Tag: homelessness

No Shelter In Place Order, But More Admonishments for Grandma, From Gov. Inslee as COVID Crisis Continues

Gov. Jay Inslee declined once again on Friday to issue a legally binding “shelter-in-place” order requiring all Washingtonians to stay at home and avoid going to work or the store unless absolutely necessary, but said that if people continue to defy the existing direction to avoid gathering in groups, self-isolate when possible, and stay six feet away from other people, he will consider taking stronger action. Earlier this week, Inslee ordered all restaurants, bars, and other nonessential businesses to close except for takeout customers; banned gatherings of more than 50 people; and urged everyone over 60 or with compromised immune systems to stay inside and avoid contact with other people.

“I won’t be issuing any legally binding orders today, but that does not mean that we might not be back here soon to make further legally binding orders,” Inslee said. “And we understand that perhaps the force of law will not be necessary if Washingtonians act with the force of compassion, with the force of responsibility [and with] the sense that we are all in this together.”

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Some groups—and some parts of the state—appear to be hearing that message louder than others. Using traffic on toll roads as an easily verifiable proxy for how many people are carrying on life as usual, Inslee noted that while traffic on SR 99 (through downtown Seattle), SR 520 (Seattle to Bellevue) and I-405 (the Eastside suburbs) were down, traffic on SR167 (Renton to Auburn), I-5 through Lakewood, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and through Spokane had barely budged. “We remain concerned that some in our state are not taking the measures that are absolutely necessary to preserve health and life and limb in the state of Washington,” he said.

“We are all potential transmitters of this virus and we all, to some varying degree, are potential victims of this virus, and if anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what you need to do to save the lives of people in this state.”

The governor repeated his admonition that “grandma” and “your 18-year-old” need to be told that they can’t go out and get together with friends even if they want to. On Monday, Grandma was not supposed to go to “art galleries” or come in close contact with her grandkids; today, Inslee warned against “coffee klatches” and “sewing needle get-togethers.”

Friday’s announcement did not include any news about financial assistance for small businesses or renters, who will still be on the hook for rent as soon as the 30-day statewide eviction ban expires. (In Seattle, the eviction ban is for 60 days). Nor did Inslee mention any new social-distancing measures for homeless people living in shelters or people confined to mental hospitals and jails.

Inslee did make one brief mention of the state’s prison population. Among the supplies that are slowly making their way to Washington’s hospitals, Inslee said, will be 650,000 disposable gowns, “and we think we’re going to be able to make some of these gowns in our prison industry, actually,” Inslee said. His office did not immediately respond to a followup question about the use of prison labor—which has been controversial in other states—to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.

 

Worker Benefits Expanded, Sweeps Suspended For Now, Navigation Team’s Future In Doubt

Ballard Business District, March 17, 2020

1. Governor Jay Inslee did not announce a statewide order to shelter in place on Wednesday afternoon, nor did he the bait when a reporter asked him whether he planned on doing so later this week. Instead, at a press conference in Olympia that was broadcast statewide, with reporters participating by teleconference, Inslee said he was issuing several new orders to ease the financial burdens the COVID-19 outbreak has placed on renters, small business owners, and workers statewide.

“My dad used to tell me, when you’re going through hell, keep going,” Inslee said, before announcing his latest statewide COVID financial relief package, which includes: 

• A statewide moratorium on evictions for residential tenants who are unable to pay their rent. Unlike a similar temporary eviction ban in Seattle, the statewide moratorium leaves some leeway for landlords to evict tenants for other reasons. “We just can’t have a big spike in homelessness … with this epidemic raging,” Inslee said. Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said that the order left room for landlords to evict tenants who were engaged in criminal activity or creating environmental hazards, for example.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

• A waiver of the usual one-week waiting period before people can receive unemployment benefits, retroactive to March 8, when Inslee expanded eligibility for unemployment to part-time workers. Inslee said today that he is waiting for the White House and Congress to declare a federal disaster in Washington State, making more employees, as well as some independent contractors, eligible for unemployment.

Employment Security Department commissioner Suzi LeVine said unemployment claims were up 150% last week, and claims for shared work arrangements (where people go to part time but also get unemployment) have spiked 500%. “There has been a tsunami of demand,” LeVine said.

• Small grants to small businesses that have been impacted by the epidemic, plus tax relief for businesses that are unable to pay their taxes on time, retroactive to February 29. This will include interest waivers and the suspension of tax liens and forced collections by seizing bank accounts.

• The extension of Emergency Family Assistance (cash assistance) eligibility to families without children.

