Homeless Service Priorities Shift in First Competitive Bid for Services in More than a Decade

All Home director Mark Putnam, Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester, Mayor Ed Murray

A more detailed version of this story, with information and quotes from a press briefing yesterday, is now available at Seattle Magazine

The city’s Human Services Department will issue a request for proposals today for $30 million in homeless services—the first time in more than a decade that a majority of of the city’s homelessness contracts have been put out for competitive bids. (The remaining $20 million the city spends on homeless services has either already been rebid under a different process or wouldn’t qualify under the new criteria, such as hygiene centers.) The request focuses on programs that get people who are “literally homeless” into shelter “permanent housing”—largely through “rapid rehousing” with short-term rental assistance vouchers. According to HUD, a person is “literally homeless if they have a primary “residence” that is not fit for human habitation (e.g., a doorway or a vacant house), live in a shelter, or are leaving a jail, hospital or other institution after a stay of 90 days or less and were homeless when they first came in. (Widening the definition of homelessness to include people who are about to lose their housing and have nowhere to go and people experiencing extreme housing instability would roughly double the homeless count in Seattle).

In keeping with the Pathways Home plan released last year, which emphasizes “right-sizing” the homeless system by balancing survival services and permanent housing, the RFP will prioritize proposals that provide “permanent housing”—that is, housing on the private market, paid for with temporary vouchers. The new bidding process puts longtime city partners who provide transitional housing—nonprofits like the Low-Income Housing Institute, which provides longer-term temporary housing aimed at immigrants, veterans, and women fleeing domestic violence—at a relative disadvantage, because it focuses on “exits to permanent housing” and transitional housing isn’t permanent. The target transitional housing programs will eventually have to meet is for clients to stay in transitional housing units no more than 150 days (270 for young adults) and that 80 percent of their clients exit into permanent housing. This alone will be a shock to the current system; according to the Focus Strategies report on which many of the Pathways Home recommendations were based, “the majority of programs in Seattle/King County are designed for 12 to 18 month stays” and only about 63 percent of adult transitional housing residents exit into permanent housing (the rate for families is a little better, at 73 percent).

The RFP will grade providers on their performance for the first six months of 2017 on whether they meet five new minimum standards, as well as their answers to questions about their proposals. Providers who meet not just the minimums, but the targets, will get priority for funding. If a project gets funding but doesn’t show progress toward meeting its targets, the city can decide not to provide further funding even after a contract is granted. In future years, providers will be expected to start hitting their targets, rather than just meeting the minimums.

The targets set goals for: Exits to permanent housing; average length of shelter stays; entries from homelessness; return rates to homelessness; and how many shelter beds are occupied on any given night. An agency applying for funding must have met one of these minimum requirements between January and June 2017 to qualify for funding. The proposed systemwide targets and minimum standards are detailed in these next two charts:

It’s still unclear exactly what sort of vouchers people exiting homelessness into permanent housing will be provided, but in the past, HSD has said that they will pay some portion of a person’s rent for between three and 12 months; once the subsidy runs out, it will be up to that person to come up with the money to pay full rent. In an expensive housing market like Seattle’s, where the average one-bedroom apartment rents for about $2,000, this will probably mean that a lot of people end up living in unincorporated King County or even further from Seattle, far away from services, employment opportunities, and any community they may have had when they lived in the city.

According to the RFP, “Data does not currently show us if people are being housed in their communities of choice or displaced to other locations.” Pathways Home, however, explicitly states that part of solving homelessness in Seattle may involve moving people to “housing that is a considerable distance from work or which creates a substantial rent burden”—in other words, housing that may be unaffordable and far away from Seattle. “While these are not ideal situations, they are all better than the alternative of homelessness,” the report concludes.

HUD’s definition of “literal homelessness,” it’s worth noting, does not include people who are sleeping temporarily on friends’ or relatives’ couches, people who have to move frequently from place to place, or people coming out of prison with no place to go, unless they were in shelter immediately prior to their incarceration. It also doesn’t include people who are evicted from “permanent housing” when their subsidies run out and they can’t make rent, unless they end up back in the county’s formal homeless shelter system; those who end up moving out of the county or doubling or tripling up in cheaper housing are still counted as permanent housing “successes.” A report from a homeless advocacy group in Washington, D.C., which implemented a Pathways Home-style rapid rehousing system, found that many families fell off the “rapid rehousing cliff” when their vouchers ran out and they had to pay full market rent for their apartments; indeed, all the studies that have concluded that rapid rehousing is a success were in markets where rents are a fraction of what they cost in Seattle, such as Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.

The deadline for service providers to respond to the city’s RFP is September 5.

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“Fair Chance Housing” is “Ban the Box” for Tenants—with Exceptions

Mayor Ed Murray and city council member Lisa Herbold released a draft of legislation earlier today aimed at making it easier for people with criminal records to find housing by barring landlords from requesting information about most kinds of criminal convictions. The legislation, which is certain to be challenged by the city’s vocal landlord lobby, is aimed at addressing one of the key challenges people with criminal histories face when trying to rebuild their lives—many landlords use criminal records to weed out applicants—one reason, Herbold said, that an average of 85 people exit jail directly into homelessness in Washington State every month.

“This is about addressing a homelessness crisis that we have partially created ourselves,” Herbold said.

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

The legislation would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges. It would allow landlords to refuse to rent to someone on the state sex-offender registry.

“Fair-chance” housing legislation was one of the recommendations proposed as part of the the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) back in 2015, and is of a piece with other proposals to reduce recidivism and homelessness among people, primarily men of color, who have served their sentences. “Ban the Box” legislation that passed in 2013 prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their criminal records during their initial employment screening.

The proposal includes nearly five pages of “whereas” clauses enumerating the reasons for the bill, including the fact that nearly one in three adults in the US has a criminal record; studies showing that people with stable housing are less likely to reoffend; the existence of persistent racial bias in both criminal justice and housing; and the fact that “there is no sociological research establishing a relationship between a criminal record and an unsuccessful tenancy.”

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

Second, by requiring prospective tenants to run out a two-year clock before they can benefit from the bill’s protections, the legislation could set up some people with recent criminal history to fail (and reoffend); after all, as one of those “whereas” clauses says, “research shows higher recidivism occurs within the first two years of release and is mitigated when individuals have access to safe and affordable housing and employment.”

When I asked Murray why the bill includes so many exemptions, he said, “There are disagreements over the number of years, how far you should go back, that we have not been able to reach agreement with landlords on. There’s some challenges for us to meet all of their concerns.” Then he kicked the question over to Office for Civil Rights policy manager Brenda Anibarro, who said, “that two-year [exemption] was an attempt to address some of [landlords’] concerns … We had participated in [the outreach] process for a straight year. We wanted to give them something on that. So that’s where that two year lookback comes from, and the same with the exemptions.”

One issue the legislation does not address is how people coming out of prison will be able to afford housing in Seattle even if they are no longer hindered by their criminal history. Advocates are trying to convince King County to add another three cents to the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, on the countywide ballot in November, to fund affordable housing for people with criminal convictions as well as active drug users.

Herbold was the only council member present at today’s press conference, which was held on Murray’s turf—the 7th-floor Norm B. Rice conference room on the 7th floor of City Hall. Asked whether she had the votes to pass the “fair-chance” legislation, Herbold said she hadn’t done a vote count yet; “I would not let having five votes be a prerequisite for the mayor sending the bill down,” she said.

Herbold’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation at City Hall on July 13 at 5pm.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Pete Holmes

Pete in front of City Hall

Image via holmesforseattle.com.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including this series of interviews with the candidates for mayor, city attorney, and (later this summer) city council and Port, 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.

City attorney Pete Holmes was first elected in 2009 as a reformer. A bankruptcy attorney who advocated for marijuana legalization and was one of the original members of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), the body that reviewed disciplinary decisions in police misconduct cases, he challenged then-incumbent Tom Carr from the left, assailing Carr for cracking down on minor crimes like pot possession and waging war against bars and clubs while letting DUI and domestic violence cases molder. Now, Holmes’ challenger, Scott Lindsay, is ripping some pages from the city attorney’s own playbook, accusing him of going soft on police accountability, ignoring the consequences of the opiate epidemic, and ignoring problems in homeless encampments. I sat down with Holmes to discuss his record, his path to reelection, and the case his opponent laid out against him at a Starbucks across the street from City Hall.

Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Your opponent, Scott Lindsay, got in the race late, and only after his boss, Mayor Ed Murray, was accused of sexual abuse. Were you surprised that he decided to run against you, and how do you respond to his statement that you have little to show for your two terms in office?

Pete Holmes [PH]: [When I ran], I was at that point in my legal career that I finally felt that I just maybe had enough experience in the law to be the city’s lawyer. Back in ’09, when I ran, I had made partner at a major downtown firm; I knew my way in and out of court; I advised big and little clients businesses and individuals; and I really had a sense of what the law was about. All of that readied me for the challenges that lay ahead at the city of Seattle.

“I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.”

A candidate for office told me recently that from their perspective, I was a candidate that ran for a specific office with a specific mission and that was absolutely right. It was no surprise to [then-city attorney] Tom [Carr] that I was going to run against him. I had spent the previous three or four years at that point debating with him, trying to get him to do the right thing on transparency and police accountability, trying to work with him, and finally realizing that, you know what, I can’t complain. I need to step up and say, ‘Here’s my vision, and it’s different from yours.’  We had big difference of opinion on police reform, drug policy, things like that, and it was only at that point in my career that I felt like, I know what the practice of law is all about, I feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve learned my craft, and maybe, just maybe, I could presume to be the city’s attorney.

I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.

ECB: Lindsay received some surprising early endorsements from two members of the Community Police Commission who had been your allies, Lisa Daugaard and Harriett Walden, who both argued that you had hindered the group’s efforts to increase civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department. Daugaard criticized you, specifically, for opposing the CPC’s request that it be allowed to refer complaints directly to the city’s Inspector General for investigation, and for your request to delay submitting police reform legislation to the council. Without getting too far in the weeds, what was your issue with the way that the CPC wanted to implement civilian oversight, and why did you seek to start the process over?

