Tag: Navigation Team

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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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.”

Council Grills Navigation Team on Low Success Rate, Suggesting That $8 Million Might Be Better Spent on Shelter

Photos from a site journal for the removal of an “obstruction” encampment inside a small forested area in MLK Memorial Park

A presentation by the Human Services Department on the latest quarterly report from the Navigation Team, which showed that 96 percent of encampment removals are now occurring with no advance notice or outreach, was derailed almost immediately this afternoon, as city council members objected to the premise of a presentation touting the team’s success. The Navigation Team is a 38-member group of police and Human Services Department staffers that removes encampments.

No sooner had Navigation Team director Tara Beck told the council, cheerfully, that “every person the Navigation Team engages with is offered shelter,” than council member Kshama Sawant interrupted, saying, “I just cannot wrap my head around how out of touch this sort of bureaucratic presentation is.” Her colleague Teresa Mosqueda chimed in: “We’re having a hard time accepting that statement” that everyone is offered shelter. As the Navigation Team’s own report makes clear, just 24 percent of people the Navigation Team speaks to, or “contacts,” during encampment removals receive shelter referrals.

Our goal is to build a relationship, express compassion over time, [and] to use motivational interviewing techniques to get to yes,” Navigation Team director Tara Beck said. This claim is belied by the fact that when the Dearborn sweep was announced, a REACH outreach worker who had been working with encampment residents told the Navigation Team and HSD leadership that removing the encampment with just three days’ notice would “creat[e] a recipe for more trauma for our clients.”

As I reported yesterday, the number of those people who actually go to shelter (as opposed to verbally accepting a referral in the middle of a chaotic and traumatic situation), fewer than 23 percent actually report to shelter within two days—a number that works out to just 6 percent of those contacted by the Navigation Team, or 45 people over a three-month period. Johnson suggested that the number would be higher if the people who went to shelter after 7 or 14 days elapsed were included, prompting Sawant to remark that the point of referring people somewhere when their encampment is removed is to get them sheltered right away, not weeks later. “What happens in… those [48] hours could be devastating to them. I feel like we have to at least make an attempt to not have a cavalier approach to this,” Sawant said.

The presenters—who, in addition to Johnson and Beck, included Navigation Team operations manager August Drake-Ericson—seemed to be caught flat-footed by the council’s barrage of questions, attempting to stick to a presentation that painted a sunny picture of the Navigation Team’s work. Beck referred repeatedly to efforts by Navigation Team field coordinators and system navigators (the two in-house outreach workers who took over when the city’s outreach partner, REACH, disengaged from the team last year) to “get to yes” with people living in encampments who were reluctant to “accept” offers of shelter, suggesting a level of sustained outreach that homeless service providers, advocates, and homeless people themselves have repeatedly said the team is not providing.

As it happens, that sweep in Martin Luther King Memorial Park occurred on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is a day that the Navigation Team takes off. On the team’s internal encampment removal schedule, the holiday is notated with an inspirational quote: “Injustice anywhere is an injustice to people everywhere.”

Again and again, council members questioned the staffers’ claim that the Navigation Team offers shelter, storage, and assistance to everyone living in encampments—pointing out, for example, that the team often removes encampments that are obviously occupied without recording any “contacts” with any of the people living there at all. “How can you say that you are offering people shelter when 96 percent of encampment removals are exempt from prior notice?,” Mosqueda said. In response, Beck clarified: When she said that the Navigation Team offers shelter and services to everyone, she was only referring to traditional, 72-hour removals—which now make up just 4 percent of the Navigation Team’s work.

During one such removal—the clearing of a large encampment at South Dearborn Street and I-5—Beck said that all 40 or so encampment residents were offered shelter, but just 10 accepted. “Our goal is to build a relationship, express compassion over time, [and] to use motivational interviewing techniques to get to yes,” Beck said. This claim is belied by the fact that when the Dearborn sweep was announced, a REACH outreach worker who had been connecting people living there with emergency clothing, food, and medical care told the Navigation Team and HSD leadership that removing the encampment with just three days’ notice would “creat[e] a recipe for more trauma for our clients,” according to an email obtained through a records request.

