Remembering Bill Block

In our collective work to end homelessness, there are many everyday heroes whose names we don’t always know. From case managers to community leaders to behind-the-scenes philanthropists, all doing their part to make things work better. Today, I want to take a moment to recognize one of these heroes — Bill Block.

Although you may have never heard his name, he is someone who has positively impacted the lives of many people across the nation — including mine. My friend Bill passed away on August 19 and I want to take some time today to tell you about him. Long before I met him, Bill played an important role in Seattle and King County, Washington. As the Director of the King County Committee to End Homelessness from 2005 to 2012 he played an instrumental part in the launch and implementation of the region’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and the development of affordable and supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Bill’s advocacy was relentless. So much so, that he came to the attention of the Obama Administration and was named HUD’s Regional Administrator for Region X, the area covering the Pacific Northwest. He held a political appointment at HUD between 2013 and 2017 and it was during that time that I first met him and had the chance to work closely with him, especially when he was on a detail at HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C.

I am not going to sugar coat it — Bill was sometimes a thorn in my side. As an attorney and advocate, he came at his job with intensity and the desire to make big change. As the person managing the homelessness and HOPWA portfolios, sometimes he asked for things I could not do, and he rarely took no for an answer. I was often in the position of feeling infuriated, impressed and grateful for his passion all at the same time. He pushed me to do better and think about things differently. And we became friends through it all.

Since both of our departures from the federal government in 2017, Bill and I kept in close contact. As I went back into the non-profit world, Bill was both my friend and mentor, always offering me his support and wisdom.

He was kind and thoughtful and went out of his way to do things that were just really nice. For example, when I came to Seattle he took me to hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurants to strategize and he would send notes of encouragement when he knew I was dealing with a tough situation. Once he showed up to get me for dinner in a 1957 Thunderbird because he knew that is my dream car and he found someone willing to loan it to him. In my very last email from him just before he passed, he joked about my being scared to take the T-Bird over 60 MPH (which I totally was).

Unlike my driving, Bill never slowed down in retirement. He worked as a volunteer attorney for the ACLU. He started a foundation with his wife. And he personally selected projects across the homelessness field for funding, in areas like racial justice and equity, direct cash transfers for youth and young adults, and on other topics that he thought held promise for the future. Because that is what he wanted to focus on: how to pursue justice and make the future better.

You may never have heard his name, but Bill was one of the everyday heroes that make the work to end homelessness better. The world we work in is a little less bright today without him, but it is also so much better for having had him in it. I know I am better for having had him in my life, and for that I am grateful.