“Because of our living situation, we’re probably a little bit less susceptible [to COVID-19] than a lot of the general public.” — Steve, who lived in a trailer that was towed away by the Navigation Team last week

2. Yesterday, after declining to respond to questions from reporters about whether the Navigation Team planned to continue removing encampments and disposing of homeless people’s belongings during the pandemic, the city’s Human Services Department put up a blog post announcing the suspension of most sweeps, except in an “extreme circumstance that presents a significant barrier to accessibility of city streets and sidewalks, and is an extraordinary public safety hazard.”

HSD spokesman Will Lemke said examples of an extreme circumstance would include any encampment that is “blocking the entire sidewalk, prohibits access to a facility, or is a public safety danger to occupants and/or greater community.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor says that both the Navigation Team and other city staffers authorized and trained to remove encampments on their own, such as community police officers and some parks employees, will abide by the moratorium. The blog post included a detailed itemization of the number of hygiene kits the city has distributed, the number of sites the team has visited, and the number of flyers about COVID they have handed out. But when it came to the number of encampments that have been removed since the beginning of March, when several people in the Seattle area had already died from the virus, the blog post said simply that they were “limited.”

Asked for a more specific number, the mayor’s office responded that the city removed just 15 encampments that were deemed “obstructions,” total, between March 1 and March 17.

3. I found out about one of those 15 removals on March 11, when Bailey Boyd, a North Seattle resident, took photos of its what was left after the Navigation Team towed away a trailer that was parked on the street near her home and posted them on Twitter. Boyd said and her roommate watched as the team tossed all of the items inside the trailer onto the street, where many of them remained until the couple who had been living there moved to a different location.

Source: Alliance for a HealthY Washington

“I went and got coffee in the morning, and when I came back, there was a squad car and another car there and the Navigation Team was going through all their stuff and throwing it on the ground,” Boyd said. “Then they brought a tow truck in and towed the trailer, and they just left all of their stuff on the side of the road.”

One of the two people who had been living in the trailer, whose first name is Steve, said the Navigation Team told him they could call a shelter for him and his girlfriend, who is disabled and uses a cane, and see if they had space. Steve says he told them not to bother. “I’m not going to a shelter. I’m with my girlfriend and I’m not going to split up from her,” he said. He also wants to avoid close contact with potentially infected people—something he doesn’t have to deal with living in a trailer. “Because of our living situation, we’re probably a little bit less susceptible than a lot of the general public,” he said.

Another issue, for Steve and his girlfriend, is that they don’t want to lose all their personal items—something Steve said has happened to him repeatedly after the Navigation Team has made him move. According to the city, the Navigation Team places all personal items removed from encampments in storage for a minimum of 70 days. However, according to the “site journals” posted on the city’s encampment abatement page, which has not been updated since the end of January, the last time the Navigation Team stored any property at all was last October.

4. This year’s city budget will need to be cut dramatically to deal with the economic impact of the COVID epidemic. Last week, the head of the city budget office, Ben Noble, estimated that the budget could take a $100 million hit. One place council members may look for savings is the Navigation Team, which has been expanded every year since Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in 2017. The team, at 38 members, now costs the city $8.4 million a year.

District 2 council member Tammy Morales, who vowed during her campaign to “stop the sweeps,” told me this week that the council had already started looking at the team’s budget before the current crisis hit. “Even before this emergency, our office was working to stop the sweeps,” Morales said. Expect the council to take a critical lens to the program once the dust settles and it’s clear how much the city has to cut.

Advice for Keeping Grandma Alive Depends on Whether Grandma Is Homeless

Governor Jay Inslee

At a telephone press conference this morning, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a stern followup to his statewide order, issued Sunday night, closing restaurants, bars, and other gathering spaces and banning all gatherings of more than 50 people: “If you’re thinking about having a [gathering] with 49 people in the same room, think again.”

Directing his remarks at people over 60 or with an underlying health condition that makes them vulnerable to infection to infection, Inslee continued: “you are at substantial risk because of this virus. I want to make a very personal and gubernatorial request to you: You need to self-isolate, starting right now, and that means you need to change the way you operate your life.”

“If your grandma is going out… to an art gallery, no!” Inslee said, his voice rising. “You need to talk to her and say, ‘You’re not going to do that for a couple weeks at least.” King County Executive Constantine added that while it’s okay for people to take a “short drive,” they should make sure they don’t go too far from home so that they won’t have to use a public restroom.

But when asked about a different group of people vulnerable to COVID-19—the thousands of people experiencing homelessness who have health problems or are over 60—the advice from government officials was different. Instead of giving those elderly and vulnerable homeless people the ability to self-isolate, the county has adopted a policy of “de-intensification”—opening more shelter spaces to allow people to sleep six feet apart.

