Coronavirus Prompts Shelter Expansion, Sound Transit Moves to Amend Fare Enforcement Policies, and More

King County Executive Dow Constantine

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged Wednesday that an inmate who was being transferred from the SCORE regional jail in Des Moines to the King County Jail in Seattle was sent to Harborview with concerning symptoms and that the jail shut down intake for a few hours. The inmate did not have the virus. Asked if the jail had a plan for a future outbreak, Constantine said, “We are being very vigilant about any either staff or inmate who would have symptoms, and they would be isolated immediately” within the jail.

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced today that the city will open up 100 new shelter beds, including 20 new units at the existing Lake Union tiny house village, a new 30-unit tiny house village on Cherry Hill, and a former addiction treatment center in Bitter Lake, which can hold another 50 or so people in 28 rooms. All of the new shelter and tiny house spaces will be operated by the Low Income Housing Institute.

LIHI plans to continue operating the new and expanded tiny house villages, and possibly the shelter at the former treatment center (which LIHI owns), after the current crisis passes. Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said that the city is “continuing to evaluate the continuation of funding sources,” adding that “once the crisis is under control, the City and County will determine the best use for the infrastructure put in place under the Emergency Declaration.”

“There are 5,000 unsheltered men, women, and children on the street. Why does it take the coronavirus to make people [decide] that something should be done for homeless people? The existing status quo is bad enough. We should be standing these up anyway.”—LIHI director Sharon Lee

The obvious question is: If it was possible to open up this many shelter spaces so quickly, why didn’t the city do it before? (A similar question could be asked of the county, which purchased a hotel in Kent and is standing up modular units in White Center, Interbay, and North Seattle to quarantine and isolate homeless people and others who test positive for the virus.) Sharon Lee, LIHI’s director, is asking it: “There are 5,000 unsheltered men, women, and children on the street” in Seattle, Lee says. “Why does it take the coronavirus to make people [decide] that something should be done for homeless people? The existing status quo is bad enough. We should be standing these up anyway.”

Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said that at the moment, “the City isn’t anticipating that any of these sites will be used for isolation or quarantine. … HSD will take direction from Public Health on operations in relation to COVID-19. Once the crisis is under control, the City and County will determine the best use for the infrastructure put in place under the Emergency Declaration.”

Sound Transit’s favorite slide.

2.Sound Transit staff presented recommendations to improve its controversial fare-enforcement policies on Thursday morning, but the list of proposed changes did not include a number of steps recommended by advocates for low-income people and riders of color, such as allowing riders transferring from the King County Metro bus system to use paper transfers as proof of payment, eliminating fares, and moving the entire ticketing and fine process outside the court system altogether.

Other community-suggested changes that Sound Transit decided not to pursue include: Eliminating fares; adding on-board payment options; setting a maximum amount that riders can pay for transit every month; and replacing fines with ORCA cards of equivalent value.

The changes Sound Transit is making will be familiar to anyone who has been following the fare enforcement discussion, because they haven’t changed substantially since the agency first began floating possible changes win January. The agency says it will cut fines from $124 to $50; increase the number of verbal warnings for nonpayment from one to two in a 12-month period; set official parameters for eliminating fare enforcement during severe weather and around the first day of school; and work with King County to move ticket resolution into community court.

Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci noted the agency could move tickets to community court without continuing to criminalize nonpayment, which can lead to misdemeanor charges.

Balducci also said she was “challenged to see how the finding that we had in our study about racial disparities”—captured in Sound Transit’s presentation as “concerns about potential racial profiling, feeling targeted or harassed, and disproportionate enforcement in South Seattle”—were reflected in the recommendations. Sound Transit has consistently maintained that its fare enforcement practices “ensure equal treatment” by checking everyone’s fare in a consistent pattern every time.

The recommendations do include more anti-bias training for fare enforcement officers, and say that Sound Transit will “refine and evaluate” their role “to incorporate customer service more consistently into how FEOs perform core security and enforcement responsibilities. But they don’t go as far as many community members wanted, by moving fare enforcement in-house (Sound Transit contracts with the private company Securitas for fare enforcement), changing their uniforms to look less like police uniforms, or eliminating the officers altogether.

3. David Driskell, the deputy director of the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development, announced his resignation last month and said he would be returning to his consulting firm, whose clients include state and local governments, while “supporting OPCD on a part-time basis.”

The firm, Driskell + Baird, does not have any current contracts with the city. Last year, OPCD director Sam Assefa was a finalist for a job as head of the planning department in Boulder, CO, where he served as senior urban designer for six years. Driskell, who moved to Seattle from Portland to take the job as Assefa, was previously Assefa’s boss in Boulder. When it looked like Assefa might be returning to Boulder to direct the planning department there, Driskell was seen as a potential replacement.

 

One thought on “Coronavirus Prompts Shelter Expansion, Sound Transit Moves to Amend Fare Enforcement Policies, and More”

  1. it would be good for both ST and Metro use proof of payment fare collection on more, if not all, of their services for improved speed. inspection should be humane.

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