Tag: Budget 2020

Council Whittles Budget Wish List Under Shadow of Eyman’s Anti-Transportation Funding Measure

Although an analysis by the city council’s central staff shows that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, which appears to be passing, could reduce the Seattle Department of Transportation’s current funding for buses and road maintenance by as much as $33 million next year (when Seattle’s local $60 car tab measure is set to expire), the council moved ahead with next year’s budget on Wednesday without resolving the question of whether and how to fund the shortfall. Mayor Jenny Durkan and city attorney Pete Holmes are holding a press conference on Thursday to announce a lawsuit challenging the initiative, which overturned the vehicle license fees that fund roads, bridges, maintenance, and transit projects throughout Washington state.

(UPDATE: In a press conference Thursday morning, Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe said the council and SDOT were still figuring out how to fund the 2020 transportation if a court does not grant the injunction against implementation of I-976 when the city files its lawsuit challenging the initiative as unconstitutional next week.)

Here’s a first look at some of what’s in and out in council budget chair Sally Bagshaw’s initial “balancing package,” which—unlike the wish lists council members have been presenting until now—has to be balanced.

What’s In: 

• Funding to expand the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which provides outreach and services to people committing low-level street crimes, often because of mental illness and addiction. Although the group that runs LEAD, the Public Defender Association, had asked for $4.7 million to keep up with growing caseloads, the council settled on $3.5 million. (Mayor Jenny Durkan’s initial budget provided essentially no new funding for the program, which the city has expanded geographically several times.) PDA director Lisa Daugaard told me the group has secured private funding for the remaining $1.2 million but declined to name the funder yet.

• About $1.3 million for mobile restrooms like the ones that have been successfully operating in San Francisco for severa6l years; the restrooms would include toilets, a drop box for needles, and a place to dispose pet waste.

• $1.8 million in funding for two new tiny house village encampments, which would bring the total number of tiny house villages to ten. One of the new villages would be designed for people referred from LEAD (which serves some homeless clients but is not primarily a homeless services organization) and the city’s Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces.

• A small amount of funding—$158,000—for the use of the University Heights Center parking lot in the University District as overnight parking for five to 10 people or families living in their cars. The most recent point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness found more than 2,000 people living in their vehicles across King County, a number that was lower in the latest count, in part, because All Home King County adopted different (lower) assumptions about how many people are sleeping in a single vehicle.

Earlier this year, Mayor Durkan scuttled plans to open several larger “safe lots” for people living in their cars around the city. In lieu of larger lots where people living in their cars can access services and showers, Durkan has proposed spending $375,000 to open up to 40 spaces citywide by persuading religious institutions to host a few cars at a time. The budget action, from District 4 council member Abel Pacheco, redirects $125,000 of that money to the U District community center.

Once downloaded, the app pings when a homeless person wearing one of the company’s bluetooth-equipped “beacons” is nearby, providing information to about their story and what they need. If the smartphone owner decides to donate, the homeless person can receive vouchers for goods and food (though not alcohol) at participating retailers, but only if he or she has agreed to go to counseling with a nonprofit case manager once a month.

• $75,000—down from the $175,000 proposed by council president Bruce Harrell—to fund a company called Samaritan that has developed an app-based homeless donation system. Once downloaded, the app pings when a homeless person wearing one of the company’s bluetooth-equipped “beacons” is nearby, providing information to about their story and what they need. If the smartphone owner decides to donate, the homeless person can receive vouchers for goods and food (though not alcohol) at participating retailers, but only if he or she has agreed to go to counseling with a nonprofit case manager once a month. (Specific details about clients’ case management visits is provided to anyone who downloads the app, including medical information that they choose to mention in their summaries.) Case management is free, but “career counseling” costs $20 an hour, according to media reports.

The proposal is controversial. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness says it’s “flat out unacceptable to put public [money] into [a] for profit private enterprise,” especially one that charges for “career counseling.” They’re pushing for the council to remove the spending—which, council member Lisa Herbold pointed out, does not include funding for the mandatory case management obligations the program creates for its clients—in the next budget round.