Asked why the city and county are continuing to gather the most vulnerable homeless people in large congregate shelters, Dow Constantine, the King County Executive, pointed to the opening of a new shelter at Boeing Field “that is specifically for older and more fragile adults, and that is going to offer us the option to shelter [those people] instead of sending them out onto the street.” The airport space is currently serving as a shelter for 80 men over 55 who had been staying in more crowded conditions.

Obviously, vulnerable people are safer when they can sleep six feet apart, rather than crowded into tighter quarters (or forced “out on the street,” a cruel alternative no one has actually suggested.) But the difference between the official policy for homeless and housed people couldn’t be more stark. If your grandma is housed, she shouldn’t go outside, play with her grandkids, or visit an art gallery where other visitors might be present. If she’s homeless, her best option is to sleep in a room (and share a restroom) with dozens of other people who are uniquely vulnerable to getting sick.

There is actually another option—one that doesn’t involve putting vulnerable homeless people “out onto the street.” The county could offer hotel vouchers to every single homeless person who is over 60 or has an underlying health condition that makes them vulnerable to infection. This would undoubtedly be expensive, but perhaps not as much as one might expect—after all, hotels in Seattle have emptied out as tourism has dried up, making deals easy to come by.

And beyond the cost to local governments, it’s worth considering the moral cost of deliberately creating a two-tiered system, one in which the recommended strategy for staying alive in a deadly pandemic depends on whether you, or your grandma, are homeless or housed.

King County Department of Community and Human Services spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton said the county is providing some additional vouchers; I’ll update this post when I find out more about how many vouchers will be offered and to whom.

Meanwhile, the city’s Navigation Team was reportedly continuing to remove homeless encampments over the weekend. According to the Alliance for a Healthy Washington, the team of police and Human Services Department staffers towed away a trailer occupied by three homeless people at N 137th Street and Midvale Ave. N on Saturday, leaving the group to sleep with their belongings under a tarp.

HSD has not yet responded to questions sent over the weekend about why the city is continuing to remove encampments during the outbreak, and Mayor Jenny Durkan did not answer the same question when Seattle Times reporter Sydney Brownstone asked it during this morning’s press conference.

Library Closures Leave Homeless Patrons Stranded, Safe Consumption Sites See Support, and a MAGA Bill Reveals State GOP Priorities

University branch library, two hours before closing time on Friday.

1. Of all the drastic changes to daily life announced last week in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the closure of all Seattle Public Library branches may have the most profound impact on the city’s most vulnerable people—those without places to go to during the day, either because they’re completely unsheltered or because they stay in shelters that are only open at night. For people experiencing homelessness, libraries are a haven—warm places to be, but also places to charge phones, get online, and be in the company of other people.

The library’s 27 branches are also places where people without homes or offices can wash their hands and use the restroom, making them a critical resource during daytime hours in a city where publicly accessible restrooms are few and (literally) far between. Without access to libraries, more people will be forced to use public spaces as makeshift restrooms. The fact that people urinate and defecate in public has an easy explanation and a simple solution: When restrooms are available, people use them.

The city has long been aware of this. In 2015, when then-mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness, the civil proclamation he signed specifically identified the lack of access to restrooms and hand washing facilities as a problem that needed to be addressed. Four years later, the city auditor issued a scathing report slamming the city for failing to address the problem; among other findings, the report noted that UN standards for refugee camps would require about 224 toilets that are accessible 24 hours a day; instead, the city has just six 24/7 restrooms and about 100 locations that provide restroom access during limited hours. 

When I’ve asked about the lack of public restrooms in the past, the Human Services Department has pointed me to this interactive map, which shows every location in the city where theoretically public restrooms are located. But many of these sites are open only during limited hours (some only a few hours a week), or are only accessible to specific populations, such as women or youth. The city will keep community center and parks restrooms open during daytime hours for the time being, but those are of limited utility to people who aren’t already in those parks and near those community centers. Additionally, one great thing about a library is that it’s a place where people can use the restrooms and spend time without having their presence questioned. Without libraries, people lose access to both those things.

Obviously, I’m not saying the libraries should have stayed open during the pandemic; they had to close, because they bring people into close proximity and because library materials are ideal vectors for the virus to spread. What I am saying is that if the city had done more a long time ago to meet people’s immediate needs—like opening more public restrooms instead of spending resources creating defensive interactive maps that suggest no problem exists—this aspect of the crisis might have been averted.

2. On Saturday, King County identified three new locations for people at high risk for coronavirus complications and for those who need to be isolated or quarantined because they have contracted the novel coronavirus:

• The Arrivals Hall at the King County International Airport is now being used as a shelter for the men (most of them over 55) who usually stay at the St. Martin De Porres shelter in Seattle.

