Morning Crank: Ten Things I Heard at the DSA Panel on Homelessness

Dave Ross, Barb Poppe, Mark Putnam, and George Scarola

Dave Ross, Barb Poppe, Mark Putnam, and George Scarola

1. City homelessness consultant Barb Poppe, who wrote the Pathways Home report that is the basis for the city’s sudden shift toward “rapid rehousing” through the use of short-term rental assistance vouchers: “I come from state of Ohio. You did the right thing in November; we didn’t. But there does seem to weirdly be this acceptance that it’s actually okay for people to be on the streets” in Seattle. “You’re smart, caring people. You know how to get stuff done. I don’t know why you don’t get [solving homelessness] done.”

2. George Scarola, appointed by Mayor Ed Murray to head up the city’s homelessness efforts, on one of the main causes of homelessness, the lack of affordable housing: “It’s an affordability problem that’s the result of income inequality. … There are about 32,000 units for people who earn between 0 and 30 percent of median income, and there are more than 80,000 households that are eligible for [those units]. So what do those other almost 50,000 households do? They’re paying 50 percent on rent or 70 percent or all of their income on rent.”

3. Poppe, in response to those “excuses”: “You go back to affordable housing and the rental crisis, and in your community, that becomes the excuse to not get things done, and in other communities, it becomes, ‘This is the reality that we’re in, and how are we going to overcome that reality and get really energized to do that?'”

4. All Home director Mark Putman, responding obliquely to Poppe’s claim that Seattle is just using the lack of affordable housing as an “excuse” to avoid action on homelessness: “A lot of times we do get caught up in ‘It’s a lot cheaper in Las Vegas or Houston’ comparisons to different cities.”  (Critics of Pathways Home have pointed out that the cities cited as proof that very short-term rental assistance vouchers work are much cheaper than Seattle, making it easier for formerly homeless people to pay full rent when their vouchers run out in three to nine months.) “Look at our data. Bring in, sure, some of your thoughts and concepts and strategies that have worked in other areas, because we all need to be learning from each other, but look at our data and tell us what we can do here.”

5. Poppe, on being shocked to find homeless children in Seattle’s tent cities: “I was taken around to sanctioned encampments and I was proudly shown that there was a hut that a newborn infant was living in with their mother. They said it was better that they’re in this hut-slash-“tiny home” with no running water or electricity. I don’t understand why that is acceptable in this community and there’s not tremendous moral outrage to do better. … In almost every community in the United States, it’s completely unheard-of and unacceptable that a child would be outside.” (I fact-checked this and it is not true; in reality, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, child homelessness is a significant and growing problem in communities across the country, including an estimated 25,000 homeless in Poppe’s state, Ohio.)

6. A questioner, who demanded to know why she had to walk past “up to 13 tents” and “piles of human excrement” when leaving her “half-million-dollar condo” in Belltown: “For people who live in tents, who really want to live in a tent, who choose to live in a tent and who don’t want the services that are offered—for these people, it’s working for them” to live on the streets.

7. Scarola, responding to moderator Dave Ross’s restatement of the woman’s question, “When can she pick up the phone and say these people need to move and they’ll be moved?”:  “The mayor fought a battle with the city council to make it clear that sidewalks, parks, or school grounds are unacceptable for people to camp in. We are standing up a team in the next week of eight police officers and outreach workers who are specialized in that problem, let’s call it street disorder. They’re going to go and say, ‘Here’s the plan for you: We will either find you shelter quickly or you will not come back,’ and they will have a police person next to them to make the point clear.”

8. Poppe, on what she calls a total lack of accountability by nonprofit housing providers that receive city funds: “You’ve let 1,000 flowers bloom and there has not been any effort to make sure that nonprofits do anything that they weren’t hired in 1985 to do, and you allow providers to perform in whatever they feel is their niche. …  You’ve had very low accountability for results and that low accountability, I would find to be a mystery. Even this year, with the recommendations that All Home and the city put out, you’ve had a lot of nonprofits say, ‘We shouldn’t be held to outcome-based funding.”

9. Scarola, trying to explain why not everyone wants to stay in existing overnight shelters: “The shelter system, it’s not very user-friendly. You cannot bring your partner or your friend. You can’t bring a dog. You can’t bring more than a small amount of possessions. The shelters are crowded. There can be bedbugs. All it takes is to have that happen to you once and you don’t want to go back. We don’t have an alternative. That’s what we’ve got to change. We’ve got to turn all those shelters into 24/7, where you don’t have to leave in the morning.

10. Poppe, on some factors she does think contribute to the lack of affordable housing in cities like Seattle: “There is a huge impact from local communities that have effectively zoned out rental housing. … As Americans, our expectation of an amount of space that we get to occupy is a way to keep others out. It’s a huge problem. The other piece … is we actually do invest very heavily in housing across the country, and disproportionately, those of us in this room get a disproportionate benefit to actually low-income people: We’re homeowners, and there’s a really high subsidy level to homeowners that is actually tied to the value of your housing and your mortgage, so the more you make, the greater your housing subsidy. There has been a national movement to reduce the mortgage interest deduction and instead fund affordable rental housing through the National Housing Trust Fund.”

The C Is for Crank clapped on the inside at that eminently reasonable and therefore totally doomed suggestion.

(The panel was hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, the Seattle Chamber, Visit Seattle, and Alliance for Pioneer Square.)

 

Downtown Seattle Association/Seattle Chamber/Visit Seattle and Alliance for Pioneer Square.

 

Morning Crank: “Not Gonna Happen”

1024x10241. Update on an item earlier this week about the Washington State Democrats’ Executive Committee had about possibly reducing the salary of the party chair now that Tina Podlodowski has been elected to that position. According to several Democrats who were present at the meeting (including members of the executive board itself), the person who raised the possibility of reducing Podlodowski’s salary was executive board member Ed Cote, who suggested reexamining the salaries for both the chair of the party and its executive director. After some discussion, another male board member, Don Schwerin, reportedly asked Podlodowski point-blank if she was willing to take a pay cut; she said no. Folks I talked to who were in the room said they were “horrified,” “appalled,” and “shocked” at both Cote’s line of questioning and Schwerin’s request.

The former party chair, Jaxon Ravens, was paid about $120,000, according to board members, plus a car allowance.

Cote says he raised the question of Podlodowski’s salary as part of a broader conversation about whether both the party chair and executive director should be paid, and how much. But it wasn’t lost on many in the room that Podlodowski is only the second woman to ever serve as state Democratic Party chair—and that the board discussing the possibility that she didn’t deserve the same salary as her male predecessors, Jaxon Ravens and Dwight Pelz, was two-thirds men.

“I just brought up that when [Podlodowski] presents a [Party] budget, I thought it would be good that we have a conversation around the right administrative structure going forward,” Cote says. “We have a paid chair and a paid executive director, and many states have one or the other. … I wasn’t suggesting that the chair was paid too much. … I wasn’t trying to suggest that she was overpaid or anything of that nature.”

Podlodowski says she thinks it’s possible that Cote didn’t think about how his question would come across (and indeed, those who questioned Cote’s suggestion reportedly did so by discussing what similar positions paid at other large nonprofits, rather than observing that the whole conversation was sexist). But, she adds, “when someone did ask me if I would take a pay cut, I was like, ‘Not gonna happen,’ and I’m certainly not going to cut pay of anybody who’s female. But I am going to look at the budget, because it’s always important to make sure that we’re paying people appropriately.”

Podlodowski says that when she signed up for her new insurance plan, she learned that it didn’t cover children, only spouses. (Podlodowski and her wife have three children.) That’s another example, she says, of “why women should rule.”

