A $350,000 Mystery Campaign, LEAD Says Funding Is Still “At An Impasse,” and Planning for COVID-19 Among the Unsheltered

City council member Kshama Sawant

1. Mayor Jenny Durkan may have announced her intention to release full funding for the Public Defender Association’s  Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program last week, but LEAD staffers, advocates, and former clients said Monday that it’s still too soon to celebrate, since significant aspects of the contract remain unresolved. In the words of PDA director Lisa Daugaard, the mayor’s office and LEAD remained “at an impasse” as of Monday night.

At a press conference at Community Passageways in South Seattle Monday morning, advocates for the program urged Durkan to sign a contract for the full $6.2 million the included in last year’s adopted budget. I broke the news that Durkan had decided to release only the $2.5 million she proposed in her initial budget last year, rather than the $6 million that was included in the final budget, in January.

“The mayor has recently been in dialogue with LEAD about getting this funding released so that they can run their program,” Real Change executive director Tim Harris said. “I’m here to say that dialogue is not enough. We need commitment. We need a signed contract.”

Contacted in South Africa, where she’s attending a conference, Daugaard said, “We’ve seen some progress since the Council sent two letters [asking for the release of LEAD funds] and set a March 1 deadline for release of full funding, and the community letter started circulating. That’s hopeful, but we’re one-sixth of the way through the year and still have no contract. We’re in dialogue with the Mayor’s office and look forward to putting this chapter behind us and doing the work.”

Last week’s statement from the mayor’s office says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department.

LEAD has been working for two months without a contract, and Daugaard has said that in the absence of clear direction on funding, the organization will have to stop taking on new clients and begin serving fewer parts of the city.

Durkan initially said she would release the funding after a consultant had finished reviewing the program to “surface best practice,” come up with performance standards, and decide on appropriate caseloads. The additional funding was meant, in part, to reduce caseloads from levels that LEAD case workers say are unsustainably high. Last week, the mayor released a statement saying that the city “fully expects to contract to LEAD for $6.2 million in services and has been working for months collaboratively to receive important information such as their budget. … Last week, the City received the final detailed budget proposal from LEAD that outlines its proposal to reduce caseloads, reduce the backlog, and accept new referrals.”

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On Monday, Durkan chief of staff Stephanie Formas said the city has sent a letter of agreement to LEAD for review, and that the contract (which the mayor’s office said previously will be in LEAD’s hands by next week) is currently going through internal review by the Human Services Department. Worth noting: Last week’s statement says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department, and housing placements, which LEAD has said are not the point of the program). If the funding does not materialize, Sawant said Monday, she will consider proposing a supplemental budget amendment. “I hope the mayor doesn’t bring us to that point,” she said.

No social distancing at the press conference on COVID-19.

2. As COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to spread, public health and human services officials are just beginning to contend with the likelihood that a significant portion of King County’s 12,000 homeless residents will contract the virus and need places to go after initial treatment, when they’re under quarantine or in isolation during recovery. King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would set up modular units and dormitory-style buildings to house about 100 infected unsheltered people, and is purchasing a motel to isolate patients in general.

Constantine said Monday that the county believes this new capacity “will be sufficient in the short term, but we are going to continue to push to create capacity, because, one, we want to make sure that those who don’t have housing have an appropriate place to be, and two, we want to make sure that hospital capacity is not being taken by people who need to be in isolation or need to be in recovery.”

The city, meanwhile, activated its Emergency Operations Center on Monday, but it was not immediately clear what measures the city, its Human Services Department, or the Navigation Team are taking to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading among the unsheltered population. Social-distancing guidelines suggest that people maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other—a guideline that’s obviously near-impossible to meet in the crowded conditions of a typical shelter.

3. A mystery local initiative campaign called Seattle for a Healthy Planet just received a $315,000 infusion from a Silicon Valley cryptocurrency company called Alameda Research, deepening the mystery around just what kind of 2020 ballot measure the campaign plans to propose. Earlier this year, the Seattle Times’ Daniel Beekman speculated (based largely on previous clients of the law firm listed as the campaign’s primary contact) that it had something to do with promoting natural gas. 

My own speculation, and a deep dive into the connections between the campaign’s primary contributors and consultants, led me to a different, perhaps equally ill-founded, conclusion: Seattle for a Healthy Planet is a group that wants to do research into lab-grown meat, and they want Seattle tax dollars to help them do it.

Follow me down the rabbit hole. The founder of Alameda, Sam Bankman-Fried, sits on the board of a group called Animal Charity Evaluators, which used to employ another major contributors to the campaign, Ashwin Acharya, who gave $10,000. Animal Charity Evaluators, whose motto is “helping people help animals,” ranks charities based on measures of animal welfare. The first hit on Google for Animal Charity Evaluators is an ad, which takes you to this link, a story on “cost-competitive cultured animal products”—actual meat grown in a lab, as opposed to plant products that taste like meat.

But wait—it goes deeper. At the top of ACE’s website: A list of four “charity recommendations,” which includes a nonprofit called the Good Food Institute. Its purpose: Promoting plant-based meat and “clean meat”—that is, meat grown in a lab. The Good Food Institute is also a contributor to Seattle for a Healthy Future.

Bankman-Fried, whose Facebook wall currently includes for the Humane League featuring the McDonald’s arches splashed in blood, did not return a message seeking comment. Nor did any of the donors, listed contacts, or consultants for the campaign. (I attempted to contact them all.) Animal Charity Evaluators did get back to me, but they said they had never heard of the campaign.

Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money for a local election. Maybe Seattle for a Healthy Planet will eventually get back to reporters and let us know how they plan to spend it.

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