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Originally published Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 6:11 PM

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Committee to End Homelessness director to step down

Bill Block, a pivotal figure in efforts to manage and curtail homelessness in the region, will step down as project director of the Committee to End Homelessness.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In 2005, Bill Block left a successful law practice to take on the full-time job of project director of the Committee to End Homelessness.

Over the past seven years, he's earned a national reputation as an innovative and visionary leader in the sometimes thankless role of trying to prevent homelessness amid government budget cuts, high unemployment, home foreclosures and a disappearing social safety net.

Block plans to step down from his post once a successor is named, likely in late September. At the halfway mark in the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County, Block said it's time for new energy and vision.

Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said Block influenced advocates around the country with new and systemic approaches to ending homelessness.

During his tenure, more than 5,000 units of housing were developed in King County — more than half the goal of 9,500 new units. He also helped create programs to help another 5,000 people a year avoid homelessness, according to county figures.

And he's worked to break down a fragmented system of funding and services that touch the lives of homeless, said David Wertheimer, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Block, 63, was instrumental in launching several recent initiatives, including a coordinated entry system that allows the homeless to call one number — 211 — to connect with the resources of more than 70 agencies and 160 programs in the region. He's also helped refocus the work of social-service agencies to move homeless families directly into permanent housing rather than into sometimes months-long stays in temporary shelter and transitional housing.

"The new approach looks to the clients to tell us what they need," Block said.

The Committee to End Homelessness is a regional coalition of governments, faith communities, business leaders and the homeless, and Block's role at its helm hasn't been without controversy.

Residents of Seattle's tent encampments protested at the committee's spring board meeting, complaining that their calls for more emergency shelter were being ignored.

Tim Harris, founding director of Real Change newspaper, said Block has done "extraordinary work in a difficult position." But he said homelessness is increasing, not decreasing, and that the committee has prioritized building permanent housing over creating more emergency shelter.

Block said there's a huge unmet need for both shelter and permanent housing. "The question is, what's the best investment for government to move the most people off the street the most effectively?" Block said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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