Tag: King County

City Expands Access to Downtown Hotel, Adding About Five Previously Ineligible Guests and Raising Questions About Eligibility

Back in March, the city of Seattle rented out every room at the Executive Pacific Hotel in downtown Seattle for three months at a cost of around $3 million. (The total cost will be higher if more people actually stay there, which is why the city’s original figures were higher.) Initially, the hotel’s 155 rooms were reserved for first responders such as police and firefighters responding to the COVID crisis; when only a handful of first responders ended up using the rooms, the city opened 100 of them up to nurses and other medical personnel, which increased the total number of people who had stayed at the hotel to 17 by April 18. Those 17 people stayed at the hotel an average of nine days, according to the city, for a total of about 153 room nights over the first three weeks the hotel was in use—the equivalent of one night with a completely full hotel.

“If any of our members call and say, ‘I need a hotel tonight,’ or this week, or whatever, we check and verify their membership and then route them to either Seattle or Bellevue,” where King County has reserved rooms in another hotel. —Amy Clark, Communications Director, SEIU 1199NW

As of last week, according the city, the hotel had taken on an additional 35 guests—most of them health care workers—for a total of 52 guests in the first seven weeks of operation. According to the city, these 52 people stayed an average of 10 nights, for a total of 520 room nights over seven weeks—a period when the city actually paid for nearly 7,600 room nights.

Homeless advocates, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, have urged the city to allow direct service workers, such as people working at shelters, to access some of the rooms that are sitting empty. A spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says that the city has since “made the Executive Pacific Hotel available to shelter service providers,” by “working with SEIU 1199NW and other union partners.

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SEIU Healthcare 1199NW represents workers at the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and SEIU 925 represents education and child care workers. So far, according 1199 communications director Amy Clark, 1199NW has placed “four or five” DESC employees in rooms at the hotel.

Most front-line homeless service workers are not unionized, raising questions about why the city has decided to provide hotel rooms only through the health-care unions instead of allowing service providers with non-unionized workers to ask for them directly—especially with a large hotel fully paid for and sitting mostly empty.

“If any of our members call and say, ‘I need a hotel tonight,’ or this week, or whatever, we check and verify their membership and then route them to either Seattle or Bellevue,” Clark says. King County has reserved a block of 80 rooms for health care workers at a 176-room hotel in Bellevue for 12 weeks, for which they are paying $89 a night—less than half of what the city is paying per room at the Executive Pacific, and (at around $600,000 total) about one-fifth of what the city has committed to spend on the Seattle hotel over an equivalent period.

Most front-line homeless service workers are not unionized, raising questions about why the city has decided to provide hotel rooms only through the health-care unions instead of allowing service providers with non-unionized workers to ask for them directly—especially with a large hotel fully paid for and sitting mostly empty.

Alison Eisinger, the executive director of the King County Coalition on Homelessness, says the city seems to be needlessly excluding essential workers from hotel rooms it has paid for. “It can only be a matter of race, class, and bureaucratic insensitivity or incompetence that explains why public dollars are being used to pay for empty rooms when [human service providers] need to use them” and are unable to access them easily.

King County’s process for routing people to its Bellevue hotel rooms does not require unions to coordinate or approve stays. Instead, service providers designate a person to submit requests for hotel rooms, and that person emails a single person at the county when one of their employees (unionized or not) needs a room.

As County Opens More Non-Congregate Shelter to Prevent Spread of COVID, City Plans to Remove Two More Encampments

Nearly two years after King County first announced that it planned to open a modular shelter for people experiencing homelessness on county-owned property in Interbay, the

project is almost ready to open for a new purpose: Providing non-congregate shelter for between 45 and 50 homeless men over 55 from the St. Martin de Porres shelter, run by Catholic Community Services. The modular buildings, which are essentially trailers with windows, fans, and high-walled cubicles to provide privacy and protection from disease transmission between the four men who will share each unit, were originally supposed to be dorm-style shelters housing up to eight people on beds or cots.

