Compassion Seattle Predictions, Street Sink Challenges, and Another Durkan Task Force Releases Recommendations

1. At a panel discussion hosted by GeekWire last week, two prominent supporters of the “Compassion Seattle” charter amendment on homelessness said voters should not read anything into the fact that the group does not, as they initially claimed, have widespread support from Seattle homeless service providers.

Late last month, in a story first reported by PubliCola, the group was forced to take down its endorsement page because many of the homeless service providers listed on the site have not actually endorsed the measure. The charter amendment would require the city to fund new shelter beds and behavioral health care from existing resources while enshrining the city’s authority to sweep encampments in Seattle’s constitution.

“Not one of those nonprofit leaders has retracted the statements they made talking about the charter amendment and why it’s a good thing,” Compassion Seattle founder Tim Burgess said. Rachel Smith, CEO of the Seattle Metro Chamber, added, “Many organizations have a process to go through [for endorsements] so I don’t think that is indicative of where they may be. … All those organizations have made statements about how they informed the language, and I think their own words are what we should lean on when we talk about about how they think about this.”

Several service providers, including the Public Defender Association, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and the Urban League of Seattle worked with Compassion Seattle to soften the language of the initiative, which originally focused primarily on removing unsheltered people from public spaces. However, it’s far from clear that any of these groups will formally endorse the measure.

2. One of the many challenges the city has cited to explain the slow rollout of public handwashing sinks is the difficulty of disposing “graywater”—the runoff from sinks, washing machines, and showers. Unlike stormwater runoff, which flows directly into Puget Sound through the city’s storm drains, graywater (like raw sewage) has to be cleaned and processed through the city’s sanitary or combined sewer system—there’s even a federal consent decree saying so.

If the street sinks program founders, it may be because the city chose to be inflexible not just on optional requirements, like graffiti-resistant materials, but on how it empowers street sink providers to comply with the law.

The city has awarded contracts to two groups, both contingent on solving the issue of graywater disposal along with a host of other issues. The Clean Hands Collective, led by Real Change, has proposed a simple basin, fed by a regular garden hose, that would drain into a planter filled with soil; Seattle Makers, a South Lake Union makerspace, has proposed letting the water in its “handwashing station” prototype drain into a 50-gallon tank, which they would either clean with chlorine tablets or haul away to an SPU facility for disposal.

“Basically, for version 1 of this, we’re going to have to take out the [dirty] bucket and replace it and we have to figure out where the city wants us to drive that bucket of water,” Devin Barich, a volunteer with Seattle Makers, said. Barich also said Makers was considering adding “cleaning tablets” to the dirty water in the hope that that would make the water clean enough to pour down the storm drain.

In an email outlining the graywater challenges for each of the sinks, an SPU spokeswoman said chlorine tablets can’t make the water clean enough to pour into storm drains drain, and added that “an additional design challenge for the Real Change sink is the disposal of graywater contaminated soil in the rain garden tank and preventing overflow onto the sidewalk during the rainy season. This will require its own special disposal.”

Advocates can debate whether it’s more important to provide access to soap and running water for unsheltered people, who are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases that spread because of unwashed hands, or to create sinks that are perfectly ADA-compliant, invulnerable to vandalism, and in highly visible locations.

The graywater requirement may fall somewhere along this spectrum, but it is a requirement. The question is how the city will address it. Will SPU create a simple solution, such as allowing the groups to transport the runoff water off site, or will it require the sinks to connect directly to the sewer system, as the agency has suggested previously? If the street sinks program founders, it may be because the city chose to be inflexible not just on optional requirements, like graffiti-resistant materials, but on how it empowers street sink providers to comply with the law.

3. After months of relative obscurity, the Equitable Communities Task Force—assembled by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan last October—released recommendations for how to invest $30 million in services for the city’s BIPOC communities over the upcoming year.

The Durkan task force’s “pillars” roughly match the priorities for the participatory budgeting process identified by the city council-funded Black Brilliance Research Project earlier this year.

The task force met in private, though it published presentations and minimalist minutes from its meetings after the fact. After 25 weekly meetings, the group returned to Durkan on Thursday to recommend that her administration divide the $30 million into four equal parts to be spent on four “pillars”: small business support, “diverse and culturally competent” educational opportunities, affordable housing and generational wealth, and “increasing positive healthcare outcomes.”

Those “pillars” roughly match the priorities for the participatory budgeting process identified by the city council-funded Black Brilliance Research Project earlier this year.

The task force began as follow-up to Durkan’s ambitious promise last summer to invest $100 million in BIPOC communities. Durkan’s project faced public opposition from activists, including then-King County Equity Now research lead Shaun Glaze, who said its members were “cherry-picked by white wealthy people who already have access to political power.”

Sean Goode, the director of the restorative justice nonprofit Choose 180, called Durkan’s promise of $100 million a “fake Rolex” that, because of its funding source, seemed “designed to divide communities of color.”

Nineteen community leaders, including Goode, turned down invitations to join the task force, which ended up having 27 members (the number has since shrunk to 25). The Seattle City Council also cut the project’s budget from $100 million to $30 million, directing the rest to next year’s participatory budgeting process and other priorities that predated Durkan’s proposal.

In a press release, the task force said it will send a more detailed implementation plan to the council by late June or early July.

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