Tag: homelessness

Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future

Left: HSD director Jason Johnson; right: Mayor Durkan

1. UPDATE on Thursday, Jan. 16: According to HSD, the Navigation Team made 41 referrals to shelter on the first two nights of the winter storm—14 on Monday and 27 on Tuesday. Additionally, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said that there was no shortage of mats or other supplies at any of the emergency winter shelters. “The City is not low on supplies,” Lemke said. “Far from it. The City has strategic caches of supplies placed around Seattle for events like this. These supplies include supplies, cots, mats, sleeping bags, blankets, and first aid-kits.” A source who works for the Salvation Army, which staffed the downtown shelters, said people were sleeping on the floor or in chairs at the Seattle Municipal Tower on Tuesday night with only “thin blankets” to protect them in the chilly lobby, which has a revolving door.

At a briefing on winter storm response on Tuesday, officials with the city’s Human Services Department emphasized efforts by the city’s Navigation Team to get people living in encampments into shelter during the freezing weather, noting that members of the team—which ordinarily removes encampments—were out “from 7 am to midnight” on Monday making contact with encampment residents. What they weren’t able to say was how many people actually accepted an offer of transportation or shelter from the team, whose job ordinarily involves removing encampments and telling their displaced residents about available shelter beds, typically with few takers. HSD director Jason Johnson would not answer followup questions about the Navigation Team’s success rate, pointedly ignoring calls of “Jason!” from several reporters as he rushed out of the briefing room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

In a followup conversation, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said he would not have an exact number of shelter referrals, contacts made, or the number of people who received transportation from the Navigation Team until the city had crunched the numbers and entered them into the Homeless Information Management System. “I just haven’t been able to verify those numbers yet. Everything is very much in flux because everyone’s out in the field right now,” Lemke said when I asked for more detailed information. The number is reportedly in the single digits.

Last year, the city did publish the numbers right away, and did not issue any subsequent corrections to indicate their early numbers were wrong. On the first major snow day last year, February 8, the Navigation Team reported getting 18 people into shelter. On the 9th, 50. On the 10th, 67.

At the briefing, Durkan said that the city “saw greater uptake [on offers of shelter] last year on the second or third day of the storm. … We had a great deal of success with the Navigation Team going out to encampments and saying, ‘Hey you should come inside. It’s a good place. It’s safe.'” 

Johnson said that none of the shelters were over capacity and denied that there were any issues providing enough mats or other supplies to its severe weather shelters, which include space at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower, and at the Bitter Lake Community Center. There is also space for men only at the King County Administration Building. All shelters are operated by the Salvation Army.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Last week, I reported on the fact that Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired an $86,000 consultant to evaluate the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and make recommendations that will inform whether LEAD will receive funding approved in last year’s city budget to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city. But LEAD isn’t the only human services program that might not receive operational funds that were approved last year. At least two other programs are under review by the mayor’s office.

One, a $700,000 pilot program called Homes for Good that would provide small “shallow” rent subsidies to people who receive federal disability payments and are at risk of homelessness, is under review because Durkan is reportedly cautious about funding a pilot program without a plan to continue paying for it in the future. David Kroman wrote several stories about this issue for Crosscut. Continue reading “Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future”

Durkan Pushes City to Study Biometric Tracking of Homeless “Customers”

Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license

At the direction of Mayor Jenny Durkan, the city’s Human Services Department is studying the possibility of mandatory biometric screening of homeless shelter and service clients, using fingerprints or other biometric markers to track the city’s homeless population as they move through the homelessness system. Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower says that the use of biometrics or a “digital ID” would create “efficiencies” that improve on the scan cards currently used by some Seattle shelters. “Different cities and states have explored solutions including digital IDs and biometrics, so the City has been gathering information on how to improve services,” she says.

The city also maintains that there is currently widespread duplication of data from shelters and service providers—redundant information that makes it hard for the city to track how many people are using services and which services are most effective.

Hightower says the new technology may provide “new ways to better serve persons experiencing homelessness… allow[ing] people to access services without having to maintain hardcopy documents” or hang on to scan cards.

