One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?

1. Reagan Dunn, a Republican King County Council member who has been vocal in his opposition to a proposal to merge Seattle and King County’s homelessness agencies, told me last week that one of his concerns about the plan was that it would be responsible for implementing the same policies he believes have failed at reducing homelessness, including lenient “Seattle-centric” policies like the (basically moribund) plan to open a safe drug consumption site in King County and county prosecutor Dan Satterburg’s decision not to prosecute people for simple drug possession. On Tuesday, he proposed a few policies he thinks will work better.

The first proposal would allocate at least a million dollars a year for bus tickets to send homeless people to “reunite” with family members out of town—as long as those family members don’t live in King or any adjacent county. These “Homeward Bound” programs have had mixed success, both at getting homeless people to go somewhere else and actually reuniting people with their families; according to a 2017 Guardian investigation, there’s often little tracking of what happens to homeless people once they’re sent away, and little way of knowing if they’ve been reunited with loved ones or simply become some other city’s problem. “Seattle has nothing like [Homeward Bound] and we’ve become a dead-end street,” Dunn says. “Sometimes you have to have a tough-love solution.”

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Surveys of people experiencing homelessness in King County consistently show that the overwhelming majority—84 percent of those surveyed as part of the 2019 point-in-time count—lived (in housing) in King County before becoming homeless.

Dunn’s other two proposals would set up a county team to do outreach to homeless people in Metro bus shelters and on buses (two of the principle places people without homes go to get dry and warm), and a plan to notify opiate prescribers when a patient dies of an opiate-related overdose.

Dunn says he thinks the proposed new regional body, which would be governed by a board of “experts” that would not include any elected officials, would be “unaccountable to the public” and could siphon funding away from King County’s other cities to Seattle. He may not be alone. County Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski, both Democrats, are reportedly on the fence, and Bellevue Democrat Claudie Balducci expressed some misgivings last week. The county’s regional policy committee, which includes members from many of the cities that were not included in the plan, meets to discuss the proposal this afternoon.

The language is so similar to the verbiage on People For Seattle’s vitriolic, often highly misleading primary election direct mail pieces (particularly that “back to basics,” anti-“ideology” stuff) that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is their poll.

2. A lawsuit by the group Safe Seattle that sought to shut down a “tiny house village” in South Lake Union was rejected just as the city announced plans to extend the permits for the three officially temporary villages—in Othello, Georgetown, and West Seattle—for six more months. But the future of these “tiny house” encampments is still in question.

The three villages originally supposed to move after two years, but their permits have been extended twice, and it’s unclear whether the Human Services Department has a long-term plan for what to do with them after the extensions are up. (When I asked HSD about the future of the villages, a spokeswoman initially said they would have something to announce “soon,” then pointed me to the agency’s blog post about the six-month extension.)

One option may be opening more villages in partnership with religious institutions, which don’t have to adhere to the same time limits as villages on private or city land. (Othello Village, one of the three that received an extension, will be sponsored by the Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church on land owned by the Low-Income Housing Institute). Sharon Lee, the director of LIHI, says the group is “working very hard to get a church sponsorship for some of the other villages.”

From the city of Seattle’s response to Safe Seattle’s lawsuit.

Legislation proposed by council member Kshama Sawant to relax the rules governing tiny house villages by allowing them in residential areas and exempting religious institutions from some land-use requirements, could make it easier for LIHI (which operates most of the tiny house villages in Seattle) to open up new villages around the city, but that bill faces both an uncertain path to passage and another legal challenge—this one from Magnolia neighborhood activist and Hearing Examiner habitué Elizabeth Campbell, who claims that new rules allowing more tiny house villages citywide will have a negative impact on the environment.

As for the first lawsuit, the one filed by Safe Seattle? King County Superior Court judge Suzanne Parisien dismissed it with prejudice, finding that not only did the Facebook-based group “fail to demonstrate standing” to sue the city and LIHI over the encampment (“a conjectural or hypothetical injury does not support standing”), their underlying allegations, which included a bizarre claim that LIHI was operating an illegal “assisted living facility” at the camp, were baseless. “A transitional encampment is not an assisted living facility,” Parisien wrote, because apparently it needed to be said.

District 3 voters can look forward to ads and mailers claiming that Sawant is a “socialist” who “frequently cancels meetings,” is driven by “ideology,” and “blocks efforts to clean up encampments”; claiming that the council “does nothing but bicker over homelessness”; and asserting that Orion is a “fourth-generation Seattleite” with deep roots in Capitol Hill who will stop “blaming Amazon” and bring the city “back to basics.”

3. At least one of the organizations that is dumping money into Seattle City Council races is conducting phone and text polls to test general-election messages messages against at least two council candidates (and likely more)—Kshama Sawant in District 3 and Shaun Scott in District 4. People for Seattle, formed by former city council member Tim Burgess to support candidates including his former council aide Alex Pedersen, and Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the Seattle Metro Chamber’s PAC, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the outcome of the primary election.

I got the phone version of the poll over the weekend. (Others, including Scott, have posted screen shots from the text poll, which sounds similar enough that I assume the two were done by the same group.) I live in District 3, so the questions I was asked pitted “back to basics” challenger Egan Orion against “noisy, grandstanding” incumbent Sawant.

If the group behind the poll goes with the messaging they were testing over the weekend, District 3 voters can look forward to campaign ads and mailers claiming that Sawant is a “socialist” who “frequently cancels meetings,” is driven by “ideology,” and “blocks efforts to clean up encampments”; claiming that the city council “does nothing but bicker over homelessness”; and asserting that Orion is a “fourth-generation Seattleite” with deep roots in Capitol Hill who will stop “blaming Amazon” and bring the city “back to basics.” (District 3, I’m obligated to point out to both of these Capitol Hill-centric campaigns, includes many neighborhoods besides Capitol Hill).

The language is so similar to the verbiage on People For Seattle’s vitriolic, often highly misleading primary election direct mail pieces (particularly that “back to basics,” anti-“ideology” stuff) that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is their poll. If you want to prove me wrong, you’ll have to wait until early October, when all the campaigns will be required to file their next spending reports.

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