The project, which will include eight individual showers, 10 single-stall restrooms, laundry facilities, a dog run, and a community room with a meal delivery area, cost $7 million, up from a 2018 projection of $4.5 million. Operating the site will cost around $2 million a year.

“The work we’ve gone to move people out of congregate settings and into hotels has been remarkably successful in terms of preventing the spread of the virus”—King County Executive Dow Constantine

King County has focused much of its response to homelessness during the COVID emergency on moving people out of mass shelters—where, County Executive Dow Constantine pointed out Thursday, “we’re likely to have runaway infections before you know it”—and into individual hotel and motel rooms or other non-congregate temporary housing.

Centers for Disease Control guidelines say that cities should not remove encampments during the COVID emergency unless they can offer each person “individual housing,” not space in congregate shelter, to prevent the virus from spreading. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” the federal guidance says.

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“The work we’ve gone to move people out of congregate settings and into hotels has been remarkably successful in terms of preventing the spread of the virus,” Constantine said. “We continue to test [people living in] relocated shelters who are in hotels and would be in facilities like this, and we are finding very little if any transmission of the disease.” At the Red Lion Hotel in Renton, which is serving as temporary housing for people who had been staying in the Downtown Emergency Services Center’s main shelter in downtown Seattle, 177 people have been tested for COVID-19; zero have tested positive.

The city has focused its response to homelessness on adding more congregate shelter spaces so that people living in mass shelters can sleep further apart, and on providing referrals to shelter for people at the encampments it removes, which the city says are limited to those that cause a public health or public safety risk. On Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan took issue with the notion that the city and county had adopted different approaches. “There is no ‘or’ here,” she said. “We are taking every approach we can and adding significant additional financial resources from the city to make sure that we are bringing as many people inside as we can.”

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” —Centers for Disease Control

The city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and Human Services Department staffers, has removed at least two large encampments in recent weeks—one outside the Navigation Center shelter in the International District and one at the Ballard Commons park. In both cases, the city said the encampments posed a public safety and health risk, because people were congregating in violation of state and city orders. In the case of the Commons, the city said that a hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened 17 homeless people in the Ballard area endangered the safety of people living in and around the park.

“The CDC guidance made very clear that our number one priority would be outreach to people experiencing homelessness, to provide them hygiene, to provide them information, and to try to bring them inside,” Durkan said. “But if there are areas where there is a public safety or public health [issue], we will try to mitigate against that threat.”

The city has said that there were beds in enhanced shelters (24/7 shelters with amenities such as case management and the ability to stay with partners or pets) available for every person living at the Commons, although the city’s official count of 40 residents is significantly lower than estimates provided by both people living at the site and by homeless service providers at the Bridge Care Center across the street. “Before we remove people for public safety or public health reasons, we’re working on an ongoing basis to offer people the opportunity to come inside,” Durkan said.

“Before we remove people for public safety or public health reasons, we’re working on an ongoing basis to offer people the opportunity to come inside.” —Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan 

Next week, the Seattle Human Services Department’s Navigation Team will remove two separate encampments in the International District. On two recent visits to both sites, I counted a total of at least 80 tents, the vast majority of them on South Weller Street between 12th Ave. S. and S. Dearborn St. Durkan did not respond directly to a question about whether the city had sufficient enhanced shelter beds for 80 people. “We will continue to do our best, and we will make offers to everybody who we try to relocate. We want to put compassion first but it has to work with the policy of public safety and public health in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.

The Public Defender Association has offered to place people displaced when the city removes encampments in hotel rooms through its new Co-LEAD program, which is aimed at reducing recidivism by providing case management and temporary non-congregate housing during the COVID crisis. The city did not take them up on their offer, although Durkan has signed off on the program in principle and name-checked it during Thursday’s press conference. Given that the International District encampments are scheduled for removal starting next Tuesday, it appears unlikely at this point that the people living in these encampments will be candidates for Co-LEAD either.

Using Private Funding, King County Provides Alcohol and Cigarettes to Patients at Isolation Sites

Beer, Mug, Refreshment, Beer Mug, Drink, Bavaria
Image via Pixabay.