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• Reflecting the fact that the regional homelessness agency likely will not be in place by the beginning of next year as originally planned, the balancing package eliminates $345,000 earmarked to fund staff for the new agency. The document describing the budget cut mentions an April 1, 2020 start date for one of the positions, but it’s unclear whether the new authority will be in place by then; members of the Sound Cities Association, which represents King County’s suburban cities, plan to discuss the proposal at their November 20 Public Issues Committee Meeting, which is one day after the November meeting of the King County Regional Policy Committee, which must approve any plan before it goes to the full King County Council. Suburban cities have expressed concern that the proposed governance structure is too Seattle-centric, that the governing board is unaccountable, and that the proposed public development authority isn’t the appropriate structure for merging the city and county’s homelessness agencies.

• Taking $12.75 million from several programs Durkan had planned to fund with the sale of the Mercer Megablock and reallocating it to low-income housing projects that are shovel-ready but unfunded under the city’s annual Notice of Funding Availability, which always gets far more appilcations for housing projects than it has money to fund. The budget edit would cut funding from Durkan’s proposed Strategic Acquisition Fund (intended to buy land for future projects near transit) and homeownership and accessory dwelling unit loan programs that are aimed at helping moderate-income home buyers and existing homeowners get loans to buy houses or build affordable rental units on their property.

• Fully funding at least one safe bike connection between Southeast Seattle and downtown, as proposed in the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan and endorsed this year by the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board. Durkan’s Department of Transportation dramatically scaled back the BMP Implementation Plan in response to soaring costs earlier this year, but her proposed cuts seemed to center disproportionately on Southeast Seattle, the poorest and most diverse part of the city. A $2 million 2020 add from council member Mike O’Brien would enable SDOT to complete a bike lane on Beacon Ave. S. or one on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way S. before the levy expires in 2024.

What’s out: 

• In conjunction with the new funding for tiny house villages, the balancing package eliminates $1 million Durkan had proposed spending to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown, which has the support of neighbors but has been on its current site longer than the two-year limit imposed by the city. The council could choose to change the law to allow the village to stay in Georgetown, help residents relocate to a property owned by a faith institution (which would not be subject to the limit) or close the village, which is operated by the Low Income Housing Institute.

Most Navigation Team Referrals Don’t Lead to Shelter, Previously Unreleased City Data Shows

Overall, just 30 percent of Navigation Team referrals to shelter in the first half of 2019 resulted in a person actually accessing shelter. Referrals represent only about a quarter of the total number of people “engaged” by the Navigation Team. Overall, only about 8 percent of Navigation Team “engagements” this year resulted in shelter—a number the city says is a reflection of the fact that they are now recording every contact, however brief, in their new NavApp system.

The director of Seattle’s Human Services Department told the city council last week that he was unable to provide data that would back up his assertion that the Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces, is successfully connecting people to shelter, saying there was still a lot of work to do before a “dashboard” including this data could be made available.

In fact, the dashboard is already live, and it shows that the vast majority of people who receive “referrals” to shelter—70 percent in the first half of 2019—never actually show up at those shelters. And those referrals only reflect a fraction of the total number of individuals “engaged” by the Navigation Team as it removes encampments. If all those individuals are included, only about 8 percent of people the Navigation Team contacts when they’re removing encampments—128 out of 1,583—actually end up in shelter.

According to council member Lisa Herbold(who, along with her colleague Teresa Mosqueda, has been asking HSD to provide the number of shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, for months), the the city requires nonprofit homeless service providers to meet a much higher standard than the Navigation Team—60 percent of their referrals are supposed to result in actual shelter enrollments, or twice as many shelter enrollments as the Navigation Team’s current average. And the nonprofit providers are hitting that higher number—according to data provided by the mayor’s office, nonprofit providers funded by the city made a total of 246 referrals and 147 enrollments in the first half of this year, an enrollment rate of 60 percent.

