“We Just Can’t Do It.” Seattle Debates Moving Homeless People From Hotels Back to Mass Shelter

Daniel Malone, the director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, is insistent: The 200 or so men and women living in a Red Lion hotel in Renton since the COVID-19 pandemic began can’t go back to DESC’s main building downtown—not now, not ever.

“We definitely can’t just take all of those people and move them back to the main shelter at the end of August,” when the contract for the Red Lion ends, he says. “We just can’t do it.” DESC’s congregate shelters, which provide basic shelter in bunk beds for 383 people, serve some of the most medically vulnerable men and women in the city, and are “not in keeping with public health guidelines for [bed] spacing” during the pandemic, Malone says.

DESC hopes to purchase three motels, each with about 130 rooms, to permanently shelter those 383 people, and to put the Morrison Hotel—the historic Pioneer Square building that houses the organization’s main shelter, along with 190 units of permanent supportive housing—to other uses. If funding for this plan doesn’t come through, Plan B is returning about half of those people to reconfigured shelters at higher cost per bed than motels.

“We definitely can’t just take all of those people and move them back to the main shelter at the end of August. We just can’t do it.” —Daniel Malone, Downtown Emergency Service Center

“On a per-person basis, you’d end up spending a lot more to reuse the older facilities, because you’d have fewer people in them— and then, of course, you’d have just far fewer beds,” Malone says.

Several other shelter providers have moved people into hotels in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Salvation Army and Catholic Community Services. These groups will face a similar debate when funds for hotel rooms start running out.

COVID-19 outbreaks within the homeless population have been most common in mass shelters where people sleep a few feet apart and share common areas, restrooms, and other facilities. According to the King County Public Health department, which monitors an incomplete list of about 50 shelters around the county, most reported cases of COVID-19 among the county’s homeless population have occurred in congregate shelters, bolstering the argument for individual rooms. And with the World Health Organization reporting that COVID-19 can spread through the air in indoor settings, the argument for eliminating mass shelters, like the ones the city of Seattle has opened in community centers and public buildings to “de-intensify” existing shelters, is compelling.

City council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said last week that she was “frustrated” that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s request for federal funding for COVID-19 response did not include funding for additional beds in non-congregate settings, such as hotel rooms or dorms. Instead, the requests so far would pay for existing shelter beds that were funded through the original 2020 budget, which is facing significant midyear cuts.

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“I didn’t think we could be any more clear, from the council’s perspective, that non-congregate settings are a priority for us,” Mosqueda told city budget director Ben Noble during a briefing last week. “About three weeks, ago I said from the conversations that we were having with people who are providing direct services to the houseless, they are very fearful that they are just weeks from where the long-term care facilities were in the very beginning.

“What other types of funding are we looking into to create non-congregate shelters?” she asked “I’m still frustrated that we don’t have that answer from [the Human Services Department.”

Durkan has resisted proposals to fund non-congregate shelter options like hotels during the pandemic, despite ample evidence that not only do separate spaces prevent COVID-19 from spreading but have tremendous physical and psychological benefits to people accustomed to fighting over space, food, and showers in overcrowded congregate settings. (The Red Lion, for which the city provides some funding, has not had a single case of COVID-19).

“If the question is what happens in two or three months, more people will be alive [because] fewer people will have contracted COVID. Quite literally, that is how we will save lives.”—City Council member Teresa Mosqueda

“I think we need to be conscious of the sustainability of whatever system we set up,” Noble said last week. “The COVID pandemic isn’t going to disappear by any means… and I think there are difficult decisions to be made about how well we can manage some level of congregate shelter … versus moving folks singularly into non-congregate settings, and part of that is making sure we have sufficient and robust testing in these settings.”

“If the question is what happens in two or three months, more people will be alive [because] fewer people will have contracted COVID,” Mosqueda shot back. “Quite literally, that is how we will save lives.”

Malone, from DESC, says that for the hundreds of people who are supposed to leave their hotel rooms at the end of August, the future remains “very uncertain.” He’s hopeful that the county, which secured the hotel for DESC in the first place, will come through with some capital and operating funding for their longer-term proposal, and has shown the city some preliminary figures for what it would cost to operate both the motels and mass shelters at half their previous capacity.

“There are lots of people from different quarters who are enthusiastic about this idea, and that makes me think we would have a shot at pulling the resources together,” Malone says. “I just don’t feel the door is shut on this.”

“Pursuing this strategy of going to individual rooms is the way to go,” he continues, “and even if we got to the end of this epidemic in the future, that would still be a better way to do it.”

Mayor’s Office: Cutting Police by 50% This Year Would “Require the City to Abolish the Department”

On Wednesday morning, just before the council discussed options for cutting the Seattle Police Department budget by as much as 50 percent, senior deputy mayor Mike Fong sent a letter to council members urging them against such “blunt efforts.” Instead, Fong said, the council should approach the process of “re-envisioning policing” in a more “thoughtful” way, with a process of “structural reform” that would stretch well into 2021 and beyond.

