PubliCola Questions: Casey Sixkiller

As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.

Their answers to these questions, which we’ll be sharing over the next several days, will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.

Casey Sixkiller, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee nation, became deputy mayor for Mayor Jenny Durkan just before the pandemic hit Seattle, and was her point person on homelessness—a decidedly mixed blessing. Not surprisingly, he touts the administration’s efforts to house and shelter homeless residents during the pandemic—including his own work securing two downtown Seattle hotels for temporary shelter, a project that has had mixed results so far. Also like Durkan, he argues that homelessness is a “regional problem,” citing data showing that 40 percent of Seattle’s homeless population became homeless somewhere else.

His platform calls for a bond measure that would fund 3,000 new units of permanent housing; affordable, city-funded child care; and “the largest guaranteed basic income program in the nation.”

Here’s what Sixkiller had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to every mayoral candidate.

PubliCola: Assuming Charter Amendment 29 becomes law in Seattle, what city programs would you cut or deprioritize in order to dedicate 12 percent of the city’s general-fund budget to human services, and how would you go about adding 2,000 new shelter or housing spots by the end of next year?re?

Creating additional temporary shelter units and permanent housing options, each with the wraparound services folks need, is an essential element of my proposal to addressing the homelessness crisis on our streets and in our parks. The charter amendment takes a similar approach but I have proposed a $1 billion property tax levy to build 3,000 new permanent places for folks to call home. This generational investment will more than triple the number of permanent supportive housing units coming online each year, and be in addition to units already funded by the current housing levy and other units being funded by the state and county. Every dollar we spend on shelter is a dollar we are not spending on permanent housing.

My approach—and the one outlined in the charter amendment—is to address both ends of the street-to-housing pipeline by ensuring there are safe spaces for folks living outside to come into and permanent places for folks in our shelter system to transition to so we create throughput and improve overall system performance.

“I want to be clear: we need to hire more police officers (to replace the nearly 300 who have left the department) and hire more firefighters (hiring has not kept pace with the city’s growing population).”

Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?

The path to economic recovery and a stronger, more inclusive Seattle begins and ends with our neighborhoods. Clean streets, sidewalks, thriving small businesses, parks and open space for community gatherings, child care, grocery stores, access to reliable and affordable transportation, and other amenities are the hallmarks of a resilient neighborhood. But we know that not every neighborhood is benefiting from investments by the City. As Mayor, I will work in partnership with communities to support community-driven solutions that meet their needs while protecting what makes each neighborhood uniquely Seattle. I also will realign and streamline city departments and improve the customer service experience so “process” doesn’t get in the way of progress in meeting the specific priorities in each of our neighborhoods.

There is general consensus around the need to replace some functions of the police department with non-policing alternatives, such as civilian crisis responders. What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?

Every person in Seattle should be able to walk down the street and feel safe. Period. Today that is not the case. Going forward we need to be grounded in this basic value statement and make decisions—about both budget and function—that reflect it.

I want to be clear: we need to hire more police officers (to replace the nearly 300 who have left the department) and hire more firefighters (hiring has not kept pace with the city’s growing population). The truth is SPD officers and Seattle Firefighters have been filling the gaps in a broken and underfunded crisis response system for years. As Mayor I will scale solutions, near and long-term, so we can truly move away from relying on police officers and firefighters to fill these critical needs, including: hiring more community service officers; continuing to expand dedicated, crisis response teams, like Health One; investing in community organizations that can both help disrupt criminal activity and advancing harm reduction strategies in community; and building on efforts currently underway (and soon-to-be-funded by the City) to deploy non-SPD solutions and promoting public safety in community; and completing the transition of functions like event management and traffic enforcement away from sworn officers.

“Seattle needs more housing choices, including Missing Middle Housing, but I do not support replacing a one-size-fits-all land use policy with one that could accelerate the displacement and gentrification we have seen over the past decade, particularly in our historically BIPOC neighborhoods.”

Specific to the hiring of police officers, we need to refocus our efforts to improve recruitment and retention of officers that reflect our values. We need to steer away from relying on military experience as a qualifier for being a police officer, and create new pathways to hire police officers from the communities that they serve, which is why I have proposed developing a new [affirmative action]program in partnership with the Seattle Colleges, similar to the one that exists with the Seattle Fire Department for a pipeline for future firefighters, we should create an equivalent feeder program for local, homegrown talent for policing.

According to the latest Point in Time Count of the county’s homeless population, about half the unsheltered people in King County live in their vehicles. Yet there are very few programs or resources available to vehicular residents, and little public awareness of the size and circumstances of this population. Name one action you would take to specifically address the needs of vehicular residents in Seattle.

Individuals experiencing vehicular homelessness face unique risks and barriers to getting connected to housing and services. Previous efforts at establishing safe parking spaces have shown some promise but face their own set of challenges, including scale, location, and a lack of providers. Vehicular homelessness is a regional issue so my first step would be to work with the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority to develop a specific strategy, hire service providers with the appropriate expertise, and address service gaps that are unique to this specific population.

Nearly every mayoral candidate this year says they support allowing more types of housing in Seattle’s exclusionary single-family areas. As mayor, what’s the first piece of legislation you would send to the council to move toward the goal of eliminating or modifying single-family zoning?

