Morning Crank: What the City Calls a Homeless Crisis

1. On Friday, after significant pushback on social media (including dozens of folks who retweeted my coverage on Twitter), KIRO 7 news took down a map identifying the precise location of unsanctioned homeless encampments around the city, submitted by viewers and verified by the station. The map page also encouraged viewers to approach encampments and take photos and videos.

The map was posted on Wednesday and identified as a tool to help KIRO “track” homeless encampments, which can be as few as three tents, “amid what the City of Seattle calls a homeless crisis.” The explanation went on to say that “Seattle leaders do not keep a public map of homeless camps, so we are working with the community to make one.”

The mayor’s office told me there’s a very good reason the  city doesn’t publish its list of homeless encampment locations: To do so could put homeless people in even more danger than they already are. Fifty-eight percent of homeless women experienced domestic violence, according to the city’s recent survey of more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness; mapping the precise locations where homeless people are camped out, with photos that may show identifying possessions is an invitation to abusers to go looking for their victims. (Originally, the page said nothing to discourage viewers from photographing people’s faces, but the station later added a disclaimer to that effect ).

On KIRO TV Wednesday night, a reporter promoted the encampment map while standing in front of several tents directly across from KIRO headquarters.

On Thursday, under pressure from the public to stop doxxing the homeless (doxxing, here, refers to the practice of finding out where people live and identifying that location publicly in order to encourage others to target and harass them), KIRO changed the justification for the map. The map was a bit more specific (and less skeptical) about the “homeless crisis, included information about how to submit a “service request” for the city to clean up an encampment, and noted that the city also had information about shelter on its website:

Meanwhile, KIRO continued to promote the tracking map on its nightly news broadcast and on Reddit.

Finally, on Friday—two days after the “tracking” map went up—KIRO replaced the map with a generic-looking new one, with shaded areas designating giant blocks of the city where viewers had reported camps to the station. The new map is useless for tracking, and it’s unclear why KIRO left it up; what it does reveal is that the KIRO viewers who felt motivated to report and, in some cases, approach and photograph encampments are all on the western half of the city. To look at the map, you’d think Southeast Seattle—where encampments certainly exist, just as they do all over the city—is encampment-free, whereas Queen Anne and parts of Ballard and Magnolia are overrun by tents.

KIRO’s explanation for this latest version of the map was that they had talked to experts and received new information from the mayor’s office that the city does, in fact, have a map of encampment locations, “an important detail they would not previously disclose.” They also changed their justification for the map yet again, saying it was intended to “[show] just how widespread the homeless encampment problem is across the city.”

KIRO’s claim that they thought the mayor’s office doesn’t know where encampments are is highly implausible, as is the notion that self-reporting by “the community” (which, as the new map shows, is a highly self-selected group) will produce an accurate or helpful picture of encampments in Seattle. I simply don’t buy the explanation that KIRO just thought the city wasn’t tracking encampments and decided to help by asking their readers to send in locations as a public service to the city, especially given that this wasn’t their justification until they got pushback from viewers concerned about the wellbeing of the people’s whose locations KIRO had identified.

KIRO didn’t respond to my messages seeking comment. But one thing struck me as I watched this map evolve, and read KIRO’s ever-changing justifications for its existence: To think a map like this serves any useful purpose, you have to see homeless people and their tents as messes to clean up or problems to be solved. Then the map becomes a kind of “Find It, Fix It” app, but for people.

But people aren’t potholes, and identifying their precise locations—especially in Seattle, a city where anti-homeless sentiment is at a fever pitch right now—can put them in danger.  In the same way that it would be considered inappropriate to create a map identifying where KIRO employees live, it’s inappropriate to create a map of where homeless people are sleeping and trying to survive. I’m glad, for the sake of the people who could have been targeted because KIRO identified where they lived, that KIRO took the original map down. I’m disheartened that the only lesson KIRO appears to have learned is “when you fuck up, double down.”

2. In case you missed it: Yesterday, I broke the news that the city, county, and state have settled with the Alliance for Pioneer Square, which sued over the width of the proposed new Alaskan Way surface street. Under the agreement, the city will build the street as originally planned—102 feet wide, similar to the new Mercer Street in South Lake Union—and narrow it to 79 feet, by eliminating two transit lanes, around 2033, when light rail opens in West Seattle.

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 reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, 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.

Deal Reached in Waterfront Highway Lawsuit: Build 102-Foot Highway Now, Narrow It When Light Rail Opens

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED, with comments from King County Metro and Transportation Choices Coalition.

The Alliance for Pioneer Square has reached a settlement with the city, county, and state in its lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of a 100-foot-wide, 8-to-9-lane roadway on the waterfront in Pioneer Square, The C Is for Crank has learned.

The settlement stipulates that the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will be able to build the 102-foot-wide surface highway as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, with lanes for transit, general traffic, parking, and ferry queues, on the condition that once Sound Transit opens its light rail station in West Seattle in 2033 and Metro no longer needs to run RapidRide buses from West Seattle to downtown, the city will narrow the surface Alaskan Way by eliminating the transit lanes and replacing them with new sidewalks, landscaping, or parking lanes. That will eventually bring the roadway down from 102 feet at its widest point, between S Washington St. and Yesler Way, to 79 feet. In the settlement, Metro agrees to run no more than 195 buses a day on the Alaskan Way surface street after light rail opens. The tunnel is supposed to open to traffic in 2019, and the waterfront project, including the roadway, is scheduled to open three years later, meaning that the ultra-wide road will stand between Pioneer Square and the waterfront for about ten years.

According to the settlement, which came in response to the Alliance’s appeal of the city’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on the waterfront reconstruction project,

Within fifteen (15) months of the opening of the Alaska Junction station of Sound Transit Light Rail service to West Seattle, the City will retrofit SR 519/Alaskan Way between Yesler Way and South King Street to narrow Alaskan Way by eliminating the transit lane on each side of Alaskan Way, and converting the area of the former transit lane to sidewalks, landscaping, and on-street parking.

“What we have agreed to is that I’m going to quit complaining about 600 buses a day and a 9-lane highway, and when light rail gets to West Seattle, they’re going to come back and make the road narrower, so that in the interim we are accommodating the transportation needs of a rapidly changing city, and in the future we will be more accommodating of the pedestrian and bicycling needs of the waterfront and the historic district,” Alliance for Pioneer Square director Leslie Smith says.