“SPD has already spent half of its $400 million annual budget by now, so a $200 million cut (or 50% of SPD’s budget) would leave the department with zero budget remaining for 2020 and require the City to abolish the department,” Fong wrote.

A “$100 million reduction (or 25% of SPD’s budget),” he continued, “would mean immediate layoffs of up to 1,000 personnel leaving [police] Chief [Carmen] Best and the Seattle Police Department unable to conduct basic functions.  In addition, it would be irresponsible to make immediate cuts without any conceivable mechanism to stand up alternative models to achieve community safety. …  [T]he Executive does not think that simply making target cuts in SPD’s budget, without looking at the work or personnel being done/cut or the ability to have others do the work, will advance community safety.”

Durkan has consistently responded to demands that the city defund SPD by promising to “reimagine” the role of the police and brushed off protesters’ three high-level demands—immediately defund SPD by at least 50 percent, reinvest that money in community-based approaches to safety, and release all jailed protesters—as naive or unrealistic. Fong’s email, for example, says the cuts advocates are proposing are “not informed by any analysis or considerations of the underlying functions and services that SPD currently delivers.”

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Instead of immediate cuts, Durkan has proposed a multi-step process before making any kind of structural changes to the department, including community “engagement and further [interdepartmental] analysis [that] will lead to additional recommendations for SPD reforms and alternative models for service delivery,” as Fong’s letter puts it.

This commitment to further “reform” and a process of community engagement led by the city is unlikely to satisfy advocates and abolitionists pushing for immediate cuts and systemic changes. Nor is it likely to satisfy the council, which was talking on Wednesday about phasing in cuts of perhaps $85 million—”the back of the envelope figure,” according to council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda—to be coupled with investments in community-based programs, including a new 911 system that would replace police with community responders on non-criminal calls.

By arguing for a slower approach and emphasizing reform and “re-envisioning” (as Fong’s letter puts it), the mayor’s office is committed to an incrementalism that many on the council—which amends and approves the mayor’s budget—have already rejected. Durkan’s proposal to cut $20 million from the police budget this year, as I’ve reported, only represents an additional cut of $4 million over what she proposed to the council before protests against police violence broke out in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May. As SPD has acknowledged, the department has already met all its hiring goals for 2020, so Durkan’s proposed cuts won’t impact the number of police on the streets.

Like most police departments, SPD is a unionized institution of highly paid workers who are generally resistant to cuts or policy changes. Even getting officers to move so-called “mourning bands,” black tape strips used to signify the death of a colleague (in this case, a member of the State Patrol who died in March), to a place where they do not obscure badge numbers has apparently been a major challenge, despite legislation requiring them to do so.

In his letter, Fong suggests that union rules that protect officers with seniority would lead to the department cutting “some of our younger and most diverse officers” first, “defeating the hard work done to recruit officers that reflect and serve their communities.” Advocates coming forward with proposals for systemic change are unlikely to be moved by such arguments, especially when they imply that community organizations have not thought their own priorities and proposals through.

Lawyers, Car Dealerships, Burger Joints, Newspapers, and Strip Clubs: Which Seattle Companies Got Federal Loans

COVID-19 Relief Series, Part 2: Paycheck Protection Program ...

 

The Small Business Administration has published a list of the companies that received Paycheck Protection Act loans of more than $150,000, including thousands of Seattle-based for-profit companies, nonprofits, and religious institutions. (The low-interest loans convert into grants if they are used primarily to retain staff who might otherwise be laid off). The local list, which I’ve compiled into a Google spreadsheet, includes a wide range of companies, from large law firms to newspapers to Catholic schools to nonprofits.

The Small Business Administration, which administered the loans, lists loans as ranges, so I have described each loan as being “up to” the higher end of the range. You can download the full spreadsheets of loans over and under $150,000 on the SBA website; note that the list of loans under $150,000 does not contain business names or detailed business categories.

I took a look at the list of Seattle companies and put together a highly unscientific, non-comprehensive guide to highlights, lowlights, and oddities.

• As the New York Times and others have pointed out, large law firms, lobbyists, and car dealerships were among the biggest “small-business” loan recipients nationwide, and Seattle was no exception. Law firms receiving big payouts in Seattle include Foster Garvey (formerly Foster Pepper), which received as much as $10 million; Schroeter, Goldmark, & Bender (up to $2 million) and Stokes Lawrence (up to $2 million). Local mega-consulting form Strategies 360 received up to $5 million. And Bill Pierre Ford (up to $2 million), Carter Motors, and Freeway Motors (up to $5 million each) were just three of the 20 Seattle car dealerships that received federal loans, a number that does not include the much higher number of dealerships just outside city limits.

The owners of the McDonald’s at Third and Pine, a corner that has seen many shootings over the years (most recently in February, when a mass shooting killed one and injured seven), also received a loan of up to $5 million.

• Several local media companies received PPP loans, including the Seattle Times (which reported earlier this month that it had received nearly $10 million), the Stranger (which has not disclosed its loan of up to $2 million, and continues to solicit small donations from readers, saying they’ve lost more than 90 percent of their revenue), the Daily Journal of Commerce (which received up to $1 million) and Sagacity Media, which owns Seattle Met Magazine and received up to $2 million. Cascade Public Media, the umbrella nonprofit for KTCS 9 and Crosscut, also received up to $2 million.