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-9-24-50-pm

2. If you think you’re confused about what to do with the four “democracy vouchers,” worth a total of $100, that appeared in your mailbox earlier this year, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Seattle City Council members and staffed grilled Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett on some basic details of the program yesterday—details that were all laid out in the language of Initiative 122, which voters passed last year, but which, in fairness, you might have missed in the 15 pages of fine print. Some of the council members’ questions, answered:

  • Why is the city mailing vouchers to 508,000 people—are there even that many voters in Seattle? Under the initiative, vouchers must be mailed to every registered voter in the city, which includes “inactive” voters who have long since moved away.
  • Could the city cover the cost if all 508,000 voters tried to “spend” their vouchers at once? The cost of the program, which will cost the city $3 million a year, is limited by campaign spending limits, not the number of vouchers; I-122 specifically says that there must be enough in the budget to pay for three council races in which a total of 18 candidates run using voucher money exclusively. That works out to around $3 million.
  • Can organizations or employers bundle contributions from their members or employees and make a big contribution to a single candidate that way? Not that way—bundling, where a person collects many individual donations and then writes a big check for the entire amount—is illegal, but a campaign is free to ask the members or employees of a large group or company to spend their vouchers on a particular candidate.
  • Since the requirement to qualify for voucher funding is a minimum of 400 contributions of $10 each, couldn’t a candidate just get someone to write them a check for $4,000? No, because viability is determined by how many contributions (100 or more), not the total (a minimum of $4,000, but in all likelihood more).

3. All Home, the coalition that coordinates efforts to reduce homelessness in King County, used a different approach and a different vendor to conduct its point-in-time count of people living unsheltered this year, and homeless advocates like Tim Harris at Real Change have questioned one major change this year: Unlike in every previous year, All Home won’t announce the number of people it counted right away. Previously, All Home and its former partner, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, released the number the day after the count; this year, the number won’t be released until June. All Home says it needs the extra time to survey people experiencing homelessness to get a better count of people living in vehicles and tents.

The delay also isn’t sitting easy with Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who heads up the council’s human services committee. She said yesterday that she wrote a email to Putnam asking him for the raw count number now, figuring that even if a more accurate number is issued later, at least the city would have a baseline for comparison when discussing its strategy for addressing homelessness. “Mark, I’d love an informal update on how the count went and how you’re doing with data when you get a chance,” Bagshaw wrote. “It’s important that we have a baseline and provide my committee with some trend information.”

Morning Crank: New Sweeps Rules and New Dem Party Chair

1. The city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) released new draft rules for encampment sweeps this morning, after months of delay and a lengthy debate over whether the sweeps rules should be radically revised (as council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien, along with the ACLU of Washington, proposed last year) or beefed up.

A few highlights:

  • Before removing an encampment, the city must offer “alternative locations for individuals in an encampment or identify available housing or other shelter for encampment occupants.”
  • People living in unauthorized encampments that obstruct sidewalks or other city property can be removed immediately, with no advance warning.
  • In other cases, the city will provide 72 hours’ notice of an encampment removal, and will remove the encampment within a week.
  • “Encampments” are redefined to include a single tent, giving people sleeping in isolated tents the right to notice before their tents are removed and their belongings confiscated.
  • When deciding which encampments to sweep immediately, the city will give priority to those where illegal activity is occurring, with the exception of simple “illegal substance abuse.” The city can also prioritize encampments for sweeps based on the presence of garbage and undefined “active health hazards” to homeless campers or the surrounding community, or proximity to schools or facilities serving the elderly.
  • The city will throw away or donate all personal property it removes from encampment sites within 60 days. (Practically speaking, when the city confiscates the personal property of people experiencing homelessness, they never get it back–as the Seattle Times documented in an excellent piece last summer.) The city will also offer a delivery option for people who can’t get to the storage facility.
  • Areas where people camp frequently–such as a longtime site behind the Ballard Locks, or the infamous Jungle–will be designated as “emphasis areas” and subject to daily inspections, and can be fenced off to deter people from camping there. (A proposal by Murray and 36th District state Sen. Reuven Carlyle to surround the Jungle with razor-wire fencing was rejected last year as impractical and inhumane.)

The public has two weeks to comment on the new rules, which you can read in full here.

2. Shortly after the Washington State Democratic Party elected former Seattle city council member and Murray police reform advisor Tina Podlodowski as its new chair  (Podlodowski, although a vocal, longtime Clinton supporter, ousted longtime chair Jaxon Ravens on the strength of a resurgent cadre of disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters on the party’s central committee), the Dems’ executive committee met to reportedly discuss, among other things, reducing the salaries of both Podlodowski and the state party’s executive director, currently Karen Deal. The committee is currently composed of 12 men and six women. I have calls out to confirm the details of the meeting and to find out more about the reported pay-cut proposal.

“Willing to Lose Every Single Penny”: Mayor Doubles Down on Seattle’s Sanctuary Status

img_0658

At a hastily called press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray declared he was “willing to lose every single penny” of federal funding that flows to Seattle in order to protect undocumented immigrants and refugees living in the city. Murray’s remarks came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring that the federal government would withhold all federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities”—a catchall term for cities, like Seattle, that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents by handing undocumented immigrants over for deportation.

Calling January 27, 2017 “the darkest day in immigration history since the internment of Japanese-Americans,” Murray said, “We will not, as we did in World War II, allow our police to become deputies of the federal government and round up immigrants in this city.” The city argues that any federal order requiring SPD to ask demand detainees’ immigration status would violate the 10th Amendment, which states that the federal government can’t force states to enforce any federal law.

The city stands to lose as much as $85 million in federal funding if Trump makes good on his threat and pulls every federal grant the city receives. In that scenario, the department that would be hardest hit is the Human Services Department, followed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Housing. Anticipating that worst-case scenario, Murray said, he has asked every department to “reprioritize” its budget for a post-federal-funding future; specifically, he said, “I’m going to give them a number and ask them to cut their budget to that number.” When I asked whether he would order all departments to cut a certain percentage from their budgets, as previous mayors have done when economic downturns necessitated major cuts, Murray said, “I need more than a couple of hours [after the executive order was released] to answer your question.”

Turning to legal remedies, Murray said the city “is prepared to take any legal avenues that we need to to ensure that immigrants, regardless of their documentation, remain in this city and that the United States Constitution is not violated.” He also suggested what form that legal action might take, noting that the federal government is supposed to prove there is a “nexus” between any funds they withhold and their reason for withholding it. That’s a potentially risky move, though, because it could leave grants the Seattle Police Department receives through the Department of Justice especially vulnerable to cuts, since police would be the ones refusing to follow federal orders to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal agents.

img_0652City attorney Pete Holmes, who showed up to the press conference with a copy of the Constitution tucked in his inside jacket pocket, said he found it ironic that a “law and order” administration would specifically target funding for police. “[Federal] law enforcement funds help increase the security of the country,” Holmes told me before the press conference. “It’s difficult to match up. The prescribed remedies do exactly the opposite.”

Holmes said he’s “asking all the departments to identify all grants and federal funding” but declined to specify which departments stood to lose the most. “I’d rather not engage in shadowboxing these general assertions about grants,” he said. “I’d rather drill down on the specifics.”

 

Lisa Daugaard, head of the Public Defender Association, which works on police reform was in the audience during the mayor’s press conference. Afterward, she suggested another potential avenue for legal action in the fact that the executive order gives the US attorney general “general, limitless jurisdiction” to define which cities are “sanctuary cities” and punish them accordingly. There’s no official definition of a “sanctuary city,” but the Trump Administration appears to be targeting large cities whose voters did not support him, such as New York and Chicago. By defining sanctuary cities “arbitrarily,” Daugaard argues, Trump and his attorney general are  overstepping their authority under federal law and opening themselves up to a legal challenge by local jurisdictions.

“Federal agencies, and the attorney general as an agency, can’t arbitrarily choose to take action or not take action because they don’t like the lawful choices cities make,” Daugaard says. “The problem with the executive order is it gives the attorney general limitless authority, without any standards, to make arbitrary decisions about who loses federal funding. That’s the poison pill.”