“My focus [in asking the Navigation Team for its results] has been ensuring that the Navigation Team is having success in our shared understanding of what the outcomes should be and accountability in meeting those outcomes,” Herbold says. “So I ask myself, Why are the referrals to shelter so much lower than what we expect of the outreach providers, and what could make them better?”

I started calling the mayor’s office and HSD about the website, which had not been publicly disclosed to council members who were requesting it, on Friday. HSD sent out a memo to council members providing a link to the site, which has apparently been live for weeks, late this afternoon, shortly after I talked to them and three days after I asked them directly about the website.

“We’re happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better.”—Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

In the memo, HSD interim director Jason Johnson draws a distinction between “contacts” made by the Nav Team and “referrals to shelters, which is the result of relationship building, time, conversations, and matching an individual (or sometimes groups of individuals) to a unique shelter resources.” In other words, Johnson is saying that the 8 percent number isn’t as bad as it looks, because the Navigation Team has to make a record of every single “contact” with people they encounter in encampments, effectively diluting the number of successes. In contrast, HSD says, nonprofit outreach providers aren’t required to (and don’t) track every single contact—so their numbers look better.

The city has acknowledged that the Navigation Team is now dedicated primarily to removing tents and people from public spaces, rather than providing referrals to shelter or services. But the new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s chief homelessness advisor, says the mayor’s office is “happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better. We want to continue to see that upward trend moving forward.”

The new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Homeless advocates say that the Navigation Team, which is made up primarily of police officers, works under protocols (such as a mandate to remove many encampments with no prior notice) that makes it impossible to build relationships or engage in meaningful outreach to unsheltered people. “The Navigation Team is more and more evidently about policing than about providing needed and effective service interventions to human beings, and that is really concerning,” says Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. “A good referral is a referral that results in someone being able to accept it.”

Herbold added a proviso to last year’s budget requiring the Navigation Team to provide quarterly reports on various issues, including a staffing assessment to determine whether the Navigation Team has the proper mix of police officers and outreach workers. That assessment was never done. “In essence, they just said they weren’t going to do it,” she says.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit that used to outreach during encampment removals, REACH, stopped participating in most “cleans” after the Navigation Team shifted its focus to removing encampments deemed to be “obstructions,” a designation that exempts the team from the usual requirements to provide outreach and prior notice to residents. However, REACH is still technically part of the Navigation Team, and the referrals they make as part of their ongoing Navigation Team-related outreach work gets counted toward the Navigation Team’s successful shelter referrals.

Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

REACH director Chloe Gale says the Navigation Team’s low rate of actual shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, “really indicates that it takes more than just a referral to move somebody into shelter. You have to make sure that it’s a good fit, that they’re eligible for the shelter, that they really want to go and don’t just feel pressure to go and that they provide basic assistance such as help with transportation.” Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

Eisinger says that because the Navigation Team only counts people who happen to stick around on the day of an encampment removal in their list of official “contacts,” even the 8 percent shelter rate, which the city says is the result of carefully tracking even the briefest engagements, may be high.

“What I have observed, what others have observed, and what I think continues to be the story is that the Navigation Team shows up and some people simply leave. They do not expect to offered anything that is actually useful to them,” Eisinger says. “And so there is some question about the number of engagements compared to the number of people actually living in public spaces.”

The mayor’s office is requesting a total of $8.4 million for the Navigation Team, which includes $362,000 for new positions that were paid for in 2019 with one-time funding from unspent revenues. (This is the second budget in a row in which Durkan has funded Navigation Team expansions with one-time funding and asked the city council to backfill those positions with general-fund dollars in the next year’s budget.)

The Navigation Team will be one of the only major homelessness-related efforts to stay at the city when King County and Seattle merge their homelessness agencies into a single regional body. Herbold says she’ll be asking pointed questions about the Navigation Team’s results and composition during the upcoming budget discussion.