• For reasons that are unclear, Red Mill Burgers, which is owned by two white siblings, listed itself as a Black-owned business, according to the SBA. (The racial designation is optional, and does not confer any particular advantage.) Red Mill was in the news several years ago after owner John Shepherd got in trouble for making sexist and transphobic comments and sharing transphobic cartoons. Specifically, he “stepped down” from his “role” at the company—without actually relinquishing control—after calling female city council members “bitches” for voting against a sports arena and posting transphobic memes on Facebook. Shepherd remains an active commenter on the anti-homeless Safe Seattle Facebook page. Red Mill received between $100,000 and $350,000.

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• Restaurants, which (along with hotels) were hard-hit by stay-at-home orders, ranked high among recipients of large and mid-range loans. Some notable beneficiaries include Duke’s Chowder House (up to $5 million); the Daily Dozen Doughnuts stand in Pike Place Market (up to $5 million); Matador, with branches in West Seattle and Ballard (up to $5 million); Salty’s, a seafood restaurant on Alki Beach (up to $5 million); two franchise branches of Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese restaurant chain (up to $2 million); Renee Erickson, who owns nearly a dozen local sea creature-themed restaurants (up to $5 million); and the ultra-spendy Queen Anne destination restaurant Canlis (up to $2 million); and Dick’s Drive-Ins (up to $5 million).

Various business entities associated with restaurateur Tom Douglas, who shuttered all of his restaurants and laid off hundreds of employees in early March, will collectively receive loans of up to $4.35 million. The restaurants include some that are still open, such as the Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, and Serious Pie, as well as two that Douglas has closed permanently, Brave Horse Tavern and Cuoco. According to the SBA database, Douglas’ claimed that the federal loan of up to $1 million would allow Terry Avenue Restaurants, the corporate name for the two shuttered restaurants, to retain 92 jobs.

The owners of the McDonald’s at Third and Pine, a corner that has seen many shootings over the years (most recently in February, when a mass shooting killed one and injured seven), also received a loan of up to $5 million.

Rounding out the list of local burger chains, Kidd Valley and Burgermaster each received loans of up to $1 million.

Five corporations associated with Deja Vu strip clubs, not all of them incorporated in Washington State, showed up on the list and received a total of up to$5,350,000.

Some of the restaurateurs who will benefit from federal largesse have been in the news previously for stiffing workers or expressing anti-tax or anti-government views. Douglas, who just announced he will permanently close two of his restaurants near the Amazon campus, was among the most vocal restaurant-industry opponents of the “head tax” last year, and had to pay out a $2.4 million settlement for underpaying his employees last year. Dick’s Drive-Ins also came out against the tax, and its executive vice president, speaking on behalf of the company, suggested that charitable giving by individuals should replace government support for homeless services.

• A large number religious institutions (which are not taxed) received significant loans, among them the Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle (up to $5 million), the Diocese of Olympia (up to $1 million), St. Anne’s Church on Queen Anne (up to $1 million), and about three dozen other churches or religious organizations. Private schools, many of them run by religious denominations, also received dozens of loans; Holy Names Academy (up to $2 million), St. Joseph School (up to  $2 million), and O’Dea High School, for example, received loans, as did private schools like Morningside Academy (up to $350,000) and charter schools like Summit Public Schools and Villa Academy (up to $2 million each).

The libertarian, anti-government Washington Policy Center—which rails against expansion of government programs to help vulnerable people and advocates for “free-market solutions” over government “handouts”—accepted a federal handout of up to $1 million.

• Local nonprofits that help people experiencing homelessness and food or housing insecurity also received loans to continue doing their work at a time when direct assistance has been especially critical. On the long list are Food Lifeline (up to $2 million), Solid Ground (up to $5 million), the Chief Seattle Club (up to $350,000), the Lighthouse for the Blind (up to $10 million), Asian Counseling and Referral Service (up to $5 million) and El Centro de la Raza (up to $2 million).

• Five corporations associated with Deja Vu strip clubs, not all of them incorporated in Washington State, showed up on the list and received a total of up to $5,350,000. According to the SBA, the five Seattle-based entities employ nearly 400 people.

One, Bijou-Century LLC, is registered in Nevada and owns a strip club in San Francisco that has been the source of several high-profile legal disputes, including a lawsuit against the software company Oracle over an unpaid five-figure tab. Another, S A W Entertainment Ltd., is associated with the Hustler and Condor strip clubs (both Deja Vu-affiliated) in San Francisco. The listed location for both entities is at 1510 1st Ave., the location of Fantasy Unlimited/Deja Vu Showgirls, but neither company is registered in Washington. And two more Deja Vu affiliates—BT California, which runs the Penthouse Club in San Francisco, and Deja Vu San Francisco LLC—are both listed at an address on Eastlake Ave. E. that is not the site of any strip club.