“What we have agreed to is that I’m going to quit complaining about 600 buses a day and a 9-lane highway, and when light rail gets to West Seattle, they’re going to come back and make the road narrower.” – Leslie Smith, Alliance for Pioneer Square

The debate over the surface street dates back to the mid-2000s, when a group called the the People’s Waterfront Coalition argued that Seattle should follow in the footsteps of progressive cities like San Francisco and tear down its waterfront highway—without replacing it. Thanks in part to state traffic modeling that assumed (incorrectly, it turned out) that the number of people driving downtown in single-occupant vehicles would increase indefinitely, that plan was rejected, and Seattle ended up getting not just a downtown tunnel, but a costly deep-bore tunnel with no downtown exits that is currently four years years late and $23 million over budget.

With the tunnel mostly off limits to transit and freight, the city, state, Port, and Metro had to figure out how to accommodate transit, freight, bikes, and pedestrians, along with cars lining up for the ferry terminal and general-purpose traffic, on the surface. No one was willing to budge on their demands—not Washington State Ferries, which insisted that it needed two car queueing lanes on Alaskan Way, not Metro, which argued that putting buses in general traffic would slow down the system from White Center to Ballard, and not the Port, which dismissed suggestions that it share a lane with transit, arguing that 18-wheelers shouldn’t be stuck behind buses that stop every couple of blocks. And that, more or less, is how the city ended up with a 100-foot-wide highway right next to Pioneer Square, cutting off the historic district from the waterfront as surely as the Alaskan Way Viaduct has since 1953.

“The issues with the width of the road aren’t lost on anyone,” Office of the Waterfront director Marshall Foster said Friday. Sitting in a vast conference room on Fifth Avenue that looks over downtown construction and, far away, the viaduct itself, Foster said the city has “worked for years to keep it as narrow as possible, [but] with the viaduct coming down, we have to not only deal with just the basic background traffic that we know will have to operate in that corridor,” but all the surface freight traffic through downtown, 600 buses carrying nearly 30,000 people a day, and hundreds of cars that line up for the ferry terminal at Colman Dock every afternoon (585 a day, according to the EIS.)

“We’re in the middle of this big transit transition where we’re bringing on a huge volume of transit service, but we’re struggling to do it fast enough.” – Marshall Foster, director, Seattle Office of the Waterfront

“The fundamental reason that we’re in this awkward place, I think, is that we’re in the middle of growing pains as a city,” Foster continued. “We’re in the middle of this big transit transition where we’re bringing on a huge volume of transit service, but we’re struggling to do it fast enough.”

I asked Nicole Macintosh, director of terminal engineering for Washington State Ferries, why the ferry division couldn’t use a reservation system, like the one it  just implemented in the San Juan Islands and Port Townsend, to reduce the number of cars that need to line up on the waterfront. Macintosh said “we don’t have the funding yet to bring the reservation system down to the more core car commuter routes, like Seattle, but I can tell you that with that reservation system we would definitely need two lanes”—one for people with reservations, and one for people who just drive up. What about running more passenger ferries? Macintosh said that would require a change in state law, and reminded me that the ferries are considered part of the state highway system—an objection Foster acknowledges, but also chalks up to “a cultural thing” within WSDOT that could be shifting. Macintosh also rejected the notion that some of the free parking that WSDOT provides to dock workers at Colman Dock itself—about 55 spaces in all—could be used as ferry queuing space, saying that the parking spaces are mostly in “unusable” areas of the dock.

Transit advocates weren’t thrilled when Smith filed her lawsuit challenging the waterfront plan, because Smith’s original proposed mitigation plan involved moving buses bound for downtown from West Seattle off the waterfront and onto S. Lander Street, where they’d have to traverse more than 20 traffic lights. “I just find it really strange that an important public decision is being made through this sideways approach of a legal challenge where the only stakeholders are government agencies and the person challenging the [environmental impact statement],” Transportation Choices Coalition director Shefali Ranganathan, who did not receive prior notice that the Alliance had reached an agreement with the city, county, and state, said Monday that she was disappointed that stakeholders like TCC hadn’t been involved in the settlement discussions, which she called “mysterious.”

“I was hoping for something that would bring our heads together, and this process limits that type of collaboration,” Ranganathan said Monday.

Ranganathan also questions the assumptions Metro made in preemptively limiting the growth of transit service on the waterfront to 195 buses a day. “I just don’t understand how we are making commitments about transit capacity so far into the future,” she says. “We don’t know what transit use will look like 10 years from now. Maybe Link [light rail] will be able to take all this capacity, maybe it won’t.  We see transit ridership growing at a record pace, and to limit ourselves 15 years into the future based on expectations around buses seems short-sighted.” Similarly, Ranganathan questions the ferry system’s claim that it will always need two queuing lanes, no matter how demand for passenger ferry service or electronic reservation technology evolves in the future. “The ferry system is going to change and adapt to the needs of its users, and that’s going to include how people access that facility, she says.

Victor Obeso, Metro’s deputy general manager, says the transit agency is “comfortable” with its agreement to never run more than 195 buses a day along the waterfront once the West Seattle light rail station opens. “Based on our planning assumptions, we think we can live within the [limit of] 195 in the future,” Obeso says. “Once rail is extended out to West Seattle, as we’ve done with every segment of rail so far, we would take full advantage of the capacity and speed of rail.”

Ferry queue traffic projection

There are a lot of ifs built into this plan. The first big one is that this roadway narrowing project—the first one in Seattle that Smith, a lifelong resident, can remember—is contingent on a successful five-year process involving the Port, WSDOT, the Alliance, the city, and Pioneer Square property owners and tenants, who are supposed to spend five years working together to decide what the post-light rail roadway will look like. That proposal will then have to be approved by a future city council and King County Councils, which are not legally bound to do what the settlement suggests. Smith, now in her 60s, acknowledges that “Yes, 10 or 12 years from now, somebody else may have to fight this the way I have fought it. But I also have a signed agreement. It’s pretty airtight.”