• A county-owned parking lot at Eastgate in Bellevue, where “a fully self-contained tent, with flooring and heat, has been purchased for use as an isolation and recovery location,” according to the county. The tent will open next week.

• A Holiday Inn in Issaquah, which the county will lease and use either to provide medical support to vulnerable populations or isolate people “who do not require significant social support services.” Yesterday, after a homeless man who was being isolated at a county-owned motel left the facility against medical advice, the county changed its policy so that only people who do not need social services will stay at hotels.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for making The C Is for Crank sustainable. I’m truly grateful for your support.
3. A recent poll of Seattle voters found that 61 percent support the idea of supervised drug consumption sites—a strong margin for an idea that has been continually sidelined despite a unanimous endorsement from the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Task Force in 2016. Supervised consumption sites, which are common in many European countries, offer safe spaces for drug users to use under medical supervision. The goal of these sites is to prevent deaths from overdose, provide basic services such as wound care; and link people with supportive services, including recovery support and treatment for those who are interested in quitting or reducing their use.

Continue reading “Library Closures Leave Homeless Patrons Stranded, Safe Consumption Sites See Support, and a MAGA Bill Reveals State GOP Priorities”

Emergency Orders, School Cancellations, and Planning for Those Who Can’t “Quarantine At Home”

 

Don’t panic, but also, sort of panic.

That was the message during a press conference on new state and local orders to contain the COVID-19 epidemic this morning, when Governor Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that all large group events are effectively canceled. Inslee’s order bans all gatherings of more than 250 people, including family gatherings, in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties; the county’s order, which was signed by King County Public Health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, bans gatherings smaller than 250 people unless the organizer can guarantee that they are following every CDC recommendation to contain the spread of the virus. Later in the day, Seattle Public Schools announced it was closing schools starting tomorrow, and the Seattle Public Library board was meeting to discuss potential closures.

Meanwhile, King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor told me that a motel in Kent purchased by the county to house patients who can’t be quarantined at home (including both people without homes to go to as well as those who share their homes with vulnerable people) just accepted its first patient, a King County residents. The county, he said, is still working out plans to redistribute people currently living in close quarters in shelters, both by locating large indoor spaces like the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, where the Downtown Emergency Service Center shelter moved some residents on Monday, and by distributing motel vouchers to people who are not infected but are especially vulnerable to the virus.

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

So what do you need to know? Here are the basics, along with a few more specific details about planning for people experiencing homelessness, who are highly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus because of preexisting health conditions, substandard living environments, and lack of access to quality health care.

• Gatherings of 250 or more people will be prohibited until at least the end of March in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, an order that Gov. Inslee said would likely be extended and expanded to include more parts of the state.

The goal here is to slow, not prevent, the spread of the illness so that hospitals aren’t slammed with thousands of new cases all at once. “We do not want to see an avalanche of people coming into our hospitals with limited capacity,” Inslee said.

“We recognize that isolation and quarantine are going to be difficult settings for the people in them to be in, and the ability to provide behavioral health on site or by telephone to anybody who’s in one of those facilities is one of our top priorities.” — Leo Flor, King County

Inslee emphasized that the law is “legally binding on all Washingtonians,” but said he did not anticipate having to use state police or the National Guard to enforce it. “The penalties are, you might be killing your granddad if you don’t do it,” Inslee said.

• Gatherings of fewer than 250 people are also prohibited in King County, unless the organizers abide by guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control to prevent spread of the virus, including social distancing (the CDC recommends six feet), employee health checks, access to soap and water, and other sanitation measures. “Temporarily banning social and recreational gatherings that bring people together will help to ensure that a health crisis does not become a humanitarian disaster,” Constantine said. “Below 250, we thought people, business owners, could take measures to keep people apart,” Inslee says. However, “We do not want to see people shoulder to shoulder in bars from now on. That is just totally unacceptable.”

Duchin said the new rules would allow some flexibility for groups where maintaining six feet of distance is impossible, and Constantine added that the county will be issuing additional guidelines for “restaurants,  grocery stores, and other institutions,” and that enforcement would be complaint-based. Continue reading “Emergency Orders, School Cancellations, and Planning for Those Who Can’t “Quarantine At Home””

As COVID Cases Surge, How Will Shelters Cope? Plus More on that Mystery Campaign and Details on Seattle Magazine Sale

 

Sale price: $2 million. Paying freelancers: Not included

1. As of last night, a motel in Kent and four isolation sites scattered throughout King County remained empty of COVID-19 patients, according to King County Public Health. Meanwhile, the city has confirmed that—beyond the 100 new spaces for Downtown Emergency Service Center clients that just opened at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall—they have not yet identified new shelter sites to allow for social distancing among the thousands of people living in emergency shelter in conditions that do not allow six feet of spacing between cots, bunks, or mats.

