For people experiencing homelessness, Regional Access Points (RAPs) are the primary starting points to access housing resources in Seattle/King County. With five locations, RAPs were developed to improve the effectiveness and reach of the Coordinated Entry for All (CEA) system for connecting people with housing and related resources.
Solid Ground staffs the North Seattle RAP, co-located with North Seattle Community College’s Opportunity Center for Employment and Education (OCE&E). Those seeking the service schedule a RAP appointment by calling 211, the hotline that connects callers with community resources in Washington state. RAPs connect people experiencing homelessness with real humans to help understand their options.
AmeriCorps member JiaJia Li says that as direct service staff, she – along with RAP Assessment & Diversion Specialists Linda Maser and Kirk McClain, and RAP Outreach Specialist Atnafu Asefa – “are often seen as the ‘face’ of the system.”
At the North Seattle RAP office, JiaJia describes the RAP’s two fundamental operations, triage and diversion. “The triage tool is used to determine the risk and vulnerability of a household situation,” she explains. It is a questionnaire whose responses inform how to prioritize participants, while identifying what type of support is needed to avoid instability. JiaJia says, “You have to try to ask these questions in a way that is not traumatizing and not triggering for people.”
Fortunately, every participant is presented with an alternative. Atnafu describes Diversion as a streamlined option for diverting qualified clients out of homelessness with creative solutions, including negotiating with previous family or friends, or possibly one-time financial assistance depending upon funding availability. Those seeking this option must be identified as homeless before evaluation. “The County doesn’t consider sleeping at a friend’s house as homeless because you have a roof over your head,” he explains. Additionally, participants must locate a housing option in advance as there is no housing search component.
Completed questionnaires are directed to King County, which prioritizes and contacts only 150 individuals out of the queue of 11,000 per month. That’s a long waiting list.
Diversion is multi-faceted: “It can be a room for rent, it can be moving in with a family that has availability for them, it can even be assisting in past debt, and it can also provide transportation out of state,” Atnafu says. Although a coveted option, JiaJia says Diversion doesn’t always lead to long-term housing stability. While it’s what some families “need to get out of homelessness, for some, it’s definitely a temporary fix.”
JiaJia and Atnafu both share the joy of witnessing participants become housed. JiaJia says, “We have the privilege of celebrating with clients.” Atnafu says “to see the relief on the client’s face when the whole process is done and they are able to move into their place” makes him feel that he did everything possible to assist them.
“It’s very vulnerable for an individual to come in and talk about their housing situation, their barriers, especially in front of a complete stranger.” ~Atnafu Asefa, RAP Outreach Specialist
One difficulty the RAP program faces is communicating its services to those experiencing homelessness. Atnafu says that “putting a ‘face’ with the program” is a particular priority of his. To make RAP services available to potential participants, he recently conducted outreach at the FamilyWorks Food Bank (co-located with Solid Ground’s headquarters building), and he plans to continue. His goal is to not only make people feel comfortable with the RAP services, but with himself. “It’s very vulnerable for an individual to come in and talk about their housing situation, their barriers, especially in front of a complete stranger,” he says.
Both JiaJia and Atnafu highlight the foremost challenge as the lack of housing resources in comparison to those in desperate need of them.
Yet there is reason to be hopeful; JiaJia shares a success story amid the realities of limited resources and uncertainty. “One client I had was working and living out of her car, fleeing from her abusive partner. She just needed to find another place, and it was just a small amount of money necessary. I was even able to refer her to the domestic violence advocate here,” JiaJia recounts.
Diversion helped this participant in multiple ways. “It’s totally flexible,” says JiaJia, “She told me she didn’t have enough gas to go to the food bank, so with some of the Diversion funding we were able to buy gas cards for her, and that was really nice.”
Though RAP is relatively new and may be a little-known service created in response to the reality of our region’s housing crisis, individuals and families alike are connecting with the resources they need in their search for stable housing. The human faces of the RAP assist in this search, a devoted group of employees that strive to make the process a bit more endurable.
“We don’t know what to expect,” says Atnafu. He plans to continue to “spread the word, go out to places, and connect with individuals that are not so familiar – and as long as my phone is still ringing, I know I’m doing something right.”