22. The event, organized by the Chamber in partnership with the Downtown Seattle Association, Visit Seattle, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square, was the second in a three-part series that examines best practices toward a path to get more people out of homelessness and into stable housing.

Barb Poppe, a national expert engaged by the City of Seattle, Sam Dodge, Deputy Director San Francisco Department of Homelessness, Mandy Chapman Semple, Associate Director, Houston's Corporation for Supportive Housing, and Phil Ansell, Director of the Los Angeles County Homelessness Initiative spoke about how they have approached this issue in a 90-minute conversation moderated by KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

Collaboration and Shared Goals

Panelists underscored the importance of collaborating and keeping this shared goal in mind as stakeholders work through the mechanics of change. Ansell pointed out that in L.A. County, leaders worked through distrust by making conscious efforts toward greater transparency and being upfront that no single individual or organization held all of the answers to solving homelessness. This included making multiple pathways available for public input, as well as internal processes such as coordinated release of recommendations by the City of Los Angeles and L.A. County.

Chapman Semple walked the audience through how Houston made a paradigm shift to focus on getting its most vulnerable people—the longest stayers, the people who were not being served by the current shelter system—housed, and targeting that population to meet them where they were. At the same time, she noted, city leaders and providers made a commitment to increasing the amount of permanent housing available and building an infrastructure dedicated to moving the unsheltered population into housing as rapidly as possible. Working within this framework, the city’s homeless population has gone from 4,500 in 2011 to 1,100 to 2016.


One major takeaway from panelists was the importance of measurable, accountable steps to get many stakeholders to work together to make their systems function more effectively. This takes both qualitative forms, such as consistent evaluation of where people ended up after 24 months to gauge whether they were able to find permanent housing, as well as more qualitative forms.  

Dodge noted that one of the first steps is showing the community that reducing homelessness is possible, and in San Francisco, leaders have put emphasis on showing that innovations like their Navigation Center can help guide most anyone, including people who have experienced homelessness for decades and have multiple factors contributing to hosing instability, into permanent housing.

Chapman Semple added that in Houston, the city asked the public to hold them accountable for their overriding goal: to get people housed. She added that the city also acknowledged very openly that progress would not feel real for constituents “until I move the person in front of your house.”

“But,” she stressed, “asking us to put all of our energy into moving people from your line of sight never fixes the problem […] We have to resist the temptation to find the quick fix. […] Moving someone to a different temporary encampment is not healthy. What we have to focus on is housing, because that’s how we get to a healthy community.”

Lessons for Seattle

As the panel discussion turned to how to apply these lessons to Seattle, Poppe stressed that the question is, “What is the accountability that each of you has to implement the recommendations and to work together to be aligned today doing that which works, how do you each contribute to a solution today, and how do you hold [yourselves] accountable? And I would suggest that the mechanisms that Phil has set up in Los Angeles, that Mandy has in Houston, are the kinds of models you want to look at, because both of them have similar situations where the big city is different than the county government.”

A full audio recording of the forum is available here.


Attend our third forum 

The third forums in this series will be on April 18 and will will focus on the path forward for Seattle and King County. Registration will be available soon.

Please contact Scott Kennedy, the Chamber’s external relations manager, if you are interested in attending, and we will add you to our email list for these events.

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