Tag: regional homelessness authority

Homelessness Report Highlights Inequities, Growth In Chronic Homelessness In King County

This story originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Last year, when King County’s “point-in-time count” of the homeless population indicated a slight dip in the number of people counted in the shelters and on the streets, Mayor Jenny Durkan celebrated the news, crediting the city’s work adding shelter and expanding the Navigation Team, among other actions, for the apparent 5 percent decline in unsheltered homelessness. Three-quarters of that decline was attributed in the report itself to the redefinition of “shelter” to include tiny house village encampments, which moved a number of people from the “unsheltered” to the “sheltered” column even though their living situation stayed the same.

This year’s one-night count showed a slight increase in both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness throughout King County, with the biggest increases in Seattle and Southwest King County. The new total estimate of 11,751 people experiencing homelessness represents a five percent increase over last year. A separate survey, which had fewer participants than in previous years, provided demographic data and information about why people became homeless, information that the county’s “Count Us In” report extrapolates across the entire homeless population.

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Now for the caveats. Every point-in-time count is just that—a count of how many people volunteers were able to identify on a specific night in January, a time when the number of people seeking shelter is higher and when the number sleeping outdoors fluctuates widely based on the weather. The night of the count, January 24, was extraordinarily rainy, with 1.14 inches of rain compared to no rain the previous year. Probably as a consequence, the number of people found living in abandoned buildings increased dramatically, from 140 to 662; the report notes that “The combined totals (of abandoned building count and street/outside count) are notably similar across the years.

Additionally, the report says homeless encampments sweeps by the city of Seattle probably reduced the Seattle numbers by at least several dozen; the report notes the removal of “28 tents and structures” from one site and the disappearance of at least 50 people from another immediately before the count took place.

The number of people counted also depends, in part, on the number of people walking and driving around the county and counting them. This year, about half as many volunteers showed up for the count as did in 2019, and about 25 fewer guides with lived experience of homelessness. The report attributes this decline to the weather and a shooting downtown that occurred less than two days before the count.

Additionally, the report says homeless encampments sweeps by the city of Seattle probably reduced the Seattle numbers by at least several dozen; the report notes the removal of “28 tents and structures” from one site and the disappearance of at least 50 people from another immediately before the count took place.

Another factor that makes the January count an incomplete guide to current homeless numbers is the fact that it took place before the COVID-19 crisis, which created unprecedented unemployment throughout the region. Data from the county’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) shows a steady increase in the number of people seeking homeless services through the end of March, when 13,238 households (which can include multiple people) sought services, a 29 percent increase over January. Losing a job is the most common reason survey respondents gave for becoming homeless (16 percent); another 8 percent said they became homeless because they couldn’t afford their rent. 

“Without accurate data that tells the truth about the astonishingly high rates in the Native community, the narrative is inequitable.” — Colleen Echohawk, Chief Seattle Club

The county could not offer HMIS data after March, but the numbers are likely to increase substantially—especially after moratoriums expire. Leo Flor, the director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, said Wednesday that “rent-burdened” households—renters who struggle to pay rent from month to month—will be hit especially hard by both the economic downturn and the eventual termination of financial assistance that is currently helping them make ends meet.

“If that assistance were to cease” in the absence of replacement income, “we would see a lot of additional people moving from rent-burdened to homelessness.” In other words: If people who are living on cash or rent assistance (or not paying rent at all during the eviction moratorium) don’t find jobs by the time that income runs out, we’re going to see a lot more homeless people on our streets. This is supported by the fact that “losing a job” was the most common reason people reported becoming homeless, followed by alcohol or drug issues, mental health problems, and an inability to afford rent.

People sleeping outdoors or otherwise unsheltered increased in every part of King County except North and Southeast King County, with the largest percentage increases in Northeast King County (69 percent) and East King County (32 percent), followed by Seattle at 5 percent.

People who identified as Black made up 25 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the latest count, which uses numbers from a separate survey—this year, of 832 homeless adults and youth) to extrapolate demographic data across the entire homeless population. (The people conducting the one-night count do not approach people or note their apparent genders or races.) That’s a decline from last year’s number, 32 percent, but still extremely disproportionate in a county where Black people make up just 7 percent of the population.

The proportion of Native American/Alaska Native people experiencing homelessness, meanwhile, spiked from 10 to 15 percent of the people surveyed, and 32 percent of those experiencing chronic homelessness, a prevalence that’s 15 times higher than the number of Native people in the county. Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, attributed the increase to better data collection this year, including the fact that Native service providers have been increasingly involved in data collection. (Prior to last year, no Native organizations were involved in collecting data.)