“The plan should include pros/cons … and the cost associated with implementing [biometrics]. Would we be able to make some of these adjustments in the 2020 contracts?”—Email from Deputy Mayor David Moseley to HSD director Jason Johnson

“One clear challenge [with scan cards] is that individuals can lose their cards,” Hightower says. But critics, and some HSD staffers, are skeptical that the benefits of better data outweigh privacy and other concerns raised by biometric tracking. And homeless advocates point out that  people often lose their IDs and other documents when the city sweeps their encampment and removes or throws away their stuff, a policy that has accelerated under Durkan.

In an email on November 4, which I obtained through a records request, deputy mayor David Moseley directed HSD director Jason Johnson to look into “how would we convert to biometrics for folks entering … shelter?”

“Apparently this is something San Francisco does and that Mark Dones”—the consultant whose firm received $637,000 over the past year for their work on the new regional homelessness authority—”advocates for,” Moseley wrote.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

In a 2018 report to the city and county, Dones  recommended “explor[ing] opportunities to create radically accessible, customer-driven services through digital identification” for people experiencing homelessness in King County. A digital ID is an encrypted file containing medical information and other personal data that is typically accessed through the use of fingerprints or other biometric markers rather than a scan card or physical documents. Advocates for digital IDs and fingerprinting say that it helps homeless shelters provide service to clients faster; detractors call it “dangerous” technology that is “ripe for abuse.”

“The plan should include pros/cons … and the cost associated with implementing,” Moseley continued. “Would we be able to make some of these adjustments in the 2020 contracts?”

The task of looking into biometrics, along with several other research projects, fell to HSD strategic advisor Dusty Olson, who expressed her concerns in an email to Diana Salazar, the director of HSD’s Homeless Strategy and Investment division. “The one we would need to do the most work on would be the biometrics. That will be incredibly unpopular with Council and some advocates, who were concerned about the invasive elements of using scan cards,” Olson wrote. Some large shelter providers distribute scan cards to clients; these cards are linked to the Homeless Management Information System, which contains information about everyone who enters the homelessness system.

“I am not sure they are trying to solve a specific problem. [Durkan] probably just heard about a cool thing. …. I think we need to just research biometrics and make a recommendation.” — HSD strategic advisor Dusty Olson, internal email

Privacy and homeless advocates contacted by The C Is for Crank were not aware of the city’s behind-the-scenes work on biometrics, but raised a number of objections to the concept. Shankar Narayan, director of the Technology and Liberty Project for the Washington state ACLU, says the use of biometrics seems like a high-tech solution in search of a problem, and points out that local data collection can have unintended consequences; Seattle shares data from its automated license plate readers with the state Department of Transportation, for example, but has no control over how WSDOT uses that data or whether they share it with federal agencies such as ICE.

“Why is it so difficult for them to identify people through a means other than putting everyone’s biometrics in a database?” Narayan asks. “What problem is your shiny tech doo-dad the solution to? And if you’re going to force people to give up their biometrics, it had better be for a really really good reason. But we haven’t had the chance to have that conversation because they’re jumping ahead to the shiny new thing.”

Continue reading “Durkan Pushes City to Study Biometric Tracking of Homeless “Customers””

“Nobody Thinks We’ve Gotten This 100% Right”: City Joins Regional Homelessness Authority

 

Lone “no” vote: Council member Lorena Gonzalez

In voting this afternoon to merge its homelessness efforts with those of King County and its suburban cities this afternoon, the city of Seattle has signed off on a heavily and hastily amended plan that even its most ardent proponents acknowledge is not “transformational.” The new regional homelessness authority will have no additional spending authority, be run by elected officials rather than subject matter experts, and will give significant power to suburban cities who will receive funding from Seattle and King County but will not contribute financially to the authority. Council members who supported the compromise—some of them on the way out the door—extolled its virtues in this afternoon’s council meeting.

“Right now, getting 39 cities together and one county is our first step” toward fixing the problem of homelessness, retiring council member Sally Bagshaw said. “This is not a perfect [agreement]. Nobody thinks that we have gotten this 100 percent right. But we do have opportunities… to make the necessary modifications” in the future, through future discussions about the authority’s bylaws and a document called the “master agreement.”

Lorena Gonzalez, who cast the lone “no” vote, said she couldn’t support the legislation because it still had “significant flaws”—and because Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office had been unable to get even one member of the King County Council to sign off on a letter committing to addressing the issues she has raised over the past two weeks. “Politics have already taken hold in this structure, and that is saddening to me,” Gonzalez said.

