Sunday, December 24, 2006

From today's Seattle Times: Putting an end to homelessness "can be done"


By Sharon Pian Chan, Seattle Times staff reporter

After lunch, Bill Block was crossing Fourth Avenue downtown when someone he knew brushed past.

"Hey, have you ended homelessness yet?" the man asked.

"Yeah, yesterday," Block said.

"Yesterday" is the punch line. But ending homelessness — Block is dead serious about that.

Not shelter it, feed it or clothe it. End it.

An intractable social problem — created by the economy, drug addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, the justice system, lack of health care — can be solved, he says.

That's his job. Until recently, Block was a high-powered attorney — responsible for negotiating some of the city's biggest real-estate deals. He is a former Sonics part owner and adept political player who decided to give up his law-firm partnership to head the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County.

The county has an estimated 8,000 homeless people, and Block is charged with finding a home for all of them.

Homelessness will end, the plan says, when we build a roof over every bed.

"It can be done," Block said. "We see it all over the country."

At its worst, the Ten-Year Plan is a naive campaign that gives false hope to society's most downtrodden and will inevitably end in failure. At its best, it is wildly idealistic and maybe crazy enough to work.

To accomplish its goal, the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, an alliance of government, business and nonprofits, must create 9,500 units of housing. Its members — who include King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels — have given themselves a deadline of 2015.


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