A rough calculation based on last year’s point-in-time count (which does not include a detailed geographic breakdown of people in emergency shelter and other types of “sheltered” homelessness) suggests that around 2,800 people were staying in emergency shelter on a typical night, a number that may be inflated by the way the Homeless Management Information System counts people entering shelters. Whatever the true number is, it is certainly many times higher than 100.

Kamaria Hightower, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, says the city, King County, and the state are “evaluating multiple avenues for bringing additional resources online and we will have new information to share in the coming days. At this time, there are no known confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the unsheltered community or within shelters. However, we are working closely with the County to ensure there are adequate resources and the right strategies in place to meet this public health need when it arises.”

The mayor will be at a press conference tomorrow along with Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and other regional officials, and I’ll be posting live updates on Twitter.

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

2. Stuck inside, with no council meetings to attend and no other immediately pressing business, I decided yesterday to continue down a rabbit hole I entered last week when I started looking into Seattle for a Healthy Planet, a mysterious campaign that may or may not be planning to put an initiative on the Seattle ballot to create a new tax to fund research into lab-grown meat.

As I reported last week, the campaign has already reported more than $365,000 in contributions, most of that from a California-based cryptocurrency firm called Alameda Research with links to animal-rights groups. Alameda did not return my messages seeking comment; nor did the company’s founder, a Hong Kong-based 20-something named Sam Bankman-Fried.

I explained that I was calling about Seattle for a Healthy Planet, and he told me his name was included on campaign documents because of “a mistake by our filing people,” promised to have someone get back to me, and hung up.

Undaunted, I turned to the other side of the campaign ledger, zeroing in on a consulting firm called The Hicks Group that was paid a flat $15,000 for one week of unspecified work between Christmas and New Year’s, and another $15,000 for the month of January. The headquarters for the Hicks Group appears to be a Brooklyn apartment that was recently occupied by Seattle for a Healthy Planet campaign manager David Huynh, a former Hillary for America staffer in the campaign’s New York office who now lives in Baltimore. (Huynh was one of the people who did not call or email me back). Huynh’s old apartment is now occupied by one of his former H4A coworkers, Jeremy Jansen, whose own consulting firm is registered in Wisconsin and is not called The Hicks Group.

Most consulting firms (including Jansen’s) are registered with a state licensing body, and are typically organized as LLCs. The Hicks Group is not a registered business in New York, and I could find no evidence for its existence prior to the Seattle for a Healthy Planet campaign. Continue reading “As COVID Cases Surge, How Will Shelters Cope? Plus More on that Mystery Campaign and Details on Seattle Magazine Sale”

Shelter to Open at Seattle Center to Maintain “Social Distancing” Between Clients

Image result for coronavirus image

The Downtown Emergency Service Center will open a new shelter at the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center in an effort to maintain “social distancing” between clients by setting cots at least six feet apart, according to DESC director Daniel Malone. The city announced the new shelter in a press release last night. “In the rooms of our existing shelters where we have beds, we can’t keep people in all the beds and maintain six feet of distance,” Malone says. The new space is not a walk-in shelter, and clients will be chosen by DESC.

The shelter, which will be for men only, is for people experiencing homelessness who are not medically fragile and don’t exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. In the coming days, some clients will likely also be housed at motels, Malone told The C Is for Crank. As of last night, DESC was figuring out how to redistribute shelter space to create a similar setup for women somewhere in one of its existing shelters.

DESC does not have immediate plans to operate shelters for unhoused people who contract or have symptoms of COVID-19. King County has purchased a motel in Kent and is standing up modular units at sites around King County, including at Interbay and in North Seattle, for this purpose.

Malone says the city and DESC haven’t formulated a specific plan that goes beyond the immediate future—for example, if there is a large-scale outbreak of the novel coronavirus among people experiencing homelessness and many people need to be isolated or quarantined, or if new recommendations or mandates go beyond social distancing. “All we’re doing now is buying a little bit of time,” he says.

Coronavirus is not airborne; it spreads through droplets that can survive for some time on surfaces.

Malone said the point of the new shelter was to give current clients more physical space and reduce the number of people in close quarters at its current shelter. The city’s announcement, however, refers to the need to increase shelter capacity generally to accommodate more people.

There has been some debate about whether unsheltered people are relatively safer from COVID-19 living outdoors, where they are more exposed to the elements but are also not sleeping among crowds of potentially infected people, or in shelters. “Being in the open air, I suppose, has some protective effect, but that may be offset by less access to hygiene,” Malone says.

