Bellevue has added a new position, someone who will provide direct assistance to those without housing, and coordinate the efforts of the city and outside agencies to find people paths to homes.
Stephanie Martinez was hired as Bellevue’s first homelessness outreach coordinator in September, after the funding for the spot was approved during the last city budget cycle.
Martinez has worked at LifeWire in Bellevue, as a community-based housing advocate and for the city of Tacoma, as a program development specialist and on the Tacoma police homeless outreach team. Most recently Martinez headed-up a statewide evaluation of California’s Domestic Violence Housing First funding program.
“The position will bridge the gap between all the folks doing different things for the homeless and report out on how we’re doing,” said Nancy LaCombe, city of Bellevue assistant director.
Martinez has spent a majority of her first weeks learning the ins and outs of the other agencies in Bellevue. That knowledge will come in handy when she connects people with resources in the city.
“Bellevue PD is already doing homelessness related work and encampment response,” Martinez said. “I’ll be working along side them, making sure folks get connected.”
The job is mirrored after the spot Kent Hay currently occupies in Redmond. As the outreach program administrator since 2016, Hay has helped people remove the barriers impeding stable jobs and housing.
Hay contacts people sleeping outside in tents or cars, and first educates on the services available to them. If they find themselves in trouble with the law, there’s a community court housed in the Redmond library for low-level offenders. Also at the library is a resource center — a cluster of agencies available to anyone and everyone who stops by.
“We want to make sure they understand you can’t just come to Redmond and be homeless,” Hay said. “You have to participate in getting out of that situation.”
He said people often swing one way or the other when approaching what has become known as the homelessness crisis. One approach is to give someone resources and wait for them to participate, not pushing them to engage. The other approach is to not offer any help and let them fend for themselves.
“Both sides are failing,” Hay said. “To me there’s a middle.”
In this role, Hay said he’s come to understand that a lot of the agencies weren’t working well together, separate nonprofits weren’t coordinating. He acts as a connector between them. He gets referrals from agencies, and helps put plans together with people. Plans to not just find a job or a home for the time, but to address any issues or problems that stand in the way of permanent employment and housing.
Sometimes that means filing for food stamps through the Department of Social and Health Services. It also means he takes phone calls, for those without cellphones, and relays the message. He’s also set up a mechanism to get people’s mail, an important resource to have to ensure services stay in place.
“Services are really hard to navigate if you don’t have someone who will help you through the process,” Hay said. “I think the system is set up not to help you.”
He couldn’t do the work without the support of the Redmond Police Department, and other city departments, he said. And the ultimate goal is for every city to have their own outreach worker, where unlike at some agencies, there is no in-take or exit from the program.
“If someone disappears, the plan is still the same,” Hay said. “If I haven’t seen someone in a month, the plan is still the same. We start from where we left off from.”