Seattle will contribute the most actual funding to the new authority—about $73 million, plus $2 million in startup costs. King County will put in contributions worth $55 million, including the use of currently vacant office space in the Yesler Building in Pioneer Square.

Despite efforts by some city council members (notably incoming council president Lorena Gonzalez) to slow down the process and take some time to assess the many last-minute amendments contributed by King County Council members (notably council president Rod Dembowski), the council ended up adopting the county council’s “compromise” proposal without any changes, alongside a companion ordinance that lays out the city’s “intent” for the authority. Those intentions include a desire that all programs funded by the authority be “evidence based,” that changes to budgets and policy plans require a minimum of eight votes of the 12-member governing board, and that the new “sub-regional plans” created by the regional legislation also be “evidence-based.” The

Although the ordinance suggests that the city’s “intent” is that the new authority will meet a number of “expectations,” the city council does not have the actual authority to require the regional agency to do anything—one reason the word “require” does not appear in the city council’s legislation. Although the council’s ordinance includes some strong language about practices that “shall be” adopted by the regional authority, Seattle’s only real hammer if the authority chooses to ignore the council’s nonbinding wishes is to withhold funding from the agency—a power Gonzalez described as “the nuclear option” last week, in part because exercising it would mean withholding funding from service providers and, by extension, their homeless clients.

Tess Colby—the chief homelessness advisor to Mayor Jenny Durkan, pointed out that the “guiding principles” in the regional legislation also say that the authority “shall adopt an evidence-based, housing first orientation.” This “orientation” language, Colby told me last week, “clearly establishes the approach to work that the authority must adhere to” in adopting policies through its five-year plan.

However, the legislation also says that it’s important to “value distinctions in local context, needs and priorities through effective Sub-Regional Planning Activity,” an explicit nod to the fact that suburban cities may want to use Seattle and King County’s money to fund shelters that mandate sobriety, or to pay for housing subject to restrictive local rules. Colby told me that the “evidence-based… orientation” requirement would also influence which programs get funded through a competitive process—but she also noted that shelters that require sobriety, for example, are supported by some evidence.

The upshot is that suburban cities that adopt more conservative policies that don’t align with the kind of housing-first principles Seattle generally supports could receive Seattle tax dollars for these programs—and that if Seattle objects, its only recourse is to use its budgeting power to pull funding from the authority.

The interlocal agreement also:

• Creates a new governing board (formerly called the “steering committee”), made up of nine elected officials (three from Seattle, three from King County, and three from suburban cities), plus three people “representing those with Lived Experience” of homelessness, one of whom must be from outside Seattle). The board will have the authority to hire and fire the CEO of the authority, amend its five-year policy plan, and amend its budget.

In the original version of the proposal—crafted largely by a firm called National Innovation Service, which has received almost $675,000 from King County—this board would have had just seven members, and would have been basically advisory. Major decisions would have been up to a board of subject-matter experts—a structure intentionally designed to insulate the new agency from political pressure.

• Creates a new “implementation board” (formerly called the “governing board) of 13 people, including four appointed by the city, four by the county, two by the Sound Cities Association, and three by a new advisory committee. This board will send a recommended five-year plan and budget to the governing board for amendment or adoption. In the original proposal, suburban cities did not get seats on this board, and the board would have had significantly more authority over the budget and policies of the authority.

• Bans the new authority from raising revenue or issuing debt to pay for homelessness programs. When the county and Seattle launched the regional planning process through a series of meetings called OneTable, one of the primary goals was to come up with a new revenue source to boost funding for homelessness. The original version of the plan announced in September did not include new revenue, but the agreement proposed at the time didn’t explicitly bar the agency from ever raising money, as this one does.

Bagshaw, echoing a line in the ordinance expressing the city’s intent that the governing board make no changes without at least an eight-vote majority, said she was confident that given the importance of the issues before the new authority, all 12 members of the governing board would show up to deliberate and vote. “It is our intention that we have 12 members that are on the governing committee that are dedicated to moving forward,” Bagshaw said. “We need to have people attend these meetings and vote.” A few minutes later, the council voted to create the new agency with no amendments to the county council’s proposal. Just six of nine members were present.