PH: The sheer size and scope of the CPC is, I think, the biggest concern. A budget that’s probably close to $2 million annually is something I’m not sure the city can afford. But the really fundamental question I have is, why we have allowed ourselves to forget the fundamental purpose of civilian oversight? It’s to hear what the community thinks about policing services as delivered where they live. I think Lisa would say her theory is that the CPC should be a commission of subject-matter experts—her, term not mine—and my counter to that is, I want all of my expertise, my academic and practical expertise, to be in my command staff and especially my chief of police and my professional overseers, like the [Office of Police Accountability, formerly the Office of Professional Accountability] director, who’s investigating individual misconduct cases, and the inspector general, who’s looking more broadly at policy.

“We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.”

So what role does the CPC serve? It’s to say how well all this expertise is translating into the streets. Is the chief managing appropriately? Is the inspector general managing broad policy themes that need attention? Is the OPA director holding people accountable for the thoroughness of investigations? At the end of the day, we need to know how the guys who have a gun and a badge are interacting with our fellow residents here in the city, and if you’ve got a committee of subject matter experts that are studying established practices and doing all those kinds of things things that I hope the IG and the OPA director and the chief of police are doing, then who’s taking the time to listen to the community?

There’s one person that you ultimately hold accountable for holding your cops accountable, among many safeguards, and that’s your chief of police. So number one, if you have taken all of these policy areas away from the chief, then the chief will say, ‘You know what, I’m sorry that our department is not delivering services to, say, an African-American community the way you think they should, but you took all that power from me and you gave it to this commission of subject matter experts.’ And it’s already difficult enough under our current contracts for discipline to stick. All of the major discipline decisions, all the firings [Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole] has done, with very few exceptions, have been contested, and my office has to defend all those things. So what I worry about is not only would your existing chief finally say, ‘You know, look, I give up,’ but when you have to replace Chief O’Toole, who’s going to come to a city that is so heavily laden with politics and procedure? It’s like, ‘Can I run my department, please?’ It might scare away a good candidate.

ECB: Do you expect that the ongoing effort to comply with the federal consent decree that’s currently still in place at SPD will remain on track, given that Attorney General Sessions has suggested that he wants to pull back on police reform?

PH: What we have to remember is that we would not have made the progress we’ve made to date, including the CPC, but for the federal intervention. We’ve tried over the decades to do reform and have only gotten a little bit of window dressing, and then it goes away. The unions retain their power through a collective bargaining agreement and mayors routinely get worn out and say, ‘Oh, God, please just get it done so I can move on to the next thing,’ and we’ve all inherited decades of that. We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.

Fortunately, we’ve got that so-called judge [federal judge James Robart, whom Trump called a “so-called judge” when he refused to enforce the original travel ban]. I really think Judge Robart is nothing but a no-nonsense judge and he is not going to say his order has been met fulfilled until he believes the order has been fulfilled. Jeff Sessions is not going to tell him when it’s been fulfilled, and for that matter, no one of us city officials is going to do that. I do think that at some point, I’d like to see the unions in front of Judge Robart bringing forth all their concerns so that we can really have comprehensive contract-based reform.

And by the way, it’s not about the size and scope of the CPC that I first broke with Lisa [Daugaard]. They lobbied hard to make me appeal Judge Robart’s decision  [delaying the city’s police reform legislation in 2016] and make them a party to the lawsuit and at some point I just said no.

“At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going  to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force.”

If [the CPC is] telling the council that Judge Robart is stopping [them] from doing [their] work and that the city attorney is letting him get away with it, it’s really hard to go back to the council and explain that we would not be where we are but for Judge Robart and this consent decree. It’s the same pitch that I couldn’t get [former mayor] Mike McGinn to fully appreciate. I remember telling him, ‘Mike, no one’s going to blame you for the police department you inherited, and nobody’s going to forgive you if you let this opportunity go away. So you can either treat DOJ as an invading force or the wind in your sails for reform.’ And we never quite got on the same page, but it’s kind of the same theme that was playing this time around, with the CPC wanting to be permanent, full-throated advocates in front of the judge. At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going  to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force. That’s my concern, and you can’t explain that in a sound bite.

ECB: It seems to me that there’s a fair amount of bad blood between you and Lisa Daugaard.

PH: It’s not bad blood. I believe she sincerely believes in what she’s doing, but she cannot be chief of police and Inspector General and OPA director all in one fell swoop, and you can’t make the Community Police Commission into those bodies. I think fundamentally, who represents the community is really the question. Just because the Community Police Commission has ‘community’ in its name doesn’t mean they own the community.

“When you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.”

ECB: Will you extend the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program [which gives low-level offenders the opportunity to avoid charges if they accept services and participate in a structured diversion program] to the rest of the city, and is there anything you would like to change or improve about the program?

PH: Intuitively, I am convinced that LEAD is a correct approach. A correct approach—not the correct approach. Because LEAD addresses one small element of the overall population that we need to address. The danger with elevating something like LEAD as the answer, the silver bullet, is that if you’re looking a 360 degree [range of offenders and solutions], LEAD represents only about ten degrees of that arc.

You remember in 2013, when I got that letter from SPD about 28 or so of the so-called hardcore offenders downtown, and they demanded I issue warrants for all of them? I said, ‘No, because you did none of the background work to tell me what their issue is. You can’t just tell me you issued three tickets to them and they didn’t respond. I want to know, are they homeless? Are they drug addicted? What have you done to address their issues?’ And if you’ve done all of that and they’re resisting, they’re just simply refusing our offer, then you’re right. Then we’ll intervene. But you’ve got to show that it’s a credible threat.

Same thing with homelessness. I’ll work with you nine ways to Sunday to figure out what are your obligations when dealing with the homeless encampments, but I’ve got to tell you that when you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.

ECB: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about sweeps. How do you think the city’s new Navigation Team, which your opponent takes credit for setting up, is doing at getting people living in encampments into shelter, housing, and services?

PH: I think that the Navigation Team is learning that if they don’t have actual, real resources, they won’t succeed. I don’t mean the Taj Mahal. But the shelters don’t work for a variety of circumstances. We’ve got to meet people where they are. If we’re providing housing that addresses all those areas and it’s refused, then you have to act. You have to say, ‘You can’t stay here,’ and you’re going to make an arrest at some point.

It’s interesting how all our labels are conclusory. If it’s bad, it’s a sweep. If it’s good, it’s an encampment cleanup.

ECB: I would say ‘sweep’ is fairly accurate. I’m not calling it a ‘purge.’

PH: If you’re not, as a practical matter, addressing human needs, if you’re not dealing with their personal effects, then yeah, I guess it is a sweep. But if you are doing that and you’re simply doing a cleanup, that’s a positive sweep. That’s sweeping up the detritus, the non-valuable property left behind that’s just from living and the human condition.

“If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.”

ECB: Scott seems to blame you for ending some of the specialty courts that were once available as alternatives to the regular court system, like mental health court and community court. Why were those courts eliminated, what were they replaced with, and how do you think the current system is working?

PH: I think that the defense bar recognized that by opting into community court, they were basically agreeing to a much longer [period of] supervision and interference than if you just simply said, ‘No, I’ll take my chances at regular court.” The defense bar was advising clients not to accept the community court offer because there were too many conditions attached to it. So what the municipal court did was to say that instead of community court being the one place where you opt in [to alternatives to incarceration that include access to services],  we want to make sure that all of those resources are available to all judges in all cases so that they can fashion remedies. In some ways, the municipal court may have expanded community court rather than disbanded it. So Scott doesn’t have the full story. It is in transition. I believe the defense bar would prefer to be working with us, because when we, both prosecutor and defender, see someone who is in the throes of an addiction and of course is making life miserable for everyone around him as well as himself, the last thing we want to do is just throw him in jail.

ECB: How will you support the creation of a supervised drug consumption site in Seattle, and how likely do you think it is that Seattle will accept it?

PH: We got to a state with marijuana where people are finally saying, ‘This actually works pretty well.’ Like the holdout cities that were saying, ‘No way are we gonna allow pot use in our city’—they’re starting to see that Seattle went from over 150 unlicensed, troublesome [medical marijuana] dispensaries to 50 well-lit, well-regulated legal dispensaries. And now they’re saying, ‘I want some of that in my town.’ It’s going to be the same thing with these medical sites We made the decision, wrongfully, to say, we’re going to put public health problems in the criminal justice system. So my role has been to try and slowly release those tentacles and get medical and health care professionals to get responsibility for it. When people say, ‘Where should they be?’ I say, I don’t know, but that’s why I want to hear form the medical professionals. And then I’ll help you with the land use issues and the criminal jurisdiction issues.

ECB: The answer to the question of where a safe consumption site will be located is purely political, though—it’s wherever people will accept it.

PH: I’d say that’s the cynical political answer. I think at some point, once we have helped switch this bad course that we went down of criminalizing public health problems, then I think we’re going to start seeing people get it. If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.

In some ways, opioid addiction might even be easier than marijuana legalization, because it cuts across all demographic groups. So what I think you’re discounting is that for every person who says, ‘I don’t want to step over them anymore,’ there’s also going to be a person whose brother is the person being stepped over. We showed a better approach [to marijuana use] than prohibition, and opioids is going to be a tougher one—it’s definitely going to need the medical community more involved—but I get so passionate about it, because you can just see how wrongheaded our traditional approach has been. And I could say, ‘Let’s do this’ and get reelected and start looking at the next office, or I can say, ‘How can I fundamentally change a bad policy?’ That’s not a small order. That’s a long haul.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Scott Lindsay

Image result for scott lindsay 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.

Scott Lindsay, Mayor Ed Murray’s onetime public safety advisor and a former senior counsel to US Rep. Elijah Cummings in Washington, D.C., was best known, until recently, as the guy the mayor sent to neighborhood and city council meetings to defend his encampment removal policies. Since he announced he would challenge incumbent city attorney Pete Holmes in April, however, Lindsay has won some surprising endorsements from erstwhile Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year, on the grounds that it created a CPC that was too large and sprawling to pass muster with the federal judge overseeing the consent decree between Seattle and the federal Department of Justice. Daugaard told me in April that she also felt Holmes had not done enough to advocate for defendants who “serve long sentences on cases with excessive probation, are held in lieu of bail because they are poor, and are made to give up their trial rights to get services.”