Daugaard holds out hope—if you can call it that—that Trump will be forced to back down on enforcing the order when his own supporters in the hundreds of jurisdictions that have declared themselves sanctuary cities or counties start feeling the impact the loss of millions of federal dollars will have on their communities. “It’s unlawful, but it’s also untenable,” Daugaard says. “It will be devastating to hundreds of cities and counties, which will lead to a huge loss of support and momentum” for the administration.

UW Creates Safe Space for Notorious Troll While Violence Breaks Out in Red Square

This piece original ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

img_0597

“I am considered, today, so dangerous that today I’m the second most dangerous man in America—after, of course, Daddy.”

“Daddy,” of course, is Donald Trump, and the person speaking was Milo Yiannopoulos—the professional outrage purveyor best known for promoting Gamergate, getting kicked off Twitter for his racist rants against actor Leslie Jones, and signing a $250,000 book deal. Yiannopoulos spoke Friday night at the University of Washington to a crowd of about 200—students and paying “VIPs” who made it inside Kane Hall before protesters outside blocked the entrance.

For those who made it inside the hall, Yiannopoulos’ talk was a rare opportunity to enjoy jokes about “hairy dykes,” “trannies,” and “Sasquatch lesbians” while police in riot gear protected them from the diverse community outside.

It was, in other words, a safe space.

img_0565

While Yiannapoulos cracked jokes about delicate liberal “snowflakes” who can’t deal with the rough and tumble of the real world, protesters outside were getting pepper-sprayed and even shot. When word came down of the shooting, Yiannopoulos immediately pivoted to blame “the progressive left” for the violence, telling the crowd that it was under assault by “left-wing protesters with sharpened protest signs, with baseball bats, with flammable liquids, and, it sounds like, with firearms.”

That wild speculation turned out not to be true; the man who was shot was a medic for the protesters, not a Milo supporter. (Earlier today, the Seattle Times reported that the victim’s condition has been upgraded from critical to serious, and that the alleged shooter, who remained at large for several hours while the event continued, has been released .) Meanwhile, Yiannopoulos continued with his talk—because, he said, “if we don’t continue, they have won.”

img_0572

For someone whose “Daddy” just won the White House, Yiannapoulos certainly loves to play the victim. Like many on the far right, he at least claims to long for a halcyon past where men were men and women were “happier in the kitchen,” neatly eliding the fact that men like him—pretty, vulgar, flamboyantly gay—were even more hated in that supposedly superior past than women who worked.

Yiannopoulos’ own sense of put-upon entitlement and victimization plays well with fans who feel their right to dictate the terms of the world has been stolen from underneath them. He flirts with the deep-seated homophobia of the right by joking about volunteering for electroshock conversion therapy now that Mike Pence is vice president, but he’s a cartoon character, both fundamentally unthreatening and, in the actions he provokes with his hate speech online, deeply dangerous.

In person, he comes off as an insecure narcissist. Onstage, he’s a kind of gay minstrel, applying lipstick and cracking jokes about sucking cock before crowds that would, likely as not, be more than happy to bash his head in if he wasn’t mouthing the words they wanted to hear. His flippant misogyny and racism come across as opportunistic and insincere. His thirst for the spotlight is palpable, and he seems like he might blink out of existence if people stopped paying attention to him.

So should we? It’s a classic question: Is it better to refuse to print noxious speech, on the grounds that reporting it only gives a platform to hate? Or better to expose it to sunlight, so that people outside the alt-right bubble can hear what its hero is saying and judge for themselves?

Well, I listened to the guy for an hour, and I think it’s worth knowing what he said—if only so readers can get some sense of how the alt-right thinks. (Yiannopoulos denies that he’s part of the alt-right, because, he says, he isn’t a “white nationalist”—his mother is Jewish—but the former Breitbart editor exists firmly within the alt-right milieu, and he is closely associated with white nationalists and their fans even if, as he claims, he is not one himself.)

img_0531

The crowd—overwhelmingly young, male, and white—laughed uproariously at jokes that would have been right at home in an Andrew Dice Clay set circa 1988. (Google it, kids.) A woman protesting Trump: “Sexually ambiguous super retard turbo lez.” Rachel Maddow: “That nice young man.” The fake roses on his podium: “Lena Dunham’s seen more action. Well, actually, that’s not fair, because she did rape her sister.” Saturday’s Women’s March in DC: “Can you imagine 50,000 lesbians lost in Washington, D.C.? You’d be finding them in creases for weeks.” The women attending the Seattle Womxn’s March: “armpit-hair-braiding West Coast Femsquatches.” On the spelling “Womxn”: “The ‘X’ is silent, just like their own ex-boyfriends are silent. Because they ate them.”

You get the drift. Milo Yiannopoulos’s juvenile act, conducted with a heavy assist from PowerPoint and a script on his iPad, consists almost entirely of tired, faux-“outrageous” jokes about women, particularly lesbians and “trannies,” Muslims, and “cucks.” For someone who’s widely vilified as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi, Yiannopoulos has always targeted women with far more zest than racial or religious minorities.

img_0605

“Fat retard who wants to rape herself.”

Interspersed with the fat jokes, though, were a few genuinely frightening statements about specific women Yiannopoulos believe have wronged him, including Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian, one of the main targets of Gamergate. (Yiannopoulos relentlessly promoted Gamergate, the online and real-life harassment campaign aimed at silencing women who spoke out against sexism in games and gaming culture). Of Sarkeesian, Yiannopoulos said last night, “People don’t hate you because you’re a woman. They hate you because you’re a cunt.”

So what about Yiannopoulos’s outrage performance art shtick appeals to College Republicans? It isn’t funny, it isn’t well-executed (a lot of the jokes failed to stick, in part, because Yiannopoulos drifted off on tangents, at one point literally getting distracted by a fly), and it isn’t, strictly speaking, new. What it is, I think, is what has always passed for rebellion among young conformists—speaking “truth” to “P.C. culture,” which is to say, parroting the racism and sexism of their fathers and grandfathers, even when they don’t really mean it.

img_0607-2

But there are real-world consequences to Yiannapoulos’s seemingly harmless antics. Milo tells women to kill themselves, encourages his followers to harass women who cross him, and drives women off Twitter by inciting threats that make them fear for their lives. He loves to say that there is “no such thing as cyberbullying,” but his online bullying has led to real-life threats against people—like game developer Brianna Wu, who had to leave her home after a Twitter user sent her “a string of threats including a pledge to choke her to death with her husband’s penis,” according to Mother Jones. (Wu, according to Yiannopoulos: “Another straight white male.”)

The UW probably learned its lesson about interpreting “free speech” to mean “the right of anyone to use university facilities to say anything, at any time.” (Then again, maybe not: A student told me UW President Ana Mari Cauce responded to her letter asking the school to cancel or move the event by saying that, hopefully, Yiannopoulos would decide to cancel himself.) But there’s a lesson for progressives tempted to show up in numbers, too. Sometimes, even in the face of a loudmouth shouting insults, it’s more effective to ignore the bully.

Notes: If you’d like to see an archive of my tweets from the event, including more details about the protests outside, I’ve collected those tweets on Storify.

Also, readers who follow news related to neighborhoods and homelessness may be interested to know that the four primary members of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance—the ones who show up to council meetings, write letters to council members, and serve as the public faces of one of the most vocal groups opposed to the city’s proposals for addressing homelessness and the heroin epidemic—came to see Yiannopoulos together. The four were in the “VIP” line that made it into Kane Hall before protesters blocked entrances to the building, and they held Trump signs and stood up during standing ovations for Yiannopoulos. I note their presence not to castigate them for supporting Trump or attending this particular event (for which VIP tickets cost $250), but because it’s newsworthy that a group this active and influential at City Hall attended a talk by a man who is widely viewed as a purveyor of hate speech. Last year, Yiannopoulos was kicked off Twitter for leading sexist and racist harassment campaigns, and his online actions have led to real-world death and rape threats against many of the feminist women who are his favorite targets.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!

