Council Budget Restores LEAD Funding, Adds Money for Shelters

The city council’s proposed revisions to Mayor Ed Murray’s 2017-2018 budget include the restoration of funding for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program expansion, money for lockers so people can store their belongings at overnight shelters, and longer hours at a daytime shelters so that at least some homeless people who use shelters aren’t forced to wander the streets during the day.

The council considered 104 proposed additions and cuts to Murray’s budget yesterday; together, they would cost the city an extra $16.4 million in 2017 and 3.9 million in 2018.

LEAD funding came into question last week, when council members wanted to know why the mayor’s budget eliminated spending for LEAD expansion into the East Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill. LEAD, a pre-arrest diversion program aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug and prostitution offenders, started in Belltown but has since expanded throughout central Seattle; supporters hope to see it expand to neighborhoods citywide in the next few years. The $150,000 in one-time funding is supposed to be covered by new revenues from a special King County sales tax for mental illness and drug dependency (the MIDD tax); however, as I reported last week, the county has already allocated much of its new LEAD funding for other purposes (like filling a budget shortfall by paying a county prosecutor out of MIDD funds), and plans to expand LEAD in other parts of King County, not the city of Seattle, using those tax dollars. That leaves LEAD potentially underfunded, and will likely put the burden of expanding the program in Seattle on the city, not the county.

Which brings us back to that $150,000. Although the mayor’s office says the funding is guaranteed, the council wants to take no chances, and put the money back in the budget. “I think it’s really, really important that we continue funding this very effective program,” council member Kshama Sawant said yesterday. Council member Mike O’Brien, noting that the council has heard that “the funding from the county wasn’t going to be available in the way we thought,” seconded Sawant’s statement. He added: “I am still interested in discussing how, over the next year or two, we can expand LEAD to cover the whole city. I’m interested  in exploring what those next steps might be over the next few days and see if there’s any budget implications in the near term.”

Residents of Highland Park, in council member Lisa Herbold’s district, and Ballard, in O’Brien’s, have requested LEAD expansion in their neighborhoods.

Other changes in the council’s human services budget include:

• $105,000 for a social worker to staff the Downtown Public Health Center, the likely location for a low-barrier “bupe-first” pilot treatment project for people with opiate use disorder. The idea behind “bupe-first” is to get opiate addicts on buprenorphine (brand name: Suboxone), a drug that suppresses the physical need to use more harmful drugs like heroin; the same site will also offer needle exchange, case management, and followup services.

• A directive to the Human Services Department to come up with cost estimates for implementing the recommendations of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, which include screening students for risk factors for drug abuse, expanding access to buprenorphine, and establishing supervised drug consumption sites.

• About $350,000 a year for the  Lazarus Day Center, which serves people over 50, to expand its hours and daytime services.

• $545,000 to add 4.5 new positions for 2017 to implement the mayor’s “bridging the gap” plan to address homeless encampments, by setting up four new sanctioned encampments, expanding outreach to people living in unsanctioned camps, and improved needle and trash cleanup (including between 11 and 17 new sharps containers for the entire city).

The next scheduled budget committee is Wednesday, November 9, at 9:30am.

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