I sat down with Lindsay at Zeitgeist Coffee in Pioneer Square last month.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: As a political unknown running for a fairly obscure office in a mayoral-election year, you’re going to have to make a compelling case against the incumbent. So, lay out the argument against Pete.

Scott Lindsay (SL): The best thing going for Pete Holmes is that he’s kept such a low profile for that office. But when you actually dig under the surface, there’s deep dysfunction in our criminal justice system. The King County Jail is filled with misdemeanor defendants whose underlying issue is homelessness and addiction. Words that have never come out of Pete Holmes’ mouth are in any way talking about heroin or the effects of substance use disorders on the defendant population in the criminal justice system, or actual ways that he could provide leadership to fundamentally start to change the way that we engage with that population. How do we actually change outcomes instead of just going through these cycles of arrest and release? Because the outcomes that we’re getting now have been terrible for defendants stuck in the cycle, and terrible for neighborhoods, and terrible for those who are actually stuck with the consequences of the failures of our criminal justice system.

“Words that have never come out of Pete Holmes’ mouth are in any way talking about heroin or the effects of substance use disorders on the defendant population.”

Let me give you a couple specific examples. So while these were imperfect, at least we used to have specialty courts—mental health court, drug court, which is at Superior Court, and community court. Now, those started with imperfect designs, but rather than provide any leadership about how to really fix them, those courts, in effect, have died on the vine. Referrals into mental health court are way down, and it’s vastly underutilized and may shut down because of underutilization, and community court has been shut down, and Pete Holmes has done nothing to replace it. So now everybody’s just going mainstream. Where are the innovations? Where’s the vision? Where’s the leadership?

Pete has had eight years to lead on a lot of these things, and he’s no longer a leader on many criminal justice issues. He does not have a vision, and after eight years has not articulated a vision, for how we can use our criminal justice system to help address the real public safety issues and social issues and public health issues that we have in the city. We invest a lot of money in our criminal justice system and in the city attorney’s office, and they have more [contact with] people struggling with homelessness and substance use disorders, practically, than our human services department. Our criminal justice system is in effect, by default, one of the largest social service organizations that we have. We just don’t think of it in that way, and it’s not actually producing outcomes that anybody can be proud of.

“The Navigation Team was my idea, and I worked to get that created over the course of a year against a lot of institutional reluctance to do things in very different ways.”

ECB: Until you declared your candidacy with a platform focused on police oversight and accountability, I think it’s fair to say that you were viewed as one of the more conservative members of the mayor’s staff, especially by neighborhood activists who wanted the mayor to do more to clean up homeless camps.

SL: I think I have a reputation as a guy who actually listens, tries to figure out what’s going on, and then tries to come up with innovations and creative resolutions. But I am willing to take on the tough and controversial issues. I’ve been the leader within the [mayor’s] office on supervised consumption—not exactly a law and order topic. I was the leader on the heroin epidemic and asking how we can get more prevention, more user health care, more treatment options. I was the leader on, how do we get much better services to our homeless population and shift from a two-decade-old sweeps policy to a more compassionate approach?

But I also believe, absolutely, that we have some very real public safety challenges in this city, and it doesn’t help anyone to not talk about that in open ways. Up in the north end, we have  a lot of public safety complaints about what’s going on in Mineral Springs Park—needles and drug dealing and tents and other issues—so it’s obviously a real struggle for the neighborhood. At the same time, we had a lot of real people suffering and living in conditions that were tragic for them. We have to have a discussion about how we resolve both of those things and tie them together, rather than talk about homelessness in ways that don’ t actually connect to a lot of what’s happening on the ground.

“It’s the responsibility of the city to step in and intervene and separate out the really bad actors who prey on the weak and vulnerable from people who are struggling with public health diseases.”

ECB: The city has organized a “Navigation Team” made up of cops, outreach workers, and service providers to offer services to people living in encampments before they remove them. The numbers the city released recently show that about 160 people entered an “alternative living arrangement,” which is a big jump from where we were before but a drop in the bucket relative to the total number who need help. What’s your assessment of those results?

SL: The Navigation Team was my idea, and I worked to get that created over the course of a year against a lot of institutional reluctance to do things in very different ways. The idea of taking police officers and having them have a really social service focus, I think, is radical. It took a lot of work to convince all the powers that be that that was the right way to go, and I will absolutely say that 160 people sleeping indoors is an incredible number in 11 weeks, as compared to the success that we historically have gotten out of plain outreach efforts. I would be very surprised if we got 150 people indoors in all of 2016, coming in from hardened, really unsafe situations.

ECB: But not all are indoors—in fact, about half of them were simply moved to other encampments.

SL: Of course, and absolutely, authorized encampments are only a temporary solution, but we have to find some better options. And if you look a little bit deeper at what’s going on at some of the unauthorized encampments, where they’re at a critical mass, you have real predatory behavior and people who are taking advantage of the homeless people, who are the most vulnerable in our city, and exploiting them in terrible ways. That’s exploiting teenage girls, it’s exploiting people with mental illnesses, it’s exploiting people with substance use disorders, and as a result, terrible things happen to those people. It’s the responsibility of the city to step in and intervene and separate out the really bad actors who prey on the weak and vulnerable from people who are struggling with public health diseases, and that’s very often mental illness and most often substance use disorders. As a city, we are absolutely getting crushed by the heroin epidemic, and it is tragic and terrible, and a lot of the folks who are falling into that trap are really young people. If you go and you talk to Youthcare [an organization that works to get homeless kids off the streets], six years ago, they say one in five of the people who came into Orion Center [a youth shelter and drop-in center] were IV drug users. Today, it’s four in five. That’s almost an entire generation that either will be lost, or we have to find ways to help them out of that and break that cycle.

“If you ask SPD about, say, property crime in the north end, they will say that it would be difficult to find one person among 300 [for whom] the underlying cause of their criminal behavior was not a heroin addiction. They would say easily 99 percent if not 100 percent.”

ECB: When the city decided to locate the new low-barrier Navigation Center shelter in the Chinatown International District, they got a lot of pushback from the community, who said they hadn’t been consulted on the decision, and ultimately, the opening was postponed. What did you think of how your boss at the time, Mayor Murray, handled the outreach for the Navigation Center?

SL: It very obviously did not go well. I wasn’t involved intimately in the siting decisions, but that did not go well. I think when you dig into that, I’ve spent more time working on issues within Chinatown and the International District than any other neighborhood in the city, and they have very real issues with street safety and low level crimes associated with people who are struggling with substance use disorders, and we have not, as a city, figured out how to provide them with support. Ultimately, the Navigation Center will be part of that, but we also have to be very clear and articulate what we’re doing to provide relief to that community, which is under a lot of strain. There are a lot of mom and pop business with very slim margins that are open early in the morning and late at night. and they feel under real duress from what’s happening in their neighborhood, and they’re very unhappy about it.

ECB: Do you think the Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion program, which provides pre-booking diversion for low-level offenders in  part of the center city, should be expanded citywide?

SL: LEAD is exactly the type of innovative program that is addressing people who are struggling with substance use disorder, and most often most of their clients are struggling with homelessness, and the idea is break them out of the criminal justice system, which is completely failing to address the root causes of their behavior, and try and have interventions that can actually break them out of the cycle. Let’s take that in contrast to the rest of our criminal justice system right now. The King County jail, today, is filled with misdemeanant defendants who who are struggling with substance use disorder, many of whom have mental illness, and most of whom are also homeless. We are doing nothing at the misdemeanor level to effectively intervene to break them out of the cycle. We know that incarceration alone as a strategy to change their behavior does not work. We know that not incarcerating them, not taking any action, does not change behavior. So we need to radically rethink what we’re doing to come up with new solutions to intervene, and LEAD is one fantastic example of that strategy, which is, get them at the front end. Get them out of the criminal justice system and intervene with significant behavioral health interventions.

ECB: As I recall, you’ve said before that we need to prosecute drug offenders more, and argued that we’ve effectively legalized heroin in Seattle. Can you speak to that?

SL: Just as a fact right now, the city makes very few drug arrests and our filing standards related to drug arrests are fairly low, so almost no one in the city is being prosecuted for simple possession of heroin or crack or anything else. And I’m okay with that. But if we are going to make that policy decision, then we also have to figure out what are the ways we address actually changing their behavior. When you look at crime maps of Seattle, there is an absolute correlation between where we have major hubs of drug activity—open-air drug markets—and where we have the most criminal activity, from car prowl to burglary to assaults to shootings. So we can say we’re not going to arrest somebody for possession of heroin, and I think that’s right, but at the same time we’re arresting them for property crimes where the underlying root cause of why they’re engaging in property crimes is because they have a heroin addiction. So we’re still interfacing with the same crowd through our criminal justice system, we’re just doing it through different mechanisms. And what hasn’t’ changed, and what’s very frustrating to me, is that our criminal justice systems at the misdemeanor level, but also at the felony level, have not really reoriented or adjusted to focus on public health solutions to these public safety challenges. That is, you have to address the substance use if you’re going to break the cycle of the behavior, and if you’re going to address the substance use, you have to address the homelessness.

Literally right now, just based on King County jail data for repeat offenders in the municipal system, we know that 60-plus percent of them are struggling with substance use disorders. And I swear that that is a significant underreporting, because there are a whole bunch of incentives not to admit to your substance use issues during intake into King County Jail. If you ask SPD about, say, property crime in the north end, they will say that it would be difficult to find one person among 300 [for whom] the underlying cause of their criminal behavior was not a heroin addiction. They would say easily 99 percent if not 100 percent.

ECB: So what’s your policy solution for those problems?