Malone says DESC is not at imminent risk of running out of hygiene supplies, other than masks, which are in short supply internationally.

Coronavirus Prompts Shelter Expansion, Sound Transit Moves to Amend Fare Enforcement Policies, and More

King County Executive Dow Constantine

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged Wednesday that an inmate who was being transferred from the SCORE regional jail in Des Moines to the King County Jail in Seattle was sent to Harborview with concerning symptoms and that the jail shut down intake for a few hours. The inmate did not have the virus. Asked if the jail had a plan for a future outbreak, Constantine said, “We are being very vigilant about any either staff or inmate who would have symptoms, and they would be isolated immediately” within the jail.

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced today that the city will open up 100 new shelter beds, including 20 new units at the existing Lake Union tiny house village, a new 30-unit tiny house village on Cherry Hill, and a former addiction treatment center in Bitter Lake, which can hold another 50 or so people in 28 rooms. All of the new shelter and tiny house spaces will be operated by the Low Income Housing Institute.

LIHI plans to continue operating the new and expanded tiny house villages, and possibly the shelter at the former treatment center (which LIHI owns), after the current crisis passes. Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said that the city is “continuing to evaluate the continuation of funding sources,” adding that “once the crisis is under control, the City and County will determine the best use for the infrastructure put in place under the Emergency Declaration.”

“There are 5,000 unsheltered men, women, and children on the street. Why does it take the coronavirus to make people [decide] that something should be done for homeless people? The existing status quo is bad enough. We should be standing these up anyway.”—LIHI director Sharon Lee

The obvious question is: If it was possible to open up this many shelter spaces so quickly, why didn’t the city do it before? (A similar question could be asked of the county, which purchased a hotel in Kent and is standing up modular units in White Center, Interbay, and North Seattle to quarantine and isolate homeless people and others who test positive for the virus.) Sharon Lee, LIHI’s director, is asking it: “There are 5,000 unsheltered men, women, and children on the street” in Seattle, Lee says. “Why does it take the coronavirus to make people [decide] that something should be done for homeless people? The existing status quo is bad enough. We should be standing these up anyway.”

Durkan spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said that at the moment, “the City isn’t anticipating that any of these sites will be used for isolation or quarantine. … HSD will take direction from Public Health on operations in relation to COVID-19. Once the crisis is under control, the City and County will determine the best use for the infrastructure put in place under the Emergency Declaration.”

Sound Transit’s favorite slide.

2.Sound Transit staff presented recommendations to improve its controversial fare-enforcement policies on Thursday morning, but the list of proposed changes did not include a number of steps recommended by advocates for low-income people and riders of color, such as allowing riders transferring from the King County Metro bus system to use paper transfers as proof of payment, eliminating fares, and moving the entire ticketing and fine process outside the court system altogether.

Other community-suggested changes that Sound Transit decided not to pursue include: Eliminating fares; adding on-board payment options; setting a maximum amount that riders can pay for transit every month; and replacing fines with ORCA cards of equivalent value.

The changes Sound Transit is making will be familiar to anyone who has been following the fare enforcement discussion, because they haven’t changed substantially since the agency first began floating possible changes win January. The agency says it will cut fines from $124 to $50; increase the number of verbal warnings for nonpayment from one to two in a 12-month period; set official parameters for eliminating fare enforcement during severe weather and around the first day of school; and work with King County to move ticket resolution into community court.

Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci noted the agency could move tickets to community court without continuing to criminalize nonpayment, which can lead to misdemeanor charges. Continue reading “Coronavirus Prompts Shelter Expansion, Sound Transit Moves to Amend Fare Enforcement Policies, and More”

A $350,000 Mystery Campaign, LEAD Says Funding Is Still “At An Impasse,” and Planning for COVID-19 Among the Unsheltered

City council member Kshama Sawant

1. Mayor Jenny Durkan may have announced her intention to release full funding for the Public Defender Association’s  Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program last week, but LEAD staffers, advocates, and former clients said Monday that it’s still too soon to celebrate, since significant aspects of the contract remain unresolved. In the words of PDA director Lisa Daugaard, the mayor’s office and LEAD remained “at an impasse” as of Monday night.

At a press conference at Community Passageways in South Seattle Monday morning, advocates for the program urged Durkan to sign a contract for the full $6.2 million the included in last year’s adopted budget. I broke the news that Durkan had decided to release only the $2.5 million she proposed in her initial budget last year, rather than the $6 million that was included in the final budget, in January.

“The mayor has recently been in dialogue with LEAD about getting this funding released so that they can run their program,” Real Change executive director Tim Harris said. “I’m here to say that dialogue is not enough. We need commitment. We need a signed contract.”