Only Seattle Amusement Co., also located at 1510 First Ave., is an actual Washington State corporation—it’s owned, along with the rest of the building that houses the Showbox nightclub, by local strip club magnate Roger Forbes, who started the Deja Vu company with Larry Flynt in 1985. The byzantine accounting (and the sleuthing required to find out where all these “Seattle” LLCs are registered) speaks to the difficulty of tracking where all the loans are going, even with the benefit of spreadsheets and the Internet. For what it’s worth,

Finally, the libertarian, anti-government Washington Policy Center—which rails against expansion of government programs to help vulnerable people and advocates for “free-market solutions” over government “handouts”—accepted a federal handout of up to $1 million.

Launch Day for QUITTER, My Memoir about Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery!

My book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery (Viking), is finally out and available on Amazon, at your local independent bookstore, and everywhere else books are sold! (Eventually, when we all have access to libraries again, it will be available at your local library as well). You can buy Quitter in hardcover, electronic, or audio form—and if you buy from Elliott Bay Book Company, which sponsored my virtual book launch at Town Hall late last month, there’s a very good chance you can snag a signed copy! (I’m signing them tomorrow, so I suggest jumping on this one)

If you don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or haven’t read my posts about the book here), Quitter is a memoir about my experiences drinking, relapsing, and eventually finding recovery after years running the gauntlet of the treatment industry.

Quitter is an unusual recovery memoir—one that rejects tropes like “rock bottom” and talks bluntly and unflinchingly about relapse as part of recovery. I went through many rock bottoms, and more relapses than I can now count, before checking myself into detox for the last time in February of 2015. My story isn’t the kind of story we’re used to hearing about women who get sober, although it’s more typical than you might think—my drinking was ugly and messy and made me impossible to be around, and it took me a long time to get where I am today: Happy and stable and glad to be more than five years removed from the time when my addiction was spinning me out of control.
Claire Dederer, the author of Love and Trouble, called the book “relentless” in its portrayal of relapse and the grim work of maintaining a late-stage addiction when she interviewed me at my book launch event. But my story is also a hopeful one, because every time I relapsed, I learned more about myself and the deadly brain disease that is addiction, until I was finally able to cobble together my own version of recovery.
Buy Quitter, tell a friend about it, and share photos and thoughts about the book on social media using the hashtag #QuitterBook. And keep an eye on this site, on Twitter, and on my Press and Events pages for info about upcoming events, interviews, podcast, TV, and radio appearances, and much more!

FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands

This morning, city council president Lorena González and public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said they were both briefed last week by police chief Carmen Best on what the chief had previously described as “credible threats” to the east police precinct in early June, and that the chief described the threats as generalized threats to government buildings in cities up and down the East Coast rather than a specific threat to bomb, burn down, or otherwise damage the East Precinct. Best cited the alleged threats in June as one of the reasons police needed to keep protesters away from the building using tear gas, pepper spray, and eventually physical barricades in the area that became known as CHOP.

“I had heard that it was general threats to all city facilities, which would obviously include the police precinct, but it would also include City Hall and sewer facilities and all other facilities owned by the city of Seattle,” González said. “These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”

“These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”—City Council president Lorena González

However, a spokesman for the FBI in Seattle said the threat was specific to the East Precinct, not a general threat against city buildings. “While I cannot get into specifics of threats, it would be accurate to report we did share intelligence regarding threats to the East Precinct,” the spokesman said. And the mayor’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, says the police chief “was provided both direct information from the Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge confirming that, not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast —including Seattle; but that the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats” as well as the West Precinct in Belltown. Formas pointed to an apparent arson attempt on June 12, when a man from Tacoma was arrested for lighting a fire outside the precinct building. That fire was quickly put out by people in the area.

“Not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast [but] the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats.”—Stephanie Formas, chief of staff for Mayor Durkan

A month after the heads of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative “change teams” sent a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan asking her to substantively address the demands of protesters, Durkan has responded, with a letter outlining many of the same actions the mayor has highlighted in her press appearances since George Floyd’s murder sparked protests against police violence in late May. The letter from Durkan summarizes what she sees as actions she’s taken to address protesters’ demands; the fact that it does not directly respond to the demands in the letter suggests that she still does not take those demands entirely seriously, and sees incremental changes, such as additional staff for the groups that investigate police misconduct, a sufficient response to the protests that continue to rage across the city.

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Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

The change teams are groups of city employees tasked with monitoring the implementation of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The letter from the team leaders asked Durkan to defund the Seattle police by 50 percent, protect and expand community safety investments in Black and brown communities; stop removing homeless encampments and cut police from the city’s Navigation Team; and release all jailed protesters, among other demands. The list is less radical than the demands made by some protesters, and the effectiveness of the Change Teams is a matter of debate within the city, but their action items were similar enough to protesters’ high-level demands that the mayor’s response can serve as a proxy response to those demands.

Durkan’s letter, which is dated July 6, first listed a number of actions the city has already taken, including: “A full review by [the four police accountability authorities] of the crowd management policy,” an investigation by SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability of misconduct complaints related to the protest, a new policy (proposed and passed by the city council) banning police from covering their badge numbers with “mourning bands,” and a request that the city attorney not charge protesters arrested and jailed for minor offenses, such as obstruction and failure to disperse.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed.

