Despite the impacts of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department continues to live out its mission: To connect people with resources and solutions during times of need so we can all live, learn, work, and take part in strong, healthy communities. The work the department does has changed dramatically, with many employees stepping up to meet new challenges, volunteering, and working long hours. Here is a recap of what the team has been up to.
Homeless Strategies and Investments staff worked around the clock to set up and staff de-intensifying shelters at community centers, Seattle Center, and with youth providers to help create hundreds of safer spaces for people to stay during the crisis. HSI has also opened more shelter capacity through a new tiny house village, expanding an existing village, and opening an enhanced shelter. These new resources account for at least 95 new spaces for people living unsheltered during COVID-19 and beyond.
The Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault has also been working with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to understand the root cause behind the increase of reported domestic violence and sexual assault cases and make sure survivors have a safe place to go.
Food access is a major barrier for the communities we serve during COVID-19. HSD’s Aging and Disability Services division received nearly $5M of emergency federal funding to feed older adults by shifting congregate meal delivery, expanding home-delivered meal programs, and providing flexible funding to fill other feeding gaps.
The Youth and Family Empowerment division has been coordinating key staff around the department on feeding plans for the City. This week, the Food Task Force submitted a federal application to receive FEMA funding to help provide thousands of food boxes for food banks.
To help the public locate food resources available during this public health emergency, an interactive map has been developed by HSD staff. The map shows the locations of Food Banks, Meals, and Student To-Go Meals, and can be filtered by status with options to reflect those open, those with limited operations, and those whose status is unknown.
The direct services the department provides during COVID-19 are even more essential during this crisis.
Between March and April, Youth and Family Empowerment staff, with Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, created a web-based self-certification, or “fast-track,” form for the Utility Discount Program (UDP). Income-eligible residential customers can now access heavily discounted utilities by simply signing a short web form that attests to their household income, without having to provide income documentation for each of their household members. This expansion helped increase the UDP’s enrollment by 27%, with staff moving quickly to process nearly 7,000 new applications. This increase shows how important this critical support is for households during these uncertain economic times.
The Seattle Youth Employment Program team also had to move quickly to transition over 100 youth to online learning.
Aging and Disability Services case managers in Seattle and Renton, along with partner agencies, completed wellness calls with almost all 12,000 clients. This was a monumental task that helped us clarify which clients were at greatest risk and needed us to triage in-home care for them. Case managers are also helping transition people out of hospital care faster to help limit a surge in hospitalizations.
The Navigation Team is one of the few remaining outreach teams working in the field. The team has been focused on outreach seven days a week, distributing 1,600 hygiene kits and 1,400 public health flyers, making over 660 site visits, and making close to 3,000 contacts in the field. The team worked closely with people living unsheltered in Ballard during not only COVID-19, but also a hepatis A outbreak, helping to connect people to vaccines and hygiene services.
A special thank you to all HSD employees who were re-deployed to support shelter shifts in the City’s de-intensifying shelters at Miller and Garfield community centers, with many covering multiple shifts per week including weekday, weekend, and overnight shifts.
Jill Watson manages to connect the myriad efforts at HSD with those happening at the Office of Emergency Management, the County, the State and in the provider network. Great job for helping to get much-needed National Guard support for the city!
And last but not least, a big thank you to Terri Croft, who made hundreds of face masks for HSD employees to use out in the field. Thank you for helping keep us and the people we serve safer.