New Navigation Team Leader, New Job for Chamber CEO?, and a “New” Homelessness Dashboard

Not shown: How many people displaced from encampments who didn’t “accept” shelter referrals. Screen shot via performance.seattle.gov.

1. The city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and social service workers who clear encampments and inform their displaced residents about available shelter beds and services, has been without a leader since July, when the team’s outreach director, Jackie St. Louis, resigned. The Human Services Department ended up opting not to hire any of the applicants, including St. Louis (who applied for the position after quitting), on a permanent basis, but the job will be filled for at least the next year by Tara Beck, a planner who has been at HSD since 2016.

In an email, HSD director Jason Johnson said Beck had been “the highest-rated internal candidate for the position and given transitions ahead, with so much uncertainty related to the Regional Authority, I am excited to have her lead this important, complex, and life-saving work throughout 2020.” It’s unclear whether Beck’s current job as a planning and development specialist in the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division—which is supposed to be dissolved once the city and county merge their homelessness efforts into a single regional agency—will be filled.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Strickland is seriously considering a run for the 10th District Congressional seat being vacated at the end of next year by longtime incumbent Denny Heck, who announced his retirement a week ago. Strickland was traveling on Wednesday and unavailable, but Chamber chief of staff Markham McIntyre confirmed that she is “strongly considering running but has not made a decision.”

Strickland was hired by the Chamber in 2018 after serving as mayor of Tacoma for eight years. This year, the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy PAC raised and spent $2.5 million—including, infamously, $1.45 million from Amazon—and saw its candidates lose in five out of seven council races. Some pundits blamed the losses on an Amazon backlash; others pointed out that the Chamber had backed an unusually lackluster field, which included a former council member driven out by scandal, a two-time candidate whose last race ended in a primary defeat; and an anti-development neighborhood activist. (That last one, Alex Pedersen, was the only non-incumbent Chamber-backed candidate who won—and immediately hired a staffer who spent the last few years filing legal challenges to the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability policy, which allows modest increases in density on the edges of single-family zones.)

Point being, Strickland may be looking for opportunities outside the Chamber. I’ll update this post if I hear more.

3. If you’re seeing reports about the city’s new Performance Dashboard and thinking to yourself, “Haven’t I seen this somewhere before?”—that’s because I already reported on the dashboard back in early October, when it first went live. When I discovered the site, HSD director Jason Johnson had just told the council that he couldn’t provide accurate information about how many referrals from the Navigation Team lead to shelter because there was still a lot of work to do before the dashboard could be made available.  Today, two months later, the city finally “launched” the site, and at least the human services section looks… exactly the same it did in October, except that another quarter’s worth of data is available. (I only took screen shots of the homelessness performance measures, so I can’t vouch for whether the other sections have changed.) Continue reading “New Navigation Team Leader, New Job for Chamber CEO?, and a “New” Homelessness Dashboard”

Homelessness Agency Director Suspended, Investigation Launched After Racy Drag Show at Annual Conference

 

This post has been updated (Monday, December 16, 2:20 pm) to include this update:

Kira Zylstra, the acting director of All Home, has resigned her position as a result of the events described in this post. According to King County Department of Community and Human Services spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton, DCHS chief of staff Denise Rothleutner “has stepped in to provide oversight and supervision to the All Home staff.” The investigation into the event and the leadership of All Home is ongoing, according to Hamilton.

This post has been updated (Saturday, December 14, at 10:45 am) to include video from the event.

Kira Zylstra, the acting director of the agency that coordinates King County’s response to homelessness, All Home, has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation involving a solo drag show at the group’s annual conference by Spokane-based performer Beyonce St. James, who reportedly danced on tables, gave lap dances, and stripped down to a pair of silver pasties as people threw dollar bills.

Although some who saw the performance called it fun, “fabulous” and a rare opportunity for queer people of color—St James is black— to be represented in the sort of space usually dominated by straight white people, others disagreed, complaining that the show was too “sexual” and forced people to participate in a sexualized performance without prior consent.

UPDATE: Here’s the video (possibly NSFW):

The theme of the conference was “decolonizing our collective work.”

In emails, representatives of King County declined to comment about the investigation.

“We have placed the director of All Home on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into the event and the leadership of All Home.”