Seattle needs more housing choices, including Missing Middle Housing, but I do not support replacing a one-size-fits-all land use policy with one that could accelerate the displacement and gentrification we have seen over the past decade, particularly in our historically BIPOC neighborhoods. Our efforts need to first be focused on preserving our current housing stock, doing more to support BIPOC families at risk of displacement, and fine tuning existing programs so they are getting the housing production and affordability we want. Our policies should support the ability for families to hold onto their homes and build intergenerational wealth, age in place, or simply earn supplemental income that enables them to remain in Seattle. I will pursue zoning changes where it makes sense, particularly in underdeveloped commercial corridors, but understanding that we must also be careful not to make currently affordable neighborhoods suddenly unaffordable.

Congratulations, you’ve been elected mayor! Your first meeting is with Jeff Bezos. What do you say to him?

My first meeting as Mayor will be with the Seattle City Council to discuss how we are going to have a productive working relationship centered on moving Seattle forward and restoring public confidence in our city’s government to address the issues residents are facing in their daily lives.

“There are those that argue we cannot afford to deliver the entire ST3 package. I disagree. We can’t afford to not make these investments now—in fact, we should be working to find ways to deliver the entire system faster.”

I look forward to meeting with Jeff Bezos to talk about how we get Seattle back to being a place where the business community is treated as a partner and we have a business environment that helps homegrown small businesses grow into global corporations and continue to call Seattle home.

What’s your top priority for Sound Transit realignment? Make your best case for this project to a fellow Sound Transit board member who wants to prioritize getting light rail to Everett.

Over the next four years our light rail system will expand east and push further north and south. This will be the biggest transformation of our transit system in a generation and an economic benefit to every city along these corridors. There are those that argue we cannot afford to deliver the entire ST3 package. I disagree. We can’t afford to not make these investments now—in fact, we should be working to find ways to deliver the entire system faster.

Delivering ST3 creates jobs, is good for our economy, helps us advance our climate agenda, and connects riders to affordable housing and jobs centers, while improving our quality of life. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work building the regional system we’ve been working toward for nearly 60 years. No major transit system in the country has ever regretted pushing through hard times to deliver transformational change—let’s not make short-sighted decisions that will take another generation to correct.

When responding to people living outdoors, the city has historically focused on large or highly visible encampments, and reserved resources and enhanced shelter or hotel beds for people at encampments removed by the city. This focus on large, visible encampments tends to exclude many unhoused people of color, such as Native Americans, from access to the most desirable services. What would you do to improve equity in access to services for unsheltered people of color, particularly the Black and Native homeless populations?

The region’s homelessness response is broken. Twenty years of disjointed policies and competing priorities has resulted in the conditions in our parks and streets today. We need to stop pointing fingers and focus on those things we know work.

(1) Housing is key—we need safe spaces to get folks out of parks and streets and permanent places to transition folks out of shelters that weren’t designed to be anyone’s forever home. That’s why I’ve proposed a bond to triple the production of [permanent supportive housing” .

(2) Data—for a city with an economy driven by data the fact our homelessness response is so data poor is the irony of all ironies. It’s really simple: we pair investments with performance metrics and a shared sense of what success looks like, and collect data to see if we’re meeting the mark; if not, we adjust and keep trying, rather than continuing to invest in whomever has the best relationship with City Council.

(3) Regional approach—Seattle can’t solve this alone. It has to be regional and a shared sense of responsibility.

(4) Intentionality—Our parks, business corridors, and large parts of downtown are a mess. Residents don’t feel safe, businesses feel abandoned, and just as importantly, people experiencing homelessness aren’t getting connected to the services they need. If we really want to address what we’re all experiencing every time we step out of our house or drive through downtown then we need to take a more coordinated, strategic, and intentional approach to get folks into safer spaces and make our parks, business districts, and downtown tent-free.

We can accomplish this but it’s going to require putting aside semantics and accepting that when we work in collaboration with a shared sense of purpose and align our systems we get results that we all see as a success. We’ve used this approach to address homelessness among our veterans population and more recently when the City’s HOPE team partnered with the Chief Seattle Club to establish a by name list of nearly 70 native people experiencing homelessness and transitioning them to the City-funded Kings Inn, hotel-based shelter.

3 thoughts on “PubliCola Questions: Casey Sixkiller”

  1. Progressives lie to our faces telling us that all the homeless are locals from Seattle, our neighbors who fell on hard times. Then, one of their own admits that 40% are not even from here. Which is it? An honest investigation would reveal that more than half of them came to Seattle for the free stuff. Now Sixkiller wants everyone to offer free stuff so that the disease will metastasize into the surrounding communities. Hey, its already working.

  2. My concern is if the City of Seattle doesn’t address the police abuse problem, the homeless situation will not be resolved. There is a cycle of abuse that exasperates the situation. Using laws to protect and miss-using those laws to create stress and to make a human (who is homeless or living in a vehicles) feel defensive, which is the wrong outcome.
    I feel strongly that the Seattle downtown core needs to be lived in, but I have been down there weekly through COVID and the downtown is safe- the media that has spread the word otherwise is inaccurate.

    1. So police abuse caused homelessness by creating stress? How does that work? Please tell us all so we can be so much smarter just like you.

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