Bill Block's work improved thousands of lives
Bill Block, project director for the Committee to End Homelessness, leaves his job with a legacy of tireless innovative work that has improved thousands of lives.
Seattle Times Editorial
It's probably not often that people working to end homelessness are compared with Olympic champions, but that's where Ron Sims puts the performance of Bill Block, who announced this week that he was stepping down as head of the Committee to End Homelessness.
Sims was King County executive in 2005 when Block came to him and asked to work on homelessness and said he wanted to end it.
"I've never regretted saying yes to him," said Sims. "He brought the magic of a Gabby Douglas, the performance of Usain Bolt and the gaming-winning drive of LeBron James."
An influential real-estate attorney and part owner of the Supersonics NBA team, Block took on an Olympic task: End homelessness in King County by 2015. That would mean building 9,500 housing units at a cost of $80 million a year.
As he steps down, 5,000 of those units have been funded and programs have been created to help another 5,000 people a year avoid homelessness. Also, all services of 70 agencies and 160 programs can be reached by dialing three numbers: 211. That one-stop number directs families to services they need to get back on their feet and off the streets.
Block says he's most proud of the coordination among his funding groups and the service providers. The effort was named one of the top 25 innovations in government by the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
He says that accomplishing the goal by 2015 can still be done, but it gets more difficult with continued flat-lining of basic federal housing subsidies. "As a society we need to stop cutting social support or more and more people will be falling into homelessness."
When Block took the job, he said he would stay for four or five years, then look for something else to do. He has stayed seven years, and he's a tough act to follow. But he has this advice for his successor: "It's a team effort. Listen to those around you. I got credit for a lot of work that others have done."
Sims is correct in saying Block leaves a legacy. Thousands of people over the years will probably never know Bill Block, but they will be recipients of housing care for their children, counseling and other benefits because of him. In short, they will have a better life because of Bill Block.