Sequim Health & Housing Collaborative
Charisse Deschenes, Interim City Manager
Sequim city staff responded to city council concerns about homelessness in 2017 by examining its human services funding and accountability. Staff were also fielding complaints, criticisms, and questions about how the city—specifically its police department—addressed panhandling, homelessness, and mental illness. Councilors wanted to know what could legally be done. After lengthy internal discussions, the city launched a multi-year journey with six local nonprofits committed to a new way of delivering human services to benefit those in need and the greater community.
For years, even during the Great Recession, the city of Sequim—population 8,000—budgeted and distributed $75,000 per year for human services among various providers. So staff dove into what exactly those agencies provided. Predictably, they found overlaps in some areas and gaps in others; and most of the funds did not go to the agencies that produced the most “bang for the buck” in terms of public impact.
Armed with that information, staff established an internal, cross-departmental leadership team that launched a plan to identify who were “the homeless” in Sequim and their needs. Staff took their findings and “gap analysis” to the city council and presented a plan to bring multiple agencies together to address homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental health issues in ways that would allow the city to enforce its quality-of-life laws. In 2018 the council adopted guiding principles:
- Focus on outcomes and results rather than on the identity of the provider.
- Encourage provider collaboration to achieve the best value.
- Collaborate with all funding sources to maximize investments.
- Consider prioritizing funding for areas of greatest need.
Focused on these principles, city staff hosted a Human Services Summit, inviting service providers from across the county. Staff told the 50 participants that the city was changing its funding structure and looking for new ways to address community issues like substance use disorder and homelessness. Surprisingly, participants identified food insecurity as a big threat to the community. Staff also challenged participants to examine how well they worked together because of real and perceived rifts among them. After the Summit, the city issued a human services request for proposals that aligned with the council’s guiding principles and received one response. Nine local nongovernmental social service organizations had created the Sequim Health & Housing Collaborative (SHHC), and the council awarded it a three-year, $75,000/year contract.
Despite COVID-19 challenges, SHHC launched its HOPE Outreach Program in 2020 to provide direct outreach to Sequim residents. The HOPE Team documented 832 encounters, which prevented homelessness for 54 households, enrolled 78 households in intensive case management programs, and provided 160 shelter nights for households that did not qualify for traditional shelter options. SHHC also arranged another 569 nights of emergency shelter and provided more than 1 million meals in 2020, double the number in 2019.
Two years into the contract, SHHC consists of six providers, and they have accomplished more as a collaborative than any agency could have independently. Working together, the organizations have maximized their resources and streamlined communications and processes. They have deepened their relationships and knowledge of each other’s strengths, which allows them to appropriately direct individuals to other service providers.
The journey to forming SHHC presented many challenges for the city—uncomfortable funding conversations (with council and providers), acknowledging service gaps, discussing legal challenges, addressing inter-organizational conflicts, administering multiple SHHC member contracts, and potentially alienating other long-term providers. From SHHC’s perspective, ongoing challenges include data sharing, outreach and recognition, and attracting new partners. By overcoming these challenges, Sequim and SHHC have demonstrated what can happen when a committed city partners with dedicated nonprofits to perform outstanding work directly benefitting the community.