SL: The radical rethink here is to, in effect, focus intense resources through both diversion and/or using the criminal justice system to get people who are struggling with substance use disorders and homelessness the actual help and solutions they need. So how do we do that? One, citywide expansion of LEAD. Two is, we actually need to get defendants who are in the King County Jail the drug treatment that they need, and then when they’re exiting that system, they need to exit into something that is not just reentry back into the system. Right now, our system takes them in, holds them in for a few days, spits them out, waits for them not to show up back in court, and then issues a bench warrant for them. And that goes on and on and on until they have lots of outstanding bench warrants and are never getting the treatment that they need. We need buprenorphine induction available on demand to anybody who wants it in the King County Jail. And then next, we need to make sure that they’re not exiting straight back in to homelessness. And then a third part of the reform piece is simply bail reform. Our system right now is still a money-based bail system. That doesn’t make sense when most of our misdemeanor defendants—non-DUI, non-domestic violence misdemeanor —are impoverished and/or homeless and don’t have the resources to be able to work t through our bail system.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Pete Holmes’ history as an advocate for police reform going back to his days on the police review board in the mid-2000s. He was an early leader. And I also have a lot of respect for the approach he took in insisting on the consent decree as the model for achieving police reform here in Seattle. But Holmes disappeared for a long time from the kind of heart of the discussion, [including] police reform, the consent decree, and the larger civilian oversight and [Community Police Commission] discussion. And when he was absent from those, that’s when I was right in the middle of it as special assistant for police reform to the mayor,  working sometimes until 1 in the morning with CPC leaders, with Lisa Daugaard, with the ACLU, with Harriett, with many others. We hammered out some really significant civil oversight legislative proposals and a detailed plan, and at that point, Holmes came back in and he decided that he wanted  to redo that process, and they started over, and here we are a year and a half later and we’re basically at the same point where we were when I departed. And I departed from this issue because after negotiating in good faith for a year and a half with the CPC, I felt that the rug was being pulled out from beneath us. From my perspective, speaking separately from the mayor’s office, I thought it was particularly unfair for him to have been absent from much of the hard work of those discussions and then come back in and say, ‘Let’s start over and I am going to run a new process and that process is going to look like this.’  I thought that rhere were ways to get to the result that we’re at today faster, and frankly, I think if you go and ask the CPC members—Lisa and Harriett are only two, but I think there are plenty of others—there’s a lot of frustration with the way that Holmes has actually handled police reform over the last two years.

Morning Crank: An Insurmountable Impact to Quality of Life

1. The King County Regional Policy Committee, which includes members of the Seattle City Council and King County Council as well as several suburban mayors, voted yesterday to move a proposal to renew and expand the King County Veterans and Human Services levy (now known as the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy) one step closer to the November ballot. The committee debated, but didn’t take a position on, the size of the levy, which under a proposal by King County Executive Dow Constantine would increase from five to 12 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Kent Mayor Suzette Cook, a member of the Sound Cities Association of suburban cities, proposed reducing the renewal measure from 12 cents to 10, while advocates for seniors and people with criminal convictions in the audience advocated an increase to 15, which would represent a tripling of the levy.

The testimony, which stretched more than an hour, whipsawed between senior citizens praising Constantine for including seniors in his proposal, and advocates for active drug users and people with criminal convictions asking the committee to add programs that provide housing for those hard-to-house groups to the levy. Not This Time founder Andre Taylor’s testimony about being unable to rent an apartment in Seattle because of a conviction 20 years ago was followed moments later by an advocate for senior citizens who are losing their sight. Although both groups wore green scarves to symbolize their support for increasing the levy, those who supported housing for people with criminal convictions and active drug users hung an additional symbol—an orange strip of fabric—around their necks; none of the people wearing green scarves spoke in favor of the proposal, possibly because housing senior citizens is much less contentious than housing active drug users and people with criminal convictions.

“Everybody lives somewhere,” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said. “If it is on the street and in public, in our cities and in unincorporated King County, that is an insurmountable impact to quality of life,” both for people who can’t find housing and people who encounter them on the street. Most housing for people with substance use disorders require total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, which gets the equation exactly backward; for people living on the street, getting clean and sober can be an insurmountable challenge, but harm-reduction studies have shown consistently that people’s quality of life improves once they have housing, even if they keep using drugs or alcohol.

The levy proposal now heads to the county council, which will send a final version back to the committee by July.

2. In response to news that billionaire investor and Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, a key player in the Oak View Group of investors that Mayor Ed Murray recently selected to rebuild Key Arena, had resigned from the board of Uber after making sexist comments, Murray said yesterday, “businesses that wish to partner with the City of Seattle must share our values of equity and inclusion. Because of the negative impact of attitudes and comments like these, we will engage with Oak View Group during our negotiation to ensure our partnership is built on and reflective of Seattle’s values.” Asked what form that “engagement” will take, mayoral spokesman Benton Strong said that was “being discussed.”

3. Former 46th District state Rep. Jessyn Farrell won the straw poll and went home with a slightly crumpled straw cowboy hat at conclusion of the the 34th District Democrats’ mayoral forum in West Seattle last night, after two rounds of questions that initially winnowed ten candidates (including unfamiliar faces like SPD officer James Norton and business consultant Tinell Cato) down to three familiar ones (former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, vFarrell, and current 11th District state Sen. Bob Hasegawa), then two (Farrell and Hasegawa) then one.

A few things I heard last night, in no particular order:

Michael Harris, TV producer and tailored-suit aficionado, on what he’d bring to the table as mayor: “The ethic that I’ve learned as an ABC producer is that I get I there and immerse.”

Mike McGinn, former mayor: “We tax regressively. We need to spend progressively. I would hold the line on sales taxes and property taxes.”

Jenny Durkan, on the need to keep Seattle’s neighborhoods unique in the future: “If you held a gun to some people’s heads and said, ‘You have to move from West Seattle to Capitol Hill,’ they would say, ‘No way.'”

Jessyn Farrell, on her solution for “food deserts” like Delridge, where grocery stores are few and far between: “There’s a real role for government to step in. By using incentives and disincentives we can foster more small businesses and [reduce] barriers. We could be asking grocery stores to do more when we’re granting permits.”

Hasegawa, same question: “I’m all for supporting mom and pop grocery stores to start up in the neighborhoods, but the easier way is to really build out our transit system so people can get where they want to go easily.”

Hasegawa, on how he would pay for that: “A municipal bank.”

Hasegawa, asked whether he would prefer to have lots of homeless children or lots of homeless single men. “I’m a politician, I guess we’ll work through [the question.]” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

Jenny Durkan, on whether it’s appropriate for schools to employ uniformed SPD officers  as “community resource officers”: “One of things we found out from SPD’s own data  is that 75 percent of the time, when an officer used force, it was either someone in a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

McGinn, on whether he supports or opposes the soda tax that just passed (everyone else held up their “no” signs): ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Everybody, on whether the city should annex North Highline, an unincorporated area near White Center: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

The 34th District Democrats did not make a formal endorsement last night.

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.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Jenny Durkan

Image result for jenny durkan

via Twitter @jennydurkan

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.

Note: This post has been edited to reflect that Bertha Knight Landes was elected, not appointed, to a two-year term; she was defeated in her reelection bid by a politically unknown man. No other woman has ever been elected mayor of Seattle.

Former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, if elected, will be the first woman elected mayor to a full four-year term in Seattle’s history as well as the first lesbian mayor (Bertha Knight Landes was elected and served for two years nearly a century ago). But ask anyone who pays attention to local politics to describe her in a couple of words and they’ll likely say, “Establishment candidate,” or perhaps, “Ed Murray 2.0.”

Durkan, an early Obama appointee whose work on police accountability helped lead to a Justice Department investigation into allegations of biased policing and excessive use of force at the Seattle Police Department, has a long history of fighting for civil rights and police reform at the federal level. She also has a reputation for being tough on crime, as the attorney who shut down the Colucurcio crime family in Seattle and prosecuted Ahmed Ressam, the wannabe terrorist who trained in Afghanistan and crossed the Canada-US border with materials for a suitcase bomb in 1999. But it’s her status as a member of a wealthy and influential family of Democratic Party players that has earned her the “establishment” label, along with an endorsement from the political arm of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce and a platform that tracks the current mayor’s positions on issues like homelessness, density, and the legality of a city income tax.

I sat down with Durkan last week at Voxx Coffee in downtown Seattle.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: You mentioned at a recent forum that you agreed with Murray’s decision, early in the process of proposing the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, to pull back on allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones. You also suggested there should have been more neighborhood input into the final HALA package. What do you think the mayor got right and wrong about HALA?

Jenny Durkan [JD]: I think he landed in mostly the right spot. I think he was dealing with some pretty strong competing interests—from people who wanted affordable housing to people who wanted to keep the neighborhoods the same to developers who said, ‘I have an economic reality myself,’ and I think they struck a pretty good balance. I think the mayor’s decision to pull back that portion of the plan that would have allowed the duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones was the right decision, from a purely political, pragmatic standpoint.

“If people believe in something here in Seattle, we’ll put our money where our mouth is. But the obligation you have as an elected leader is to make sure that you honor that trust, because you want to be able to go back to them and say, ‘You gave us this money for this purpose. Here’s what we’ve done with it.'”

ECB: If the goal was to get more neighborhood buy-in on HALA, it didn’t work—the same people who opposed the plan then seem to all still oppose it now.

JD: That’s true. But I think you could have seen the whole thing unwound. I don’t think you’d have the agreement and the upzones that are going to provide and bring online tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing and create a public fund of additional money that we can use for that purpose.  I think it very well could have come unwound and the whole thing would have been gutted, and once you pull that thread and unwind it, you’re back to a process that’s going to last years. We can’t wait years for housing. We just can’t.

ECB: Former mayor Mike McGinn has repeatedly implied that Murray has been profligate with spending on new initiatives during his term, and that the level of spending the city has been doing during the boom may not be sustainable in a downturn. What do you think of that critique—has Murray been a spendthrift?

JD: Here’s what I think is going to be critically important for the new mayor coming in. There has got to be a scrub of where we are in each one of these large levies, some of which are expiring, some of which aren’t, to make sure that we can account for how the money is being spent. I’ve lived in this town for a very long time—I was born and raised here—and I’ve seen many economic downturns. One will happen. And what happens in boom times in Seattle is, people tax themselves. Government starts trying to figure out, how can we push parts of the budget to other areas, and offload what you would normally consider operational costs that a city would do with its core resources into one-time funding.

“What I hear everywhere I go is people want to know, what’s the plan [for homelessness]? I think the city gets  in its bunker sometimes and doesn’t communicate loudly or clearly enough to the public at large what the plan is and how it’s going to be measured.”

ECB: Can you give a couple of examples?