How Seattle’s Well-Intentioned Planning Experiment Went Wrong

This post originally appeared on Next City; learn more about Next City and its mission here.

When the city of Seattle began drafting a proposal to increase density and improve housing affordability across the city, known as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA, city officials knew the plan would be controversial.

They also knew that if they didn’t have buy-in from residents, it would be difficult to pass the many interlocking pieces of legislation needed to implement the plan — legislation that includes citywide density and height increases, affordability requirements for new apartment buildings, and the expansion of areas where multifamily housing is allowed in this predominantly single-family city.

Finally, they knew current community involvement efforts weren’t working — meetings and public comment periods were dominated by homeowners from the city’s more affluent areas. Often, they came to the meetings because they opposed the HALA changes — and the city was well aware of their opposition. Now decision makers wanted to hear from everyone else — renters, immigrants and refugees, and people who live in lower-income neighborhoods.

So they decided to do something different. Instead of sending out meeting notices by email and postcard and hoping a diverse group of people show up, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods proposed a series of focus groups to help shape and provide feedback on the HALA proposal over a period of months, rather than in two-minute bursts at public comment periods. After meeting for nine months, the focus groups would come back to the city with recommendations to improve the HALA proposals, and those recommendations would be incorporated, in some form, into the final legislation.

From the beginning, the process was bumpy. After an initial call for applicants produced a pile of applications from the same activists from wealthier parts of the city who already dominate neighborhood meetings, DON broadened its outreach, enlisting community groups that work in marginalized and underrepresented communities and offering translation services, child care and financial incentives for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.

They even recruited a local social justice organization, Puget Sound Sage, to recruit focus group members and provide support like education and transportation throughout the process. “It’s a core principle of Sage that the communities most impacted [by development shifts] need to be part of decision making, so it was clear that we need to have more people representing communities of color” involved in the process, says Giulia Pascuito, a research and policy analyst with Sage.

Of the initial group of more than 600 applicants, the city selected 181 — many of them renters, people of color and immigrants — to serve on the focus groups. Eight were recruited by Sage; the rest responded to the city’s expanded outreach efforts.

What happened next shows that it isn’t enough to just recruit marginalized people to participate in a process that has traditionally excluded them; you have to keep them engaged, and that requires sustained, ongoing effort. Since the focus groups began meeting in April 2016, attendance has fallen off a cliff — from 76 percent at the initial meeting to 41 percent in September, the last month for which attendance records were available.

And although the city hasn’t taken any demographic surveys, monthly attendance sheets, along with anecdotal accounts from participants and city staffers, indicate that many of the no-shows seem to be people of color, immigrants and residents of the city’s less-affluent, more racially diverse South End — the exact folks DON had hoped would help bring some new perspectives to the process.

Jesseca Brand, the DON staffer who headed the city’s outreach and recruitment for the focus groups, says that although she expected some drop off in attendance during the months-long focus group process, she had hoped that by the end of the process, “we would have close to the same demographic split that we started with and we wouldn’t be losing any one set of people … but the numbers tell me that I was not totally correct in that [hope].”

The one clear exception to the pattern is the eight focus group members who were recruited by Sage. Pascuito says that sustaining those long-term commitments required long-term investment from her organization. Sage didn’t just make sure their members could afford to attend the focus groups; they also held a “meeting after the meeting” each month, for members to ask questions and get up to speed on the technical details of the zoning and affordable housing proposals.

“This is really complicated, and this is why people go to planning school. You can spend years learning about the intricacies of land use decisions, and it’s hard to mash it all into a six-meeting process where you’re meeting once a month,” Pascuito says.

That sort of intervention may have proven useful for Laura Bernstein, a community activist from Seattle’s University District who resigned from her focus group in September. She says she got frustrated when she saw her group being dominated by longtime neighborhood activists who were far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of local land-use law and asserted their authority as “experts” over newcomers who struggled to just get up to speed. “What was the point of getting such a diverse group of people if the people with power weren’t going to do more to foster an inclusive environment to retain them at the table[?],” Bernstein’s resignation letter concluded. “This is what fake equity looks like.”

In a survey of 46 focus group members conducted in August, 34.9 percent of respondents said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the process. About 20 percent said it was too soon to say. In written comments, many participants said they were “confused” by the process and the content of the presentations (“so much is above my head,” one complained) or didn’t get enough help getting up to speed (“Does not feel like we are getting the true knowledge base we need to understand the choices we are being asked to comment on,” another said.)

DON director Kathy Nyland says the focus groups have been a learning experience for the city, one that she vows to learn from. “We did all this work up front, and I think the lesson was, we need to continue that work until the end [of the process] and beyond. We knew [participating in] the focus groups was a big ask, and a long ask. The work doesn’t end when the recruitment process is over.”

And she says DON will do much more in the future to get people who are new to the city’s sometimes byzantine processes up to speed before throwing them into dense debates about land use and zoning. “We have to acknowledge that everyone has different starting points, and everyone has a different knowledge base, and craft our plans [in the future] so everyone feels comfortable participating,” Nyland says.It’s probably too late to apply those lessons to HALA — the final focus group meetings were held in December — but Nyland says that next time DON manages a major outreach and engagement process like the focus groups, she hopes to make it easier for people to participate in planning processes on their own terms and time, whether that means making sure translators are always available, holding meetings in neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle, or holding virtual meetings online. (After all, when Nyland first got involved in her own neighborhood council years ago, she did most of her work “at 1 in the morning, in my pajamas,” she says.)

As City Revives Civilian SPD Patrols, Role of Unarmed Officers Remains Open Question

Last month, the Seattle Police Department and City Council member Mike O’Brien announced that the city would spend $2 million over the next two years to reinstate the mothballed Community Service Officer program and hire around a dozen new CSOs—unarmed SPD employees trained to respond to low-level calls, including minor property crimes, landlord-tenant disputes, runaway kids, and “nuisance” crimes like public intoxication. Over the course of 2017, a team of representatives from city departments, along with the independent Community Police Commission, will decide what the CSOs’ job descriptions will be, what kind of services they will and won’t provide, and even to whom they will report.

The CSO program, which lasted 33 years before it was shut down in 2004 under then-mayor Greg Nickels and his police chief Gil Kerlikowske, was originally launched in response to allegations of racially biased policing and excessive use of force against African Americans in the Central Area in the late 1960s. The goal of using unarmed officers was twofold: To deescalate tensions between SPD and Central Area residents, and to create a recruiting and training pipeline to hire more African American police officers. In practice, the CSOs did everything from mediating landlord-tenant disputes, to driving children home from court when their parents were taken into custody, to reuniting homeless youth with their families.

csos-1971

Seattle Daily Times, 1971

“It was sort of the civilian version of the fire department pulling cats out of trees,” says Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and co-chair of the CPC. “A lot of times, sworn officers with weapons are just not the right profile for those jobs.” Council member Tim Burgess, who served on the police force in the 1970s when the program was just getting off the ground, recalls that the program was “an attempt to have an arm of the police department that was not perceived as enforcement oriented, as a positive community relations effort.”

Community activist Nancy Amidei, who has worked with homeless youth in the University District since the ’90s, says that when the program was in effect, “no matter what was going on, you knew that if you called on them the situation would get defused, because everyone quickly learned that they don’t make arrests. … They managed to build up enormous trust among businesses, church people, and street youth” alike. In its heyday, the program boasted three dozen civilian officers, who carried radios instead of guns and could call for backup when they needed—which, according to the former CSOs I spoke to, was almost never.

“We could help you or we could hinder you,” says Michale Crooks, who worked as a CSO from 1993 to 2002. “We could get officers to deal with a situation if there was a problem, and so there was a certain authority that came along with it, even though we didn’t have the arresting powers or gun.”