Denise Rothleutner, deputy director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, said in an email: “The department is aware of an event that occurred during the All Home annual conference on December 9, 2019.  We have placed the director of All Home on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into the event and the leadership of All Home.  Because there is an active investigation underway, I am unable to respond to specific questions about the event.”

Besides funders and city and county employees, the crowd included representatives from groups like Mary’s Place, Neighborhood House, Catholic Community Services, and other religiously affiliated organizations.

The controversy comes at a critical time for homelessness agencies, as the city and county prepare to merge their homelessness agencies into a single regional authority. As part of that process, All Home would be replaced by a new advisory board that would make recommendations to the new authority.

I’ve reached out to St. James to learn more about her work as a performer and activist and will update this post with additional information.

New Hires and a New Draft of the “Compromise” Homelessness Plan

The Seattle Public Library has rented its downtown auditorium to a controversial group that works against the civil rights of transgender people. Image via Pixabay.

1. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported she would on Sunday night, Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired a new deputy mayor to replace David Moseley, who is leaving the city on January 15: Casey Sixkiller, who’s been the chief operating officer for King County since last year. Sixkiller has spent most of his career as a DC-based political consultant working for a variety of clients, some of which lobby the city and state on issues such as homelessness, deregulation, and privacy. He also worked for several years as a legislative assistant to US Sen, Patty Murray.

According to FEC records and his LinkedIn profile, Sixkiller started a firm called Sixkiller Consulting in 2010. According to his LinkedIn profile, Sixkiller is still a managing partner at the company, along with his wife Mariah Sixkiller, who is still active as a consultant. Last year, Sixkiller Consulting had eight clients who paid the firm a total of $650,000, including Microsoft, the Software Alliance, Noble Energy (a Houston-based oil and gas firm), Motorola, and Virgin Hyperloop One.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower says Sixkiller will recuse himself from working on issues involving Sixkiller Consulting’s clients, in compliance with rules saying “that City personnel are ‘disqualified from acting on City business’ where an immediate family member of the covered individual has a financial interest.” Moseley, who is married to consultant and sometime city contractor Anne Fennessy, officially recuses himself from issues Fennessy is working on.

According to an internal email from senior deputy mayor Mike Fong, Sixkiller will take over Moseley’s portfolio, which includes housing and the city’s response to homelessness. Fong’s email to staff touts Sixkiller’s “collaborative leadership approach” at the county and his “unique blend of public policy, business, and management experience.”

Asked about Sixkiller’s experience working on homelessness , Hightower pointed to his work “coordinating the delivery of [the county] Executive’s initiatives as it related to increasing shelter capacity in King County,” including the new shelter in the west wing of the downtown jail, a new day center in Pioneer Square, and “accelerating conversion of Harborview Hall into a 24/7 enhanced shelter.” (Harborview Hall, which was originally supposed to be an enhanced shelter, opened as a basic shelter in 2018 and was just upgraded to an enhanced shelter late last month.) Hightower also said Sixkiller advised Murray on housing and transportation “As such, he’s familiar with federal programs and funding streams supporting housing and homelessness, and the complexities around financing of affordable housing projects,” she said.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. As the city prepares to merge its homelessness efforts with the county’s, Seattle’s Human Services Department has a new spokesman: Will Lemke, a member of HSD’s communications team, will replace former spokeswoman Meg Olberding, who left last month. Lemke will make about $116,000. The job posting for the position, which called for a person who “value[s] the opulence of a diverse workforce with authentic perspective,” lists a starting salary of $95,000 to $142,000. Lemke will make around $116,000.

3. Speaking of the homelessness reorg, the city council posted the latest amended version of legislation establishing a new regional homelessness authority on Monday, but the proposal will likely be amended further on Thursday, when the council’s special committee on homelessness takes it up again.

As I’ve reported extensively in this space, Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and most members of the King County Council agreed late last month to toss out a plan developed over the past year, which would have put a board of experts in charge of the new agency’s policies, budget, and executive director, and replace that structure with one governed by a board of elected officials from across the county. (The 12-member board would include three people with “lived experience,” but their votes could be overruled in all cases by the elected supermajority). The new “governing board” would have ultimate say over the direction of the authority. Continue reading “New Hires and a New Draft of the “Compromise” Homelessness Plan”

Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension

1. King County’s Regional Policy Committee passed a much-amended plan to create a regional homelessness authority yesterday morning, but supporters acknowledged that it would go through more amendments once it reached the Seattle City Council, which has raised increasing alarms over a proposal some members say merely “shifts the deck chairs on the Titanic”—a metaphor that has been in constant rotation during the regional planning process.

