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Seattle-area companies give $10M to fight homelessness

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, with apartment buildings in the background, pedestrians walk past tents used by people lacking housing at Denny Park near the Space Needle in Seattle, after the park was cleared by city workers of several dozen tents. Backers of a measure that would change Seattle's approach to homelessness are appealing a judge's decision that blocked it from the November ballot. The proposal would direct the city to provide 2,000 units of housing within a year and to keep public land clear of encampments. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, billionaires Steve and Connie Ballmer and others said Thursday they'll spend more than $10 million to combat homelessness in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports the money will help set up and fund a team from the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, designed to triage and alleviate homeless camping in downtown and the city's International District.

Much of the money will help hire formerly homeless “peer navigators” who will meet with and develop plans for each person living homeless downtown. The initiative will also provide flexible funding to get people what they need to get housed.

Marc Dones, CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, said the goal is to get to fewer than 30 people living outside in downtown Seattle — down from the 800 to 1,000 the authority estimates live there now.

Businesses and local leaders have been clamoring for months about a solution to chronic homelessness downtown, as tourists and employees gradually return.

“Time is a-wasting,” said former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who reached out to many of these organizations to ask them to donate. “We are in a crisis."

The investment will pay for a team of 30 “peer navigators,” caseworkers who have been homeless and will focus on getting small groups of homeless people from the street to housing.

Seattle’s current method of clearing encampments largely relies on one organization to get someone off the street, another to shelter them, and sometimes a third to house them long term. Data says the success rate is poor, with most people leaving shelters to untracked destinations.