King County has been providing alcohol, tobacco, and, until two weeks ago, cannabis products to some patients with diagnosed or potential COVID-19 infections who are staying at the county’s isolation/quarantine and assessment/recovery sites, The C is for Crank has learned. These sites serve people who are homeless or who cannot isolate safely at home.

The program, which is not funded through public dollars, is similar to efforts in other cities, including San Francisco, to enable patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus to remain isolated safely while mitigating or preventing withdrawal symptoms.

“Limited and controlled quantities of alcohol and nicotine have been provided by the health and behavioral health clinicians on site as part of clinical management of withdrawal symptoms and harm reduction practices to support patients to safely stay in isolation,” Department of Human and Community Services spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton says. “In all cases, this clinical review and approval for a requested item is required.”

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While programs like King County’s have been controversial in other cities, they are based in the principles of harm reduction, a set of strategies at reducing the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use. Other examples of harm reduction include methadone clinics, needle exchanges, and the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s 1811 Eastlake project—not to mention things like nicotine gum and marijuana as an alternative to heroin.

Hamilton did not say how many people had received alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis products, but said that the department’s director, Leo Flor, has been paying for these items out of his own pocket while the county secures “private foundation funding as a more sustainable approach to funding moving forward.” It’s illegal to spend public funds on alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. Hamilton was not able to immediately provide details about how much these “initial harm reduction supplies” had cost.

Providing people with substances they would otherwise seek out makes it easier to keep people from spreading COVID-19 in the community surrounding the county’s quarantine and isolation sites, and makes it more likely that people will stay at those sites for their entire isolation period instead of leaving against medical advice. In the case of alcohol, it also may be saving lives—for heavy, daily drinkers, withdrawing from alcohol without specialized medical intervention can cause seizures, heart failure, and death.

“For those who cannot do so, or who do not have a home, the County has created isolation and recovery sites,” Hamilton said. “We try to keep guests safe, stable and comfortable so they will stay the entire time, and harm reduction is one strategy that helps to achieve that goal for some of our guests.”

I have asked for more details about funding for this program, including how much DCHS director Flor has spent out of his own pocket, and will update this post when I learn more.

County Empties Mass Shelters, Moves Clients Into Hotels, As COVID Continues to Spread in Congregate Settings

Image via Inn At Queen Anne.

Catholic Community Services, whose mass shelters have been hit hard by the COVID-19 virus, is moving at least 40, and up to 60 residents from a large congregate shelter at the King County Airport into a Lower Queen Anne hotel, the Inn at Queen Anne, the C Is for Crank has learned. King County opened the airport shelter in an effort to “de-intensify” the crowded St. Martin de Porres shelter in SoDo after a COVID outbreak at that shelter.

The city of Seattle and, to a lesser extent, the county have focused on redistributing people who are staying in shelters into larger spaces where they can sleep further apart, rather than moving them into hotels or other locations where they can self-isolate. The St. Martin de Porres shelter was among the first to experience an outbreak of the virus, and the men who stayed there—most of them considered “vulnerable” because of age or underlying health conditions—were among the first shelter clients moved to a new, more spacious location.

“We all wish that the response had moved faster, and at the same time, we’re happy that it’s moving as fast as it has,” Flo Beaumon, associate director of CCS, says. “I think King County has really jumped right in to move very quickly and to put the resources together to make this happen.”

The county confirms that it will also move about 60 people from two mass Salvation Army shelters, located at the King County Administration Building and the county-owned Fourth and Jefferson Building, to the Civic Hotel, also in Lower Queen Anne. The county’s Department of Community and Human Services did not immediately have a cost estimate for the hotel rooms, which are expected to be funded, in part, with federal FEMA dollars.

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In March, the CDC recommended moving shelters into larger spaces so that people can sleep at least six feet apart. However, it has since become clear that congregate shelters allow the COVID-19 virus to proliferate, because residents still share the same air, restrooms, and common areas. Dozens of people staying or working in congregate shelters have been infected, according to the county Experts and advocates across the country have been pushing to move homeless shelter clients into hotels so that they can follow the same shelter-in-place guideline that are recommended for people with housing.