Although the plan passed the RPC unanimously with some new amendments (an effort by Seattle council president Bruce Harrell to increase the number of governing board votes required to amend budgets and policies and hire and fire the executive director of the new authority failed), the city council sounded more skeptical of the plan than ever at a special committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

The council’s main objections highlighted the rift between suburban cities (who want several seats on the governing board, explicit suburban representation on the board of experts, and the authority to draft their own sub-regional homelessness plans) and the city of Seattle.

The first point of contention: Why should Seattle give suburban cities so much say over composition and policies of the new authority when they’re contributing nothing financially? The legislation the RPC adopted yesterday explicitly bans the regional authority from raising revenues, which means that the only funding sources are Seattle—contributing 57% of the authority’s initial budget—and King County. (Residents of suburban cities, like Seattle, also pay county taxes, but their contribution is small and indirect compared to what Seattle is putting on the table.)

“The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” — Seattle city council member Lorena Gonzalez

“I had always had the impression, going all the way back to One Table”—a task force that was supposed to come up with regional solutions to homelessness—”that we were going to have a conversation about our funding needs,” council member Lisa Herbold said. “I don’t know why we would, in the structure, foreclose our option to do that.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez added: “The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” 

Council members raised similar objections about the fact that the legislation now requires “regional sub-planning,” which means that different parts of the county could create their own homelessness policies, and that the new authority’s five-year plan would be required to reflect (and fund) those policies, even non-evidence-based strategies like high-barrier housing that requires sobriety. Gonzalez said that the question for her was, “Should municipalities who want to primarily or solely focus on non-evidence-based strategies to address homelessness… be able to qualify to receive money from these pooled resources? And the answer for me is no, they should not.”

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

A larger, but related, issue council members raised Thursday is the fact that the new body would keep power where it has always been—in the hands of elected officials, who would make up two-thirds of the governing board that would wield most of the power over the new authority. Originally, the idea behind creating a new regional authority was to create a “de-fragmented system” where experts, including people with lived experience of homelessness, could make decisions on policy without feeling swayed by political considerations like the need to get reelected. The new plan, as Herbold pointed out, “flips [that] script.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that without new revenue authority, and with a structure controlled by elected officials, the regional authority will be “AllHome 2.0″—a powerless body controlled by people making decisions for political reasons. “I don’t want us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something transformative,” she said..

For a moment near the end of the meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw, who has spent months negotiating the plan with the county, seemed to agree. Moving toward a regional approach to homelessness, she said, was “a journey worth taking.” But “whether I would say that it’s transformational— I can’t go that far.”

2. The Northlake tiny house village, which had been slated for closure on Monday, December 9, got a reprieve Thursday morning in the form of a memo from Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson saying that the encampment could stay in place until March of next year. (I reported the news on Twitter Thursday morning).

Continue reading “Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension”

As County Heads Into Homelessness Vote, City Council Considers Putting On the Brakes

As King County’s Regional Policy Committee heads into a vote on the much-altered regional homelessness authority proposal on Thursday morning, the fate of the plan remains far from clear. Although the proposal has enough votes to pass the RPC, Seattle City Council members have expressed major concerns, and could ultimately end up sending the county, Seattle, and suburban cities back to the drawing board. The RPC, King County Council, and Seattle City Council all have to vote to approve the plan for it to go into effect.

Council member Deborah Juarez, who sits on the RPC, will reportedly vote for the plan tomorrow morning but will make a formal statement that the city has outstanding concerns about the plan. (Juarez did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday night). The city council will discuss potential amendments to the plan itself at their meeting tomorrow afternoon, and could introduce amendments formally on December 12, four days before the deadline to move the proposal forward this year. If the council amends the plan, negotiations with the county will start all over again next year.

A majority of the King County Council, with the approval of Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, have agreed on significant changes to the proposal—which has been in the works for most of the last year—over the last few weeks.

