Engaging Landlords to End Veteran Homelessness: Seattle/King County Shares What They’ve Learned

Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, with a rental market vacancy rate of just two percent in several cities throughout King County. These local market conditions make finding a sufficient supply of affordable rental units, and the landlords willing to rent them, a considerable challenge.

We set out to face that challenge head on with Operation: WelcomeOneHome, a community call to action event designed to recruit the services of Veterans, neighbors, and landlords by means of the Mayors Challenge goal to end Veteran homelessness in 2015.

The Event Rundown

The event was held in early August at Seattle Central College, which also hosts The Seattle Stand Down. Over 250 people attended. The agenda included:

  • A rallying call from national and local leaders
  • An update on the progress and what more needs to be done from All Home Director Mark Putman
  • Inspiring stories from Veterans facing homelessness

After the event, we hosted a forum moderated by HUD Regional Administrator Bill Block. It created a space for social services to have a two-way conversation with landlords to build relationships and provide more detail about what it means to house the Veterans in our community.

In addition to the event itself, the news release and media presence from four TV and two radio stations plus several local newspapers, including an editorial in the Seattle Times, generated interest from 20 new landlords. We will continue to engage the landlords and build on the momentum of the event to accelerate our work, including educating landlords about reducing screening barriers and services that assist Veterans in achieving residential stability.

Here’s What We Learned:

Operation Welcome One Home TeamHave a core team you can depend upon and support each other. The date of the event was contingent on the availability of U.S. Senator Patty Murray, and once confirmed, we had roughly 30 days to complete the endless list of tasks needed to organize the logistics of an event of this size. It would not have been possible or successful without the intensity of dedication and commitment from several key public and nonprofit staff members, The Seattle Stand Down, and The Mission Continues’ South Sound and Seattle 1st Service Platoons. Mobilizing the Veteran volunteers to fill gaps in outreach and housing services was and still is a huge part of our progress to date, and we won’t be successful without them.

Know the message you need to deliver at your event, expect people to try to change it, and don’t let them. Our public and nonprofit partners have been doing a tremendous amount of work to build a coordinated system between all stakeholders and needed a way to share that with the community. The framework of the Mayors Challenge and other related initiatives provided us with the context we wanted to present. Despite recommendations not to hold the post-event landlord forum because of past letdowns, we did it anyway! We knew, that in order to achieve our goal, we needed to solicit more landlords; the forum was an attempt to do so through the Veteran affinity groups and Veteran Service Organizations.

Have at least one private market landlord present at your event. They can speak to the media and demystify the bias and fears of renting to homeless Veterans. Be sure to bring in local household names. Tony Ventrella, local sportscaster legend and current host for the Seattle Seahawks, served as our emcee, and Senator Patty Murray, Washington State Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott addressed the crowd.

Have a strong communications strategy and follow-up events to keep the conversation going. Be clear in your message to landlords about what your “asks” are, paint them as “heroes”, and be clear in your message to Veterans about what it means to end Veteran homelessness. To keep the momentum going, plan additional events to engage people in the mission, such as forums or panel discussions.

Most importantly, have a system in place to receive inquiries from interested Veterans, neighbors, and landlords. Be able to quickly match Veterans to units as they come online. Announcements at the event and all marketing materials included one number for Veterans to call and connect to services; the social media avenues for neighbors to donate time and/or money; and one number for interested landlords to call to get more information.

This event was a success because of the dedicated partners working every day to end Veteran homelessness in Seattle/King County. Together, as a community, we will work to make sure homelessness among our Veterans is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

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Dawn Barrett is the daughter of a U.S. Navy Veteran and project manager of the King County Regional Veterans Initiative, launched by King County Executive Dow Constantine in 2013 to improve access to services for Veterans and their families and reduce system fragmentation.

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