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“Case workers from various organizations have poured their energy into working together to provide assistance for folks living in that space,” the letter, from a case worker who is no longer with REACH, said. “All of this effort, all of the progress (however minimal it may appear) clients at [the Dearborn] Cloverleaf have made will be lost.”

here is a perverse incentive for HSD to continue calling things obstructions that are not obstructions, in the commonly understood meaning of that term, and to keep clearing encampments where they know people will either be absent or will not accept their offers of shelter. If the Navigation Team had a higher success rate, the system would quickly run out of beds to accept all their referrals. On an average night, according to the Navigation Team’s report, there are about 12 beds available among the ones set aside for Navigation Team referrals. (This point was not clear in the presentation or report, but a spokesman for HSD said this is what the number represents.) Half of these are in basic shelters where people sleep crowded together in bunks or on the floor—the type of shelter people who live in tents are the least likely to accept. Fundamentally, the system only “works” because most people don’t take shelter; if they did, the system would break down.

This would seem to suggest that the city needs to build more of the kinds of shelter people are likely to accept, such as tiny house villages, but Johnson said this would create another problem: “If we built enough shelter, we would then have another bottleneck, which would be at the front door of housing. You will never hear me say ‘let’s not build enough shelter,'” he continued, but it does move the goalposts in a way.” If we believe that shelter is better than living on the street, however, “moving the goalposts” even a little would still mean fewer people living, and dying, on sidewalks and in parks across the city. Continue reading “Council Grills Navigation Team on Low Success Rate, Suggesting That $8 Million Might Be Better Spent on Shelter”

Council Scrutinizes Navigation Team Report: No Progress on Shelter as Zero-Notice Encampment Removals Hit Highest Rate Ever

1. Seattle Police Department Lt. Sina Ebinger, the Navigation Team leader who ordered a private trash contractor to haul away items from her house earlier this month, has reportedly been reassigned to other duties while the Office of Police Accountability conducts an investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, Sili Kalepo, the field coordinator who reportedly oversaw the trash pickup at Ebinger’s house, has reportedly been put on administrative leave by the Human Services Department.

SPD spokesman Patrick Michaud said the department isn’t “going to have any further comment on this investigation until it is complete” and suggested I could find out Lt. Ebinger’s current employment status with the department by filing a public disclosure request, which I have done. A spokesman for HSD said he couldn’t provide any details on an ongoing investigation but confirmed that Kalepo’s conduct is under review.

2. The Navigation Team’s encampment removal practices will come under scrutiny from the council’s special committee on homelessness Wednesday, when HSD director Jason Johnson and team director Tara Beck present a report responding to a number of council questions, including how the Navigation Team determines that an encampment is an “obstruction” that must be removed right away and how the team plans to increase the number of displaced encampment residents who actually show up to shelter. (These quarterly reports, which always cover a different set of questions, are required under a budget proviso adopted several years back.)

Under Mayor Jenny Durkan, the Navigation Team has moved away from providing 72 hours’ notice and offers of shelter and services before removing unauthorized encampments—the “navigation” part of the equation—to a model where encampments are routinely designated as “obstructions” and removed without warning.

The report makes clear that the Navigation Team considers any encampment located in a public park or right-of-way to be an “obstruction” that can be removed without notice or outreach, regardless of whether it is actually impeding anyone’s use of the park or right-of-way.

The latest quarterly report confirms the continued escalation of this trend, noting that in the last three months of 2019, the team provided the once-standard 72 hours’ notice and outreach to just 11 encampments, compared to 292 encampments that were deemed “obstructions” or “hazards” and removed without warning. Put another way, the Navigation Team deemed 96 percent of the encampments it removed in 2019 to be exempt from the once-standard outreach and notification rules adopted in 2017. 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.

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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.

These numbers only account for encampments removed by the Navigation Team; as I’ve reported, some police officers have also been trained to remove encampments directly, without providing outreach or shelter referrals; during a three-month period last year, police authorized to remove encampments reported 515 “interactions” with people living in unsanctioned encampments, and made just nine referrals to shelter.