Seattle council members, as well as representatives for Human Service Department employees who will eventually work for the new authority, have raised concerns about what they consider a rush to pass the dramatically altered proposal before they’ve had a chance to consider the impacts of the changes. Perhaps most significantly, the new plan would shift budgeting and policy authority away from a board of experts and onto a panel of elected officials, including representatives of suburban cities that aren’t paying into the plan. Seattle has pledged to pay for $73 million, or 57 percent, of the new authority’s budget.

A memo from the city council’s central staff explained the differences between the original plan and the new proposal, which has emerged over the past few weeks.  I’ve outlined the changes before, but here are a few of the most significant:

• The new plan would create a 12-member governing board made up primarily of elected officials from Seattle (three members), King County (three members), the Sound Cities Association of suburban cities (three members), plus three members with lived experience of homelessness, one of whom must live outside Seattle. Previously, this group was known as the steering committee and would have had seven or eight members, including two with lived experience.

The changes would mean that, in theory, the board could have as few as three Seattle representatives—compared to a minimum of four suburban representatives— despite the fact that Seattle is contributing 57 percent of the funding for the new authority while suburban cities are contributing nothing. Potential amendments could change some of the geographic requirements to give Seattle more mandatory representation on the board.

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• A lower-level “implementation board” made up of experts and people with lived experience would be appointed by the governing board and a new advisory committee.

This board would be stripped of most of the authority it had in the original plan, proposing budgets and policy plans that could then be amended by as few as six members of the 12-member governing board. (For example, if only the minimum quorum of nine members showed up to a meeting, a six-member supermajority of that quorum could vote its preferred policies through. Even if all 12 members were present and voting, the nine elected officials could overrule the three members with lived experience on any vote.) The only decision that would require more than this six-vote minimum is a vote to fire the executive director. Potential amendments, hinted at in the council memo, might make it more difficult for the board of elected officials to amend budget and policy decisions.

• The new plan requires “sub-regional planning” (meaning that suburban cities can have localized plans with policies that differ from Seattle’s) and removes a mandate that these plans be evidence-based and informed by race and social justice principles, in line with a still-incomplete Regional Action Plan. Low-barrier shelters and Housing First policies are examples of evidence-based practices that some suburban cities may be reluctant to embrace. “Given the exclusion of such language, it is possible that a five-year plan that includes sub-regional planning will not reflect a uniform, defragmented approach to ending homelessness,” the central staff memo says. A potential amendment might require these sub-regional plans to align with the goals and principles of the RAP.

The council memo also suggests that in lieu of approving the new proposal or adopting amendments in the next week—the council has scheduled its last special homelessness committee meeting for December 12, with a final vote on December 16—council members could adopt a resolution committing to continue work on the plan in 2020 and directing the city’s Human Services Department to move forward on the 2020 contracting process with the county.

Delaying until next year would mean that outgoing homelessness committee chair Sally Bagshaw wouldn’t get to vote on the final plan (which she characterized as “all good” at a briefing earlier this week), and would force the county to regroup and hold additional public meetings as well. But a month or two of delay could give the city a chance to take a closer look at a plan that looks far less “transformative” than proponents of regional governance—who’ve been pushing for major governance changes not for months, but years—have hoped.

“All Good” or “Backroom Deal”? New Regional Homelessness Plan Goes Under the Microscope

King County Council member Rod Dembowski, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles

UPDATE: I’ve posted a brief update to this morning’s post on Twitter, including details of more changes that grant additional power to suburban cities.

A new regional homelessness plan that would give elected officials, including representatives of suburban cities, more direct control over the new authority has been moving forward rapidly over the past week—so fast, in fact, that several Seattle City Council members indicated they wouldn’t mind (gently) tapping the brakes. On Monday, as council member Sally Bagshaw laid out a two-week timeline for the council to approve a plan that many of them hadn’t even seen, several of her colleagues protested that they felt pressured to rush the proposal through without thoroughly considering what’s in it.

“While I appreciate the desire to try to avoid avoidable delay, I also don’t want us to … unnecessarily rush our decision-making process and our review of whatever it is the King County Council is considering this week,” council member Lorena Gonzalez said. Debora Juarez added that the plan “has changed at least four times in the last week, and so I’m a little bit concerned as well.”