JD: Road maintenance. Are we paying for what we’re supposed to be paying for out of the [Move Seattle] levy that we passed [in 2015]? Are we paying for regular maintenance projects that should be coming out of of the general fund? I’m not saying that is what’s happening. but I know what government does is, you start thinking, ‘I need more money today for homeless  encampments—where am I going to get it from?’ You’ve got to know what’s there. You’ve got to understand what budgeting mechanisms have been used to carry various parts of the city forward and which of those are sustainable and which of those will expire, and if they expire, how much is it going to cut into your central mission? We have a bunch of big and important levies that are going to start expiring, and the needs haven’t gotten less. They’ve gotten more. But there’s only so much capacity you can have to tax people and to spend it efficiently.

ECB: And yet, as long as I’ve been in Seattle, through downturns and boom times, we’ve always been willing to tax ourselves to pay for our priorities.

JD: I think we’re one of the most generous cities, because if people believe in something here in Seattle, we’ll put our money where our mouth is. But the obligation you have as an elected leader is to make sure that you honor that trust, because you want to be able to go back to them and say, ‘You gave us this money for this purpose. Here’s what we’ve done with it.’ In this region, we’re so lucky, because if people feel like you’re using the money for what you said you were going to use it for, and they can see results, they’ll keep giving you the green light.

ECB: I think one frustration you’re seeing right now is that people feel like they can’t see the results on homelessness, because it’s getting worse. What approach would you take to produce results that would be visible and measurable?

JD: The first thing you have to do is, you have to have an honest and open plan that includes making sure that the service providers are brought to [meet] the current needs of the homeless community and not the needs of 10 or 15 years ago. We have to continue to demand that they meet the standards that we’re setting and that they’re in alignment with not just providing short-term emergency shelter, but that we actually have a path to providing homes.

What I hear everywhere I go is people want to know, what’s the plan? I think the city gets  in its bunker sometimes and doesn’t communicate loudly or clearly enough to the public at large what the plan is and how it’s going to be measured. And so I think you have to do that. I think you have to sit down with people, and the next mayor has to come in and say, Where’s our pathway? Now, what are our conclusions? And lay out very clearly, Here’s our framework. Here’s what we’re going to do for these various populations. And make it a strong collaborative effort not just in Seattle, but regionally, because you can’t solve this problem just at the borders of the city.

“It makes no sense that we can have a site where we can have someone come in for a needle exchange, and you hand them the clean needle and you say, ‘Okay, go to the alley. Go to the park. Go to the street where you might OD and die in the middle of the night.’ And you have no access to health care treatment services or even someone to talk to.”

ECB: Since you consider homelessness a regional problem, do you support the regional sales tax that’s supposed to be on the ballot in 2018?

JD: It hasn’t been proposed yet. I support the concept and the need for regional solutions, and I want to look clearly at what is going to be proposed.

ECB: You’ve said that in the Trump era, cities are going to have to figure out how to have local policies that reflect our values, and a local tax to address homelessness would seem to fit right into that.

JD: I think it’s a likely solution. But if you read the Poppe Report, in one reading, it says we have the resources we need—we just don’t have them arrayed in the right direction. But if you listen to people, not just here in Seattle but in the surrounding areas, it’s clear that if we have them, they’re not being utilized on a regional basis. So I think it’s possible that we need more resources, but I think we always jump to, ‘We need to support a tax.’

ECB: Barb Poppe has said herself that she thinks we need to spend more on our response to homelessness. And her report was talking mostly about shelter—the contention was that Seattle could get everybody under some kind of roof for the night, not that we could provide permanent housing for everyone without additional funds.

JD: Correct. And then you have the big component that’s not accounted for, which is mental health treatment dollars and addiction treatment, because you never will come close to addressing this need if you don’t have resources there. As you know, most of the money for treatment flows through the county and the shelter money flows through the city, and there’s never been a coordinated response to say, ‘Okay, what are we getting from that stream of money, and what more do we need to do to provide meaningful treatment and what are the other places where you can intercede?’ I think there could be much greater coordination between the city and the county. Because there are pretty clear and established pathways to homelessness and we have to have a holistic view in terms of not just getting people off the streets but preventing them from ending up there in the first instance.

“A friend that I’ve known for 20, 30 years—he’s a guy who’s on his feet 10 hours a day, working, working, working—finally was able to buy a duplex down in Georgetown four years ago, and for him, these laws had a huge impact.”

ECB: What would that holistic view include? Access to treatment on demand, including rehab? Because that gets very expensive very quickly.

JD: It’s very expensive. That’s why I say we as a society do not spend enough money on mental health services and addiction treatment. If you’re a poor person who has a problem with addiction, your ability to get meaningful treatment or access to treatment is marginal at best. One of the reasons our opiate addition problem has increased so much is that there just aren’t the [treatment] alternatives, and there are a lot of other barriers. Opioid addiction is one of the hardest addictions to really treat. Someone can start treatment, and they’ll drop out. And they’ll start again, and they’ll drop out. It take several efforts, usually, to keep anyone in any kind of sustained sobriety. And so we really suffer as a society, because we treat addiction as a moral failing or a personal failing. It’s not. It’s a health care problem, and it is one of the most misunderstood health care problems that we have in our society. There are so many other problems we have that we end, as taxpayers, paying for, so it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

ECB: Do you support the idea of a supervised drug-consumption site?

JD: Here’s what I think. We have a huge injectable heroin problem in this city. You go to any city park, alley, street, or neighborhood in any part of the city and you can see that it’s there. The battle and the discussions we’re having now almost mirror exactly the debates around safe needle sites. I mean it is the same arguments: ‘Its legitimizes heroin.’ ‘It’s saying it’s okay to shoot up.’ It’s not. It was harm reduction and this is a harm reduction measure now. It makes no sense that we can have a site where we can have someone come in for a needle exchange, and you hand them the clean needle and you say, ‘Okay, go to the alley. Go to the park. Go to the street where you might OD and die in the middle of the night.’ And you have no access to health care treatment services or even someone to talk to. It is not a solution standing by itself, but I think it is part of a humane health care solution for dealing with a very real problem.

ECB: To take that example one step further, Vancouver is experimenting with providing heroin to some people with opiate addiction, which also reduces the risk of overdose from synthetic adulterants like fentanyl. Should we try that here?

JD: I don’t think a city can do that. I think you would just end up shutting down your possibility of having a health care solution. But what we do need to have is more access to methadone, to bupe [buprenorphine, a drug that reduces cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms] , and to Narcan [an overdose-reversal drug] in every facility. One of the things that was said [at a community forum] last night that I think is true is that Narcan is kind of like the CPR of today. We’ve done a good job of distributing it to our first responders but we need to think about what are other places where we need to have that available and making sure people know how to use it. One of the [positive] things about having a monitored consumption site is that there is a health care professional on site who can make sure that someone doesn’t die, and who can give them information about treatment alternatives.

ECB: You said recently that you’re skeptical that a citywide income tax would be legal. Can you elaborate on why you think it might not be, and would you pursue it further if elected?

JD: If I could wave my wand, we would have a statewide income tax tomorrow.

ECB: OK, you don’t have a wand.

JD: Nobody does, but that’s what they’re trying to do, is wave a wand.

Look: I think if there’s a time to make s test case, now’s the time to do it. I am not persuaded that the legal landscape has changed. You have two barriers. The first is the RCW, the state law that prohibits cities from establishing an income tax. Then you have the state constitution, and in multiple cases, the [Washington State] Supreme Court has held that an income tax is unconstitutional. People think the makeup of our state Supreme Court might change that second outcome, but you still have to get around the first one. I’m skeptical that it will meet the legal test. I’m not skeptical that we need different kinds of funding. We cannot continue as a city, region, or state to fund the things we need to fund on the tax system we have in place.

ECB: Some landlords have claimed that new renter protections, which bar landlords from refusing to rent to people because of their source of income and provide more time for tenants to pay all the up-front expenses of moving in to a new apartment, will put them out of business. Do you support those tenant protections?

JD: On [Section 8 housing voucher discrimination, you absoluately shouldn’t be able to do it. If a person otherwise is a suitable tenant, the fact that you wouldn’t take them because they’re poor is wrong.

On some of the other tenant protections, I think that these issues are real. There are incredible barriers for renters. But I also think we have to look at the landlords. A friend that I’ve known for 20, 30 years—he’s a guy who’s on his feet 10 hours a day, working, working, working—finally was able to buy a duplex down in Georgetown four years ago, and for him, these laws had a huge impact. He does okay, but it’s also his retirement [income]. What if you rent to someone and they don’t have to [immediately] come up with a security deposit, and they trash it in that first 30 days and leave? You then have nothing to fix it with. If you’re just a person who’s renting out the other side of your duplex, you feel lot more than the large property owner.

So seeing what the impacts are on these landlords and listening to them is going to be important to make sure that there aren’t these unintended consequences. There’s now becoming a gray market, where people just won’t post [rental listings], and they’ll only [rent] to people they know, and that’s going to shrink available stock too. So I think you have to look at what it’s doing to the market, what it’s doing to the small owners. But the concept of making rental housing affordable for people—absolutely.

 

The New Homelessness Count Numbers Are Bad. But What Do They Tell Us?

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!

The latest homelessness count is out, the numbers are (as expected) bad—although the methodology this year is different, making direct comparisons somewhat dicey, the total number of homeless King County residents is up, and more people are living on Seattle and King County streets unsheltered than in any previous count.

But what does the King County Point-In-Time Count (formerly known as the One Night Count) reveal about our county’s population? What does it say about how well our efforts to address the homelessness crisis are working? And what conclusions can we draw from its findings, which show progress on some fronts but stagnation on others? And finally, how much do the numbers give a true picture of the crisis—and what do they obscure?

First, the numbers. The PIT count, which was conducted for King County’s coordinating agency for homeless services, All Home, by the California Company Applied Survey Research at a cost of $120,000, found 11,643 people living in shelters, on the streets, or in transitional housing across King County; of those, 5,845 were living unsheltered—on the streets, in vehicles, in tents, or in abandoned buildings. In Seattle, those numbers were 3,857 and 4,665, respectively. Last year’s count found 4,505 people living unsheltered in King County, and 2,942 in Seattle, although All Home director Mark Putnam pointed out yesterday that the different methodology the two counts used make  a side-by-side comparison difficult.