In addition, the proposal is still probably not enough to address many of the objections raised by the Transportation Choices Coalition, Feet First, and Cascade Bicycle Club in their letter commenting on the draft environmental impact statement last year. At 102 feet, the Pioneer Square section of the new Alaskan Way will be as wide as the reconstructed Mercer Ave. in South Lake Union—a vast, foreboding stretch of barren concrete that is a textbook example of pedestrian-hostile street planning—for a decade. And narrowing this short section, assuming it happens, still won’t address the fundamental issue at the heart of those groups’ objections—that widening roadways induces demand, leading to “immediate growth of vehicle miles traveled on a corridor.”

Smith, for her part, says she doesn’t regret filing the challenge, but she’s glad it’s over. “It took a series of long and very painful conversations” to get to a settlement, she says, but “I think it wasn’t a bad thing that I filed. If I hadn’t appealed, I’d have a nine-lane road forever.”

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 reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, 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.

Murray Unveils $275 Million Levy Proposal for Homeless Housing, Shelter, and Treatment

mayor-homeless-levy-announce

At a news conference in the common room of a Downtown Emergency Service Center-run permanent supportive housing facility this afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray released details of his five-year, $275-million proposal to address homelessness, which includes short- and long-term housing vouchers, new funding for 24-hour shelters, expanded medication treatment for opioid addiction, and permanent housing for people who need intensive services. What the proposal doesn’t include is funding for transitional housing, traditional overnight shelters, or a broad expansion of inpatient treatment for people whose addictions can’t be treated by medication.

Acknowledging that the $55 million annual commercial and residential property tax levy would represent an additional burden for Seattle taxpayers, Murray said he had hoped the federal government would pick up some of the tab for addressing what is also a national emergency. “When I announced the [homelessness] state of emergency, when we announced [the homelessness response plan] Pathways Home, I emphasized … that we could not do it alone; we needed the federal government,” Murray said. “In my State of the City address, I basically conceded a point that many of you in the media have challenged me on: that federal help is not coming.” In fact, Murray said, “we will probably see less money than we see today.”

The briefing came just one day after the city removed the few remaining stragglers from the SoDo homeless encampment known as the Field, to which the city itself directed people five months ago when it cleared the vast encampment under I-5 called the Jungle. Earlier this week, residents of the camp and their supporters showed up to the 2pm city council meeting to ask the council to delay the sweep, arguing that the city had failed to respond to repeated requests for things like sawdust, additional port-a-potties, fire extinguishers, and trash pickup, making the squalor at the camp inevitable. The city argued that the camp was not just unsanitary but unsafe, citing the arrest last week of a camp resident for rape and sex trafficking of teenage girls.

Murray’s proposal emphasizes getting people indoors through “rapid rehousing” in the form of temporary rental subsidies for housing on the private market; the mayor’s proposal would divide those subsidies into “short-term, medium-term, and long-term vouchers,” Murray said today. (The proposals are based on a set of recommendations called Pathways Home, which in turn is based on a report by Columbus, Ohio consultant Barb Poppe, and another firm called Focus Strategies). Short-term vouchers could provide rental assistance for as little as three months, while medium-term vouchers could last 18 months or longer, and long-term vouchers would effectively be permanent.

A slightly more detailed breakdown of the measure provided by the city reveals that the vast majority of the housing vouchers it would pay for would be either short- or medium-term, meaning that when they run out, formerly homeless renters will need to make enough money to pay for a market-rate apartment. (Currently, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle is just under $2000). About 4,250 of the 5,100 “housing exits” the proposal aims to accomplish over five years take the form of short- or medium-term housing vouchers; another 475 people would receive long-term vouchers, and 373 would be moved into permanent supportive housing.  The proposal also aims to prevent 1,750 people from becoming homeless through diversion programs, and to provide subsidies for 1,500 people to move into clean-and-sober Oxford Houses over the next five years.

housing-exits-chart

Other than the subsidies for Oxford housing, the mayor’s proposal includes no new funding for transitional housing, temporary housing that’s somewhere between a shelter and a private apartment. It does include 200 new beds at 24-hour, low-barrier shelters, which would replace some funding for traditional overnight-only shelters in the city’s 2018 budget, according to details provided by the city.

Although rapid rehousing hasn’t been implemented on the scale Murray is proposing in a city with a comparably unaffordable rental market (in the cities most commonly cited as rapid-rehousing success stories, Salt Lake City and Houston, a one-bedroom apartment costs about half what a comparable unit rents for in Seattle), council human services committee chair Sally Bagshaw said it was time to stop asking questions and start taking action. “We can debate, we can continue to study, or we can do what our experts have recommended to us,” Bagshaw said. “Do we just keep studying it, or do we invest big in what we know works?”

The proposal also includes a $10 million “housing innovation fund”—unallocated dollars that will go toward finding new housing models and building types that might be cheaper and faster to bring online than conventional low-income housing. Murray’s housing policy advisor Leslie Brinson Price said today that the fund is meant to “spur new thinking and provide a way to pilot projects” that the city might not try otherwise, like modular construction and cohousing.

Substance abuse treatment makes up a relatively small portion of the proposed levy, about $20 million of the $275 million total. That treatment consists primarily of programs that expand access to buprenorphine, brand name Suboxone, a replacement opiate that reduces cravings in people who are addicted to heroin and other opioids, and “housing with intensive outpatient substance use disorder treatment,” which Price said would also focus on buprenorphine distribution.

The measure would add 16 new inpatient treatment beds as part of a pilot project based on Philadelphia’s Journey of Hope project, which offers long-term residential treatment for chronically homeless individuals. The proposal does not appear to explicitly include treatment for alcohol addiction, which is also extremely pre homeless people as as addiction to heroin and other opiates, or other drugs with more complicated courses of treatment than taking a daily dose of Suboxone.

Asked about the relatively small emphasis on treatment—a subject that comes up often in discussions about homelessness—Murray said, “Remember, addiction treatment is not a city function, it is a county function. … We are getting into new lines of business that I hoped we wouldn’t get into, but again, if you look at the restricted nature of the county’s funding and the fact that they constantly find themselves cutting budgets, that’s why we’re getting into buying some services from them.”

sally-bagshaw

As I noted earlier this week, by gathering enough signatures to take his measure directly the ballot, Murray is effectively bypassing the city council, which tends to tinker with (and often reduce) mayoral spending proposals. Asked why he chose this tactic over the more traditional course of sending the ballot measure to the council for approval, Murray said, “I thought it was important for this to come from the community, for signatures to be gathered through a grassroots effort, rather than the usual model of doing things where the council puts it on the ballot. .. It gives people the chance to think about whether they want to sign that measure and whether they want to vote for that measure.” Then, smiling slightly, Murray added, “I mean, I’m a former legislator. [Legislators] always change the executive’s budget.”

