Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future

Left: HSD director Jason Johnson; right: Mayor Durkan

1. UPDATE on Thursday, Jan. 16: According to HSD, the Navigation Team made 41 referrals to shelter on the first two nights of the winter storm—14 on Monday and 27 on Tuesday. Additionally, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said that there was no shortage of mats or other supplies at any of the emergency winter shelters. “The City is not low on supplies,” Lemke said. “Far from it. The City has strategic caches of supplies placed around Seattle for events like this. These supplies include supplies, cots, mats, sleeping bags, blankets, and first aid-kits.” A source who works for the Salvation Army, which staffed the downtown shelters, said people were sleeping on the floor or in chairs at the Seattle Municipal Tower on Tuesday night with only “thin blankets” to protect them in the chilly lobby, which has a revolving door.

At a briefing on winter storm response on Tuesday, officials with the city’s Human Services Department emphasized efforts by the city’s Navigation Team to get people living in encampments into shelter during the freezing weather, noting that members of the team—which ordinarily removes encampments—were out “from 7 am to midnight” on Monday making contact with encampment residents. What they weren’t able to say was how many people actually accepted an offer of transportation or shelter from the team, whose job ordinarily involves removing encampments and telling their displaced residents about available shelter beds, typically with few takers. HSD director Jason Johnson would not answer followup questions about the Navigation Team’s success rate, pointedly ignoring calls of “Jason!” from several reporters as he rushed out of the briefing room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

In a followup conversation, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said he would not have an exact number of shelter referrals, contacts made, or the number of people who received transportation from the Navigation Team until the city had crunched the numbers and entered them into the Homeless Information Management System. “I just haven’t been able to verify those numbers yet. Everything is very much in flux because everyone’s out in the field right now,” Lemke said when I asked for more detailed information. The number is reportedly in the single digits.

Last year, the city did publish the numbers right away, and did not issue any subsequent corrections to indicate their early numbers were wrong. On the first major snow day last year, February 8, the Navigation Team reported getting 18 people into shelter. On the 9th, 50. On the 10th, 67.

At the briefing, Durkan said that the city “saw greater uptake [on offers of shelter] last year on the second or third day of the storm. … We had a great deal of success with the Navigation Team going out to encampments and saying, ‘Hey you should come inside. It’s a good place. It’s safe.'” 

Johnson said that none of the shelters were over capacity and denied that there were any issues providing enough mats or other supplies to its severe weather shelters, which include space at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower, and at the Bitter Lake Community Center. There is also space for men only at the King County Administration Building. All shelters are operated by the Salvation Army.

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2. Last week, I reported on the fact that Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired an $86,000 consultant to evaluate the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and make recommendations that will inform whether LEAD will receive funding approved in last year’s city budget to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city. But LEAD isn’t the only human services program that might not receive operational funds that were approved last year. At least two other programs are under review by the mayor’s office.

One, a $700,000 pilot program called Homes for Good that would provide small “shallow” rent subsidies to people who receive federal disability payments and are at risk of homelessness, is under review because Durkan is reportedly cautious about funding a pilot program without a plan to continue paying for it in the future. David Kroman wrote several stories about this issue for Crosscut.

Alison Eisinger, the director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, which pushed for the program, notes that pilot programs, by their nature, don’t come with guaranteed funding for future years. (Durkan has not expressed similar concerns when funding programs she supports, such as the Navigation Team, with onetime funding and then characterizing subsequent efforts to roll back these expansion as indefensible “cuts.”) Says Eisinger: “I find it hard to believe that the mayor’s office wouldn’t be moving with all deliberate speed to implement this excellent proposal, because they are aware of the large number of people who need this benefit and the importance of stepping in before one more person gets an eviction notice.”

Another council-added line item that’s under scrutiny is a $1 million add for the Chief Seattle Club, which provides services for Native American people experiencing homelessness. The funding was earmarked to pay for rapid rehousing programs, direct services, and “fhomelessness prevention, diversion, day centers, and outreach.”

The last program under discussion is a plan to spend $1.8 million on new tiny house villages that prioritize referrals from LEAD, the Navigation Team, and Seattle Municipal Court.

There are no legal restrictions preventing mayors from deciding not to spend money allocated by the council, and delays do happen when a contracted project goes over budget or falls behind schedule. What unites these delayed projects, particularly LEAD, is that Durkan is precluding expenditures for the purpose of reopening a debate that ordinarily would have ended when the budget was adopted and signed.

Today is Deputy Mayor David Moseley’s last day at the city. His replacement, Casey Sixkiller, came to the city after serving briefly as Chief Operating Officer at King County (a position also held, even more briefly, by his fellow deputy mayor Mike Fong), but since he left late last year, Constantine has not replaced him. Instead, Sixkiller’s duties have been transferred to county budget director Dwight Dively. Constantine’s odd decision not to fill this historically important job, among other factors, has given rise to rumors that Constantine does not plan to run again in 2021. Constantine, who has more than $150,000 in his campaign fund, said he did not plan to run for governor after Gov. Jay Inslee said he would seek another term in 2020. His longtime consultant, Christian Sinderman, did not return a call for comment.

4 thoughts on “Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future”

  1. The delay in funding these essential programs is merely an indication of how insulated this Mayor is from reality.

  2. Also, I called Metro to find out if Fare Enforcement would be suspended during inclement weather to assist in getting people to shelter. (There is only one inclement weather shelter in the north end, and most of our guests have to bus downtown to stay at the emergency shelter in the Seattle Center.) Metro told us no, Fare Enforcement officers would still be on patrol.

  3. Erica, thank you for your continued distillation and distribution of this important information! Homes For Good, Chief Seattle, and Tiny Home funding is all ESSENTIAL. As a the host of a day shelter, I cannot FATHOM why Durkan would even consider cutting these funds!

    I work at a day shelter, and I have formerly homeless neighbors who now reside in Tiny Houses, and I cannot stress enough that we need this funding (and more), and we need more zoning for affordable multi-family housing.

    Wait lists for housing continue to be around 2 years long — if you can even get on them. There is simply not enough affordable housing!

  4. The lack of mats and going over capacity is a dang lie. the Exhibition Hall has 100 mats but they run out before midnight and people are sleeping on the floor and the blankets run out also. The municipal tower had blankets but no mats or anything.

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