The report makes clear that the Navigation Team considers any encampment located in a public park or right-of-way to be an “obstruction” that can be removed without notice or outreach, regardless of whether it is actually impeding anyone’s use of the park or right-of-way. Citing the definition of “obstruction” from the city’s rules on unauthorized encampments, which includes “people, tents, personal property, garbage, debris or other objects related to an encampment that: are in a City park or on a public sidewalk,” the Navigation Team’s report argues: “Each of the items in the list above stand independently from one another, meaning only one statement needs to be true for an encampment to qualify as an obstruction.” As I’ve reported, this rule has already been interpreted broadly; for example, one encampment slated for removal last year was located down a steep, dangerous slope inside a grove of trees far away from any public path.

Only about 6 percent of the people the Navigation Team contacted—which is, itself, a fraction of the number of people living in encampments—ended up in shelter.

The Navigation Team did not respond to the council’s request for detailed information about each “obstruction” that justified an encampment removal. Instead, it provided a list of locations where “obstruction” encampments were removed, along with the number of “contacts” the team made at each encampment in the weeks before removing it. What’s most notable about this list is that the “contacts” column is a sea of “N/A”s—”not applicable,” meaning that the team removed tents, trash and personal property without talking to anyone who lived on-site at all.

When the Navigation Team did make contacts, the report shows, fewer than one in four accepted referrals to shelter, and of those, fewer than one in four actually showed up at the shelter to which they were referred. Put another way, only about 6 percent of the people the Navigation Team contacted—which is, itself, a fraction of the number of people living in encampments—ended up in shelter. This contrasts sharply with HSD’s own “performance-based contracting” standards for other outreach providers, who must refer at least 60 percent of their clients to shelter. According to the central staff memo, “There is no data to indicate that the Navigation Team’s effectiveness in connecting people with shelter improved” in the past quarter. Continue reading “Council Scrutinizes Navigation Team Report: No Progress on Shelter as Zero-Notice Encampment Removals Hit Highest Rate Ever”

Police Lieutenant Had Navigation Team Haul Her Personal Trash

Trash piled up for pickup at an encampment next to I-5.

Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Sina Ebinger, the SPD lead for the city’s encampment-clearing Navigation Team, directed Cascadia Cleaning and Removal, a city contractor that removes trash from encampment sites, to haul away bulky items from her house over the weekend of February 8-9, the C Is for Crank has learned. According to several sources, Lt. Ebinger asked Cascadia staffers to pick up some large items from her house because it was “on the way” to where they were going.

In a statement, the Human Services Department said, “The Human Services Department (HSD) and Navigation Team leadership are aware of an alleged incident involving two HSD and SPD Navigation Team members. Within hours of becoming aware of the incident, HSD notified SPD, which forwarded the matter to the Office of Police Accountability to review. In addition, HSD Human Resources will be reviewing the matter to ensure all proper protocols and policies are in place.”

“The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best.”—SPD

Separately, an SPD spokesman said that “following Seattle Police Department policy, we have forwarded the alleged incident to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) for further review. The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best. Until that time we will not have further comment.”

OPA has confirmed that a complaint was filed about the incident. Anne Bettesworth, OPA’s deputy director of public affairs, says the police-accountability agency is “conducting a preliminary investigation” into the incident, but said she couldn’t comment further on the open case.

Last year, the Navigation Team expanded to seven-day operations, allowing the team to post 72-hour removal notices and clear trash on weekends. The amount of trash the Navigation Team picks up each quarter is one of the performance metrics it reports to the city council; more “tonnage,” under this metric, means better performance.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home.

Cascadia is one of eight companies the city contracts with to pick up garbage, bulky items, and hazardous materials at homeless encampments throughout the city; according to their most recent contract, the city pays Cascadia $80 per worker, per hour, for encampment trash removal.