Council Takes First Bites at Durkan’s 2020 Budget

I reported last week on some highlights from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2020 budget, which includes tens of millions of dollars from one-time revenues from the sale of the Mercer Megablock project, plus a tax on Uber and Lyft rides that the council would have to pass in a separate action. Today, I’m taking a look at how the council has responded to Durkan’s budget so far, starting with a proposal to expand parole and create a jail-to-treatment pipeline as a way of addressing “prolific offenders” who were at the center of KOMO’s “Seattle Is Dying” report.

Parole and “Prolific Offenders”

Robert Feldstein, a former advisor to ex-mayor Ed Murray who now consults for the Durkan Administration, clarified some details of the overall “prolific offender” package, including the fact that (as I first reported) an expanded shelter inside the King County jail is not, as Durkan claimed and the Seattle Times repeated, a “comprehensive place-based treatment center”; it’s a shelter. The expanded shelter, like the existing one in the same building, will be run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which provides counseling and opportunities for residents to access treatment and, for people with opiate use disorders, get prescriptions for buprenorphine. None of that is treatment, and DESC has said it does not plan to get into the treatment business.

Shelter beds in the west wing of the King County Jail, pre-opening earlier this year

Durkan’s budget also sets aside funding for a new program that would keep offenders with substance use disorders in jail until a bed in a 28-day treatment facility opens up, then transfer them directly to that facility. Once an offender “graduates” from the 28-day program, a parole officer would closely monitor their attendance at mandatory outpatient treatment, a process that includes random drug and alcohol tests, to make sure they’re complying. Research has shown that mandatory 28-day inpatient treatment is the least effective intervention for the kind of severely addicted, chronically homeless people Durkan’s jail-to-treatment proposal is supposed to address.

Last week, council members pressed Feldstein to explain why Durkan was proposing untested new programs inside the criminal justice system instead of expanding programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which has been proven to reduce recidivism among people who are least likely to show up to court appointments or stick to the terms of their parole. “I think it’ s a reasonable policy question for us as a council to ask, when we’re talking about this number of dollars for new strategies and programs focused on high-barrier individuals, whether or not it makes sense to invest in unproven ideas rather than invest in proven interventions that are evidence-based and where we know what the outcomes are for this same population,” council member Lisa Herbold said.

“As I look at criminal justice reform work across the country, many jurisdictions are moving away from supervision and away from probation, period,” council member Lorena Gonzalez added. “It seems contradictory for us at the city of Seattle to actually be doubling down on probation and supervisions as a solution to address the needs of this population.”

Feldstein said the new programs, which also include a coordinator at the jail to direct short-term stayers to shelter and services and a proposal to add “case conferencing” between police and case workers (something LEAD already does), are meant as additions, not replacements, for existing programs. “There was a sense that they needed some additional tools [and] that there was not overlap between those programs,” Feldstein said. Under questioning from Teresa Mosqueda, Feldstein confirmed that the city had not done any race and social justice analysis of the proposal, nor included any community advocates or people who had actually been through the criminal justice system in the group that came up with the recommendations.

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Housing

Gonzalez also raised questions, in a separate meeting last week, about Durkan’s proposal to use $6 million of the Mercer Megablock proceeds to help middle-class homeowners making up to 120 percent of the Seattle median income, or about $130,000 for a family of four, finance the construction of small accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their backyards or basements. Any homeowner who took advantage of the loan program would be required to keep the new unit affordable to someone making 80% of median income (about $61,000 for a single) for 10 years.

(The rest of the proposals for the Megablock proceeds, which include new homeownership opportunities near transit, affordable rental housing, and a revolving loan fund for the city’s Equitable Development Initiative, have been less controversial.)

When Durkan rolled out the ADU proposal in July, Gonzalez requested, and “was assured” that the city would undertake, a race and social justice analysis of the plan, which she suspected would mostly benefit wealthier white homeowners. That analysis, newly appointed Office of Housing director Emily Alvarado confirmed, was never done. “I still have questions about whether this is reaching deeply into low-income communities that are likely to be displaced,” Gonzalez said. Continue reading “Council Takes First Bites at Durkan’s 2020 Budget”