While that discussion was going on, the union that represents staffers for the city’s Homelessness Investment and Strategy division, PROTEC17, was also getting up to speed. On Monday, PROTEC17 union rep Shaun van Eyk sent an email urging HSI staffers to flag concerns about the new proposal at upcoming meetings of the county’s Regional Policy Committee, the King County Council, and the Seattle City Council. “Each one of these hearings are opportunities to comment and/or attempt to delay this move,” van Eyk wrote.

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“There has been months and months and months of work—constituency-building, engaging with community, engaging with service providers, and all of that engagement was filtered into the proposal, and now, at the 11th hour, the city’s going to cut a backroom deal with the county to completely upend all that coalition building,” Van Eyk told me Monday. “And for what? It’s a political move.”

As I reported last week, the latest proposal to create a consolidated regional homelessness authority differs significantly from the plan King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Jenny Durkan rolled out in September. Under the original plan, all major budget, policy, and hiring decisions would have been made by an 11-member “governing board” of experts with no connections to elected officials or organizations that receive government funding. A 7-or-8-member “steering committee” would oversee the governing board, but their duties would be limited to appointing the initial members of the board (which would become self-perpetuating after five years) and approving or rejecting budgets and policy plans without amendment. Continue reading ““All Good” or “Backroom Deal”? New Regional Homelessness Plan Goes Under the Microscope”

Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

I’m back from vacation, the council has almost passed a 2020 budget with aggressive edits to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal, and the election is officially all-but-over (results will be certified on Friday). Here are a few items that are worth your attention.

1. Semi-final election results: Although the local and (to a much lesser extent) national press has fixated on the fact that incumbent Kshama Sawant came back from behind to defeat Amazon-backed challenger Egan Orion by more than 1,750 votes, an equally fascinating late-voting story has played out in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, where neighborhood activist and former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, who was backed by both the business lobby and Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC, is poised to defeat Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Sawant’s swing was more dramatic, but for Scott to come so close in a district that is less than 3 percent African American—Scott is black—and with so much less money and institutional funding was a sign, perhaps, that District 4, which includes the University of Washington along with a number of higher-turnout precincts with views of Lake Washington and incomes to match, wasn’t entirely convinced by Pedersen and Burgess’ appeals to “Seattle Is Dying”-style populism. Or that students were compelled to actually turn out for a charismatic, hard-campaigning, issue-oriented socialist; we’ll know more once precinct-level data becomes available.

Egan Orion’s loss to incumbent Kshama Sawant has overshadowed Shaun Scott’s comeback in District 4.

2.  Council pushes back on Durkan’s budget: Before I left, the council had already indicated it planned to alter Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal pretty dramatically.

I reported on many of the changes back when they were still in the proposal stage, including:

• Amendments redirecting millions in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Megablock to fund housing and bike lanes in South Seattle (which has no uninterrupted safe bike connections to downtown);

• A proviso requiring the Human Services Department to provide quarterly reports on what the encampment-clearing Navigation Team is up to;

• The elimination of funds to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown that both neighbors and the city agree is working well;

• Cutting the size and scope of a proposed program that would help homeowners build second units and rent them out as moderate-income housing and requiring that the city do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal;

• Reducing or freezing funds for Durkan’s plans for dealing with “prolific offenders,” including a proposed expansion of probation;

Out of an unknown number of individuals contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of 124 officer calls, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter.

• Repurposing some of the $3 million in soda tax revenues Durkan had proposed setting aside to fund capital improvements to P-Patches, including gardens in Ballard and Capitol Hill, for other initiatives to promote healthy food in low-income communities most impacted by the tax, and stipulating that any soda tax revenues that go to the P-Patch program must be spent in designated Healthy Food Priority Areas; and

ª $3.5 million in funding for the LEAD program, whose planned expansion Durkan did not propose funding. The new money, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Ballmer foundation, will allow the pre-arrest diversion program to manage its ever-expanding caseloads in the coming year.

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In addition, the council adopted a number of smaller-ticket items and placed conditions on some of the mayor’s spending proposals, including:

• A request that the Human Services Department survey service providers that provide case management to homeless clients who wear Bluetooth-enabled “beacons” provided by a company called Samaritan, which created an app enabling donors to read up on the personal stories of beacon wearers in the area and give money to businesses and agencies on their behalf. Homeless participants can access the donations in the form of goods or debit cards, and are required to participate in case management and report on their progress through the app. The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers. Continue reading “Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win”