Assuming supporters gather the requisite 20,000 valid signatures, the measure will be on the August 1 ballot—alongside Ed Murray, who is running for reelection.

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 reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, 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.

Morning Crank: In a Timely Manner

vision-zero-seattle

1. In yesterday’s Morning Crank, I reported that the city lacks some basic information that would help it evaluate its progress on “Vision Zero”—the Seattle Department of Transportation’s plan to eliminate serious injuries and deaths due to traffic collisions by 2030. The city’s annual traffic report, which includes detailed information on traffic injuries and death, hasn’t been updated since 2015. That means the most recent stats on cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths available to the public date back to 2014—before many of the policies in Vision Zero were even implemented.

Yesterday, SDOT responded to my request for some basic facts about the people killed or injured by traffic incidents in the past two years, including specific information about pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths. The numbers suggest that while Seattle is still much safer for pedestrians and cyclists than most other big cities, we’ve made only minimal progress toward reducing the number of people killed or injured in traffic, and that bicyclist and pedestrian deaths have stayed stable or inched up since the most recent traffic report.

According to the information provided by SDOT, there were 212 collisions that resulted in serious injuries or death in 2015 and 206 in 2016, compared to 186 in 2014.  Seven people walking and one cyclist were killed in crashes in 2015; in 2016, those numbers were six and three, respectively. Both years represent an increase over 2014, when six pedestrians and one cyclist were killed by vehicles.

These numbers would seem to confirm the concerns council member Mike O’Brien raised last month, when he noted that Seattle should be “a city where, whether you’re walking to work or biking to go to the park or walking across the street to get groceries or go get a cup of coffee, that’s not an act of bravery but an act of daily living.” In a conversation Monday, O’Brien expressed frustration with the slow drip of traffic information from SDOT; two pedestrians who were killed by drivers in January, he noted, won’t even show up in SDOT’s numbers for another two years.

At a briefing on Vision Zero yesterday, SDOT staffer Darby Watson told the council’s transportation committee that the reason it takes so long for SDOT to release its annual traffic report is that the stats come from the Seattle Police Department’s Traffic Collision Investigation Squad, which “write[s] up a very detailed report that tells us everything about [each] collision. … And there’s a limited number of people that they’re willing to share it with, so it’s sometimes difficult to get those reports in a timely manner.” O’Brien responded, “I’m sure the police department has very good reasons for the thoroughness of their data,” but asked Watson to come back with recommendations for getting basic collision statistics to the city in a more timely manner.

2. A bill in the state legislature that would bar Seattle and King County from opening several planned supervised drug-consumption sites (rebranded last year as Community Health Engagement Locations, or CHELs) appears to be dead. The bill, sponsored by Federal Way Republican Mark Miloscia, came in response to a county opiate addiction task force recommendation for two safe-consumption sites, one in Seattle and one elsewhere in King County.

3. One of the democratizing things about the move to electronic records among state and local government agencies is that reporters and citizens no longer have to pay photocopying charges to access public records. (Another benefit is that electronic records don’t kill trees). Electronic copies are generally available for free or at a nominal charge, making information accessible to those of us without company credit cards or expense account.

But two bills in the state legislature, which passed out of the House on Friday and are now in the Senate’s state government committee, would increase the cost of electronic records and put information off-limits for those who can’t afford to pay the new charges. The proposed legislation would allow agencies such as the Seattle Police Department to charge up to ten cents per minute for audio and video files, and would allow “customized service charges” for “exceptionally large requests” that require extra staff time or expertise. Electronic scans would cost up to 10 cents a page, which is comparable to what many agencies currently charge for paper records.

The bills also gives agencies the power to deny requests from bots designed to file multiple requests per day, and would allow agencies to force requesters into potentially costly mediation to settle disputes over requests.

4. Mayor Ed Murray plans to reveal the details of his $55 million ballot measure for homelessness services and housing today at 1pm. Supporters plan to qualify the measure for the ballot by gathering signatures, rather than submitting the proposal to the city council, which would almost certainly tinker with the proposal.

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 reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, 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.

Morning Crank: It’s Not Clear What Lessons We’ve Learned

field-protest-mayors-office

1. Four city council members—Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, Debora Juarez, and Kshama Sawant—signed a letter Monday urging Mayor Ed Murray to delay for one week the city’s plans to clear the homeless encampment on state Department of Transportation -owned Airport Way South and S. Royal Brougham, known to residents as “the Field” or “the Field of Dreams.” Camp residents have proposed a three-part plan to clean up the encampment and make it safe for human habitation, but it’s unclear how many of their proposals are feasible, given current conditions at the camp.

The city initially sanctioned the encampment as a temporary holding place for people relocated from the Jungle, the three-mile-long encampment under and surrounding I-5 near Beacon Hill. The city cited unsafe and unsanitary conditions as its reasons for clearing the Jungle, and is now making the same claims about the Field. Last month, a camp resident was arrested for rape and sex trafficking, and drug dealers have reportedly also moved in; meanwhile, the field itself is muddy and rat-infested, and garbage is heaped up in piles.

“The conditions down there are really quite appalling,” council human services committee chair Sally Bagshaw said Monday morning. “People who are living there say it looks like the ground is moving, there are so many rats, and that rats are running over people’s feet. … I think as a city we have got to be able to stand up and say that when something is so rat infested and there is mud literally up to our ankles … this is not something we’re willing to say is okay.” Besides, Bagshaw added, “There are options now. It’s not like people are being swept and told ‘Go find another place to be.'”

jesus-h-christResidents of the Field said they have asked for fire extinguishers, wood chips, trash pickup, and additional generators to keep the encampment clean, safe, and free from rats and garbage, but the city hasn’t delivered. Instead, encampment residents and supporters said, they’ve been offered the same shelter beds and long-term treatment slots that they were rejecting by moving to encampments in the first place. “When I see the Field, I am reminded of the two years Nickelsville spent at the Glass Yard” in Delridge, a resident of the Ballard Nickelsville encampment named Matt told the council. “When I see the Field, I am reminded of the times when Union Gospel Mission was sent in by the city to offer false choices of housing that wouldn’t work,” including shelters that don’t allow partners, pets or possessions, mats on the floor in facilities many encampment residents view as inadequate and unsafe, or beds that were only available to those who committed themselves to sobriety or agreed to submit to religious instruction.