Nearly 13 years after the CSO program ended, a lot has changed in Seattle. Crime, including property crime, has declined across the board since the late 1990s and early 2000s, although Washington’s property crime rate remains one of the highest in the nation. Homelessness has increased in scale and become common in neighborhoods where visible poverty was once rare. The heroin and opiate addiction epidemic has put increasing numbers of people with substance use disorders on the streets, where they leave needles in public places and are themselves a newly visible presence. And the city is under a consent decree from the department of justice because of racially biased policing—a sign, perhaps, that some things change more slowly than others.

“No matter how much progress we have made in recent decades, one could argue that we’re back to where we were decades ago,” says council member Bruce Harrell, who vowed in his campaign last year to reinstitute the CSO program. “The tensions between the African American community, and other underrepresented communities [and SPD] are still there. … I continue to go to places in 2017 where you see many officers who routinely do not speak, do not smile, and do not interface with the community, and what I liked about the CSOs is that they epitomized what a personable representative of the police force could look like.”

Tensions between SPD and communities of color are so fraught, in fact, that some advocates are suggesting that the CSO program should be housed outside the police department altogether, perhaps as an independent body or within a community group not affiliated with the city. Dustin Washington, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s community justice program in Seattle, says the the only way to establish “authentic relationships” between CSOs and the communities they serve is “for [the program] not to be housed in SPD. I think it needs to go through a more rigorous community process, [where] what’s important is engaging in communities who have a sense of their own power.”

O’Brien, who represents a largely white district where community complaints are mostly about property crime, rather than negative interactions with police, says, “frankly,  as a white male from the upper middle class, I don’t particularly feel intimidated by police officers, but I know that a lot of folks do.  So having someone that’s in uniform, that carries some authority but is clearly not a police officer, is a middle ground that I think addresses some of that concern.”

SPD, for its part, seems adamant that CSOs should be an in-house operation with police-like responsibilities; otherwise, SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey says, CSOs will just be “softer police officers with community engagement responsibilities.” Maxey says that, ideally, CSOs would act more like “a civilian patrol support unit” that responds to lower-priority 911 and nonemergency calls, like domestic disturbances and car prowls, than “one-stop social service workers” that take care of problems that communities don’t trust SPD to address.

“This concept that somehow police officers are unable to successfully have community engagement—I reject that, and I do not think we should create a specialized unit to do that,” Maxey says. “I hear that a lot from some of our city partners, that we need CSOs who are unarmed and not as scary or intimidating as regular cops that can help with community engagement. They’re missing the point. The point is that every police officer has got to be capable of engaging with the community.”

Harrell, who represents Southeast Seattle, is skeptical that uniformed cops will be able to turn on that particular dime. “Whatever department they ultimately report to, it’s very critical that they have autonomy from the police department,” Harrell says. “Many times, they might take action that the police department might not have preferred, and they have to have that autonomy. To me, the critical issue is how the public perceives them, and if they just see this persona as a uniformed police officer without a gun, that’s not going to work.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!

Some Questions for the City About its Progress on Homelessness

edmurrayedlee

After spending two hours listening to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray discuss homelessness with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at Seattle U last week, I came away impressed by Murray’s obvious evolution on some key issues related homelessness, including encampment sweeps, drug addiction, and the need for shelter that accommodates substance users.

After watching several of Murray’s department heads brief the council on the progress the city is making on several key issues related to homelessness, including encampment sweeps, needle disposal, and shelter that accommodates substance users, I just came away with a lot of questions.

Murray, who was joined onstage by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, journalist Joni Balter, and SU Master of Public Administration Director Larry Hubbell, expressed frustration at the state and federal government for “fail[ing] to come forward” to supplement the tens of millions the city spends on homelessness every year, and expressed frustration at the kind of complaints he hears from Seattle residents about homeless people in their neighborhoods. “I have heard from so many people that they know exactly who the homeless are and what their problem is and how to solve it,” Murray said. “The conversation [in Seattle] is so polarized, it worries me about our ability to [be a] model for our nation for how you deal with issues of poverty and inequality, and in particular, homelessness.”

Two days later, at a meeting of the council’s human services committee, representatives from several city departments delivered an update on the city’s progress toward building low-barrier shelters and dealing with unauthorized encampments that illustrated some of the challenges Murray was talking about. A 24/7 low-barrier shelter that was supposed to open last month still lacks a location and opening date; new, more humane encampment cleanup protocols remain a work in progress; and the city’s most visible response to the heroin epidemic so far has been the wholly inadequate placement of six needle collection boxes around the city.

Officials from the Human Services Department, Seattle Public Utilities, Finance and Administrative Services, and Murray’s office described the progress they’ve made responding to neighbors’ complaints about trash and needles, touting, among other initiatives, an “on-call” needle response system to ensure that when a neighbor calls to report a needle on public property, SPU will arrive to dispose of the needle within 24 hours. They also touted the work they’ve done to expedite trash pickup in and around encampments, which SPU deputy director Ken Snipes said has led neighbors to say things like “This is the cleanest I’ve ever seen it.”

But they left many questions unanswered—about the schedule for delayed initiatives, about what the city is doing to ensure that it doesn’t discard important belongings when it sweeps occupied encampments, and about what the city plans to do to improve safety not just for neighborhood residents upset by needles, but for people shooting up on park benches and in public bathrooms. Here are a few of the questions I would like to have heard Murray’s staffers address.

Why can’t the city force the state to pick up garbage on state-owned property?

As council member Tim Burgess pointed out, despite SPU’s best efforts to clean up trash and provide Dumpsters around encampments, there are still huge piles of trash and debris under bridges and beside overpasses around the city. “It’s frustrating that we have this accumulation of garbage and trash all over Seattle. … It’s not healthy, it’s not good for the city, and it certainly sends the wrong signals to the taxpayers as to how we spend their money,” Burgess said. Typically, the city responds to questions about trash under bridges by pointing out that most of those sites are owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and that was Snipes’ response yesterday, but Burgess wasn’t having it. “I’ve been hearing this for years: ‘Well, that’s WSDOT property,’  therefore we think we’re somehow paralyzed and can’t act.” If WSDOT won’t clean up messes on its property, Burgess said, then “we should issue citations to WSDOT.  It’s inside the city of Seattle. Our ordinances apply. Why do we take so long?”

Snipes’ response: A familiar refrain. “We’re reaching out and we’ve connected with them and we’re making some headway on a plan to address those areas.

Now that the Seattle Office for Civil Rights no longer oversees each encampment sweep, what is the city doing to ensure that the civil rights of people living outdoors aren’t being violated? 

Back in December, city council members learned that under the mayor’s (still unreleased but, according to Potter, “imminent”) new protocols for encampment sweeps, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights would no longer be monitoring encampment removals and making sure workers were complying with rules about notice and disposal of people’s possessions. A Seattle Times report last month detailed many apparent violations of existing protocols for encampment removal, and described several sweeps that were shut down after SOCR monitors observed violations of the rules.

In the future, FAS director Chris Potter said, SOCR will “continue to monitor the [sweeps] in an auditing capacity—they’ll come out in the field from time to time, and have access, like everyone else to all the information [about specific sweeps] on our external website,” including photos of specific encampments before and after the city enters, conditions at sites chosen for sweeps, and a general sense of what happened to the people living there. (When council member Sally Bagshaw asked specifically if the city’s new encampment information website would include details about outcomes for the individual people displaced by sweeps, Potter demurred, saying only that there would be a “ramp-up period” to get the new protocols in place before the city could attempt to provide more detailed information about the people being swept up in the sweeps.)

The departments’ vague answers about what role the civil rights office will play in monitoring encampment sweeps in the future prompted council member Mike O’Brien to say, “It is going to require a certain level of independence [for the civil rights office] and a willingness to highlight where there’s room to improvement.