“We think we did a better job this year of counting,” Putnam said. “We saw more people counted in some of the encampments, because last year we did not count in the Duwamish Greenbelt, or ‘the Jungle,’ and we were out in Covington and all over the county counting.” Previous counts, which were done by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, zeroed in on areas where people were known to be living unsheltered, rather than surveying every single one of the county’s 398 Census districts (Putnam said this year’s count got to 396 of them). Surveying Southeast King County—a vast geographic areas that includes Covington, Black Diamond, and Enumclaw—added 70 people to the unsheltered count, and including Northeast King County, an even larger area encompassing towns like North Bend, Issaquah, and Sammamish, added 119 people. All told, counting the largely unincorporated far eastern portion of the county contributed about 2 percent to the total unsheltered homeless population count.

This year’s count also used paid “guides”—people who were previously homeless and were familiar with the areas they were surveying—to assist volunteers in getting an accurate count. (Skeptics of the new methodology noted that parts of Seattle had fewer people counting this year, and pointed out that some areas were counted by car, rather than on foot, which could have skewed the count. The previous methodology also included survey data, although it was compiled by shelter and transitional housing staff, not a survey company. Critics—like Real Change vendor and board member Shelly Cohen, who testified yesterday at a joint city-county briefing on the numbers—have also argued that All Home should have released the raw count data as soon as they knew the numbers back in January, instead of waiting four months to analyze the data; “you don’t need all the fancy details” to release the preliminary numbers, Cohen said. Putnam responded to such criticism yesterday by noting that other communities that have used similar methodology have yet to release their own detailed homeless data from counts that were also performed in January).

Another difference this year is that ASR interviewed a sample of the county’s homeless population to get a sense of their demographics, including race, sexual orientation, and the reasons they became homeless. The survey also asked people who said they slept in vehicles or tents how many people they lived with, producing a set of multipliers (for example, 1.3 people per tent, or 1.4 per car) that replaced the old multiplier of 2; a lower multiplier, obviously, yields a lower estimate for people living in cars, tents, RVs, vans, and abandoned buildings than a higher one does, which could indicate that the actual number of people living unsheltered has gone up even more precipitously than this year’s numbers indicate.

ASR’s survey for King County largely mirrors the findings of a similar, but separate, survey the company performed for the city of Seattle earlier this year. The new survey, which duplicates the company’s previous efforts and expands them to include the rest of the county, once again punctures several myths about King County’s homeless population. The vast majority (77 percent) were living in permanent housing in King County when they became homeless, and just 9 percent became homeless out of state before moving to King County. Fifty-seven percent have lived in King County for five years or more. People of color are overrepresented in the homeless population, with 55 percent identifying as people of color, and a large number of homeless youth (28 percent) identified as LGBTQ, compared to 14 percent in the rest of the homeless population.

Forty percent of the respondents to ASR’s survey reported a history of domestic violence, including 7 percent who said they were currently in an abusive relationship. Nineteen percent reported a history of foster care. Half said they had at least one physical disability or disabling behavioral health condition, such as psychiatric or emotional conditions (45 percent), drug or alcohol abuse (36 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (34 percent).

Forty percent of the respondents to ASR’s survey reported a history of domestic violence, including 7 percent who said they were currently in an abusive relationship. Nineteen percent reported a history of foster care. Half said they had at least one physical disability or disabling behavioral health condition, such as psychiatric or emotional conditions (45 percent), drug or alcohol abuse (36 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (34 percent). About 29 percent were employed full-time, part-time, or seasonally, and about 37 percent of those who were unemployed said they had had a job within the last six months.

At a briefing yesterday on the numbers, Putnam, Seattle Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester, and King County Community and Human Services Adrienne Quinn touted the sharp reduction in family homelessness—according to the count, just 3 percent of the county’s unsheltered homeless population consisted of families with children, the result, Quinn said, of “a significant community-wide effort to make sure that no family in this community is unsheltered.” Amazon, for example, recently announced plans to provide Mary’s Place Family Shelter a permanent shelter for 200 homeless women, children, and families on its campus. Similarly, Putnam said yesterday, “All the increase in permanent housing … was on the family side.”

HSD Director Catherine Lester, All Home director Mark Putnam, King County department of Community and Human Services director Adrienne Quinn

But siting shelters for homeless men, who make up almost two-thirds (62 percent) of the county’s homeless population and 71 percent of the chronically homeless population, defined as those who have been homeless for a year or longer, who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years, and who have a condition that prevents them from maintaining work or housing. These men, Quinn noted, are the hardest and most controversial group to house. Housed people are generally fine living next to women with babies, but when the county wants to site a shelter for single men, “we get pushback [and] it becomes a highly controversial issue.”

“We have tried to site those facilities, and we do have a number of them, but this is where a broader community effort could really facilitate getting people indoors and stabilizing people and helping them to connect with the services that they need,” Quinn said. “We’ve put an ask out to the business community to say, are there spaces we could convert to single adult shelters, particularly in non-residential areas?” So far, the business community has not responded.

“Permanent,” Putnam told me, means that you’ve signed a lease in your own name—not that you’re able to maintain it. In other words, people who are cut off from rapid rehousing vouchers—which happens, Putnam said, after an average of five months—could be almost anywhere.

Another qualified success has been in the area of rapid rehousing—the strategy of giving homeless people short-term vouchers for privately owned apartments with the expectation that they will make enough money to pay full market rent within a few months. Yesterday, Putnam touted the success of the county’s current rapid rehousing programs—of those who sign up for the program, he said, 61 percent are able to find housing within four months, and 95 percent “are in permanent housing” after their subsidy ends—but those numbers require some parsing.

First, 61 percent after four months means that people are remaining homeless for four months before signing up for a housing voucher—and that one in four aren’t getting housing through the program at all.

Second, about that 95 percent success rate: It took some prodding, but eventually, both Putnam and Quinn acknowledged that when they say people in the program were able to stay in “permanent” housing, they don’t actually know how long any of the people in the county’s rapid rehousing programs were able to maintain housing, because no one tracks that data. “Permanent,” Putnam told me, means that you’ve signed a lease in your own name—not that you’re able to maintain it. In other words, people who are cut off from rapid rehousing vouchers—which happens, Putnam said, after an average of five months—could be almost anywhere.

“We track returns to homelessness,” Quinn said, but that only counts people who reenter the county’s formal homelessness system—which means it may not account for most who have been evicted, broken their lease, or ended up couch-surfing, living with family,  or homeless in a different jurisdiction. Sleeping on a friend’s couch is undoubtedly better than sleeping in a doorway, but it isn’t “permanent housing” by any stretch. Quinn said the county simply doesn’t “have the evaluation dollars to track them long-term. We do have some studies that we’re doing with the Gates Foundation” that will provide more clarity on where voucher recipients end up, “but those studies are very expensive,” she says.

Ultimately, the agencies acknowledged, the problem comes down to the lack of affordable housing in King County; indeed, 92 percent of survey respondents said they would move into housing immediately if it was affordable and available, and 23 percent said they became homeless because of issues related to housing affordability. And even as the county continues to spend tens of millions of dollars a year on homelessness, the problem keeps getting worse—Quinn said yesterday that about 40 percent of the people counted in this year’s number were newly homeless. “We saw many people really needing rental assistance rents [as] rose in King County,” Quinn said. “We need more housing that people can afford. That’s the crux of the issue.”

Seattle Goes All In on Rapid Rehousing. D.C. Already Tried That. Here’s What Happened.

Since declaring a homelessness emergency in 2015, the city of Seattle has gone all-in on an a set of recommendations based on a report by Ohio homelessness consultant Barb Poppe called Pathways Home. The strategy, based on the laudable principle that people need housing before they can deal effectively with the other problems that may be keeping them homeless, relies heavily on so-called rapid rehousing—rental assistance vouchers that help formerly homeless people rent market-rate apartments. The idea is to give individuals and families some time to stabilize and, if necessary, find employment before releasing them into the regular rental market. The strategy has been successful at reducing homelessness in other cities, like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Houston, and those successes have frequently been cited as evidence that rapid rehousing can work in Seattle, too.

Critics, including this blog, have pointed out that Seattle is different from those cities in one key respect: Rents here are a lot higher—about double—what they are in Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City If the city provides a voucher for a four-person family to live in an typical $2,700-dollar two-bedroom Seattle apartment, and that family is earning $500 a month when they move in, that means their total income will have to rise by $8,500 a month for that apartment to be affordable under federal affordability guidelines, which stipulate that tenants should pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Or let’s assume a much cheaper, smaller apartment—say, a $1,500 one-bedroom, shared by that same four-person family—and change the definition of “affordable” to assume that family will pay 40 percent of their income on rent, their income would still have to rise by $3,250 a month to pay the full rent when their voucher runs its course in three, six, or 12 months.

Looking at those numbers, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to conclude that many of those new renters, still getting their feet under them after weeks, months, or years on the streets, would end up homeless again once their vouchers expired. And in at least one city with housing prices very similar to Seattle, that’s exactly what has happened. A new report by the D.C.-based Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, “Set Up to Fail: Rapid Rehousing in the District of Columbia,” concludes that D.C.’s $31 million-a-year experiment in rapid rehousing has failed. The program, which provided up to 12 months of rental assistance to formerly homeless families, left many families worse off than they were before they entered the program. Although D.C. says the program has an 85 percent success rate, the study’s author, attorney Max Tipping, says that number is illusory—all it indicates is that only 15 percent of the program participants have ended up in D.C. homeless shelters, and does not account for whether clients were evicted, ended up living with friends or family, moved into their vehicles, or ended up homeless in another area.

The problem, not surprisingly, is that families that start out with almost no income are usually unable to start making enough to afford market rents within even 12 months, especially in a very high-cost area like D.C. On average, the report concludes, only about 10 percent of families in the D.C. program increased their income at all—by an average of $68 a month. The result was that families in the program only had enough income, on average, to cover 40 percent of the market rent when their subsidies expired.  Tipping calls this the “rapid rehousing cliff”—the point when a rapid rehousing subsidy ends and a family is left unable to fend for themselves.  “After being  terminated from rapid re-housing, many return to homelessness, now with an eviction or rental debt on their record,” the report concludes.