The mayor also described a number of future actions that have already been announced, including $100 million in still-undefined investments in BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and other people of color) communities, accelerating the transfer of several city-owned properties to community groups as part of the Equitable Development Initiative, cutting $20 million from the police department budget (a proposal that, in reality, would cut just $5 million more than the reduction Durkan had already proposed before the protests), and a greater role for “community leaders” in negotiating the next police contract.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed. Continue reading “FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands”

Homelessness Report Highlights Inequities, Growth In Chronic Homelessness In King County

This story originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Last year, when King County’s “point-in-time count” of the homeless population indicated a slight dip in the number of people counted in the shelters and on the streets, Mayor Jenny Durkan celebrated the news, crediting the city’s work adding shelter and expanding the Navigation Team, among other actions, for the apparent 5 percent decline in unsheltered homelessness. Three-quarters of that decline was attributed in the report itself to the redefinition of “shelter” to include tiny house village encampments, which moved a number of people from the “unsheltered” to the “sheltered” column even though their living situation stayed the same.

This year’s one-night count showed a slight increase in both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness throughout King County, with the biggest increases in Seattle and Southwest King County. The new total estimate of 11,751 people experiencing homelessness represents a five percent increase over last year. A separate survey, which had fewer participants than in previous years, provided demographic data and information about why people became homeless, information that the county’s “Count Us In” report extrapolates across the entire homeless population.

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The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Now for the caveats. Every point-in-time count is just that—a count of how many people volunteers were able to identify on a specific night in January, a time when the number of people seeking shelter is higher and when the number sleeping outdoors fluctuates widely based on the weather. The night of the count, January 24, was extraordinarily rainy, with 1.14 inches of rain compared to no rain the previous year. Probably as a consequence, the number of people found living in abandoned buildings increased dramatically, from 140 to 662; the report notes that “The combined totals (of abandoned building count and street/outside count) are notably similar across the years.

Additionally, the report says homeless encampments sweeps by the city of Seattle probably reduced the Seattle numbers by at least several dozen; the report notes the removal of “28 tents and structures” from one site and the disappearance of at least 50 people from another immediately before the count took place.

The number of people counted also depends, in part, on the number of people walking and driving around the county and counting them. This year, about half as many volunteers showed up for the count as did in 2019, and about 25 fewer guides with lived experience of homelessness. The report attributes this decline to the weather and a shooting downtown that occurred less than two days before the count.

Additionally, the report says homeless encampments sweeps by the city of Seattle probably reduced the Seattle numbers by at least several dozen; the report notes the removal of “28 tents and structures” from one site and the disappearance of at least 50 people from another immediately before the count took place.

Another factor that makes the January count an incomplete guide to current homeless numbers is the fact that it took place before the COVID-19 crisis, which created unprecedented unemployment throughout the region. Data from the county’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) shows a steady increase in the number of people seeking homeless services through the end of March, when 13,238 households (which can include multiple people) sought services, a 29 percent increase over January. Losing a job is the most common reason survey respondents gave for becoming homeless (16 percent); another 8 percent said they became homeless because they couldn’t afford their rent. 

“Without accurate data that tells the truth about the astonishingly high rates in the Native community, the narrative is inequitable.” — Colleen Echohawk, Chief Seattle Club

The county could not offer HMIS data after March, but the numbers are likely to increase substantially—especially after moratoriums expire. Leo Flor, the director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, said Wednesday that “rent-burdened” households—renters who struggle to pay rent from month to month—will be hit especially hard by both the economic downturn and the eventual termination of financial assistance that is currently helping them make ends meet.

“If that assistance were to cease” in the absence of replacement income, “we would see a lot of additional people moving from rent-burdened to homelessness.” In other words: If people who are living on cash or rent assistance (or not paying rent at all during the eviction moratorium) don’t find jobs by the time that income runs out, we’re going to see a lot more homeless people on our streets. This is supported by the fact that “losing a job” was the most common reason people reported becoming homeless, followed by alcohol or drug issues, mental health problems, and an inability to afford rent.

People sleeping outdoors or otherwise unsheltered increased in every part of King County except North and Southeast King County, with the largest percentage increases in Northeast King County (69 percent) and East King County (32 percent), followed by Seattle at 5 percent.

People who identified as Black made up 25 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the latest count, which uses numbers from a separate survey—this year, of 832 homeless adults and youth) to extrapolate demographic data across the entire homeless population. (The people conducting the one-night count do not approach people or note their apparent genders or races.) That’s a decline from last year’s number, 32 percent, but still extremely disproportionate in a county where Black people make up just 7 percent of the population.

The proportion of Native American/Alaska Native people experiencing homelessness, meanwhile, spiked from 10 to 15 percent of the people surveyed, and 32 percent of those experiencing chronic homelessness, a prevalence that’s 15 times higher than the number of Native people in the county. Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, attributed the increase to better data collection this year, including the fact that Native service providers have been increasingly involved in data collection. (Prior to last year, no Native organizations were involved in collecting data.)