“Everybody tells you to isolate, and can’t isolate” in a homeless shelter, Beaumon says. “And you don’t know who’s sick. It’s easy to try to step away from a person who’s coughing, but somebody next to you could have the virus and you don’t know it.”

In addition to the immediate benefits of having a room with a door that locks, a bed, and a shower, Beaumon says the psychological benefits of housing are enormous. “Many of [the shelter guests] have suffered homelessness for a long time. Tensions go down because you’re not sharing space in close quarters with other people. And on top of that, people are going to be healthier and expecting that they will survive this epidemic.”

The city of Seattle has provided staffing and sites for several “redistribution” shelters at community centers around the city. When city council member Teresa Mosqueda asked staffers for the City Budget Office about moving some of the people at these mass shelters to hotels earlier this week, a staffer responded that the city was still focused on “de-densifying” existing shelters and “providing new shelter opportunities” for people who were living outside.

City of Seattle Rents Out Downtown Hotel for First Responders at $280 a Night, Potty Plan Scaled Back, and Fuzzy Math Adds Up to “1,900 New Temporary Housing Spots”

 

The restrooms at Cal Anderson Park have been closed for some time due to a “maintenance issue,” according to the mayor’s office. The park will soon get new portable toilets and a hand washing station.

1. The city budget office has inked a deal with the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown to rent out all of the hotel’s 155 rooms for three months, at a cost of $3.9 million, to provide spaces for first responders who need to be in isolation or quarantine after exposure to the COVID-19 virus, The C Is for Crank has learned. The contract went into effect on March 23. The cost, which the city hopes will be partially reimbursed by the federal government, works out to $280 per room, per night. UPDATE: After this post was published, the city contacted me to say that the official memo from the City Budget Office to the City Council citing a $3.9 million price tag was in error and reduced the estimate to $3.4 million. Subsequently, they gave an even lower estimate, as little as $2.8 million, to the Seattle Times. At this point, I think it’s fair to say that the true cost is unclear.)

A representative for the Executive Pacific Hotel declined to comment on the arrangement. Rooms at the hotel were going for less than $70 a night earlier this week. 

The city did not directly respond to a question about whether any first responders are currently living in the hotel. A spokeswoman with the city’s Emergency Operations Center said, “We currently have dozens of first responders who are in isolation or quarantine.” Even if all of those people were staying at the hotel, that would still leave most of the rooms sitting empty for now.

City Council member Andrew Lewis, whose district includes downtown, has been talking about making hotel space available for first responders or people experiencing homelessness. He said deals with hotels could help an industry that has seen “a massive falloff of business,” but added that he had personally received a quote of $95 a night for a different downtown hotel that offered to make rooms available. Lewis says he plans to introduce a resolution asking the mayor to keep a “roster of these investments and report back … and one of the things that I’m going to ask for is cost, to make sure that we are a getting good deals.”

The contract reportedly includes the cost of food for people who will stay at the hotel. It does not appear to include modifications to the hotel’s HVAC system, which might have been a necessary cost if the rooms were connected by internal ventilation—that is, if they all shared the same air. According to the EOC, each room has its own individual heating and cooling units and vents its exhaust to the outside; the rooms also have windows that open, allowing additional ventilation.

Hotel workers, including cleaning staff, who come into contact with people who have contracted or been exposed to COVID could be at risk of contracting the virus themselves. Stefan Moritz from UNITE HERE Local 8, which represents hotel workers, said he was still getting details on the kind of conditions hotel staff will be working under at hotels that are turned into quarantine and isolation sites.

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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.