The city has consistently said that it now offers real housing options to encampment residents. But in an interview before the council meeting yesterday afternoon, O’Brien told me that claim relies on sleight of hand. “We don’t have 50 good housing options for folks,” O’Brien said. “If you have one housing option, you can offer that one housing option to 50 people, but as soon as one person takes that housing option they’re going to stop offering it.” The rest, he said, will be forced to accept inadequate shelter or move on to the next encampment site.

This morning, the city plans to move in to the Field and remove any remaining tents, belongings, and people starting at 9am. Several groups opposed to encampment sweeps, who sat outside Murray’s office yesterday afternoon and eventually spoke briefly to his homelessness director, George Scarola, have vowed to show up to physically resist city staffers when they try to evict the remaining residents. O’Brien says that even if the protesters manage to stop this morning’s sweep, “My expectation is that the police will be persistent.”

“When they swept the Jungle, from the beginning, it was like, ‘This is chaos, this is unacceptable,'” O’Brien says. “The problem is it’s not clear what lessons we’ve learned as a city if we just keep doing this over and over again.”

little-saigon-nav-center

2. The council’s discussion of the Field encampment was interrupted briefly yesterday morning when members of the organization Friends of Little Saigon burst into council chambers, waving signs with slogans like “Stop Ignoring Us” and chanting, “Talk with us! Not at us!”

The impromptu protest was a response to the way the city announced the location of the first Navigation Center, a low-barrier, 24-hour shelter for people, like the Field residents, who can’t or won’t sleep at regular overnight shelters. The Friends of Little Saigon and other organizations and businesses in the neighborhood sent a letter to the council and mayor in February asking the city to delay opening the center at the Pearl Warren Building at 12th Avenue and Weller St., arguing that they weren’t consulted on the location until a few days before the announcement, and that by then it was a fait accompli.

Quynh Pham, a representative of Friends of Little Saigon, told me the Navigation Center announcement was the final straw after the city failed to consult the neighborhood on a series of major events, including First Hill streetcar construction and the Womxn’s March, that negatively impacted neighborhood residents and businesses. “We were speechless” when the city’s Human Services Department told them about the decision,” Pham says. “We felt like, why even tell us without a plan to really address the impacts or understand where we’re coming from? They just came to us with the proposal at the last minute.”

Yesterday morning, council member Lisa Herbold blamed the lack of communication on the mayor’s office, which she said “needs to figure out a way to approach public process and engage with communities very differently.” Noting that the Navigation Center has not only been in the works since last year, but will now open months behind schedule, Herbold said “there has been no lack of opportunity to engage with that community.”

3. The mayor’s office plans to bypass the city council to get its $55 million homelessness levy on the August ballot by collecting signatures instead of sending it to the council for approval. Historically, the council tinkers with ballot measures that originate in the mayor’s office or in city departments, adding and subtracting funding for specific programs. In this case, the levy measure is likely to lean heavily on rapid rehousing—short-term vouchers to house homeless people in apartments that will revert to market rate after a few months—and eliminate some funding for agencies that have received city funding for decades, such as those that provide transitional housing. Groups that will likely lose out from a shift toward rapid rehousing include the Low-Income Housing Institute, which runs a number of transitional housing programs—and has heavily lobbied the council against proposed cuts to its programs. Expect an announcement on the levy from the mayor’s office on Wednesday morning.

4. In this afternoon’s transportation committee meeting, council members will get a briefing on the city’s progress on Vision Zero, the city’s plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. One thing that briefing won’t include is a report on traffic deaths and injuries in Seattle over the past two years; the Seattle Department of Transportation’s most recent report covers 2014, before most Vision Zero changes were implemented. I’ve requested a copy of the latest available information, but the lag, O’Brien notes, makes it difficult to draw conclusions about whether the city’s efforts are working; “it’ll be two years,” O’Brien notes, before recent pedestrian fatalities on NE 65th Street and in Wallingford show up in official city records.

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 reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, 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.

 

Morning Crank: Based on Unrealistic Expectations

georCity homelessness director George Scarola—who does not like being called a homelessness czar—showed up early for a forum at the Greenwood Senior Center Wednesday night and ended up chatting with me, a few folks who identified themselves as neighborhood residents, and Harley Lever, founder of the group Safe Seattle.

While we waited for folks from the Greenwood Community Council to set up the room, I asked Scarola about a protest that temporarily stymied city workers trying to clear out an encampment under the south end of the Ballard Bridge on Tuesday. Scarola said the incident taught the city that they may need to do things differently next time, possibly by bringing in more police. I asked whether the city had a contingency plan if protests like the one Tuesday became common. Scarola said the city hasn’t gotten to the point—they’re still rolling out new rules for clearing encampments—and asked me, rhetorically, what the demonstrators were protesting. “Are they protesting for the right of people to live in filthy, disgusting, dangerous conditions?” he asked, referring to the “Triangle” encampment the city plans to sweep next week. “Because no one should be allowed to live like that.”

During the forum, which I livetweeted and Storified for those who want the blow-by-blow, Scarola got a bit defensive when audience members suggested the city doesn’t have good data on who is homeless and why, and when Lever, who’s from Boston, suggested that his hometown had all but solved unsheltered homelessness . (Scarola reminded Lever that Boston’s winter, when the city does its annual homeless count, is almost unsurvivable without shelter, and pointed out that the city with the largest number of unsheltered homeless people is … Honolulu.)