“Chronic homelessness is tough on people’s health, it’s tough on people’s ability to maintain their relationships, and it certainly is hard on their ability to maintain their housing status.” — King County DCHS Director Leo Flor 

“Because of our efforts to collect more accurate data related to American Indians and Alaska Natives experiencing homelessness, we believe we are getting closer to truly understanding the scope of the work ahead,” Echohawk said in a statement. “Without accurate data that tells the truth about the astonishingly high rates in the Native community, the narrative is inequitable.”

King County’s survey also include a multi-race category, which dilutes the racial data.

This year’s report also shows dramatic increases in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness (from 2,451 to 3,743) and in the percentage of those individuals who were unsheltered (from 3 to 29 percent), along with an increase in the number of homeless individuals (70 percent of them women) fleeing domestic violence. The report attributes these upticks,  in part, to better data collection. But the number of women experiencing homelessness, both in general (41 percent) and in subcategories like youth (47 percent) and people living in vehicles (56 percent) suggests that the face of homelessness is increasingly female—a fact that doesn’t fit with the most common stereotypes about who becomes homeless and why. The report didn’t ask women and men separately why they became homeless, an oversight that makes it hard to extrapolate why women become homeless from this report.

The number of people who are chronically homeless (a group that is much more likely to be unsheltered than people who have been homeless for shorter periods) increased more than 52 percent this year, to 3,355, and the rate of reported psychiatric disorders also spiked sharply. (The term “chronically homeless” refers to a person who has been homeless for more than a year, or for more than four times in the last three years, and who suffers from a chronic physical or mental health condition, including serious mental illness or addiction or a physical disability.)

Flor, the DCHS director, noted Wednesday that the two trends are closely related. As the number of people experiencing long-term homelessness increases, he said, “we would expect that the number of psychiatric conditions would increase as well. Chronic homelessness is tough on people’s health, it’s tough on people’s ability to maintain their relationships, and it certainly is hard on their ability to maintain their housing status.”

In her statement about this year’s results, Mayor Durkan emphasized the county’s move to a regional approach to homelessness rather than one centered on City of Seattle resources. “While many individuals[‘] last stable home was not in the City of Seattle, our city continues to serve the most vulnerable in our region,” Durkan said. “Our regional homelessness investments must include an immediate and direct response to any crisis of housing stability, connecting people with the services they need, in their community wherever they are across the county.”

After the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness ended in 2015 (a year that, like previous years and all the ones since, ended with more people experiencing homelessness than ever), cities, counties, and service providers should be adopted the mantra that homelessness should be “brief, one-time, and rare.” This year, not only did the rate of chronic, long-terms homelessness increase, so did the percentage of survey respondents who said they had been homeless for one year or more.

Seattle has tried focusing on “rapid rehousing” with short-term vouchers, pivoting to heavy investments in emergency shelter, and now joining forces with the county and suburban cities to try to agree on a single regional solution to homelessness. Perhaps next year’s count will begin to reveal whether this latest shift will actually yield results.

Kent Motel Meant for Isolation and Quarantine Sits Empty As Homeless Numbers Rise

As King County released the latest one-night count of people experiencing homelessness, which showed a significant increase in showing a significant increase in unsheltered homelessness across the county, a motel in Kent that could temporarily shelter dozens of people sits empty. The 84-room formre Econolodge, which the county purchased in March to serve as an isolation and quarantine site for people with confirmed or potential COVID diagnoses who lack a safe place to isolate, is one of four such sites; just two, in Issaquah and North Seattle, are currently operating.

At a briefing Wednesday, King County Department of Health and Community Services director Leo Flor said the county was keeping the motel “warm”—that is, empty and ready to accept new guests—in order to quickly accommodate new isolation and quarantine patients if COVID numbers rise dramatically or in case of a maintenance failure at one of the other sites. “I do not think that we are through with this COVID-19 emergency,” Flor said. “We certainly know in the fall that we need to be ready to provide larger numbers of isolation and quarantine rooms if they become necessary.”

In outlining the post-COVID future of shelter, Flor acknowledged that all the available evidence shows that moving from a shelter to a hotel room can lead to enormous improvements in people’s mental and physical well-being. When DESC shut down its crowded, chaotic downtown shelter and moved those clients, along with others, to a vacant Red Lion hotel in Renton, clients saw dramatic improvements in behavioral health conditions, a surprising outcome I wrote about in May. The privacy and dignity of a private room “in and of itself [causes] a transformation,” Flor said. “Sleeping in a bed, in a place where you feel safe… really seems to be good for people’s health. And the lack of those things seems to be bad for people’s health.”

Flor acknowledged, in a roundabout way, the fact that even a temporary homeless shelter would run into a buzz saw of opposition from local officials. The city, just south of Seattle, has consistently fought proposals for shelters and homeless services; outreach workers in the area say that when police roust unsheltered people and tell them to move along, they sometimes hand out flyers directing people to shelters in Seattle.

