1. Colleen Echohawk, the executive director of the Chief Seattle Club—a human service provider and day center that focuses on American Indian and Alaska Native people experiencing homelessness—will announce she’s running for mayor on Monday.
Echohawk, an enrolled member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation, told PubliCola Sunday that she probably wouldn’t have gotten into the race if it wasn’t for COVID-19, which she said has created “opportunities”—like the city and county’s newfound willingness to move people out of overcrowded shelters and into hotels. “If you had told me last year that we would have roughly 1,000 people in hotel rooms right now, I would be shocked,” she said. With the end of the statewide eviction moratorium “looming,” she added, “we can’t have more people falling into homelessness. It’s just immoral.”
Native Americans make up a vastly disproportionate percentage of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle and elsewhere. Over the past several years, advocates from groups like CSC have made Native American homelessness a priority for city spending, and successfully advocated for culturally competent assessments to get more Native people in line for homeless services and housing.
“I don’t think that anyone who’s been in a leadership position of an organization thinks you can, all of a sudden, just demand that everything is going to change. We are hitting the right tone and now we need to figure out ways to find common ground.”—Colleen Echohawk
“When we’ve had a lot of success has been when we’ve been at the table,” Echohawk said. “If we miss one meeting, decisions get made without us that affect us down the road.” Echohawk said she has been “disappointed in recent months” to see how long it has taken to stand up the regional homelessness authority, which she supported. “It honestly breaks my heart, because we have people who are hurting and because we’ve committed to the regional [approach.]”
In 2018, Echohawk led the team that helped Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is not running for reelection, select former police chief Carmen Best. Two years later, Best quit under a cloud of criticism over her handling of protests against police brutality.
Asked whether she supports the movement to defund the Seattle police and reinvest their budget in community-led public safety alternatives, Echohawk, who serves on the Community Police Commission, said, “I don’t think that anyone who’s been in a leadership position of an organization thinks you can, all of a sudden, just demand that everything is going to change. We are hitting the right tone and now we need to figure out ways to find common ground.”
Durkan has declined to begin the process of looking for a permanent police chief, and will likely leave it up to her successor to replace interim police chief Adrian Diaz. If that happens, Echohawk said she will look for someone “who has vision, a strong history of being anti-racist … and who understands the dynamics of the power of a police officer and how to work with community and work with the [Seattle Police Officers] Guild to find ways to change the system.”
Echohawk is widely viewed as an ally of the mayor’s, and reportedly turned down a job in Durkan’s office early in her term. But, she said, they differ in a number of important ways. “I come from a very different background” than Durkan, the native of Delta Junction, Alaska, said. “I grew up in a home where my dad would literally pick people up off the side of the road and bring them home. … We don’t have a legacy of privilege. We have a legacy of serving the community.”
2 .The regional homelessness authority, already off to a slow and rocky start, will succeed or fail based largely on whether more conservative suburban cities and liberal Seattle can agree on what kind of homeless programs to fund and how to fund them. Already, there have been schisms and delays: Several suburban cities opted out of a sales tax that will fund housing and homeless programs across the region, and the hiring of a director for the agency is months behind schedule.
Last Thursday, another schism revealed itself, when members of the Lived Experience Coalition—a group of people with direct experience of homelessness—challenged King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, of Bellevue, over his voting record and public statements about homelessness. The exchange came during a meeting of the authority’s governing board, which includes nine elected officials and three Lived Experience Coalition members. Dunn cast the lone “no” vote on the county council against a 0.1 sales tax to fund hotel-based shelters and housing for people experiencing homelessness in King County, and proposed spending $1 million to bus homeless people out of the area.
Zaneta Reid, a member of the governing committee, addressed Dunn directly at the end of the meeting: “We’re at this table for one reason, and that’s really to solve this problem of getting people off the stress and ending homelessness. Why are there some who are working against this?”
She continued: “Mr. Dunn—Reagan—I have not seen one article that you have been compassionate or even cared about what we’re sitting at this table doing. … How can I trust that you have the best interests of those that we are serving at forefront?”
Before Dunn could respond, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who chaired the meeting, jumped in.
“None of us can go off on on just what’s written in newspapers about us, in reflecting our deep work and passions on issues,” Durkan said, then suggested that a smaller “session” offline (and out of public view) would be a more appropriate venue to discuss the issues Reid was raising. Reid said that she had asked for just such a meeting and hadn’t gotten a response. Durkan thanked the members of the coalition for sharing their views, told them that they “are full members of this group,” and again suggested taking the rest of taking the discussion offline.
Last year, Dunn told right-wing radio host Dori Monson that he opposed the tax for homeless services because “it doesn’t seem to require much action, if any, from the individual homeless member that would be housed to the tax dollars” and because “it was done really under the cover of darkness.” The issue of whether to attach strings to basic services such as shelter and housing, by requiring people living unsheltered to find jobs, pass sobriety tests, or other requirements, is a significant and lasting fault line between suburban and urban cities, and will likely remain an issue as the authority decides how to address homelessness across the region.