Scarola also suggested, not for the first time, that the city might deviate somewhat from the recommendations laid out in Pathways Home, a set of recommendations based in large part on a report by Ohio consultant Barb Poppe and released last year. Pathways Home recommends directing new spending on homelessness toward rapid rehousing with short-term housing subsidies, rather than new shelters for those currently sleeping outside. “Barb Poppe would like us to spend less money on shelters and more money diverting people from becoming unsheltered,” Scarola said. “We don’t totally agree with every recommendation Barb Poppe made, but we agree with the thrust of them.”

img_0859

In addition to the Poppe report, Pathways Home is based on a report by a firm called Focus Strategies, which says the city “should not limit clients’ housing options based on unrealistic expectations about the percent of income they should pay for rent, the types of neighborhoods they should live in, or even whether they wish to remain in Seattle/King County.” And yet, at a briefing on the results of a new survey of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle Wednesday, staff for the city’s Human Services Department suggested that the city’s goal was to find or build affordable housing options in the city itself, rather than requiring people to move far away from their support systems, service providers, communities, and jobs, often with no reliable transit to get them back into the city.  It will be interesting to see how the city reconciles these seemingly contradictory impulses—to preserve diversity in Seattle and avoid exporting poverty to the suburbs, while also ensuring that people can afford to pay the full price of housing when their vouchers run out after three to six months.

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.

Survey Results Challenge Stereotypes of Seattle’s Homeless Population

would-move-insideToday, the city’s Human Services Department (HSD) released the results of a survey conducted by Applied Survey Research as a followup to the annual point-in-time count of people living unsheltered in King County.

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the survey itself.

Departing from its usual practice of announcing the results of the count immediately after conducting it in January, All Home—the agency that coordinates homelessness efforts across the county—says it needs several months to crunch the numbers and won’t release them until late spring. HSD and ASR commissioned homeless and formerly homeless people to survey about 1,050 people staying in cars, shelters, transitional housing, encampments, and in public spaces, paying recruits $7 cash for every survey they returned. (Those who participated in the survey received a $5 McDonald’s gift card.) ASR also conducted small focus groups with 80 people experiencing homelessness across the city.

Watch for the city to use the survey, which cost $100,000, to make its case that homeless people living in Seattle are not, contrary to one common contention, just lazy, able-bodied freeloaders who came here from somewhere else to lounge in Seattle’s generous social safety net. Whether people who trade in those stereotypes will be swayed by a new data set based on self-reporting by homeless people is another question; so far, the sweep-’em-up-and-ship-’em-out crowd hasn’t been moved by surveys showing that most homeless people who live here are from here, or that most homeless people say they’re homeless not because of laziness or addiction but because they can’t find affordable housing.

where-lived-previously

Some highlights of the survey:

• Seventy percent of those surveyed said they became homeless after living in King County, and 49 percent said they were living in Seattle just before they lost their housing; just 15 percent said they came here from another state or country. That breakdown isn’t much different than the sheltered population—52 percent lived in Seattle before moving into their current residence, and 16 percent moved to their current home from another country or out of state. More than half of those surveyed said they have lived in Seattle for more than five years.

• Most of the homeless people surveyed said they came here to be near family or friends (35 percent) or for a job (34 percent). On the other hand, 15 percent said they came here to access homeless services, and nearly 10 percent said they moved to Seattle because pot is legal here. (I’ve requested the specific survey questions, but HSD staff said yesterday that legal marijuana was on a prewritten list of possible responses; it wasn’t a respondent-generated answer).

• Defying another stereotype—the common belief that most homeless people are homeless by choice—93 percent of survey respondents said they would move into safe, affordable housing if it became available.  According to the ASR report, “This … suggests that the ‘traveler’ or ‘nomadic’ sojourner does not represent a significant group.”

• One reason people camp in greenbelts and fields is that they don’t want to stay in shelter, not because they’re stubborn or lazy but because shelters are often dirty, always crowded, and sometimes dangerous; in addition, they separate couples and don’t allow people with pets or more than a backpack full of possessions. According to the survey, of those not using shelters, 36 percent said they didn’t use shelters because they’re too crowded, 30 percent because of bugs, and 29 percent because the shelters were full. Twenty percent said they didn’t use shelters because they don’t allow pets, and 21 percent because they don’t allow couples.

• More than 40 percent of those who responded to the survey said they had a job—13 percent said they were employed full-time, and 28 percent said they worked part-time or in temporary or seasonal jobs.

addiction-mental-health

• Forty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t use drugs or alcohol; 29 percent said they drank, and 12.2 percent reported using heroin. HSD staffers acknowledged that because drug and alcohol use was self-reported, those numbers could be low—the same way many people lowball how much they drink or smoke when asked by their doctor. Thirteen percent identified drug or alcohol use as the primary cause of their homelessness. “Respondents agreed that not all persons experiencing homelessness are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and that this misconception about homeless communities has adverse consequences. However, they also agreed that drug use is linked to dealing with the stresses of being homeless, and self-medicating to manage pain.”

• Eighteen percent of survey respondents said they were under 18 when they first experienced homelessness, and almost a quarter of those surveyed said they had been through the foster care system. Eleven percent of the women surveyed said they were pregnant, and many of them already had children.

• Pathways Home emphasizes the need to house people who are chronically homeless—that is, people who have been homeless a year or more and who have a disabling mental or physical condition. Half the survey respondents reported they had been homeless for a year or more, and 30 percent met the criteria for chronic homelessness—twice the average national rate, and in line with other West Coast cities, where homelessness is more common than in areas with more inclement weather and fewer services.

• More than half the women surveyed—58 percent—said they had been victims of domestic violence. Transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals were even more likely to have experienced domestic violence—63 percent and 78 percent, respectively—and 30 percent of homeless men said they were domestic violence victims. Overall, just under 5 percent said domestic violence was the primary reason they became homeless.

• Some of the survey’s findings seemed to contraindicate some of the solutions advocated in Pathways Home, the city’s road map for future spending on homelessness. For example, Pathways Home recommends investing heavily in short-term rental vouchers that run out after a few months, leaving formerly homeless renters at the mercy of a brutal rental housing market. However, according to the survey, many respondents said they worried about “how to make ends meet past the initial deposit and first/last month’s rent and whether that meant they might end up without a home again after a few months.

“Long-term support was also identified as a key element of a well-designed program,” the survey report continues, “especially in relation to housing assistance programs, particularly in relation to rapid re-housing programs and the challenges of keeping up with rent. One participant elaborated on this recurring theme, ‘I don’t understand why they leave you after 2 months, why can’t they just [help]  6 months to a year if you need it. Then people find themselves right back in the same position that they were in, homeless because they something out of their control happens.”