The Navigation Team’s work does not include picking up personal household trash from the homes of team members. Lt. Ebinger’s alleged improper use of city encampment cleanup resources could fuel criticism that the Navigation Team is insensitive to the gravity of its work, which involves removing homeless encampments, disposing of trash and personal items, and informing encampment residents about available shelter beds. Mayor Jenny Durkan has expanded the Navigation Team every year she has been in office, often over the objections of homeless advocates, who say the team does little more than move homeless people from place to place without providing viable alternatives to sleeping outdoors.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home. Cascadia did not respond to a request for comment.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s In: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

What’s out: 

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

City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More

With literally hundreds of budget amendments in play during the final weeks of city council budget deliberations, it’s almost impossible to cover every issue that’s currently in contention: From the way the police department responds to sex workers to how the proceeds of the Mercer Megablock should be spent, nearly every aspect of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget has been the subject of debate among a council that will say goodbye to at least four of its current members at the end of the year. What follows is a highly selective list of some of the proposals and policies that were in contention this past week.

The caveat for this entire post, of course, is that the city will have to completely retool its budget if Tim Eyman’s I-976, which would decimate funding for local transit, road, bridge, and transportation maintenance projects, passes on Tuesday.

• Mercer Megablock proceeds

A number of proposals would redirect or restrict funding from the sale of the Mercer Megablock property away from Durkan’s spending priorities toward other projects. Among the changes council members have proposed:

– Adding $15 million to the Office of Housing’s budget to fund low-income housing projects that are shovel-ready but unfunded under the city’s annual Notice of Funding Availability, which is perennially unable to fund all the projects that are ready to go. The funds would come from Durkan’s proposed Strategic Acquisition Fund (intended to buy land for future projects near transit) and homeownership and accessory dwelling unit loan programs that are aimed at helping moderate-income home buyers and existing homeowners get loans.

– Spending $2.45 million originally earmarked for that same fund to build a four-room child care center serving between 58 and 69 children in the basement of City Hall. Durkan, sponsor Sally Bagshaw noted, has proposed sidelining the City Hall facility and funding existing child care centers elsewhere, but “I do think that King County has solved this problem in the building right next door to us,” which has a child care center, so the city should be able to do the same thing.

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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.

– Redirecting $2.5 million of the sale proceeds to pay for protected bike lanes in South Seattle, for a total of $10.9 million dedicated to bike facilities in the area. South Seattle—particularly Southeast Seattle—has been historically neglected in the city’s bike infrastructure spending, a fact the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board acknowledged when it recommended prioritizing projects in southeast Seattle neighborhoods in the scaled-back spending plan for the Move Seattle levy. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s implementation plan for the levy basically ignored the board’s recommendations, leaving south Seattle without a single complete connection to downtown. The $2.5 million, O’Brien said, would allow the city to either build a full protected bike lane along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, or finish out a bike lane on Beacon Hill and connect the South Park and Georgetown neighborhoods.

The current bike master plan map, which includes huge gaps in South Seattle.

• “High-barrier offenders”

The council has been generally skeptical of Durkan’s proposal—based on controversial report by former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay— to expand programs inside the criminal justice system to address people with severe addiction or mental illness who repeatedly commit low-level crimes. Durkan’s plan would expand probation and add funding for several still largely undefined programs such as “case conferencing” (in which cops and prosecutors discuss how to deal with “high-impact” individuals) and a jail-based “connector” program to direct people leaving jail after short stays to shelter and services.

Several proposals from the council would require that the city auditor take a look at how the mayor’s entire “high-barrier offender” plan would impact low-income people and people of color. Public safety committee chair Lorena Gonzalez, who also proposed zeroing out Durkan’s $170,000 proposal to expand probation, said that when she has asked judges what they’re doing to determine whether probation disproportionately harms people of color, “they have been unable to answer that question.” As for the case conferencing and “connector” pilots, Gonzalez said, “we need a concrete, developed plan from the executive and the law department before we agree to just give them the money… in a hope and prayer that they’re going to structure it appropriately.”

