1. Compass Housing Alliance, a nonprofit housing and shelter agency, was charging men $3 a night to sleep at the Blaine Center shelter on Denny Way until last month, when the city’s Human Services Department informed them that charging for shelter violated the expectations of their contract with the city.
The city became aware that Compass was charging shelter clients when a former shelter resident contacted council member Sally Bagshaw to complain. (The specific details of the resident’s claims are in dispute). Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman for HSD, says the department was unaware that Compass was charging its residents what amounted to $90 in monthly rent until officials talked with the Blaine Center client in late September. At that point, Olberding says, “we instructed Compass that charging a shelter fee was a violation of their contract expectations and that they must stop the practice immediately. Secondarily we communicated an expectation that Compass refund every person in the shelter the entirety of the payments that have previously been collected.”
Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing
Olberding says that every resident who paid money to stay at the Blaine Center—or other charities, such as the Millionair Club, that paid the fees on their behalf—was reimbursed in cash. “Since receiving the complaint, the HSD Contract Manager has spoken with Compass leadership to reflect the concerns that they are implementing rules and policies inconsistently,” Olberding adds.
Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing. “A lot of people who are in Blaine Shelter are employed, so it was an element of helping them to figure out how to budget their money,” Sullivan says. She does not know precisely how long the Blaine Center has charged for shelter, but says that no one is turned away from Blaine Center if they don’t have the money to pay.
However, charging for shelter creates, at a minimum, the perception of a financial barrier that could lead unsheltered people who don’t know about the shelter’s fee waiver policy to stay away. And the promise that any nightly fees will be paid back in the future, if and when a person gets permanent housing, does not alleviate the burden of coming up with an extra $3 a day in the short term.
Most shelters do not charge fees or rent for service, and HSD says it is unaware of any other city contractor that does so. The Emerald City Resource Guide published by Real Change indicates that one other shelter charges for beds—the Bread of Life Mission men’s shelter (which charges $5 a night, according to the resource guide.
2. District 3 city council candidate Egan Orion’s campaign, which was just fined $1,000 for failing to properly identify the campaign as the sponsor of a controversial ad on the front cover of the Stranger, has failed to report its use of a property owned by Uncle Ike’s pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg as an in-kind contribution to the campaign, The C Is for Crank has learned. The campaign moved into a former Shell station owned by Eisenberg at 21st Ave. and East Union Street back in September. The free office space should have been reported either as an expenditure or an in-kind contribution by Eisenberg to the campaign.
City council contributions, including in-kind contributions, are limited to $250 for candidates participating in the city’s Democracy Voucher public-financing program (as Orion is). The Shell property has a taxable value of $1.8 million, according to King County Tax records. Kshama Sawant, the incumbent Orion is challenging in District 3, pays $1,558 a month to Madrona Apartments, LLC for her office space.
Orion campaign manager Olga Laskin says the campaign’s failure to report an expenditure or contribution for the use of Eisenberg’s space “was an oversight on the part of our treasurer. She is amending the C4 [expenditure report] so we should be set.” The campaign did not respond to a followup question about the fair-market value of the space. Wayne Barnett, the head of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, says that any campaign office space that has a fair-market value has to be reported as an expenditure or in-kind contribution.
Eisenberg responded to questions about Orion’s use of his space by saying, “I don’t think it is appropriate to talk about tenants and their leases.” In fact, state campaign-finance law requires campaigns to report all contributions and expenditures, including rent.
This article has been edited from its original version to remove a reference to the YWCA charging women to stay at the Angeline’s Center enhanced shelter. A representative from the group contacted me to say that the information in the Real Change Emerald City Resource Guide linked above is inaccurate, and that some residents voluntarily put 30% of their incomes into savings accounts held by the agency.