2. This morning, nearly two weeks after announcing the city would be opening portable toilets “across the city,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a truncated list of port-a-potty locations that is both significantly shorter, and significantly less “citywide,” than a draft list that included more than 20 new sites, including five hygiene trailers that were funded last year. According to the press release, the six new sites, which will have a total of 14 toilets, are “in in addition to the 133 locations in parks throughout the City, available to all residents, and are currently being serviced by Seattle Parks and Recreation.” Initially, the release said that there were “more than 180 [restroom] locations in parks throughout the City, available to all residents.” (UPDATE: This morning, the city said that the correct number is not 133 but 128.)

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the earlier number included community centers that have closed.

For example, 85 people who had been staying at the Harborview Hall shelter run by the Salvation Army have been displaced so that the  a 45-bed coronavirus recovery site. The shelter is being moved a few blocks away. Because of the way the city and county are counting “new” beds, the shelter and recovery site now account for a total of 130 “new” beds as part of the 1,900 total.

Just one of the six new portable toilet sites and handwashing stations that made the cut will be located in North Seattle. The rest (represented by yellow dots on this map) are scattered in a rough line paralleling I-5 and SR-99, with one site each in Capitol Hill, downtown, Judkins Park, Beacon Hill, and Highland Park (in West Seattle). Some of the locations that were on the preliminary list, but did not make the cut for today’s announcement, include locations on Alki Beach, Gas Works Park in Fremont, Kinnear Park on Queen Anne, the Arboretum near Montlake,  Ravenna Park, and Woodland Park. I’ve asked the mayor’s office whether any of these sites will be considered for portable toilets in the future if the six new locations prove inadequate to meet the need.

I was unable to immediately confirm the basis for either the 180 or 133 figure cited in the initial and amended versions of the press release. (UPDATE: The same questions apply to the new number of 128.) The city’s current restroom map shows public restrooms in a total of 85 parks and 11 community centers combined, which is unchanged since the city did an analysis of public restrooms two years ago. At that time, the city’s Human Services Department listed a total of 117 public restrooms in city-owned facilities, a list that also included libraries (which are now closed) and a handful of portable toilets that were then available at King County Metro’s bus driver relief stops.

Claiming that the city and county have created “1,900 new sites across the City to help individuals experiencing homelessness” is misleading.

3. The mayor’s press release also claims that the city and county have created “1,900 new temporary housing options” for “people experiencing homelessness.”

This description is misleading. First, under the definition used by the city itself, “housing” is a place where someone is housed. Cots in shelters, tiny houses in encampments, and beds in a hospital do not count as housing, “temporary” or otherwise.

Second, fewer than half of the 1,900 beds are reserved for people experiencing homelessness, and only a handful of those are actually “new.” About 700 of the 1,900 are existing shelter beds that are being redistributed to allow more spacing between cots. Only about 50 shelter beds, and 45 spots in tiny house villages, are actually new—and these, under federal definitions, are temporary shelter, not “housing.” For example, 85 people who had been staying at the Harborview Hall shelter run by the Salvation Army have been displaced so that the  a 45-bed coronavirus recovery site. The shelter is being moved a few blocks away. Because of the way the city and county are counting “new” beds, the shelter and recovery site now account for a total of 130 “new” beds as part of the 1,900 total.

Most of the remaining spots are beds in isolation and recovery sites that are not exclusively reserved for people experiencing homelessness. They include 200 beds in a field hospital set up on a soccer field in Shoreline; an unknown number of spots in a large isolation and recovery tent for COVID-19 sufferers in a Bellevue parking lot; previously announced motel rooms in Issaquah and Kent; and “up to 612 beds” for “people who do not require emergent care” to recover after they’ve been sick, according to the county.

Third, some shelters are closing because of the COVID crisis, reducing the total number of beds available to people in need. The city has not factored these lost beds into its calculations; that is, while counting hospital beds for COVID victims as “housing for the homeless” and double-counting some shelter beds, the city and county have failed to subtract the beds that are being lost.

This may seem like nitpicking, but a casual reader of a press release announcing “1,900 new sites across the City to help individuals experiencing homelessness,” as this morning’s announcement puts it, might be misled to believe that the city and county have created 1,900 new housing, or even shelter, spots for people experiencing homelessness, when this simply is not the case.