Bagshaw, who supports the mayor’s plan, suggested that the city auditor might not have the “expertise” to determine whether the proposal would harm people of color, and said she would prefer to set up a “roundtable” including judges and prosecutors, who generally support the proposal, and “get moving on it.” Gonzalez responded that the mayor’s plan was “admittedly a half-baked idea, and I think if we are serious about meeting some of the public safety and harm reduction strategies we have as a city, then we have to be serious about creating concrete plans with specific outcomes.” Advocates for harm reduction and pre-arrest diversion programs say the proposal simply throws more money at strategies that aren’t working.

In several related items, Gonzalez proposed funding arrest-diversion options for sex workers (who’ve been targeted by recent stings from the Seattle Police Department) and requiring SPD to work on correctly identifying people by race, including Latinx/Hispanic people. Currently, SPD doesn’t consistently track the ethnicity of the people it arrests, making it difficult to determine how Seattle’s criminal justice system impacts Latinx people.

• Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion

As I’ve reported, LEAD—a successful pre-arrest diversion program that provides case management and services to people committing low-level crimes in certain parts of the city—says it needs an additional $4.7 million a year in additional funding to keep up with growing caseloads. (Durkan’s budget essentially held LEAD’s funding steady at previous levels even though the program’s caseloads and geographic reach have been vastly expanded in recent years). The council seems poised to split the baby, partially funding LEAD with $3.5 million in new spending and directing the program’s backers to come up with private funding to pay for the rest.

“I have every bit of faith in Ms. [Lisa] Daugaard [the director of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD]  and the rest of us to be picking up the phone and talking to the private sector” to fund the remaining $1.2 million, Bagshaw said. Gonzalez, one of the co-sponsors (along with Kshama Sawant and Like O’Brien O’Brien) of proposals to fund the full $4.7 million with city dollars, said she had some “anxiety” about the restrictions that might apply to the private funding.

Image via Low-Income Housing Institute

• Tiny house villages

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who’s on maternity leave (so this item was introduced by Bagshaw), proposed adding $900,000 for 100 new “tiny house village” encampment spots, which Bagshaw said she would like to earmark in some way for LEAD participants. This item, which had the support of all seven council members present, was notable mostly because of Gonzalez’ comments criticizing the so-called “Poppe Report,” which (along with a related report from Focus Strategies) suggested that the city has enough funding for homelessness and opposed tiny house villages and other kinds of interim encampments. The city and King County are about to release another series of reports, including one by Focus Strategies, as part of the Regional Action Plan that will inform the planned consolidation of the city and county’s homelessness agencies.

“One of the most unfortunate things that came out of that Poppe report was her absolute expression of disdain for tiny villages, [which] has hurt our city’s efforts to really provide meaningful solutions,” Gonzalez said. “I have really appreciated the fact that as city leadership we have, in a lot of ways, bucked that predisposition or ideology that she expressed in her report and really have committed to the tiny house village concept.”

• The Navigation Team

Durkan’s budget (like last year’s) seeks permanent funding for two new Navigation Team members (out of four added outside the normal budget process this year), both of whom were funded this year with one-time funds. Sawant’s proposal to eliminate the team—the subject of much hand-wringing among right-wing and even mainstream media last month—predictably received no support, while Lisa Herbold’s extension of a proviso that requires the team to report on what it’s doing appears poised to pass. The biggest debate last week was actually over a proposal, from Debora Juarez, to expand the team yet again to include two new members dedicated specifically to her North Seattle district, which Juarez says is overrun with dangerous encampments that need to be removed. Continue reading “City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More”

The 2019 Seattle City Council Candidates: Debora Juarez

Image via Wikipedia.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez. Juarez, a former public defender and pro tem Seattle Municipal Court judge, has served on the council since 2015, and has developed a reputation as a blunt-spoken, fierce advocate for her district. We sat down the same week that a conversation about criminal-justice funding devolved into a debate about why women become sex workers, and we started our conversation talking about that.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): A recent conversation about whether to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program went off the rails when the deputy police chief, Mark Garth Green, said some women who engage in sex work aren’t good candidates for LEAD because “aren’t necessarily substance abusers” and do sex work for fun. Unlike your colleagues Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez, you didn’t make any comments during that discussion, so I wanted to ask you what your reaction was.

