City Asks Homelessness Authority to Require Nonprofits to Participate in Sweeps

Tents and other items on the ground during a recent encampment sweep at City Hall
The city put up signs announcing this encampment across from city hall would be removed at 6am, giving residents less than two hours’ notice.

By Erica C. Barnett

The city’s Human Services Department has asked the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to modify its contracts with  outreach providers (including the city’s largest outreach provider, REACH) to require them to show up and offer services to unsheltered people up to the day their encampments are swept.

REACH does not have a strict policy against showing up before encampment sweeps; instead, they make decisions on a case by case basis, REACH director Chloe Gale said. In 2019, the group decided to withdraw from the Navigation Team, a group of police and city outreach workers that used to be in charge of encampment removals, because of concerns about their ability to build trust with clients while appearing to participate in sweeps.

UPDATE: On Friday, a spokeswoman for the KCHRA told PubliCola the authority “confirmed with the City that we are not making any contract modifications.”

In a message to council members, the department said that its HOPE Team—a group of city staffers that connects people whose encampments are about to be swept to beds in shelters to which the HOPE Team has exclusive access—is “often the only entity on site that’s willing to make shelter offers and connections during the posting period (i.e., the time between a site being posted and the time of the removal).”

A spokesman for Mayor Bruce Harrell said the mayor “support[s] providers offering outreach and service connections to encampments before the day of removal.”

UPDATE: On Friday, Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington and KCRHA CEO Marc Dones said in an email to homeless service providers that “despite what you might have seen in [PubliCola’s] recent article” (the one you are currently reading), “KCRHA has not received any requests from the City of Seattle that would change our shared approach to outreach responsibilities.” The Human Services Department confirmed its request for contract changes, provided the request to PubliCola in full, and explained the intent of the request in more detail in an email, and PubliCola stands by our reporting.

REACH and other outreach providers’ “choice to withhold support is believed to be counterproductive to supporting those experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” HSD wrote. “We have asked KCRHA to modify their contracts in a way that uses the City’s funding to support our target population throughout the entire process rather than just a portion of it.”

In recent years, the city has largely abandoned the previous practice of providing 72 hours’ notice before it removes an encampment, a timeline that gave encampment residents time to move into shelter or relocate their tents. Instead, the city designates encampments as “obstructions,” a broad term that can be applied to any tent in any public space, and removes them with little or no advance notice.

This is not the first time the city has attempted to include a requirement to participate in sweeps in its contracts with outreach providers; former mayor Jenny Durkan made a similar attempt last year, but ultimately backed down after some nonprofits said they would refuse to sign contracts that included this stipulation.

Outreach providers’ “choice to withhold support is believed to be counterproductive to supporting those experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” HSD wrote. “While the funding for these contracts continues to come from the City of Seattle, the oversight of contracts, and the ability to modify those contracts, now live with KCRHA. We have asked KCRHA to modify their contracts in a way that uses the City’s funding to support our target population throughout the entire process rather than just a portion of it.”

Responding to questions about the city’s request during the council’s homelessness committee meeting Wednesday, KCRHA director Marc Dones said the authority had not “entered into any conversations at this point around modifying contracts with providers. What we are discussing at this point is working to support humane responses to folks that are at our prioritized encampments”—that is, encampments the city prioritizes for removal.

HSD spokeswoman Stasha Espinoza said HSD “has yet to request RHA’s assistance with making outreach available on the day of a removal, and that in for now, “HSD has asked their System Navigators”—the HOPE Team’s outreach workers—”to make offers of shelter prior to and during a removal. This includes transportation to a shelter if such services are requested.”

The reignited debate over the role of contract outreach workers in encampment removals points to a problem baked right into the new homelessness system: The city is the primary funder for the KCRHA and has to approve the authority’s budget every year, which gives it significant power to determine how the authority spends its money; meanwhile, the city retains control over encampment removals and has its own system for referring people to shelter that is independent from the KCRHA and holds exclusive access to one third of Seattle’s shelter beds.

Conflicts are inevitable. The question of whether outreach providers should be forced to participate in sweeps as a condition of receiving city dollars is neither the first nor the last that will arise from this odd arrangement.

6 thoughts on “City Asks Homelessness Authority to Require Nonprofits to Participate in Sweeps”

  1. So this is got to be a joke how many more dollars are u going to waste. This is a sad even sick game that these people are playing with our lives I’ve been homeless because if the. Lack of there. Ability to communicate with one another. I have lied to. Thrown out for no reason this I’d the third time. And it’s legal why would u put someone in a program that they are not even ment for instead lol at the situation and. Make a better decision on that person needs not just because u got a bunch a hotel vouchers u need to fill up then what. This is happening all over. Who do u trust. How can u trust these people were not going moplace. This is a crock a shit. And the mayor ain’t doing a dam thing who cares you. Got to sweep do it and look when ur ass is getting sued by a bunch. Homeless. People and you look like a fool this needs to be re thought and these poor advocate s why don’t youake us advocates. U want to get to the root. Tell the truth how u pick and chose who u want to get housing tell the truth how u throw. People back to the streets. Y because u fail to fo the right. Work to get to no the people and there needs your a bunch a cornball. Trying vto get a vote so it looks good at there voting time. I day this you can’t lie forever u got to tell the truth where’s the funding going in your pocket is where then u. Want to give the scraps to the. Homeless and want praise for it. Good luck see u Monday we ain’t moving

  2. The city gives them free money, free drugs, nurses to help facilitate their drug addictions. The city has tied the hands of police so that tax payers are subjected to more crime, more harassment and excessive garbage and graffiti. If you’re burglarized it’s now not a crime. Homelessness is on the rise as all the components that accompany this issue. Crime and drug addictions. Seattle used to be a beautiful city. Now it’s a shat hole. If places like reach really wanted to help they would participate. But once again they abandon the city in hopes of more homeless. After all it seems to be the bread and butter of these folks. Moved far from the city years ago.

  3. Your photo caption incorrectly uses the term “residents” — and I wouldn’t want the Disinformation czar to shut you down. Here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of “reside”: to dwell permanently or continuously : occupy a place as one’s legal domicile.
    Free Dictionary gives for “resident”: A person coming into a place with intention to establish his domicile or permanent residence, and who in consequence actually remains there. Time is not so essential as the intent, executed by making or beginning an actual establishment, though it be abandoned in a longer, or shorter period.
    Sleeping, or even setting up a camp, on a public sidewalk is, by definition, void of an intention to establish permanent residence.
    Language matters, especially in a free press.

  4. It’s pretty clear that the purpose of the sweeps is not to get homeless folks into shelter and housing, it’s just to clear the encampment based on neighbor complaints. The city has never systematically offered shelter to everyone, Reach goes out and offers whatever they have that day (a tiny house, a mat on a floor in Renton, congregate shelter in Queen Anne). Good for them for Reach to refuse to participate in sweeps with less than 72 hours notice. The city should do a sweep only when it has enough good-quality shelter available in the same neighborhood for everyone in the camp. Most of the homeless are simply pushed from one park to another in these sweeps. Seattle doesn’t publish numbers giving the disposition of everyone swept.

  5. While running for mayor, Bruce Harrell said that since he’d grown up in Seattle, he personally knew homeless people here. The implication was that he wouldn’t be as gratuitously harsh as his predecessor. Oh, well, chalk another one up for cynicism. Priorities: arrest; sweep; then maybe once there aren’t any homeless people left in Seattle he can get around to building affordable housing, which was his centerpiece promise during the campaign.

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