“The facility was put into action under a public health rationale, and cities have a role in permitting and in regulating the types of facilities that are within their boundaries, particularly when we are not in emergency situations,” Flor said. “There’s a number of regulatory regimes that are governing what we might be able to do with particular facilities, and then [we have to consider] the importance of strong partnerships with cities.” The county is in the process of developing a framework for a new regional homelessness authority in which suburban cities like Kent will have outsize influence over policy while contributing nothing financially to the new agency.

After a patient left the Kent isolation and quarantine facility without medical authorization and boarded a Metro bus, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said her “nightmare” had come true. (The patient’s test results were negative.) Ralph opposed locating the isolation/quarantine site from the moment it was announced, telling the Seattle Times, saying that COVID-19 might be used as “a pretext for the siting of a longer term homelessness or quarantine facility in Kent.”  The city tried, and failed, to get a restraining order preventing the county from using the motel as an isolation site.

The county’s latest point-in-time count, conducted in January but just released yesterday, found 11,751 people experiencing homelessness in King County. The report noted that this probably represents an undercount of unsheltered people because it was unusually rainy on the night of the county, so it was harder to count people sleeping in vehicles or find those who had taken refuge in abandoned buildings. The number of unsheltered people counted in Southwest King County, which includes Kent, was 1,115—a 3 percent increase over last year’s count.

After CHOP Sweeps, Mayor Durkan Says City Will “Memorialize” Protests, “Reimagine Policing”

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

About 10 hours after Seattle police officers moved in to remove barriers, tents, artwork, and people from the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area this morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan, police chief Carmen Best, and other department heads called a press conference to explain their actions.

There was a lot to unpack. Why did the mayor issue the executive order in the pre-dawn hours, a time when most people living in tents in the area (and most reporters) would be asleep? Will the city prevent protesters from gathering at the East Precinct building in the future, and are they planning to use force? What will happen to the art and community gardens? Why did the city expel members of the media from CHOP, when the press is explicitly allowed to remain in an area after an order to disperse?

Durkan did get into a few specifics. For example, the mayor said the city would consider “memorializing” the protests by creating space for “a new garden, a speakers’ corner, or new art,” and would add a “community room in the East Precinct and things in and around Capitol Hill and the East Precinct.” It’s unclear how a community room could fit into the cramped layout of the East Precinct, leaving aside whether anyone would want to go there.

For the most part, though Durkan’s comments focused on lofty, nonspecific goals, like “statewide reforms,” “generational change,” and “investing in community.” The word “reimagine” appeared no fewer than seven times in Durkan’s 12-minute statement. “I will continue to refocus our energy on the hard but critical work to answer the voices demonstrating and demanding change, to reimagine, with Chief Best, what policing looks like in our city, and to invest in the true health and safety of our communities,” Durkan said.

Best, characteristically, described the CHOP in near-apocalyptic terms. “If you have watched the news footage you have seen how absolutely devastating the damage to this neighborhood is,” she said. Walking around the perimeter of the area, she said, “I was just stunned by the amount of graffiti, garbage, and property destruction.” She described residents and business owners coming out of their homes, like survivors of a natural disaster, to “profusely” thank her officers. “We don’t even know how much trauma” the protests caused to residents and business owners in the area, she said.

Durkan has reportedly been at odds with Chief Best in recent weeks, but there was no sign of division this afternoon. Instead, Durkan effusively praised the police chief and her officers (who Durkan described, in an apparent slip of the tongue, as “troops”), calling her “one of the best leaders in this country on policing” and crediting her “very steady hand” for this morning’s relatively smooth removal of tents, people, and barricades from the CHOP.

Durkan said she was expediting assistance to businesses in the area that experienced property damage or lost revenues, and had already spoken to the city attorney’s office about expediting their tort claims so that they could get financial reimbursement quickly. “I heard very clearly from them the pain of seeing their businesses close, the graffiti on their walls, calling back their employees but not yet able to open,” she said.

Asked whether she bore any responsibility for the two young men who have died in shootings in the area, Durkan declined to answer the question directly, calling the deaths “regretful” and saying that she hoped to meet with the victims’ family members. “We’ll have lots of opportunities to do after-actions on what people could have done at what junctures,” she added.

Best said the police would welcome peaceful protests outside the reopened East Precinct, but “there’s not going be lawlessness.” The police force is under a federal court that bars them from using “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, and blast grenades, and the city council passed legislation barring the use of such weapons last month.

Earlier this week, city council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold wrote a blog post revealing that Best had confirmed that one of the police department’s primary reasons for setting up heavily fortified barricades around the East Precinct was not true. The chief and mayor had previously claimed the FBI had informed them of specific threats to bomb or burn down the East Precinct. In fact, Herbold revealed, what Durkan previously described as “credible threats” were actually “a generalized assessment of threat to ‘police and government structures’ in Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.”

The mayor and police chief have had to walk back a number of false or misleading statements about the protests, including claims that armed guards were forcing people to hand over ID and pay a bribe to enter (not true) and that police used force against protesters because one threw an “incendiary device” (it turned out to be a candle.) This afternoon, Best was not ready to let the threats to the East Precinct go. There were “threats to police precincts and to government facilities,” Best said. “We verified that and that information came from our local special agent in charge at the FBI.” 