Debora Juarez (DJ): My reaction was the same as council member Mosqueda and council member [Sally] Bagshaw. We still have this misunderstanding about what sex workers and trafficking, and that it isn’t a victimless crime. They are victims. I’m not outraged. I’m more afraid that if that is what frontline officers think, that affects their ability and their discretion in how they do their jobs. So it could’ve been any officer sitting there saying that. And I’ve heard that [sort of talk] when I was a public defender and a judge.

ECB: It seemed like the larger context that got lost in that discussion was the discussion about whether offering sex workers access to LEAD would be a more effective approach than SPD’s new policy of arresting women on Aurora Ave. And what SPD and the mayor’s office seemed to be saying that there are some people for whom LEAD just doesn’t work. What do you think of that?

“LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. We had the same arguments then. ‘You’re enabling;’ ‘Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.’ Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.”

DJ: There is some truth that LEAD doesn’t work for everybody, but I would say overall, it does work if you have a bed ready. If you have somewhere safe for them to go, it does work. And I hate to get into this whole patriarchy thing, but you really need some women in leadership that understand it from a DNA level that sometimes [sex work] is [women’s] last way to take care of themselves. And I would say the majority of women are amenable to LEAD.

ECB: So you think that LEAD needs to be expanded?

DJ: There’s no doubt. I think everyone agrees that it works, that it should be expanded, and that LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. Now it’s normal stuff, right? We had the same arguments then. “You’re enabling.” “Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.” Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.

ECB: So do you think LEAD should be funded at the level they’re requesting, which would require an additional $4.8 million?

DJ: I think we just have to land on a number and I err on the side of more than less.

ECB: You’ve supported expanding the Navigation Team, even though a lot of what they do now is just removing encampments and telling people to move along. Do you think that the problem has gotten so bad that just clearing encampments is a worthwhile thing to be spending money on?

DJ: Yes, I do, because I think you have to do something. And I know people don’t want to hear this, but what I’ve seen, particularly in our district, [is that] you have 27 tents and not one person wants to accept services or housing. Or we have these tents and we know that they’re doing sex trafficking and selling drugs. My philosophy has been this: If somebody in Pinehurst is selling drugs out of their house, they should be arrested. If they’re selling drugs out of their tent, they should be arrested. That’s really what I think. We have to do something. Looking away from that issue isn’t good enough.

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ECB: When you say, ‘We’ve offered them all the services,’ I think that the counterargument would be that there aren’t enough treatment beds or even enhanced shelter beds available.

DJ: I’m physically out there [talking to people who refuse services]. I know what I saw. On the flip side, I have also seen where we have offered services and we’ve had success, mainly when we’ve people into enhanced shelters. That is more palatable [to people living in encampments], and that’s what we need more of. That’s been my big push.

ECB: Do you think the region needs more revenue to address homelessness, in addition to the new regional homelessness authority?

DJ: Yes, in a general sense. Absolutely. And in fact, my original thought six months ago was, I wanted them to also have a part in building housing, not just [providing] services. I wanted them to be able to assume debt and issue debt and actually build housing stock, along with the social service piece and the enhanced services piece. Maybe we can get to that point, because I think there’s a lot of for-profit and nonprofit developers that would feel more comfortable writing a check to a [Public Development Authority] than to the city of Seattle or the King County. That’s what I’m hearing from the private sector.

ECB: Would you be open to revisiting any of the recommendations that came out of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force, besides the head tax?

DJ: I wouldn’t;. I’m going to be candid with you on that. That was seven months of not our finest hour. You know, I wrote this memo deconstructing the progressive revenue task force’s report. My position had always been from the beginning that that should be a voter initiative and I wanted it on the ballot. I worked with Mayor Ed Murray when we were looking at imposing a tax, and then you saw what happened—he and the county executive [Dow Constantine] said the people are tax-weary [and dropped it]. It was ready to go, raising $52 million a year for five years.