Pathways Home also recommends getting people into housing wherever they can find something they can afford, even if that means they’re uprooted from communities and support systems and unable to access services and employment because they can’t afford cars.  According to the report, “When asked about housing options outside the City, responses were mixed. While some participants shared that they just wanted ‘to get off the streets,’ others worried about commuting to jobs if they were too far outside the City if they lacked access to public transportation, as well as furthering the effects of gentrification.”

On Wednesday, HSD staff said they don’t want to displace people from Seattle to far-flung suburban communities that are inaccessible by transit, but added that they did not plan to deviate from the Pathways Home recommendations.

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.

The City Swept an Encampment Near the Ballard Locks. Here’s Where the Campers Went

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-8-58-25-pm

About a week ago, the city cleared an encampment near the Ballard Locks that has been the subject of countless complaints in the past few months, despite the fact that it’s easy to overlook if you aren’t specifically looking for it. The camp has been stubbornly persistent over the past year or so, and when I visited several months ago, about a dozen people were living there, spread out in tents across a few hundred square feet of brushy land elevated above the street and tucked behind some trees.

Currently, complaining constantly to the city is one (unofficial, but effective) way to get them to come out and force people to move along; a proposed update to those rules aims to provide clearer guidance on which encampments are prioritized for removal, what kind of notice the city must provide, and how the city decides which items to save and store and which ones to throw away.

A story in the Ballard News Tribune reported that 12 “campers” had been “relocated” after the recent sweep, and “all campers were provided alternative shelter locations.” This struck me as highly unlikely, given that the reason people tend to live outside is because the only available shelter beds are at places that require them to relinquish or risk their possessions, sleep on the floor next to hundreds of other people, split up with their partners and abandon their pets, or submit to Christian programming including mandatory church attendance. Many require guests to be sober, too—a tough standard for many to meet, given that addiction is a physical disease.

So here’s what actually happened to those 12 or so individuals, according to Chloe Gale. Gale is the program director for REACH, the organization that provides outreach and offers services during encampment sweeps. REACH has been working with encampment residents “for about a year,” Gale says, “trying to figure out good solutions for the folks who were living there.”

One man got connected to a case manager and is being assessed for housing. (Gale said he didn’t want to go to the nearby Nickelsville encampment because the last time he was there, someone stole his bike.) One man received a special Section 8 voucher set aside for people with disabilities, and is moving to his new apartment in March. Two got their names put on the list for this year’s Section 8 voucher lottery, which will distribute vouchers to 3,500 people over the next two or three years. (The last time the Seattle Housing Authority held a lottery, 19,000 people signed up for a chance to win 2,500 vouchers.) One went back to sleeping on a friend’s couch. One got a bed at Peter’s Place, a shelter that allows people to store their stuff during the day and to have their own bed and sheets, rather than having to line up for a bed each night. And a couple told REACH they had bought a van, which they are now going to live in (and, if they’re lucky, lay low enough not to set off a new round of neighbor complaints.)

The rest of the encampment residents went off to set up camp somewhere else, declining REACH’s offer of shelter elsewhere. Gale says that’s understandable. “Generally, the beds we can offer are in shelters that many people don’t want to go to, like the shelters downtown where people may have to line up to get a bed, so they may not have a guarantee,” Gale says. “Often, these are shelters with mats on the floor. For someone in Ballard to come downtown to city hall to sleep on the floor might not make a whole lot of sense.”

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.

What Can Cities Do For Women? Let’s Ask San Francisco

Last week, I mentioned (with some consternation) that in a 45-minute speech focusing on actions the city can take to mitigate the impacts of Trump Administration policies, Mayor Ed Murray did not find time to suggest a single policy that would benefit women. The omission was particularly galling given that just last a few weeks earlier, 170,000-plus Seattle women and allies marched from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle denouncing the administration’s proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act (leaving more women uninsured and reverting to a system that allowed insurance companies to charge women more for insurance just for being women), defund Planned Parenthood, overturn a rule that ensures access to affordable birth control, and gut the Violence Against Women Act. (Murray mentioned the march in his speech as an example of “a surge of action across the nation,” but did not follow up with any policy proposals that might have responded to that action.)

After the speech, I talked to Murray spokesman Benton Strong a couple of times about the mayor’s omission of women from his agenda. Strong made the point that the State of the City isn’t a policy speech—the mayor usually announces big policy initiatives in his budget speech, which happens in September. Fair, but Murray’s state of the city did include a number of concrete proposals to protect immigrants and refugees, to improve outcomes for young black men, and to close the educational achievement gap. And none of Murray’s three budget speeches so far have included specific proposals to help or benefit women, so any new proposals in this year’s budget would represent a departure from precedent for Murray.

Strong also argued, reasonably enough, that ensuring health care access and funding for family planning is generally the responsibility of the state and county. He also asked me what I would propose the city to do protect women’s health care, promote pay equity, or ensure that women can take time off to care for a new baby or a family member. To quote April Ryan, I’m just a reporter, but I decided to look to see if other cities are doing anything that we could emulate. Turns out, I didn’t have to look that far. Just two states south, San Francisco has adopted quite a few policies to improve women’s equality in that city. Here are a few ideas for Mayor Murray to consider.

1. Paid parental leave

Taking time off after the birth or adoption of a new baby is vitally important to the wellbeing of both parents (particularly birth mothers) and their children, yet the US is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee a single day of paid parental leave. Low-income women and those with part-time or unstable jobs are hit hardest by this national failure, because they often have to return to work immediately after giving birth, giving them no time to recover or bond with their new baby. Last year, San Francisco became the first US city to address this national failure, by passing a law that requires all companies with 20 or more employees to provide six weeks of parental leave, fully paid, to new parents. (The policy complements a state law that provides six weeks of leave paid at 55 percent of a new parent’s original salary). Washington, D.C. also recently adopted a generous paid leave law, which requires companies to pay workers 90 percent of their salaries for up to eight weeks. Council member Lorena Gonzalez is currently meeting with business leaders in a series of closed-door roundtables to hear their concerns about a city-level paid-leave mandate.

pay-equity-report2. Equal Pay

Seattle still has one of the biggest pay gaps between men and women in the nation, with women earning 73 cents on the male dollar for doing the same work. Seattle has taken some action toward closing the 10-cent pay gap in city employment—a number that obscures the fact that women are underrepresented in the highest-paying city jobs—but so far has done nothing to close the yawning gulf between what private employers pay men and women for doing the same work.