“These departments all report to the mayor, and so—not to put words in the mayor’s mouth, but none of us want to be embarrassed. So I want to make sure that the civil rights department will be able to be somewhat independent and make clear statements when the city makes mistakes.”

needle-disposal-map

Why doesn’t the city put sharps containers in more public places, particularly places that are actually convenient to injection-drug users?

It’s been three months since the mayor announced plans to place ten new needle-disposal boxes around the city. To date, the city has added a total of six new sharps containers, distributed across the city from Mineral Springs Park in far North Seattle to the center median at 27th and Cheasty in Beacon Hill. This model requires injection-drug users (who, let’s be clear, cluster in places like Ballard, Capitol Hill, and Belltown that are nowhere near the new disposal sites) to schlep to one of the six designated locations to dispose of dirty needles. If the goal is to get drug users to stop leaving their needles in restroom trash cans and public parks, wouldn’t it make more sense to make sharps containers ubiquitous, at least in places (like libraries and parks) where drug users tend to congregate?

Granted, the sharps containers are getting used—Snipes said the  SPU contractors who pick up the boxes report that they’re “almost full”—but the demand for safe disposal sites clearly exceeds the supply. (For example, Snipes said SPU’s rapid-response needle team had picked up 1,243 individual needles over the last two months.)  On balance, it seems that giving drug users an easy way to safely dispose of needles on site would be a saner approach than the current model, which is to deny users a place to dispose of sharps and then deploy an army of on-call SPU workers to drive  around the city plucking individual needles off the ground.

But seriously, what’s the holdup with the Navigation Center?

The Navigation Center—a 24/7 low-barrier shelter that will not bar people for being intoxicated or high and will allow partners, possessions, and pets—was supposed to open in December. A month later, the city has yet to even announce where the center will be, and officials at the table Thursday cited unspecified ongoing “negotiations” as the reason for the holdup. “I won’t be able to say when the site negotiations will be complete, nor do I have a timeline about when that site will be open,” HSD deputy director Jason Johnson said. “What I did want to share today is that we’re working with [the Downtown Emergency Services Center, which will run the Navigation Center] to set up some interim services” to replicate the services that will be centralized at the Navigation Center.

Part of the problem with providing people access to a bunch of services while they’re still living on the streets, as I reported earlier this month, is that it’s much harder to navigate a complicated system when you’re living out of a shopping cart and fighting every day for physical survival. Having DESC serve as a clearinghouse for services may be a step in the right direction, but it’s a long way from the Navigation Center model, which recognizes that people need a sense of stability before they can start jumping through the hoops that lead to housing.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!

Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland, Accidental Activist

This story was published in the January issue of Seattle Magazine; I highly recommend picking up the hard copy, which has a very cool two-page spread of the photo at the top of this post, at your local grocery or bookstore. (I also recommend Knute Berger’s column from the same issue on the coming Trump era in Seattle, which takes a long view of the arc of progress.)

One hot August night in 2015 at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard, Kathy Nyland, the city’s new Department of Neighborhoods (DON) director, struggled to be heard above the shouts from people who showed up to oppose a new, sanctioned homeless encampment in the neighborhood. Over boos, catcalls and cries of “How about we put it in the mayor’s neighborhood?” Nyland struggled to explain that, like those in the room, she had been through her own battles with the city as a neighborhood activist in Georgetown. “We want this to be a successful operation,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “We’re trying to make it work.” Then she hustled off to the sidelines of the hall.

A year and a half later, Nyland isn’t on the sidelines anymore. But as the person on Mayor Ed Murray’s leadership team charged with upending the traditional balance of power in neighborhood planning, she’s still in the hot seat.

Last July, Murray had Nyland at his side when he cut formal and financial ties with 13 neighborhood district councils, which had served as informal advisory bodies since the 1990s. The homeowner-dominated councils typically argue against allowing more density (for example, townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods.

Murray has charged Nyland with bringing underrepresented communities into the inner circle of neighborhood planning, including people of color, immigrants, newcomers and renters (with tenants making up about half the city).

District council leaders feel blindsided by the move, and see downgrading the councils as an effort to cut them out of neighborhood planning. Many blame Nyland.

“It was a surprise attack,” says Dan Sanchez, chair of the Central Area Neighborhood District Council. “Nobody knew about the mayor’s decision until [less than] 24 hours before his press conference.” Sanchez also criticizes Nyland for canceling her appearance at a City Neighborhood Council meeting. “How could she say, ‘No, I can’t answer your questions about this dramatic thing that’s going to affect your lives?’”

Nyland has come a long way since the night she stood nervously in front of angry Ballard residents, afraid to speak. A diminutive woman who is partial to simple, crisp collars, black-and-white patterns and Toms flats, she is gregarious and prone to sudden laughter. And although she’s no fan of confrontation, she’s getting used to it. “My voice doesn’t quiver as much. I haven’t passed out. I just have to remind myself that I know this stuff. I’ve been part of it. I’ve got some credibility,” she says.

Nyland started finding her voice as a neighborhood activist after she and her partner, Holly Krejci (now the mayor’s operations manager), moved into their new house in 2003. A neighbor showed up at their door and asked, “Hey, did your Realtor tell you there’s 20 level-3 sex offenders who live down the street?”

The county had just put neighboring SoDo on the list of potential locations for transitional sex offender housing—and just like that, Nyland and Krejci were sucked into the world of neighborhood activism.

After that first effort—when she learned, among other things, to put all neighborhood representatives in matching T-shirts for maximum visual effect—Nyland went on to organize the opposition to a “red light district” for strip clubs, a new trash transfer station and a proposed expansion of Boeing Field. “I’ve worked with this department for 10-plus years, so it’s dear to me,” Nyland says.

An overachieving middle child raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a single mom, Nyland graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and quickly became disenchanted with her onetime dream of becoming a designer at a high-powered New York City ad firm. Adrift after a year of travel to Europe, Nyland illustrated a few greeting cards for a friend who owned a San Francisco card shop. Within a day, all her cards had sold. Soon, she had national clients, including Nordstrom and Papyrus. “I truly was self-employed—I would work three months at a time. In September, October, I’d be painting hearts for Valentine’s Day, and then take six weeks off.”

Eventually, San Francisco got too expensive, and she relocated to Seattle, ending up in a two-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, doing marketing and communications for Pacific Science Center and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In 2003, she and Krejci opened a gift shop and gallery called George, where they sold work by local artists, jewelry and T-shirts that read, “Georgetown: It’s not just for hookers anymore.” George closed in 2009 when Nyland took a job as a legislative aide to Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw. Murray snapped her up to work in his Office of Policy and Innovation in 2014.

Nyland doesn’t draw much anymore—“I don’t even recognize that part of my life,” she says, laughing—but she does channel her creative spirit. She recently suggested doing a Shark Tank–style challenge for the neighborhood matching fund—small grants for neighborhood projects such as park benches. But on tough days, she says, she still seeks out nice paper. “That’s one of my coping mechanisms—I go into Paper Source.”

Nyland’s focus these days is on rebuilding the Department of Neighborhoods. Her signature line is “New Day, New DON!” That means figuring out ways to connect with residents who can’t be reached through the channels developed 30 years ago.

“My mantra is, people would like to participate on their own timeline and from their own location,” she says. So instead of relying on community council mailing lists, postcards and leisurely neighborhood meetings, she looks into town hall meetings via phone and Skype, and sending DON staffers with interpreters to meetings of immigrants and refugees. “It’s broadening those access points,” she says.

Traditional neighborhood meetings, which tend to take place in the early evening and are not widely advertised, exclude people who aren’t on neighborhood mailing lists: renters, night-shift workers or people who don’t speak English fluently. Those people, Nyland says, “are not making a choice not to come—they can’t come! I want to turn those obstacles into opportunities.”