I would have liked that kind of structure to have that kind of discussion with the head tax. Continue reading “The 2019 Seattle City Council Candidates: Debora Juarez”

Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail


Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office sent council members a letter today outlining potential devastating consequences if the city council eliminates or reduces the size of the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and city staffers who remove unauthorized encampments. The letter, signed by the heads of seven executive departments that report to Durkan (plus the director of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health), suggests that between 95 and 476 fewer people will receive referrals to shelter next year if the council reduces funding for the Navigation Team.

“The Navigation Team’s trained police officers, Field Coordinators and System Navigators engage people experiencing homelessness in some of Seattle’s most dangerous and inaccessible locations, establishing the rapport and trust needed to provide critical services,” the memo says.

But the biggest issue with the warning in the mayor’s memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea.

There are a few issues with this analysis. The first is that referrals to shelter matter less than how many people actually end up going to shelter. According to the city’s own numbers (first reported by The C Is for Crank), fewer than a third of all shelter referrals result in a person actually accessing a shelter bed, so the actual number of people who might not access shelter through the Navigation Team is more like 28 to 143 people a year.

The second issue is that the Navigation Team, by the city’s own admission, now focuses primarily on removing encampments it considers “obstructions,” an expansive term that can apply to any tent set up in a park or public right-of-way. According to outreach workers, these zero-notice removals do not establish “rapport” or “trust”; quite the opposite. That’s why the city’s nonprofit outreach provider, REACH, stopped participating in “obstruction” removals earlier this year.

But the biggest issue with the alarming memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea. The only other proposed restriction on the Navigation Team is the renewal of an existing budget proviso that requires the team to produce data on its progress, which isn’t the same thing as a cut. And at least one council member—Debora Juarez—actually wants to make the Navigation Team even bigger.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal. If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.” — City Council member Lorena Gonzalez

The real targets for the executive department’s memo may have been council members like Sally Bagshaw, who remarked that she had never seen such consensus among city departments, and the local media, who ran with Durkan’s story line without mentioning that Sawant’s proposal has approximately a zero percent chance of passing. (Bagshaw’s comment about departmental unity led her colleague Lorena Gonzalez to quip, “I don’t disagree that there is consensus amongst the executive.”)

That isn’t to say that council members didn’t have critical things to say about the Navigation Team, which has ballooned in size during the Durkan Administration, from 22 members in 2017 to 38 this year. (After the team’s nonprofit outreach partner, REACH, stopped participating in no-notice “obstruction” removals this summer, Durkan added four more members to the team, funding two of them with one-time funds; her budget proposal, much like last year’s, seeks to make those positions permanent).

Gonzalez suggested that, given the team’s extremely low ratio of “contacts” to shelter acceptance (just 8 percent of those the team contacts end up in shelter), the city should stop pretending it is “navigating” anyone to anywhere and just start calling it a “cleanup” operation.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal,” Gonzalez said. “If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.”

Bagshaw countered that the Navigation Team does more than “cleanups”; they also offer services and help combat what she called “a sense of less than safety in a neighborhood. … We’ve got to put our arms around the people in the neighborhoods as well,” she said.

Herbold’s proposed proviso would require the council to approve the Navigation Team’s funding every quarter based on whether it was making progress on responding to a set of recommendations the city auditor made back in 2018, many of which Herbold said the mayor’s office and HSD have “indicated that they have no intention of addressing.” One of those recommendations has to do with the Navigation Team’s staffing model and whether the current structure of the team makes sense. “We have not asked them to change the staffing model; we have asked them to do a staffing assessment. And the reason for that is that the staffing configuration might have an impact on the Navigation Team’s ability to meet our shared objectives,” Herbold said.

Juarez’s proposed budget add, in contrast, would expand the Navigation Team by two more members to serve north Seattle, which Juarez said has seen “a lot more unsanctioned encampments… that are just being ignored.” Gonzalez questioned Juarez’s proposal, asking why the existing Navigation Team couldn’t be deployed to serve the north end if that’s where the need is, and Herbold warned against making decisions about where to deploy the team based on complaints or anecdotes rather than data. “I am concerned that if we look at a geographic focus, that is going to really turn this whole body of work into one that is driven by what locations are getting the most complaints rather than what locations are creating the largest actual, objective problems,” she said.

Continue reading “Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail”