New Navigation Team Leader, New Job for Chamber CEO?, and a “New” Homelessness Dashboard

Not shown: How many people displaced from encampments who didn’t “accept” shelter referrals. Screen shot via performance.seattle.gov.

1. The city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and social service workers who clear encampments and inform their displaced residents about available shelter beds and services, has been without a leader since July, when the team’s outreach director, Jackie St. Louis, resigned. The Human Services Department ended up opting not to hire any of the applicants, including St. Louis (who applied for the position after quitting), on a permanent basis, but the job will be filled for at least the next year by Tara Beck, a planner who has been at HSD since 2016.

In an email, HSD director Jason Johnson said Beck had been “the highest-rated internal candidate for the position and given transitions ahead, with so much uncertainty related to the Regional Authority, I am excited to have her lead this important, complex, and life-saving work throughout 2020.” It’s unclear whether Beck’s current job as a planning and development specialist in the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division—which is supposed to be dissolved once the city and county merge their homelessness efforts into a single regional agency—will be filled.

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2. Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Strickland is seriously considering a run for the 10th District Congressional seat being vacated at the end of next year by longtime incumbent Denny Heck, who announced his retirement a week ago. Strickland was traveling on Wednesday and unavailable, but Chamber chief of staff Markham McIntyre confirmed that she is “strongly considering running but has not made a decision.”

Strickland was hired by the Chamber in 2018 after serving as mayor of Tacoma for eight years. This year, the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy PAC raised and spent $2.5 million—including, infamously, $1.45 million from Amazon—and saw its candidates lose in five out of seven council races. Some pundits blamed the losses on an Amazon backlash; others pointed out that the Chamber had backed an unusually lackluster field, which included a former council member driven out by scandal, a two-time candidate whose last race ended in a primary defeat; and an anti-development neighborhood activist. (That last one, Alex Pedersen, was the only non-incumbent Chamber-backed candidate who won—and immediately hired a staffer who spent the last few years filing legal challenges to the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability policy, which allows modest increases in density on the edges of single-family zones.)

Point being, Strickland may be looking for opportunities outside the Chamber. I’ll update this post if I hear more.

3. If you’re seeing reports about the city’s new Performance Dashboard and thinking to yourself, “Haven’t I seen this somewhere before?”—that’s because I already reported on the dashboard back in early October, when it first went live. When I discovered the site, HSD director Jason Johnson had just told the council that he couldn’t provide accurate information about how many referrals from the Navigation Team lead to shelter because there was still a lot of work to do before the dashboard could be made available.  Today, two months later, the city finally “launched” the site, and at least the human services section looks… exactly the same it did in October, except that another quarter’s worth of data is available. (I only took screen shots of the homelessness performance measures, so I can’t vouch for whether the other sections have changed.)

As they did back in October, the numbers continue to show that few people who receive information about available shelter beds actually follow through with these referrals, with just 26 percent of people who “accept referrals” going to the shelter they’re referred to within two days of receiving a referral. As before, the dashboard does not include information about how many people the Navigation Team contacted, including those who didn’t “accept referrals” to shelter—important contextual information that would allow people viewing the data to know how many people living in encampments were not interested in the shelter that was being offered.

Although living in a tent is obviously not ideal, tents can provide privacy and a sense of autonomy that shelters, especially basic shelters like the one at City Hall, do not. People living in tents may choose not to accept a mat on the floor for a night—or even a guaranteed bunk bed in a low-barrier shelter—for a number of reasons, including a desire for privacy, feeling uncomfortable sleeping in a large room with many other people, or simply because they want to have some control over their environment. The dashboard provides no insights on the reasons people chose not to “accept” offers of shelter, nor does it show how often this happens, creating an incomplete (and probably too-rosy) picture of the effectiveness of the team, which has been expanded repeatedly since Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in 2017.

 

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