Some have resisted Nyland’s changes at DON, which hasn’t had a major shakeup since founding director Jim Diers retired in 2002.

“There are so many programs at DON that were kind of parked there over the years,” says Tom Van Bronkhorst, a strategic adviser helping to revamp the department’s community outreach process. Besides neighborhood planning, Nyland’s 50-plus employees administer grants for neighborhood improvement projects, P-Patch and historic preservation programs, outreach and engagement services for other city departments, and the popular “Find It, Fix It” program. “They’ve been successful individually, but I think what Kathy wants to do, and what the department needs, is a bigger sense of what the overall mission is. Maybe DON has had more issues with change because it’s so program-focused,” says Van Bronkhorst.

“I remember the first meeting after I was selected, saying, ‘I don’t know if you guys are ready for me,’” Nyland says. “DON has been in existence for almost 30 years, and it has a lot of really important programs, but I think the mission and its purpose has gotten lost. We haven’t kept up with change.”

Van Bronkhorst first met Nyland during the battle over the proposed Georgetown transfer station back in 2005, when he was a staffer for then City Council member Jean Godden. He says Nyland immediately “struck me differently because she was very, very strategic and politically savvy from the beginning. That came up again later when [then council member] Peter Steinbrueck was talking about strip clubs,” and whether they should be dispersed or concentrated in one area, in 2007.

“I think one of the reasons we bonded so quickly is because we both tend to think that way—she’s constantly three or four steps ahead,” Van Bronkhorst says. Plus, “She knows more about politics, about legislation, more about just getting things done than most anyone else that I’ve ever met.”

Another thing that sets Nyland apart from a stereotypical activist: She isn’t reflexively opposed to development—or, for that matter, to strip clubs. “I had no problem with strip clubs. I live in a city. That’s part of urban life,” she says. “I just thought it was bad policy to have them all concentrated in one area.” Ultimately, in no small part due to Nyland’s willingness to lead her neighborhood toward a compromise, the “red light district” proposal fizzled, and the city dispersed the clubs throughout the city.

Van Bronkhorst and council member Bagshaw describe Nyland as a borderline workaholic who puts in longer hours than anyone—the consummate straight-A student. “She would have been your nightmare in school, because you’d be thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go out tonight,’ but you’d know that Kathy would be home on Friday night getting her homework done,” Bagshaw says. “I don’t think the girl ever sleeps. She’s the kind of person who loves to give people credit—she never wants to be out front.” Bagshaw adds, “From the time when I first saw her speaking [as DON director] to today, I have seen her become more settled and more confident.”

Nyland says there’s only one thing she absolutely cannot abide: People speaking ill of her dogs. Earlier this year, after she single-handedly overturned the decision of a city preservation board and approved the construction of an 11-story building in Pioneer Square, someone called her to say he was glad her dog had died.

“That crushed me,” says Nyland, whose office features a large black-and-white photo of her late border collie/Lab/terrier mix, Fannie Mae. “You can say whatever you want about me, but don’t wish death on my dogs, because those are untouchable.”

Nyland, like all department directors, serves at the pleasure of the mayor—in this case, a mayor given to firing and reassigning staff with little notice, and one who seems unusually sensitive to criticism. Ask Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas, who reportedly got the silent treatment from Murray for a few weeks, then suddenly was reassigned to a lesser role. By all accounts, though, Murray is fond of Nyland, and trusts her political instincts and efforts to shake up DON.

“Since his first day in office, he’s been very clear that the status quo was not an option,” Nyland says. “DON has great programs, but the department has not evolved with the changing demographics of the city.” Nyland claims she has never seen Murray lose his temper or lash out unreasonably at high-level staffers. “I think the mayor’s really passionate and he wants to get things done, and my job is to help that agenda,” she says. So, does she think she’s above the fray? “I don’t even know if there is a fray,” Nyland says. “I think I’m in the mix.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!

The Future of Seattle’s Shelter System is in San Francisco

SF-nav-center-entrance

San Francisco’s Navigation Center for the homeless is a promising model for Seattle—if the city decides to really embrace it.

Last month, the Seattle Human Services Department dropped several pieces of bad news in the laps of the city council’s human services committee: First, the department had failed to locate sites for all four of the sanctioned encampments Mayor Ed Murray promised as part of his “Bridging the Gap” proposal to shelter some of the city’s unsheltered homeless population, now several thousand strong. Second, ongoing sweeps of unauthorized encampments will no longer be monitored by the city’s Office of Civil Rights, which was charged with overseeing encampment removals and making sure workers comply with rules about notice and disposal of people’s tents and other possessions. And third, a planned low-barrier shelter known as the Navigation Center, to be operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, won’t open on schedule due to trouble locating an acceptable site for the facility. “Identifying a site has taken longer than we originally [anticipated], so we’re going to have to issue a new timeline once the site has been identified,” HSD deputy director Jason Johnson said at last month’s meeting.

The Navigation Center delay was a blow to advocates who’ve argued that Seattle needs shelter options that serve the hardest to house among the city’s growing homeless population—those who don’t use regular shelters because they have one or more of the “three P’s”—pets, partners, and possessions, which aren’t allowed in traditional shelters—or because they’ve been scared away by bad experiences in the shelter system.  Add to those three disqualifiers a fourth “P”—problems. Shelters don’t work well for people in acute mental distress, people who happen to be drunk or high, or people whose mental or emotional troubles make it difficult for them to stay in close quarters with hundreds of other people.

It’s a fairly safe bet that the city will announce the Navigation Center site sometime in January—too late to help those stuck sleeping outside in subzero temperatures during the first half of this unusually cold winter, but in time for Murray to attend the opening before his reelection campaign begins in earnest. But what do city officials really mean when they talk about “low-barrier” shelter, anyway—and what will make the Navigation Center different from other shelters DESC operates, like the Morrison Hotel downtown, which takes people in any condition on a first-come, first-served basis?

To help answer those questions, I headed south to San Francisco, where the original Navigation Center opened in the Mission District in March 2015. (The city has since opened another Navigation Center, and is working on a third; all three are temporary facilities on public land slated for eventual redevelopment.) Located in the middle of a a dreary street of Mission Street populated largely by street kids and older people just sort of hanging around, the Navigation Center stands out for its clean sidewalk, airy entryway, and woodsy, modern exterior. It looks more like the entrance to a pricey new condo building than a shelter—if that condo building  was flanked by two portable buildings painted institutional yellow, and fronted by a short but official-looking sturdy iron fence.

“It’s hard to explain that it’s never looked so good [on the street outside], but there it is,” Sam Dodge tells me as we walk through the center. Dodge is the deputy director of San Francisco’s new Department of Homelessness, and he—along with John Ouertani, the site manager—is one of the chief evangelists for the Navigation Center model. “This property is open 24 hours and is very low-threshold,” Ouertani says. “There are a few rules, but the guests pretty much come in and out as they please.” As we’re talking, a new guest comes in—a skinny young man, probably 30, staggering under some unseen weight, his head parallel to the dusty ground. A case worker steers him toward his dorm, urging him to get some sleep.

Physically, the center consists of several low portable buildings—an admissions center, a dining hall/TV room, an ADA-accessible building with showers, restrooms, and free laundry facilities, and five dorms—clustered around a central courtyard. The layout gives clients (the Navigation Center calls them “guests”) more physical room than a traditional shelter, to walk around, play with their pets—and sleep. The dorms themselves house a maximum of 15 people each, a far cry from the hundreds of bunk beds that crowd a typical shelter, and some beds are pushed together in pairs, to accommodate couples who want to sleep together. Meals are available all day and night in the common building, and showers are open 24/7, to give people a sense of autonomy and to differentiate the center from other institutional living situations that guests may have encountered and found unwelcoming or traumatic in the past.nav-center-portables

“A lot of people [the Navigation Center serves] haven’t had contact with a shelter for a very long time, but they have past memories of shelter or they’ve heard rumors on the street, and that’s kept them out,” Dodge says. “I think it’s really important that we’re telegraphing to people that ‘You are going to make this amazing life change, and it’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a lot of appointments and all this stuff, but we’re here to make it easy for you, and we want to make a tranquil environment where you can rest when you need to rest, and you can eat when you need to eat, and stay focused on the goal of ending your homelessness.” In contrast, traditional shelters typically serve meals, if they serve meals at all, at standard times, clear out sleeping areas during the day, and are anything but tranquil.