D.C. and Seattle’s housing prices are roughly comparable; according to the tracking website Rentjungle,  the average two-bedroom in the District is $2,741 a month (compared to $2,734 in Seattle) the average one-bedroom, $2,081 (compared to $2,004 in Seattle).

“The unfortunate reality is that temporary housing subsidies are not a solution to family homelessness in the District’s expensive housing market. The math simply does not add up,” the report concludes.

As Seattle moves toward requiring that homeless service providers follow a rapid-rehousing model, and the dollars the city spends on combating homelessness shift toward temporary vouchers and away from more expensive transitional housing, program planners will encounter many of the same challenges as Washington, D.C., such as the need for more intensive case management, attempts by landlords to abuse the system, and the potential that short-term vouchers will exacerbate segregation. Many of those problems are solvable through targeted spending and regulations. But one factor that’s unlikely to change is Seattle’s rental market, which, like D.C.’s, grows less affordable every year. Perhaps one of the lessons for Seattle is that we shouldn’t divest from long-term housing assistance and permanently affordable housing until we’re sure that the short-term “hand-up” programs we’re relying on to reduce homelessness don’t leave families worse off.

(Seattle Human Services Department spokeswoman Meg Olberding said HSD director Catherine Lester was aware of the D.C. report, but “has not had time to read” it.)

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: What Socialist?

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!

1. One name that won’t be on the long list of those running for mayor when the window for candidates to file for Seattle offices this year closes at 4:00 this afternoon is city council member Lorena Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez would have been giving up her council seat by running for mayor, since both offices are on the ballot this year, she had decided to take the risk as recently as last Friday—until she failed to secure a key endorsement, sources close to the council member say. On Tuesday, she announced she wasn’t running.

That key endorsement? US Congresswoman (and former state senator) Pramila Jayapal, who was the executive director of immigrant rights group OneAmerica when Gonzalez was its board chair. Jayapal’s decision not to endorse Gonzalez reads like a major snub not just because Jayapal supported Gonzalez when she first ran for city council in 2015, but because Gonzalez reversed her own endorsement of Brady Walkinshaw, who, like Gonzalez, is Latinx, to support Jayapal when she ran for Congress after Jayapal accused Walkinshaw of running ads she said were racist and sexist. After sticking her neck out for her former OneAmerica colleague and longtime political ally, Gonzalez might have understandably expected Jayapal to return the favor. Jayapal has not made any endorsement in the mayor’s race so far.

2. Speaking of erstwhile political allies, the King County Labor Council’s secretary/treasurer Nicole Grant sent out a harshly worded statement earlier this week denouncing socialist city council member Kshama Sawant for endorsing former Tenants Union director Jon Grant, and excoriating him for being a “phony” who advocated for low-income people harmed by the foreclosure crisis while living in a foreclosed house purchased for him by his parents. (Jon Grant has said he is paying the mortgage himself). Nicole Grant is a supporter of Teresa Mosqueda, a longtime labor lobbyist in Olympia who is running for the same Position 8 council seat Jon Grant is seeking. The Sawant endorsement is especially painful, Nicole Grant says, because she considered Sawant a strong labor ally; Nicole Grant even helped swear Sawant in after her election in 2013.

Nicole Grant says that as a woman of color, a labor leader, and a renter struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable city, Mosqueda “represents what workers see in themselves when they look in the mirror. And all of a sudden, a coalition partner [Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party] that we’ve worked on many different issues with is like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go with the socialist. And we’re like, ‘What socialist? Who are you talking about?’ And they say, ‘Jon Grant,’  and [my reaction is] just, ‘What?'”

“It’s hard when you support someone with real passion and real consistency, and then you ask them to support you and they don’t. That is not a great feeling,” Nicole Grant says. “When [Sawant ran] and Socialist Alternative needed labor to support her, labor was there. … So when the labor movement has an incredible candidate emerging and it’s not good enough for them that she’s a union member, that she’s a working class leader, that she’s a woman of color, that her record is strong—when they’re just like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t say “socialist” behind her name, sorry’—it’s outrageous. Because it’s not reciprocal.”

Nicole Grant criticizes Jon Grant’s leadership of the Tenants Union—”I feel like we’re spiraling into the abyss and our’e the one with the steering wheel in your hand”—but her major critique is that Jon Grant doesn’t acknowledge the privilege that enabled him to spend years building his resume at low-paying nonprofit and campaign jobs and that allows him to campaign full-time now. “Jon comes from the privilege machine—he is fired in the kiln of privilege,” Nicole Grant says. “Bainbridge Island, all the best private schools—for him to be like, ‘Oh, I’m a socialist’—it’s like, ‘No, dude, you’re slumming.'”

Of the credible candidates in the Position 8 race, Jon Grant is the only white man. Nicole Grant says it shows. “At a forum, he made some comment like, ‘I’m seeing a lot of experience [on Mosqueda’s resume] but I don’t see any ideas here. That is just such a classic. I don’t want to be like, ‘Okay, white man,’ but—okay, white man. I know that narrative. The woman does the work, the man has the ideas.” Nicole Grant points to Mosqueda’s work on public health, paid family leave, and wage equity legislation. “She’s the one that closes the deals,” she says.

Jon Grant and Mosqueda are widely viewed as the frontrunners in the race, which means that we could still be watching these issues play out throughout the summer and fall.

3. In response to a records request by The C Is for Crank, the city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services provided a complete list of expenses associated with the city’s emergency response to homelessness since February 21 of this year, when Mayor Ed Murray announced he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center in response to the homelessness crisis. (In practice, this means that representatives from various city departments meet at the EOC facility for two hours every morning to discuss and coordinate the city’s homelessness response.)

The two biggest costs so far have been construction of the Navigation Center, a planned (and delayed) low-barrier, 24/7 shelter for homeless individuals, and garbage pickup at unauthorized encampments. The city has spent $2,244,000 building the Center, and plans to spend another $1.3 million this year to operate the 100-bed shelter.  Garbage pickup has cost the city another $2,165,000, although most of that line item is labor from existing city staff who have been repurposed to administer, plan, and actually pick up the trash. The Navigation Team, an eight-member team that does outreach at encampments and conducts encampment sweeps, has cost the city $759,000 so far, including labor costs and overtime expenses for eight police officers and one sergeant. Three new authorized encampments have cost the city $201,000 to operate so far this year.

See the full list of the city’s homelessness-related expenses between February 21 and April 30, 2017, here. 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Mayor Ed Murray

Until a month ago, Mayor Ed Murray had what looked like a clear path to reelection. Critics from the left and right certainly assailed aspects of his record—his response to homelessness, his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the phased-in $15 minimum wage—but no credible candidates had stepped forward to challenge Murray on his record. And, it seemed, none would.

All that changed on April 6, when the Seattle Times broke the news that a 46-year-old man, later identified as Delvonn Heckard, had filed a civil lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him when Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his late 20s. In addition to Heckard, two other men had accused Murray previously of sexual misconduct, but neither pursued legal action and Murray vehemently denied their allegations; a fourth accuser stepped forward after Heckard filed his lawsuit. Initially, Murray seemed committed to staying in the race and trying to weather the allegations, but his  polling numbers  apparently suggested that the path to victory was not just narrow but nonexistent. Earlier this month, Murray supporters sought guidance from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission about the feasibility of creating a legal defense fund to help defray the costs of defending against the lawsuit.

I sat down with Murray in his campaign office last Friday. (Incidentally, as I was leaving, Martha Choe—a former council member for whom Murray was once a legislative aide—walked in. Choe, according to the Seattle Times, will oversee the defense fund if it is approved.) The purpose of the interview, at the time, was to talk about the campaign, Murray’s legacy, and whether there was a path to victory in spite of the scandal. But with the news today that Murray he will drop out of the race instead of seeking reelection, I’m highlighting the parts of our conversation that deal with Murray’s legacy—a legacy that has been sidelined, and perhaps made beside the point, by the shocking allegations against him.

ECB: How did the allegations against you sideline your agenda? 

EM: They have certainly made it harder.  But I work a lot, and I work all the time. I’ve had to work since I was 12 years old in one way or another—to buy school clothes, to pay for my dental work—so I just work a lot. I love this job, and yeah, it gets to be a strain, but man, we moved forward with a big announcement on homelessness with the Allen Foundation that we’d been working on for months, we continue to implement [the homelessness strategy] Pathways Home, we continue to work on the arena proposals, we’re doing HALA [the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], I’m doing Find It, Fix It walks. I’m going to be at something like 6 to 10 events this weekend, as I was last weekend.

ECB: Earlier this year, you announced the formation of a Navigation Team that is supposed to go out when the city clears an encampment and offers shelter and services to the people living there. In the absence of abundant affordable housing and accessible 24/7 shelter, though, it’s inevitable that the city will simply be pushing the majority of those people from place to place. Is there a point at which you would say, “stop the sweeps, it isn’t working”?  

“I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.”

EM: So first of all, we don’t do sweeps, and I would really encourage you to go back and look at when they used to just go in there, the sheriff and the police department, and just throw everybody out. As you know, the Navigation Teams are made up of folks that are police officers with deescalation training, an outreach worker who’s often a homeless person themselves, somebody with some medical skills, and others that may have addiction-related skills. So what we’ve done is, we have gone out there and tried to connect people with services. And what we have been told by these teams is, you know, you move someone three or four times, they eventually come in and say, ‘I want treatment.’ In fact, a woman I met the other day in one of the encampments, she said she broke her hip, and she decided she had been moved before and she didn’t want to be moved again. She took shelter. But it took moving her two or three times before we were able to get her to take [the shelter and services] she needed in the first place.

ECB: It seems to me that the problem isn’t so much that people refuse shelter, as that we don’t have actual housing and treatment beds for the people who are homeless or need addiction treatment.

EM: We don’t, but remember, I’m the guy who doubled the housing levy and tripled the number of affordable units that are being built. And that can’t be the end of it. My predecessor [McGinn] wasn’t able to get legal authorized encampments on public space; I did. We’re doing tiny houses in conjunction with nonprofits. We’re experimenting to see what we can do to stabilize people. So I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.

ECB: How many sanctioned encampments do you think we’ll ultimately need?