“Chronic homelessness is tough on people’s health, it’s tough on people’s ability to maintain their relationships, and it certainly is hard on their ability to maintain their housing status.” — King County DCHS Director Leo Flor 

“Because of our efforts to collect more accurate data related to American Indians and Alaska Natives experiencing homelessness, we believe we are getting closer to truly understanding the scope of the work ahead,” Echohawk said in a statement. “Without accurate data that tells the truth about the astonishingly high rates in the Native community, the narrative is inequitable.”

King County’s survey also include a multi-race category, which dilutes the racial data.

This year’s report also shows dramatic increases in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness (from 2,451 to 3,743) and in the percentage of those individuals who were unsheltered (from 3 to 29 percent), along with an increase in the number of homeless individuals (70 percent of them women) fleeing domestic violence. The report attributes these upticks,  in part, to better data collection. But the number of women experiencing homelessness, both in general (41 percent) and in subcategories like youth (47 percent) and people living in vehicles (56 percent) suggests that the face of homelessness is increasingly female—a fact that doesn’t fit with the most common stereotypes about who becomes homeless and why. The report didn’t ask women and men separately why they became homeless, an oversight that makes it hard to extrapolate why women become homeless from this report.

The number of people who are chronically homeless (a group that is much more likely to be unsheltered than people who have been homeless for shorter periods) increased more than 52 percent this year, to 3,355, and the rate of reported psychiatric disorders also spiked sharply. (The term “chronically homeless” refers to a person who has been homeless for more than a year, or for more than four times in the last three years, and who suffers from a chronic physical or mental health condition, including serious mental illness or addiction or a physical disability.)

Flor, the DCHS director, noted Wednesday that the two trends are closely related. As the number of people experiencing long-term homelessness increases, he said, “we would expect that the number of psychiatric conditions would increase as well. Chronic homelessness is tough on people’s health, it’s tough on people’s ability to maintain their relationships, and it certainly is hard on their ability to maintain their housing status.”

In her statement about this year’s results, Mayor Durkan emphasized the county’s move to a regional approach to homelessness rather than one centered on City of Seattle resources. “While many individuals[‘] last stable home was not in the City of Seattle, our city continues to serve the most vulnerable in our region,” Durkan said. “Our regional homelessness investments must include an immediate and direct response to any crisis of housing stability, connecting people with the services they need, in their community wherever they are across the county.”

After the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness ended in 2015 (a year that, like previous years and all the ones since, ended with more people experiencing homelessness than ever), cities, counties, and service providers should be adopted the mantra that homelessness should be “brief, one-time, and rare.” This year, not only did the rate of chronic, long-terms homelessness increase, so did the percentage of survey respondents who said they had been homeless for one year or more.

Seattle has tried focusing on “rapid rehousing” with short-term vouchers, pivoting to heavy investments in emergency shelter, and now joining forces with the county and suburban cities to try to agree on a single regional solution to homelessness. Perhaps next year’s count will begin to reveal whether this latest shift will actually yield results.

A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More

Acting HSD director Jason Johnson and mayoral advisor on homelessness Tess Colby

1. City council member Lisa Herbold struggled Wednesday to get Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson to answer her question about future layoffs from HSD’s Homeless Strategy and Investment (HSI) division, which is merging with King County’s homelessness division as part of the creation of a new regional homelessness authority. At a meeting of the council’s special committee on homelessness, Herbold asked Johnson repeatedly how many HSI employees would be moving to new offices in the county-owned Yesler Building as part of a temporary “co-location” of city and county staff, and how many are expected to have jobs with the new authority. “I’m hearing a lot of speculation about which positions are going to be eliminated,” Herbold said. “Given that the entire HSI division is being relocated [in March and we aren’t making final decisions about who will stay at the regional authority until much later, is there something happening that we should be aware of?”

Johnson responded first by describing the history that led to the current organizational structure of HSI, then talked at length about the successive organizational structures that will be put in place over the next year. “What is going to occur is colocation in March 2020, then after the hiring of the CEO, we will begin what is termed a loan period where day to day decisions are made by the CEO, but there will also be existing lines of authority back to the city and the county…”

“I’m frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”—Council member Lisa Herbold

His explanation—which did not include an answer to Herbold’s question about layoffs—went on for so long that council member Kshama Sawant jumped in to say that she hoped the council could wrap up talking about the regional authority quickly so that the committee could move on to “the most substantive issue” on the agenda, her proposal to vastly expand tiny house villages in the city, since she had somewhere else to be. (Council member Debora Juarez said that while she appreciated Sawant’s desire to move on to her own item, “I want to point out that we spent 90 minutes on a resolution that we didn’t even pass”—Sawant’s resolution condemning India’s National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act—and “I, for one, want to hear how this is going to get implemented.”)