DESC director Daniel Malone says that during one of his visits to the San Francisco Navigation Center, he and his colleagues witnesses a client become “really agitated about something,” yelling and pacing around frantically. What they noticed, he says, is that the man “was basically able to blow off some steam—the physical environment there seemed to allow for him to have that moment, or that event, without really significantly affecting anybody else. And some of us from DESC observed that and immediately made the connection that if that had happened in the DESC shelter—and things like that happen in the DESC shelter all the time—he would have had a different reception, because a lot of people would have been around and wouldn’t have had the patience for that happening.

“It helped some of us feel more confident that there could be some real differences by going this route of creating a place where we weren’t just trying to squeeze in as many people as humanly possible.”

Another key difference between the Navigation Center and a traditional shelter is that the Navigation Center is truly low-barrier, welcoming people who have partners, pets, possessions—and problems. Ouertani estimates that at any given time, there are a dozen or more dogs on the property—many of them pit bulls—and says that as long as they’re vaccinated, on a leash, and don’t attack people or other dogs, they can stay. “We had about 17 pets come in within the first month and an half after we first opened up, and that’s pretty much what dictated where the guests went, because you can’t put 10 pit bulls in one dorm,” Ouertani said. People are also allowed to bring large possessions, like shopping carts, bikes, and what Dodge calls “survival stuff from the street.” (Weapons are taken at the door and stored for clients to retrieve later.) And they’re allowed to stay with partners‚ unlike typical shelters that require couples to split. (Dodge says there have been times when women, for example, or transgender people have said they felt unsafe sleeping in coed dorms, and the Navigation Center has accommodated them by making one of the five dorms single-gender). Finally, they’re allowed to stay at the center even if they’re  under the influence of drugs or alcohol—or, in most cases, even if they consume drugs or alcohol at the center. “We’re not so much focused on the drugs and alcohol,” Dodge says, “because we know those are almost a given. So if you get caught using on the property, it does not mean that you are asked to leave. That’s our time to outreach to you.”

nav-center-courtyard

Clients can’t just walk in to the Navigation Center, nor will they be able to do so in Seattle. Instead, the center seeks out new clients at encampments (often right before announced raids by San Francisco city authorities) and through groups serving homeless people from marginalized communities. “One of our [initial] ideas was that we could go and just take a whole encampment and bring them inside,” Dodge said. “And then we saw from some of our data that in taking the whole encampment, we started to preference a younger, whiter group that felt comfortable in places of conflict, so then we started to say, ‘Let’s select for some racial equity and try to balance those numbers out a little bit.'” Like the city of Seattle, San Francisco uses a race and social justice lens when designing and funding city programs. “And then we went to the Haight Ashbury [neighborhood] and worked with some of the groups up there, and said, ‘Let’s work with a younger cohort. Let’s try to preference transgender people who seem to feel unsafe in a lot of our shelter system.'” The result is a population that goes through demographic changes based on the center’s current outreach priorities. f the population looks a little too young and white, they can tweak their outreach to bring in more Latino immigrants; if it’s skewing heavily toward straight, older couples, the center can increase outreach to groups that serve LGBTQ youth.

“Part of the model is being able to experiment and try new things and collect data and analyze it and experiment again,” Dodge says.

One reason  the original Navigation Center has been so free to experiment is that it’s funded largely by private dollars, through a no-strings-attached grant from an anonymous wealthy donor; Seattle’s Navigation Center will be funded by a combination of state and local dollars.

Daniel Malone, the DESC director, says his group plans to emulate the experimental spirit of the San Francisco Navigation Center, but notes that the city will choose clients based on its own set of criteria, which will in turn be dictated, to some extent, by federal priorities. “Essentially, folks are going to [come] to us after being selected by the Human Services Department,” Malone says. Johnson, the HSD deputy director, says Navigation Center clients will be chosen by outreach workers who will “engage with an unsheltered person or couple to try to tease out what that couple might need to move from living outside to living inside”; if it seems like they’ve rejected other shelter options because of barriers like restrictions on partners and pets, “then the Navigation Center comes into play.”

nav-center-beds

Johnson says Seattle’s Navigation Center, when it opens, will still embrace “the core themes that hold true at the San Francisco Navigation Center,” but it will be uniquely Seattle.”  For example, Johnson says, people will be expected to move out of the center, and into more stable (if not permanent) housing within 30 days—an ambitious goal given that, also according to Johnson, the average shelter stay in King County is 200 days. Johnson says the San Francisco Navigation Center has “changed their model” to move people through the center in 30 days, but Dodge says that for those who are seeking stable housing (as opposed to shelter or treatment), moving through the system takes longer, about 90 days on average.

San Francisco’s Navigation Center has moved nearly 300 people into more stable housing since it opened in 2015, which is quite a feat—especially when you consider that many people enter the center with few or no prior connections to the city’s homeless “system.” That’s another thing that’s different about the Navigation Center—instead of just providing phone numbers and addresses for service providers and sending clients on their way, the center provides each client with an on-site case manager who helps them make appointments and actually show up, as well as service providers who come to the center weekly.  Of all the barriers to housing, Dodge says, the sheer number of appointments can be one of the most daunting. “At one point, we were averaging 28 appointments that someone had to make coming from the street [before getting] housing, and for some of these other cases, where you’re dealing with immigration and maybe the Veterans Administration, it’s much more.”

The most ambitious versions of San Francisco’s plan max out at about six Navigation Centers, which works out to about 450 theoretical clients at a time. The unsheltered homeless population of San Francisco is nearly 6,700, according to a 2015 count; in Seattle, it’s around 3,000. (The actual numbers are likely much higher, since those figures only represent the number of people homeless count participants actually encountered sleeping on the streets.) Johnson says Seattle has no immediate plans to start siting a second Navigation Center, and indicates that the site the city will choose won’t be a temporary use of publicly owned land, like the ones in San Francisco.  Given that a single low-barrier shelter will barely make a dent in the growing demand, many advocates point out the obvious: Seattle needs more low-income housing, and not just in the form of short-term “rapid rehousing” rental vouchers.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that, when I got to Seattle 20 years ago, there were literally a third of the homeless people that we see now,” says Real Change director Tim Harris. “My issue with the [Navigation Center] approach is just simply that 75 beds doesn’t go all that far, given the depth of the need.”

Malone, whose organization will be charged with making the Seattle Navigation Center a success, says that “if the Navigation Center fails and doesn’t have a lot of throughput”—that is, people entering the center and exiting into housing—”then it’ll end up being a very expensive shelter, and that’s not what anyone’s looking to do.”

A final unknown: What will federal housing policy look like under the Trump Administration? Immediately after the election, housing and homelessness advocates were deeply concerned about who Trump would pick to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which sets federal housing policy. (The federal government provides about 40 percent of Seattle’s budget for homeless services). Now that Trump has chosen Ben Carson, the libertarian-leaning surgeon and failed Presidential candidate, they’re looking for funding closer to home, at the state and local levels.

Council member Sally Bagshaw, who heads up the council’s health and human services committee, says that “as dire as it is, what we’re facing right now, I actually don’t think that the federal government was going to help us anyway, because of the Republican Congress. I believe firmly that what we do, and every step of progress that we make is going to be done by the city and the county, with, hopefully, some help from the state.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!