EM: I actually don’t know. The growth of homelessness up and down the I-5 corridor in Washington State has grown exponentially over the last year, and now we have cities up and down the corridor in Washington asking, ‘What are we going to do?’ You have parks being taken over in California and suburban cities. I think the answer is not how many tent cities do you set up or how many little houses do you build. I think we have to have a much more significant conversation about what we’re going to do about housing affordability in this country and how we’re, once again, going to have to subsidize at the federal level.

“We weren’t seeing the county step up, and we weren’t seeing the level of leadership on homelessness from the county. So that’s why we put it in our proposal. Now that will be in a county proposal that will be paid for by, hopefully, county and city residents. So I see us as benefiting from that situation.”

ECB: Do you still stand by the Poppe Report, even though it has been used by people who oppose new taxes as a political weapon to argue that we don’t need more money for homelessness?

EM: First of all, [homelessness consultant Barb Poppe] never said that. You know what she said about the levy I proposed? She said she would vote for it. She recognizes that Seattle does not have enough [housing] stock. We asked her to look at our existing services and our existing programs and how our existing services were funded. So we created a box to put her in, because we wanted to know how to reform what we have, and that’s exactly the report that she offered.

The city is going to stick with Pathways Home. Pathways Home identified housing early on. It identifies diversions before people even become homeless. It wasn’t especially strong on the addiction part, but the county knows this.

There are people, particularly in the business community, who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, according to Barb Poppe, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.

ECB: What are they missing?

EM: They’re missing the fact that the middle class in this country has shrunk considerably. They’re missing that literally two-thirds of the housing that allowed working families to live, that kind of money that used to come through HUD for working families—that money is gone. That we have an addiction treatment crisis that’s the largest, at least according to the New York Times, in our country’s history, and we are not treating it. We are not paying for it. That we have a mental health system that we took apart the old fashioned way and we replaced it with nothing. So that’s what we need to be looking at. Homelessness, actually, is a word that does more harm towards trying to solve the underlying problem than any other phrase I can think of because we have more than homelessness crisis.

ECB: Barb Poppe did sort of say that she doesn’t consider homelessness an affordability issue—that she thinks the main problem is just that we aren’t we’re allocating our services efficiently. Do you think it’s an affordability issue?

EM: I believe it is both an affordability issue and an issue about how we’re allocating our resources. Look at our shelter system. One of the things that she pointed out is our shelter system is basically broken. We haven’t competitively bid that system in 10 years. So we just write checks. We don’t ask [providers], ‘Did Jill Smith stay stable when she left your shelter for two years?’ And then we find out we have people living in shelters for 16, 17 years, and we’re calling that housing.

“There are people who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.”

So she’s absolutely right that there’s a resource issue, that the existing resources are absolutely broken. We definitely have a system that’s disconnected from itself and we can reduce the problem significantly. Just look at the fact that homeless kids—these kids who are first-graders, fifth-graders. who are sleeping in cars or couch-surfing with their parents and going to school every day—those kids would go to the county and be put on a list. And the list, not intentionally, had a perverse incentive that said, ‘You need to be homeless longer.’ We went with the Pathways Home reforms and we now house those people immediately. We have a goal, I think it’s probably an 18-month goal, to try and house all of our school-age children and their families.

ECB: You announced recently that the city is postponing the opening of the Navigation Center [a 24/7, low-barrier shelter for homeless men, women, and pets] because of objections from the Chinatown/International District community. Is the Navigation Center still going to happen, and do you regret how you handled the outreach for that project?

EM: I have regretted things about the outreach in every single neighborhood that we’ve tried to place services for the homeless, because every single neighborhood has had a problem. So I have not found yet, as mayor, the way that you get people to approve a homelessness facility in a process that doesn’t veto the facility itself.

I believe it will be built. We are having discussions with the community. We are identifying issues that we can work with. And I have also made a commitment to the community, as I’ve made around all these things: If it doesn’t work, we’ll close it down. It’s an experiment. It’s a pilot project. Maybe it works in San Francisco and it doesn’t work in Seattle .

ECB: Does the pushback you’ve received on the Navigation Center, and the delay on that project, bode poorly for a safe drug consumption site, if neighborhood protests are enough to derail a controversial project?

EM: I think it makes it very difficult. It’s going to be a really difficult discussion, and it’s not just difficult because of the siting problems.

But it was very interesting in Canada, talking to people who deal with this issue, they saw it as a value, because at least it keeps the person alive. They leave hope for another day for treatment. What I hear a lot in Seattle, or maybe just up and down the radios on the West Coast, is that there’s some kind of, like, Puritan aspect in our DNA. It’s like, ‘Well, if they’re using it, it’s immoral. It’s this idea that if you’re using something that might kill you, that’s your choice. So I think there’s going to be a pretty significant battle over this issue.

ECB: Do you feel that HALA has accomplished everything you wanted it to, given all the compromises you ended up making, such as taking small-scale density increases like backyard cottages off the tbale?

EM: When a version of the proposal was leaked before it was even written or even in a final form, the issue of accessory dwellings—ADU, DADU, whatever you want to call them—was the first issue to blow up, and [council members] Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess and the Times thought we might need to take another look at it. We get most of our growth not from ADUs or DADUs—we get most of our growth and most of our affordability from the [HALA] Grand Bargain. I didn’t want to let anything upset the Grand Bargain. We are proceeding now on a separate track on the ADU/DADU thing. And you know, I have done this before—you break things in pieces and you do it incrementally and you get the whole. And we’re really close to getting the whole.

ECB: Traditional neighborhood groups were furious at you when you cut ties with the neighborhood district councils. What are you hearing from them now, and how have the city’s efforts at community engagement worked out since then?

EM: It’s probably the thing I’ve heard the least amount of criticism about, maybe because the different techniques we’ve been using to engage people in civic and city issues seem to be getting people excited.

 We used to have a town hall meeting when I was in the legislature, with whoever my seatmate was—Pat Thibadeau and Frank [Chopp], and then Frank and Jamie [Pedersen], and every year we’d have 100 people from one side of the spectrum, very, very, very loud and often very, vert angry. And then we started doing these telephone town hall meetings, both in the legislature and on issues like HALA, where you’d have 3,000 to 7000 people on the phone, who stay on the phone for an hour and ask questions and give you input. That’s very, very different than the people who show up in one room.

Let me just give you one example: Millennials don’t give up summer evenings to sit in a room of people yelling at each other. We have to change. The world is changing how it communicates and we in the city need to change how we communicate. And the fact that [the district councils] took it as a threat—they shouldn’t have. They should have taken it as an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we can do something really exciting. And in regards to [the funding the city provided district councils], it didn’t meet our [Race and Social Justice Initiative] demographic requirements for when we spend money. We were basically asking a group of people like me –older white homeowners, almost entirely—to make all these decisions, and to me, that is a violation of our own city policy.

ECB: Bike sharing is starting or expanding across the country—except here. Was the failure of Pronto a failure on your part? Why did you abandon it rather than trying to emulate what other successful cities have done?

EM: I’ll take responsibility. We chose the wrong model. We chose a nonprofit model that didn’t work. The way it was run, the administrative cost overheads of that nonprofit, their financial model didn’t work, and probably we should have had a better understanding of that from the very beginning.

We probably have read  20 articles on a loss of a million and a half dollars to the city of Seattle [on Pronto] versus a 70-and-a-half-million dollar loss on the seawall that sort of had a one-page article [in the Seattle Times] on my first day in office and then disappeared. So yeah, we made a mistake. But will Seattle have bikeshare? Yeah, Seattle will have bikeshare some day, and it’ll be bikeshare that is based on a much better model, a financial model that pencils out—and also, I think, an equipment model that pencils out and is more usable in a city that has topography like we do.

ECB: You were a supporter of the tunnel project. Even though Bertha has broken through, there is still heated debate about who will pay for the cost overruns on the project. Do you consider the tunnel project a success, and will the city ultimately be on the hook for overruns?

EM: I think it was the right move. This is a city that has grown exponentially since this project was conceived, and if we’re going to keep that corridor moving, we need the tunnel. We need the street level [roadway]. We need the transit that’s going to come through that corridor between West Seattle and Ballard. That’s the only way that system is going to work. We’re going to get a world-class park that will become the most iconic thing that’s happened to Seattle since the World’s Fair.

The attorney general of the state of Washington at the time [the tunnel was approved], a Republican [Rob McKenna], issued an opinion that said that you cannot make a local jurisdiction pay for a state road. And by the way, I would love to see this pass the legislature, and all those Republican legislators would have to realize, ‘Oh, if we’re going to enforce this, we’re going to have to do some follow-up legislation based on the attorney general’s opinion which means I’m going to put my small city in my rural Republican district on the hook for having to pay for a state road.’ It’s not happening. As someone who spent most of my legislative career on transit, I feel pretty strongly that Seattle will not pay for the cost overruns for a state road.

ECB: What are your biggest regrets from your term?

My biggest regret is that one of the thing I focused on in my inaugural address was the need to focus on partnerships for education. And while the Education Summit was a success—as successful as the one 25 years ago under Norm Rice—part of the work we haven’t gotten to is taking it to scale—identifying the money, building a different relationship with the private sector in our school system, and taking it to the next step. We made some good progress in building a relationship with the school district—[Seattle School Board member] Betty Patu told me this was the best relationship she’s ever seen between the city and the school district —but these things are all in just their beginning stages. I had thought this, not homelessness, would be one of the key issues I would be working on reforming.

ECB: And your legacy? What do you want to be remembered for?

EM: I ran it [the office of the mayor] equity. Ninety percent of that growth you’ve seen out there was permitted before I became mayor, but we had no successful plan to grow affordably. HALA is a huge accomplishment in getting towards affordability. The minimum wage could easily have turned into a ballot measure; instead, we phased it in and we had a process that other cities are hoping to copy. The police department has gone from a city with a mayor that was fighting with a justice department – the Obama justice department – and the federal court and the federal monitors, to a city with the new chief and new leadership cooperating with the federal monitor, cooperating with the federal judge. Again and again, we have seen progress, and we have seen that progress recognized. A lot of public pensions are sideways. Ours isn’t. I inherited a seawall that had $71 million in cost overruns because they basically hid the numbers. We now have that back on target and balanced.

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