This might seem like a good place for the state to step in, imposing penalties on employers who discriminate by paying women less than men. So far, though, they haven’t (and with the state senate controlled by Republicans, they won’t), so it might be up to cities to step in. San Francisco has already taken steps in that direction, by passing an Equal Pay Ordinance that requires companies that contract with the city to prove that they pay men and women equally by filing annual pay equity reports with the city’s Human Rights Commission. The commission has the authority to penalize contractors who pay women less than men. It’s not a perfect law—requiring private employers to publish what they pay their workers by race and gender would go further toward promoting pay equity in the long run—but it’s a step in the right direction, one that Seattle hasn’t taken (yet)

3. Family-friendly workplace policies

One issue that often comes up for new and expecting parents, particularly women (who still tend to be the primary caregivers) is the need to take time off to deal with family obligations—from prenatal visits to caring for a sick child or family member to daycare pickups and parent-teacher conferences. Yet many caregivers are reluctant to ask for flexible schedules or other accommodations for fear of losing their job or other retaliation. San Francisco has attempted to address this problem with its Family-Friendly Workplace Ordinance, which gives employees the explicit right to request special arrangements, such as a change in start times, part-time and part-year schedules, telecommuting and schedule predictability. Employers don’t have to grant every request, but they do have to provide a reason for refusing to provide flexibility, and can’t retaliate against workers who make such requests. The law, which applies to companies with 20 or more employees, took effect in 2013.

4. Transitional housing for domestic-violence victims

As I’ve reported, the mayor has announced sweeping plans to eliminate funding for transitional-housing programs, shifting those dollars to “rapid rehousing” programs that provide short-term vouchers for homeless Seattleites to rent housing on the private market, with the understanding that once the vouchers run out in three to 12 months, the rent will revert to market rate, currently around $2,000 a month for the average apartment in Seattle. But transitional housing for women fleeing domestic violence is also vulnerable, because the new system gives special priority to people who have been homeless the longest, meaning that abused women who aren’t already plugged into the formal domestic-violence “system” (which is already overburdened) may slip through the cracks.

San Francisco, which is also revamping its homeless-services system but relies less heavily on the federal grants that have accelerated Seattle’s shift to rapid rehousing, has a special grant program dedicated to preventing violence against women and helping female victims of domestic violence; in 2014, the last year for which data is available, the program funded nearly 12,000 bed-hours in transitional and permanent housing programs for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

5. And how about a whole department? 

Seattle has the Seattle Women’s Commission, a volunteer commission that meets once a month and advises the city on policies that impact women. San Francisco has an entire Department on the Status of Women, which focuses on advancing women’s human rights, preventing and addressing violence against women, and promoting gender equity in the workplace. A city’s values and priorities are reflected not just in policy or speeches, but in where it invests its resources, and the city of San Francisco has cemented its commitment to women by creating not just a commission made up of women who volunteer their time, but an entire department with a $7 million annual budget whose entire purpose is promoting women’s equality. Seattle should consider doing the same.

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.

Morning Crank: Kind of the Magic of the Place

1. In a State of the City address that focused on major initiatives like a $55 million property tax levy for homelessness and a potential lawsuit against the Trump Administration, Mayor Ed Murray’s brief announcement that he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center to respond to the homelessness emergency was easy to miss.

Murray didn’t explain how he planned to repurpose the facility, which is designed to respond to short-term emergencies like riots and weather events, to address the slow-drip homelessness crisis.  So I called up Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta, who serves as the operations director for the city, to ask him how the mayor’s plan would work.

First, Podesta clarified that the EOC won’t be addressing homelessness full-time; rather, from 8:30 to 10:30 on weekday mornings., representatives from every city department—from the Seattle Police Department to the Office of Film and Music—will sit down to discuss the day’s top homelessness-related priorities and come up with a solution for addressing them. For example, if the city’s new “navigation team,” which will be headquartered at the EOC, is heading out to clear an encampment, representatives from FAS, Seattle Public Utilities, and the Human Services Department will be on hand to advise the team on connections to shelter, trash pickup, and any law-enforcement issues that might arise. (Why would Film and Music need to be at the table? Podesta says they might think of something other departments wouldn’t—like an idea for a benefit, or an impact the homeless community has on the nightlife industry that wouldn’t have occurred to other departments.)

That’s kind of the magic of the place, because it’s a very different sort of setting [than city hall], and a big place where we can get everyone in one room might shake loose some sorts of innovations that we might not have thought of before,” Podesta says. “If you lock everybody in the room and say, ‘I want a solution to this on Tuesday,’ it happens faster. Half of it is working on things we were already working on anyway. This is a way to accelerate it and get solutions that are faster and more comprehensive.”

2. UPDATE: Mayor Ed Murray’s office denies that the city has any plans to authorize more encampments. Murray spokesman Benton Strong says the city’s goal is to open just seven encampments total, including existing camps such as Nickelsville in Ballard. Four new sanctioned homeless encampments are reportedly planned as part of the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness. Last time the city announced four new encampments, they ended up opening only three, after community opposition made it hard for the city to find a suitable location. The three sanctioned encampments that opened most recently are in Highland Park, Georgetown, and Licton Springs in North Seattle.

3. Image may contain: textRemember the Women’s March, or Black Lives Matter, or the Stand With Immigrants rally at Westlake Park?

This is exactly like that, except instead of  “women”/”black people”/”immigrants fighting for their human rights,” this rally is more of a “residents of an exclusive high-rise whining that other rich people are building an equally exclusive high-rise next door” kind of thing.

To recap: Residents at the Escala condos, where units list for around $3 million, are mad because another developer plans to build a 45-story apartment and hotel tower directly across the alley from them. They want the city to intervene and enforce their nonexistent right to water views and “air,” arguing that two towers on two adjacent blocks represents too much density for downtown Seattle. I’ve been assured that this  homeowners association alert is real, so make sure you adjust your travel plans accordingly. I hear they’re bringing the Mercer Island Pipeline protesters with them.

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.