Contacted in South Africa, where she’s attending a conference, Daugaard said, “We’ve seen some progress since the Council sent two letters [asking for the release of LEAD funds] and set a March 1 deadline for release of full funding, and the community letter started circulating. That’s hopeful, but we’re one-sixth of the way through the year and still have no contract. We’re in dialogue with the Mayor’s office and look forward to putting this chapter behind us and doing the work.”

Last week’s statement from the mayor’s office says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department.

LEAD has been working for two months without a contract, and Daugaard has said that in the absence of clear direction on funding, the organization will have to stop taking on new clients and begin serving fewer parts of the city.

Durkan initially said she would release the funding after a consultant had finished reviewing the program to “surface best practice,” come up with performance standards, and decide on appropriate caseloads. The additional funding was meant, in part, to reduce caseloads from levels that LEAD case workers say are unsustainably high. Last week, the mayor released a statement saying that the city “fully expects to contract to LEAD for $6.2 million in services and has been working for months collaboratively to receive important information such as their budget. … Last week, the City received the final detailed budget proposal from LEAD that outlines its proposal to reduce caseloads, reduce the backlog, and accept new referrals.”

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On Monday, Durkan chief of staff Stephanie Formas said the city has sent a letter of agreement to LEAD for review, and that the contract (which the mayor’s office said previously will be in LEAD’s hands by next week) is currently going through internal review by the Human Services Department. Worth noting: Last week’s statement says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department, and housing placements, which LEAD has said are not the point of the program). If the funding does not materialize, Sawant said Monday, she will consider proposing a supplemental budget amendment. “I hope the mayor doesn’t bring us to that point,” she said.

No social distancing at the press conference on COVID-19.

2. As COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to spread, public health and human services officials are just beginning to contend with the likelihood that a significant portion of King County’s 12,000 homeless residents will contract the virus and need places to go after initial treatment, when they’re under quarantine or in isolation during recovery. King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would set up modular units and dormitory-style buildings to house about 100 infected unsheltered people, and is purchasing a motel to isolate patients in general.

Constantine said Monday that the county believes this new capacity “will be sufficient in the short term, but we are going to continue to push to create capacity, because, one, we want to make sure that those who don’t have housing have an appropriate place to be, and two, we want to make sure that hospital capacity is not being taken by people who need to be in isolation or need to be in recovery.”

The city, meanwhile, activated its Emergency Operations Center on Monday, but it was not immediately clear what measures the city, its Human Services Department, or the Navigation Team are taking to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading among the unsheltered population. Social-distancing guidelines suggest that people maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other—a guideline that’s obviously near-impossible to meet in the crowded conditions of a typical shelter.

3. A mystery local initiative campaign called Seattle for a Healthy Planet just received a $315,000 infusion from a Silicon Valley cryptocurrency company called Alameda Research, deepening the mystery around just what kind of 2020 ballot measure the campaign plans to propose. Earlier this year, the Seattle Times’ Daniel Beekman speculated (based largely on previous clients of the law firm listed as the campaign’s primary contact) that it had something to do with promoting natural gas. 

My own speculation, and a deep dive into the connections between the campaign’s primary contributors and consultants, led me to a different, perhaps equally ill-founded, conclusion: Seattle for a Healthy Planet is a group that wants to do research into lab-grown meat, and they want Seattle tax dollars to help them do it.

Follow me down the rabbit hole. The founder of Alameda, Sam Bankman-Fried, sits on the board of a group called Animal Charity Evaluators, which used to employ another major contributors to the campaign, Ashwin Acharya, who gave $10,000. Animal Charity Evaluators, whose motto is “helping people help animals,” ranks charities based on measures of animal welfare. The first hit on Google for Animal Charity Evaluators is an ad, which takes you to this link, a story on “cost-competitive cultured animal products”—actual meat grown in a lab, as opposed to plant products that taste like meat.

But wait—it goes deeper. At the top of ACE’s website: A list of four “charity recommendations,” which includes a nonprofit called the Good Food Institute. Its purpose: Promoting plant-based meat and “clean meat”—that is, meat grown in a lab. The Good Food Institute is also a contributor to Seattle for a Healthy Future.

Bankman-Fried, whose Facebook wall currently includes for the Humane League featuring the McDonald’s arches splashed in blood, did not return a message seeking comment. Nor did any of the donors, listed contacts, or consultants for the campaign. (I attempted to contact them all.) Animal Charity Evaluators did get back to me, but they said they had never heard of the campaign.

Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money for a local election. Maybe Seattle for a Healthy Planet will eventually get back to reporters and let us know how they plan to spend it.