The area that used to be CHOP will be closed to anyone who isn’t a resident or business owner for the next 10 days, Best said. According to at least one report on social media, police are requiring people to show identification to enter their own homes or businesses—exactly the scenario police department officials accused protesters of setting up last month.

I Quit Drinking. Suddenly, Alcohol Was Everywhere.

From marketing phrase to actual wine.

This is the first in an occasional series of essays about my experience as a person in recovery. If you came her looking for local news only, scroll up or down and you’ll find it.

It’s easy to laugh, in 2020, about people who drank the fizzy malt beverage Zima in the ’90s, and harder to remember how heavily Zima was marketed to young people as a lighter, sparklier alternative to beer — literally, clear beer.

Read the rest of this post at Medium.

Read an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, and preorder your copy here.

City-Funded Downtown Hotel Housed 12 People a Night While Thousands Slept in Tents and Crowded Shelters

In his budget presentation last week, Seattle budget director Ben Noble include a slide indicating that the city planned to spend (and seek reimbursement for) more than $3 million on hotel rooms for “essential workers,” plus $325,000 for rooms for “first responders,” during the COVID crisis. The line items represent the maximum cost to rent out the entire downtown Executive Pacific Hotel for three months.

As I’ve reported, the likely total cost is somewhat lower, because for three months, the hotel has been sitting virtually empty.

How empty? Well, about a month ago, the city was concerned enough about the fact that almost no first responders were staying in the rooms that they expanded the criteria for hotel stays to include “essential workers,” including health care workers and a handful of homeless service providers. Since then, the numbers have inched up—slightly. According to the city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services, during the three-month duration of the contract, the hotel logged 1,156 bed nights, which each represent a person occupying a room for one night. Put another way, the hotel had, on average, 12 guests per night—and 143 empty rooms.

The city could not, of course, have anticipated that the need for COVID first responders would flatten so quickly along with the curve of infections, or that so few firefighters and police would want or need to self-isolate in a downtown hotel. But the city, and Mayor Jenny Durkan, are responsible for the decision not to fill some of those vacant rooms with people experiencing homelessness, who are still sleeping on cots and mats in mass shelters while a paid-for downtown hotel sits almost empty.

Mayor Durkan, when pressed, has said that the city is paying for hotels—for example, they’re contributing to the cost of the Red Lion in Renton that the Downtown Emergency Service Center has been occupying for months. But she has doggedly resisted calls to move people from ad hoc mass shelters the city set up to respond to COVID—most of them bare-bones facilities with cots set up six feet apart—into hotels inside the city. And she even put roadblocks in front of a program that would move people from encampments to motel rooms that, like the Executive Pacific, are already paid for and sitting vacant.

The city, and Mayor Jenny Durkan, are responsible for the decision not to fill some of those vacant rooms with people experiencing homelessness, who are still sleeping on cots and mats in mass shelters while a paid-for downtown hotel sits almost empty.

I sent the mayor’s office and the Human Services Department a list of questions about the city’s long-term plans for people staying in “redistribution” shelters (temporary spaces in city-owned buildings where people can sleep six feet apart). I included a list of locations that I was especially curious about—high-volume shelters that have been moved to places like Fisher Pavilion, Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center, and the city’s community centers.

The city responded by saying, essentially, that they still haven’t determined exactly when people will be moved from the current temporary shelters, or to where. “These conversations… are underway,” HSD spokesman Will Lemke said. Lemke added that HSD is “working with Public Health, DCHS, and agency partners to develop a strategy for addressing both short and long-adjustments needed to operate the homeless response system in light of COVID-19.”

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If you think of the current shelter system as fundamentally broken, and COVID as not just a crisis to respond to but an opportunity to rethink shelter (and other systems) as a whole, then it’s disheartening that the city is still thinking in terms of “adjustments” to respond to COVID rather than thinking of the pandemic as a chance to make wholesale changes. The Red Lion offers a promising example. After it opened, residents who were used to staying in DESC’s overcrowded, dirty, chaotic downtown shelter exhibited fewer behavioral problems, got in fewer fights, and used fewer substances—simply because they had privacy, a shower they didn’t have to fight for, and some space to relax.

DESC director Daniel Malone has said he hopes the agency never has to reopen the downtown shelter, a plan that will require the agency to purchase motels for long-term use. But Lemke’s comments (which represent the perspective of the mayor’s office), and the city’s history of pouring money into a shelter system that people experiencing homelessness consider alienating, traumatizing, and inhumane, suggest that other shelters may go back largely to business as usual unless the city council, or a groundswell of political opposition to warehouse-style shelters, intervenes to push the city in a different direction..

The total cost to rent the Executive Pacific Hotel, FAS spokeswoman Melissa Mixon says, will likely be closer to $2 million rather than $3.4 million, since the hotel gave the city a break on taxes and the city did not end up paying for many meals. Empty rooms don’t eat. What’s impossible to know is how much money the city might have saved in the long run by turning those empty rooms into shelter for people experiencing homelessness and working intensely to ensure that they had a place to stay when they left. Those aren’t the kind of calculations that Seattle, as a city, is good at making.