After the meeting, Herbold told me that she never did get answer to her question: “If the entirety of HSI staff are colocating and layoff decisions aren’t being made final until either a 2020 supplemental or 2021 proposed budget, when exactly between those two points in time will HSI staff learn their jobs are proposed to be eliminated?” Herbold says she was “frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”

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2. Juarez was hardly the only council member casting shade on Sawant’s nonbinding resolution on India, which—along with a resolution opposing war in Iran—took up most of the council’s two-hour-plus regular meeting on Monday. Freshman council member Alex Pedersen said he would propose a resolution condemning all forms of oppression everywhere, just to cover all possible bases. “There’s many disturbing issues going on today for which we do not have resolutions, and my resolution is broad enough to capture instances of oppression that we might be missing,” Pedersen said. “Allow me to ask that we try to not craft a city council council resolution for every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does.”

Pedersen’s resolution, if it ever does see the light of day, is unlikely to find traction among his colleagues, who seemed to consider it a stunt designed to embarrass Sawant. Sawant, for her part, immediately used the proposal as an opportunity to drag her colleagues for lacking the “moral and political courage” to address housing and homelessness. “Passing resolutions is not the barrier. The barrier is lack of courage,” she said.

3. Tomorrow afternoon, Beyonce St. James—the formerly homeless drag artist who spoke and performed at All Home King County’s annual conference last year—will appear in court to seek an injunction against the release of public records that include her legal name and other identifying information. I received a notice of the hearing because I requested St. James’ invoice for the event, for which she charged $500. (Attendees reported that they were told St. James was volunteering her time and performing for tips; video of the event shows attendees tossing and handing her cash.) St. James (not her legal name) is asking that all her personal information be kept private because she has already been threatened and harassed over her performance and fears further harassment if her address and other details are made public.

Continue reading “A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More”

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

 

Lone “no” vote: Council member Lorena Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interlocal agreement also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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”

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.”

Support The C Is for Crank
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 contribution 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.

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.

Support The C Is for Crank
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 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”

One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?

1. Reagan Dunn, a Republican King County Council member who has been vocal in his opposition to a proposal to merge Seattle and King County’s homelessness agencies, told me last week that one of his concerns about the plan was that it would be responsible for implementing the same policies he believes have failed at reducing homelessness, including lenient “Seattle-centric” policies like the (basically moribund) plan to open a safe drug consumption site in King County and county prosecutor Dan Satterburg’s decision not to prosecute people for simple drug possession. On Tuesday, he proposed a few policies he thinks will work better.

The first proposal would allocate at least a million dollars a year for bus tickets to send homeless people to “reunite” with family members out of town—as long as those family members don’t live in King or any adjacent county. These “Homeward Bound” programs have had mixed success, both at getting homeless people to go somewhere else and actually reuniting people with their families; according to a 2017 Guardian investigation, there’s often little tracking of what happens to homeless people once they’re sent away, and little way of knowing if they’ve been reunited with loved ones or simply become some other city’s problem. “Seattle has nothing like [Homeward Bound] and we’ve become a dead-end street,” Dunn says. “Sometimes you have to have a tough-love solution.”

Support The C Is for Crank
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.

Surveys of people experiencing homelessness in King County consistently show that the overwhelming majority—84 percent of those surveyed as part of the 2019 point-in-time count—lived (in housing) in King County before becoming homeless.

Dunn’s other two proposals would set up a county team to do outreach to homeless people in Metro bus shelters and on buses (two of the principle places people without homes go to get dry and warm), and a plan to notify opiate prescribers when a patient dies of an opiate-related overdose.

Dunn says he thinks the proposed new regional body, which would be governed by a board of “experts” that would not include any elected officials, would be “unaccountable to the public” and could siphon funding away from King County’s other cities to Seattle. He may not be alone. County Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski, both Democrats, are reportedly on the fence, and Bellevue Democrat Claudie Balducci expressed some misgivings last week. The county’s regional policy committee, which includes members from many of the cities that were not included in the plan, meets to discuss the proposal this afternoon.

The language is so similar to the verbiage on People For Seattle’s vitriolic, often highly misleading primary election direct mail pieces (particularly that “back to basics,” anti-“ideology” stuff) that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is their poll.

2. A lawsuit by the group Safe Seattle that sought to shut down a “tiny house village” in South Lake Union was rejected just as the city announced plans to extend the permits for the three officially temporary villages—in Othello, Georgetown, and West Seattle—for six more months. But the future of these “tiny house” encampments is still in question.

The three villages originally supposed to move after two years, but their permits have been extended twice, and it’s unclear whether the Human Services Department has a long-term plan for what to do with them after the extensions are up. (When I asked HSD about the future of the villages, a spokeswoman initially said they would have something to announce “soon,” then pointed me to the agency’s blog post about the six-month extension.) Continue reading “One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?”