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

 

Lone “no” vote: Council member Lorena Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interlocal agreement also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions About Local Autonomy and Cost-Sharing at Homelessness Authority, SPD Hires KOMO Cop Reporter, and More

Emoji org chart: What staffing at the new regional authority homelessness will look like, as depicted by the consultant who helped design the plan

1. Two meetings about the proposed regional homelessness authority last week highlighted new potential fault lines between the city and county in negotiating the structure and funding of the new authority—one concerning the kind of services the new authority will provide, and one having to do with who will pay for it.

Suburban King County cities that would become a part of the authority have made it clear they’re concerned that the new body will be too “Seattle-centric”—an understandable concern given that just one member of the steering committee that oversees the body will be from a to-be-determined member of the Sound Cities Association, a group of suburban King County cities. (Under the proposal, another suburban representative could join the board once 20 suburban cities join the regional authority). A related but distinct concern is that suburban cities may not want to handle homelessness the way Seattle does, by offering services for as long as it takes and providing harm reduction as an alternative to mandatory treatment and imposed abstinence for people with addiction.

From the perspective of a city like Kent, where outreach workers say police have a zero-tolerance policy for sleeping in visible public areas, the tactics of  Seattle’s Navigation Team—which removes encampments but doesn’t arrest people for living on the street or force them to “accept” services, treatment, and housing—may seem like mushy-hearted liberalism at its worst. At last week’s King County Board of Health meeting, King County Council member Kathy Lambert, whose district includes Duvall, North Bend, and Snoqualmie, said she won’t support the regional authority “until I see a plan that acknowledges that each part of of this county has a very different idea of where they want to be and what they want to look like, and I’m not seeing that yet.”

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On the flip side, at a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s special committee on homelessness last Friday, city council president Bruce Harrell asked whether the Navigation Team, which (as I reported earlier this month) is not moving over to the new authority, will expand its operations outside the city or otherwise coordinate with other cities who have employees doing similar encampment-clearing functions. (In reality, the Navigation Team is fairly unique regionally and the equivalent agency in most other cities is the police). “I assumed we were trying to model some consistency overall—am I missing something?” Harrell asked.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s homelessness advisor, responded that the charter creating the new authority will allow for “subregional planning, which is a way for the regional authority to engage in the various regions across the county and be in dialogue about what homelessness looks like in different parts of the region and how it’s being addressed.” Specifically, the charter says that the kinds of services each sub-region of the county can vary depending on “local needs, priorities, and solutions.”

2. The other issue that came up this week was whether the city of Seattle might be paying more than its fair share of the cost to set up and, at least initially, fund the authority. The numbers HSD director Jason Johnson and National Innovation Service consultant Marc Dones presented to the council committee on Friday showed the city spending $1 million in startup costs next year (and $282,000 in “ongoing costs” beginning the year after that), including more than $800,000 in moving and office costs and $130,000 for a headhunter to find the $217,000-a-year executive director for the new authority. The city would also be responsible for paying that director’s salary, plus the salaries of his or her chief of staff ($166,000 in 2021), two deputy directors ($189,000 each), and a human resources manager ($163,000).

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, city council member Lisa Herbold said. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere.

The county, in contrast, would contribute tenant improvements in the county-owned Yesler Building, where the new authority will be located, and provide free rent, at a total value of about $1 million for “tenant improvements” and $455,000 for the use of the sixth floor of the building, which has been vacant. (Seattle Department of Human Resources director Bobby Humes described the tenant improvements as “wifi, new paint, a conference room [and] an ample restroom environment,” among other things.)

“I’m concerned that city paying all the costs in that first year is going to create an expectation” that the city will continue to pay all the costs in the future, council member Lisa Herbold told Johnson on Friday. “You say that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be future cost sharing around the costs of personnel, and I don’t see that indicated anywhere. I think that’s something that would be important to memorialize.” Council member Sally Bagshaw added that she wasn’t sure the city should be spending $130,000 for a headhunter to do a national search for the director of the new authority. “I have to say that I would rather have somebody local,” she said. “I would frankly rather have a team that knows people who are already working in our city, county, and region.”

Other issues that came up Friday included the need for human service provider representation on the board that will actually govern the new authority, the fact that capital funding for permanent supportive housing is supposed to stay with the city while operating funds for that same housing move to the new authority, and when people can actually start moving into the new building—Johnson said it will be “ready” in December, but that because “December is a heavy month for many of our employees” the actual move won’t happen until March.

3. KOMO police-beat reporter Jennifer Sullivan, who previously covered the police department for the Seattle Times, has taken a job as a strategic advisor in the  Seattle Police Department, The C Is for Crank has learned.  An SPD spokesman would not comment about how the department decided to hire the former reporter, and a mayoral spokeswoman told me the mayor had nothing to do with the hire—even emphasizing in a followup email, “the Mayor’s Office was not involved in the hiring of Jennifer Sullivan.” According to the most recent Seattle employee salary database, Sullivan is making just under $120,000 a year.

Sullivan’s recent stories for KOMO have included pieces on slow 911 response times, recruitment problems at SPD, and police officers’ efforts to get raises in their recent contract, which some reform advocates now want to reopen. Sullivan’s husband, according to a 2018 Seattle Refined profile, is a police officer in Lynnwood .

Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment; her LinkedIn and Twitter pages still identify her as a KOMO reporter.

4. 

Questions Raised about Accountability and Goals of New Regional Homelessness Authority

King County Council members and officials from suburban cities raised new concerns yesterday about a proposal to merge the city of Seattle and King County’s homelessness programs into a single agency during Wednesday’s meeting of the county Regional Policy Committee, which county council members as well as representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities. In addition to questions about whether the new body will be too “Seattle-centric,” officials pressed county staffers on two key points: Will this new agency make real strides toward addressing “root causes” and actually solving homelessness? And will its governing board be accountable to … well, anyone?

The first question was posed most pointedly by King County Council chair Rod Dembowski, who is on the fence about whether to support the restructure. Looking back to the five “root causes” of homelessness that were identified at the end of the lengthy One Table process, Dembowski asked county Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor if it was accurate to say that the regional consolidation “Will not play in a meaningful way to addressing those root causes; rather it is narrowly tailored to the crisis response to folks living unsheltered.” Flor responded, “You are exactly correct,” adding that if programs addressing root causes can be thought of as branches of primary care, “what we are describing and proposing is a more efficient and consolidated emergency room.”

“What improvement in people’s lives would you expect to see if we did what the executive and mayor were asking us to do?” Dembowski pressed.

“Consistent improvement on a problem that’s been hard to improve consistently,” Flor responded.

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The other issue was about governance—specifically, the structure of the two boards that will sit atop the new regional authority like tiers of a layer cake. The smaller of two boards would be a steering committee made up of up to six elected officials and two people who have experienced homelessness, whose duties would be limited to confirming members of the governing board that would actually be in charge of the agency; approving that board’s five-year plan and budget without amendment; and confirming or removing governing board members, all by a majority of a plurality vote. (In other words, if four or five members showed up to a meeting, three members would constitute a majority of those present). Continue reading “Questions Raised about Accountability and Goals of New Regional Homelessness Authority”

Long-Awaited Details of New Regional Homelessness Authority Announced, Though Many Questions Remain Unanswered

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced some key details about a long-planned regional homelessness authority Wednesday morning, including how much funding the new entity will received from the city and the county, how it will be governed, and which functions of the city’s Human Services Department will be shifting to the new authority and which ones will be staying at the city. The regional authority will effectively consolidate most of the county and city’s homelessness investments into a single agency, and replace existing agencies including All Home and the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investments division, which is part of the Human Services Department.

“We’re not saying this is the solution or a panacea,” Durkan said, “but we know what we’ve done before has not worked. What you see today is everybody joined in one cause, together.” Standing behind Durkan and Constantine were retiring Position 7 city council member Sally Bagshaw, representatives from several suburban cities, King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, human service providers and several formerly homeless individuals.

The new authority will be funded by $73 million in city dollars and $55 million from the county (including a total of $42 million in federal grants to both). Structurally, the agency will be a public development authority governed by an 11-member board consisting of still-unidentified “experts” that will include three people with “lived experience” of homelessness. (The board will be overseen by a separate steering committee that includes the mayor and county executive, along with other local officials). The agency will be charged with issuing and administering all contracts for homelessness services.

For Seattle, the biggest change will be the eventual dissolution of the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment Division, which oversees the city’s existing response to homelessness, including shelters, transitional housing, outreach, and services associated with permanent supportive housing. Both the Navigation Team (which removes homeless encampments from public spaces) and the actual construction of permanent supportive housing will remain with the city’s Human Services Department. The new authority will issue contracts to human services providers directly, work that was previously performed by the separate city and county governments.

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Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean 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 site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. 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.

The new authority will not come with any additional funding for homelessness. Both Durkan and Constantine said this morning that a regional organization will create “efficiencies” that will allow the region to use its limited homelessness dollars more effectively, rather than passing a new funding source like the $275 million property tax levy former mayor Ed Murray proposed, then abandoned, in 2017, or the 0.1 percent sales tax increase Constantine and Murray proposed, then abandoned, later that same year. This morning, Constantine said that he was “very optimistic that this new structure will allow us to marshal all of our resources in the region to be more effective in addressing homelessness” even in the absence of more money to solve the problem.

Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, whose city is not yet a party to the agreement, added, “Hopefully the days of sitting in meetings and at the end of them, saying, ‘How many people did we house during the meeting?’ ha[ve] come to an end. Working together is what’s going to make this happen.”

In 2017, the city held a competitive bidding process for homelessness contracts for the first time in more than a decade, a change city officials touted at the time as a way to hold service providers accountable for moving people from homelessness to permanent housing. Asked whether the new authority would hold contractors to the same set of standards, director Jason Johnson said that the contract between the city and the regional authority “will say, ‘Here’s $70 million, and here’s our expectation with those $70 million. [We’re going to] make sure that the governing board is really clear about … what the expectation will be.”

The city’s homelessness division will be phased out over the next year, starting as early as December, when HSD and county employees (along with All Home, the county’s coordinating agency for homelessness) will move their operations to the county-owned Yesler Building in Pioneer Square, according to internal memos. Once the process of setting up the regional agency is complete, All Home will fold and all city employees “on loan” to the new agency will take permanent jobs at the new authority, find new jobs at the city, or face layoffs. The new regional authority, according to Johnson, will take over the annual Point In Time Count of people experiencing homelessness as well as running the county’s coordinated entry program‚basically the front door to the homelessness system.

In a 2018 survey, employees of the city’s homelessness division reported feeling unappreciated and ill-informed about management decisions. Today, Johnson said he would do his best to “offer as much information as possible to employees” who will be impacted by the changes announced today. The city’s three-part transition plan for existing homelessness division workers shows employees being hired by the regional authority, transferred into other city jobs, or “transitioned” out of the department by April of next year.

The legislation setting up the new regional authority still has to be approved by both the Seattle City Council and King County Council. The latter, of course, includes Republicans and representatives of cities that are not being included in the plan who do not support the idea of a new regional bureaucracy overseeing homelessness. This morning, King County Council member Reagan Dunn issued a statement opposing the plan, saying, “This new layer of government would be undemocratically structured, lack representation of suburban cities, and be yet another expense on taxpayers. The homelessness crisis won’t be solved by pushing Seattle’s failed policies to the surrounding region.”

Dunn’s colleague Kohl-Welles said she hadn’t heard widespread opposition on the council, but added “I don’t know, standing here, that we’ll have unanimity as a council. I think there likely will be amendments as the legislation goes through the deliberative process, [but] I have not heard any other council member come out and say, ‘I am opposed to this.’ It’s more, ‘I’d like to learn more about it. I have some concerns but I don’t know the details yet.'”