Human Services Director Resigns Days After Contentious Meeting Leaves Navigation Team’s Future in Question

Jason Johnson, the embattled acting director of the Seattle Human Services Division, announced his resignation in a letter to staffers Friday morning—two days after an off-the-rails presentation to the city council about the work of the encampment-clearing Navigation Team. Johnson will leave the city in June. Navigation Team operations manager August Drake-Ericson, who presented at that meeting alongside Johnson and team director Tara Beck, announced her retirement shortly after Johnson’s resignation announcement went out. The high-level departures come on top of a wave of resignation notices within HSD’s homelessness division, which recently started offering unprecedented incentives to keep staffers from leaving.

I first reported the news of Johnson’s resignation on Twitter.

Johnson’s tenure as HSD director has been contentious. As deputy HSD director under former mayor Ed Murray, Johnson oversaw the implementation of Pathways Home, a realignment of the city’s homelessness spending toward “rapid rehousing” rather than temporary shelter or transitional housing, a framework that has ended up being more theory than practice. Also as deputy, Johnson oversaw the department’s shift toward performance-based contracting, in which agencies do not receive full funding unless they meet performance goals. And he oversaw the city’s new investments in enhanced shelters—shelters that offer some combination of 24/7 access, storage, services, and a lack of barriers such as sex segregation and sobriety requirements.

Johnson came under fire from the beginning of his tenure as acting director. As soon as Durkan sent his name to the city council for nomination (nine months after she tapped him for the job), HSD employees raised objections, saying he was not responsive to lower-level staff and requesting that the city do an open search process for a new director. (Employees from the homelessness division, in particular, were unhappy under Johnson and his predecessor Catherine Lester’s leadership; according to internal surveys, the number of people in the division who felt unappreciated and unacknowledged increased under their tenure.) During his appointment process, council members grilled Johnson on allegations of harassment and intimidation within the department, as well as whether he would make decisions independent of political direction from Mayor Jenny Durkan; after it became clear that he did not have the council votes to win nomination, Durkan withdrew his nomination, and he has served on an interim basis ever since.

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

Under Johnson’s leadership, the Navigation Team, which removes encampments from parks and public spaces, shifted its focus away from its nominal purpose—navigating homeless people to shelter and housing—to simply removing encampments whenever they pop up in parks, on rights-of-way, and in other public spaces, with no advance notice or offers of shelter or other services. As the team’s latest quarterly report revealed, the Navigation Team now declares virtually all the encampments it encounters  exempt from all of the once-standard notice and outreach requirements established in 2017, by deeming then “obstructions”—a designation that allows the team to remove them right away. As Johnson articulated on Wednesday, HSD considers any encampment or tent in any park to automatically constitute an “obstruction,” whether it is actually obstructing anyone’s ability to use the park or not. In the last quarter, the team provided advance notice and outreach to just 11 encampments, compared to 292 encampments that were deemed “obstructions” or “hazards” and removed without warning. This is likely among many reasons that only a tiny fraction of the team’s contacts with people living in encampments  lead to shelter.

At the same time, the total number of encampment removals has continued to escalate; in the last quarter of 2019, according to a memo by council central staff, the number of encampment removals doubled compared to one year earlier. This escalation corresponded with annual increases in the size of the team: Over two years, the team ballooned from 16 members, including eight outreach workers from nonprofits that specialize in case management, to 38, which allowed the team to remove encampments seven days a week. Also over that period, contracted outreach workers from REACH (Evergreen Treatment Services) stopped participating in encampment removals, citing the damage their participation caused to their relationships with the vulnerable people they serve, which prompted the city to hire two in-house “system navigators’ to be on site during encampment sweeps. The Seattle Police Department also trained 100 bike and Community Police Team officers to remove encampments directly, vastly increasing the number of police officers who can remove encampments without any participation from outreach workers.

Johnson’s departure (and Drake-Ericson’s, for that matter) leaves the future of the Navigation Team in question. Although most of the functions of the homelessness division are moving over to the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority over the course of 2020, the city insisted on keeping the Navigation Team in-house, moving it to another division within HSD (likely Youth and Family Services.) The council, which has been reluctant to rein in Durkan’s yearly expansion of the team, may finally balk this year, as council member Teresa Mosqueda takes over as head of the budget process.

And whoever Durkan nominates to replace Johnson should expect intense scrutiny. As new council member Tammy Morales—a former member of the city’s Human Rights Commission who opposes encampment sweeps—put it, “Seattle deserves leadership who listens, even when they might not like what we have to say, and it’s incumbent on this city’s leadership to include the community for HSD’s next director in the hiring process.”