Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

I’m back from vacation, the council has almost passed a 2020 budget with aggressive edits to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal, and the election is officially all-but-over (results will be certified on Friday). Here are a few items that are worth your attention.

1. Semi-final election results: Although the local and (to a much lesser extent) national press has fixated on the fact that incumbent Kshama Sawant came back from behind to defeat Amazon-backed challenger Egan Orion by more than 1,750 votes, an equally fascinating late-voting story has played out in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, where neighborhood activist and former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, who was backed by both the business lobby and Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC, is poised to defeat Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Sawant’s swing was more dramatic, but for Scott to come so close in a district that is less than 3 percent African American—Scott is black—and with so much less money and institutional funding was a sign, perhaps, that District 4, which includes the University of Washington along with a number of higher-turnout precincts with views of Lake Washington and incomes to match, wasn’t entirely convinced by Pedersen and Burgess’ appeals to “Seattle Is Dying”-style populism. Or that students were compelled to actually turn out for a charismatic, hard-campaigning, issue-oriented socialist; we’ll know more once precinct-level data becomes available.

Egan Orion’s loss to incumbent Kshama Sawant has overshadowed Shaun Scott’s comeback in District 4.

2.  Council pushes back on Durkan’s budget: Before I left, the council had already indicated it planned to alter Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal pretty dramatically.

I reported on many of the changes back when they were still in the proposal stage, including:

• Amendments redirecting millions in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Megablock to fund housing and bike lanes in South Seattle (which has no uninterrupted safe bike connections to downtown);

• A proviso requiring the Human Services Department to provide quarterly reports on what the encampment-clearing Navigation Team is up to;

• The elimination of funds to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown that both neighbors and the city agree is working well;

• Cutting the size and scope of a proposed program that would help homeowners build second units and rent them out as moderate-income housing and requiring that the city do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal;

• Reducing or freezing funds for Durkan’s plans for dealing with “prolific offenders,” including a proposed expansion of probation;

Out of an unknown number of individuals contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of 124 officer calls, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter.

• Repurposing some of the $3 million in soda tax revenues Durkan had proposed setting aside to fund capital improvements to P-Patches, including gardens in Ballard and Capitol Hill, for other initiatives to promote healthy food in low-income communities most impacted by the tax, and stipulating that any soda tax revenues that go to the P-Patch program must be spent in designated Healthy Food Priority Areas; and

ª $3.5 million in funding for the LEAD program, whose planned expansion Durkan did not propose funding. The new money, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Ballmer foundation, will allow the pre-arrest diversion program to manage its ever-expanding caseloads in the coming year.

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In addition, the council adopted a number of smaller-ticket items and placed conditions on some of the mayor’s spending proposals, including:

• A request that the Human Services Department survey service providers that provide case management to homeless clients who wear Bluetooth-enabled “beacons” provided by a company called Samaritan, which created an app enabling donors to read up on the personal stories of beacon wearers in the area and give money to businesses and agencies on their behalf. Homeless participants can access the donations in the form of goods or debit cards, and are required to participate in case management and report on their progress through the app. The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers.

•  $120,000 to hire a consultant to study how to measure how and whether the LEAD program is working to reduce “reliance on the criminal justice system and a reduction in public disorder issues.” Numerous studies have already confirmed LEAD’s effectiveness at reducing jail bookings and recidivism.

• A proviso requiring the Seattle Department of Transportation to report how much it spends on bike infrastructure maintenance, which is currently lumped in with all roadway maintenance in the budget. This makes it difficult to know how much the city is actually doing to ensure that bike lanes and trails are usable (see: every snowstorm) and in good repair.

• Reduced permit fees for the city’s single remaining free-floating carshare option, ShareNow (formerly Car2Go). Council member Mike O’Brien supported lowering the annual parking fee for each free-floating car $700 to $200 a year on the grounds that it would be a shame to loose the last remaining free-floating carshare option in the city (Zipcar requires users to return their cars to designated spaces), despite the fact that ShareNow recently adopted a new policy of charging customers more money to park in most of South Seattle, a move that raises obvious equity concerns.

The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the Samaritan homeless-giving app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers.

• A proviso requiring the city budget office to come up with a plan to compensate volunteers who serve on city boards and commissions, positions which often require huge time commitments but are currently uncompensated, leading to boards made up of people who can afford to (or are paid by their employers to) hold strictly volunteer positions.

• Finally, the council adopted a number of new quarterly reporting requirements for the Navigation Team (a group of police officers and HSD staffers that clears unauthorized encampments), including:

– Detailed information about whether and how often encampment residents who receive shelter referrals actually make it to the shelter (as I reported last month, the vast majority of people “referred” to shelter by the Navigation Team don’t end up there);

– Clarification on what makes an encampment an “obstruction” exempt from ordinary advance notice requirements (critics have complained that the Navigation Team interprets the city’s rules for clearing encampments so liberally that even tents in out-of-the-way areas of public parks are removed without notice);

– A report about the results of a training on racial equity and trauma-informed care that was supposed to be completed by June of this year but wasn’t; 

– A “customer survey” (the city now insists on calling human service clients “customers” as if they were browsing Amazon for shelter deals) on “what would make customers more likely to accept an offer of shelter… what would increase the likelihood that a customer stays at a shelter following a referral from the Navigation Team,” and whether the fact that the Navigation Team is mostly uniformed cops makes them more or less likely to engage with the group. 

3. Bike and community policing cops must show their work: The Navigation Team provisos also ask HSD to tell the auditor and council how often Community Police Team and bicycle officers—who, as I reported back in June, have been trained to remove encampments on their own—are actually contacting the Navigation Team to provide referrals to shelter and services, as opposed to simply removing tents and telling their occupants to move along (or arresting them).

The city’s data on this new program, which empowers cops to clear encampments but didn’t provide any extra funding to add more HSD staffers trained in providing referrals outside regular business hours, has been spotty. I obtained some of the data from HSD last month, which included information from both HSD and the Seattle Police Department, which keeps its records on a different system. I’ve used SPD’s numbers for the total number of contacts, calls to the Navigation Team, and arrests, and HSD’s numbers for shelter referrals.

The data provided by HSD and SPD shows that CPT officers “interacted” with people living in unauthorized encampments 515 times between June and October of this year, a number that includes more than 515 individual people because each encounter between SPD and people living in an encampment is recorded as a single “interaction.”

During those 515 encounters, the officers contacted a member of the Navigation Team, typically a “field coordinator” trained to clean up encampments and remove debris, 124 times. (They also arrested 31 people during those 515 encounters, including 19 for felony warrants or alleged felonies and 12 for misdemeanor crimes or warrants, including warrants for low-level drug possession, theft, and domestic violence assault). Typically, according to mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower, when a CPT or bike cop tells a homeless person to move along, they “simply comply with the officer’s direction and the Navigation Team is not called to a location.”

Out of an unknown number of actual unsheltered people contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of an officer call, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter. According to Hightower, “It’s premature to draw conclusions from this data set.” For example, “there can be a variety of reasons and scenarios for why people are not accepting an offer of service and/or shelter.” 

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