Harrell’s Homelessness “Data Dashboard” Shows Plenty of Sweeps But Little Progress on Shelter, Housing

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell, whose macho comments to a group of cops about encampment sweeps, the regional homelessness authority, and the city council were not as private as he thought, has said he will provide unprecedented transparency into encampment removals and progress toward addressing homelessness in the city. Earlier this year, he unveiled a “data dashboard” on homelessness that turned out to be a mostly static website displaying information about where the city’s budget for homelessness goes along with general information about new housing units that will become available this year. 

The mayor’s office promised to update this “dashboard” four times a year. Earlier this month, new information appeared under a section of the site called “Bringing People Indoors”; according to the update, the city counted 814 tents and 426 RVs citywide, and made a total of 191 offers of shelter, in June, out of 616 in the second quarter of 2022.

The city’s Human Services Department, which keeps tabs on shelter referrals leading up to and during encampment sweeps, breaks down its shelter referral numbers by both total number of referrals and the number of individual people who received referrals—a smaller number, since some people get more than one referral from the city’s HOPE team and contracted outreach providers.

Assuming the numbers on the dashboard were calculated the same way, and applying HSD’s estimate that 38 percent of shelter offers during the same period resulted in a person enrolling at a shelter for at least one night, that means—very roughly—that around 72 people from those 814 tents and 426 RVs spent any time at all time in a shelter bed.

Of course, there are caveats to those numbers. The first is that the number of shelter referrals listed on the dashboard is higher, by about 150, than HSD’s citywide estimate. (We’ve contacted HSD for an explanation of this seeming discrepancy). The second is that the number of people who get shelter referrals is slippery, because it may exclude some people who aren’t registered in the regional Homeless Management Information System, which tracks unhoused people as they access various services.

The third caveat speaks to a primary issue with Harrell’s “dashboard” itself: The information is very obviously incomplete, as it was when the website first debuted. Although it purports to show both the number of “verified” tents and RVs by neighborhood, along with the number of people removed from “closed” encampments designated by dots on a map, it’s obvious that the map isn’t comprehensive (with thousands of unsheltered people living in the city, there are clearly more than 426 tents in Seattle, for example) and a closer look at many “closed” encampments provides no information about what happened to the people living there, or even the number of people who were displaced.

The site also continues to misstate the amount of money the city contributes to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, padding the city’s direct contribution, around $70 million, with nearly $50 million in federal relief dollars for a total of $118 million. Harrell used the same inflated number when talking to police, telling them (according to KTTH’s Jason Rantz, who appears to have gotten a recording from an officer), “I’m funding an organization that seems to be working against what I’m trying to do” (removing encampments) and suggesting he might consider cutting their budget this year.

KCRHA director Marc Dones— clearly a thorn in Harrell’s side, based on the mayor’s many public comments about his frustration with the agency—has asked the city to not only renew its existing budget but give the agency tens of millions more to fund new high-acuity shelter beds; purchase buildings, such as hotels and single-family houses, to serve as “bridge” housing; and open several new safe parking lots for people who live in their vehicles.

In response to our request for comment about Harrell’s biting comments, the KCRHA provided a terse statement that says a lot by saying very little. “The Regional Homelessness Authority was designed as a community-wide effort, working together with all 39 cities, King County, businesses, philanthropy, housed and unhoused neighbors, in order to implement real solutions. With our partners, we are working to create vibrant, inclusive communities where everyone has a safe and stable place to live, and we can accomplish that goal when we work together,” the statement said.

4 thoughts on “Harrell’s Homelessness “Data Dashboard” Shows Plenty of Sweeps But Little Progress on Shelter, Housing”

  1. I didn’t expect Harrell’s dashboard to produce anything useful so am not disappointed; in fact, I haven’t bothered to even look at it. I am delighted with what he had to say as presented by Rantz. That point of view is what I and I suspect many others having been waiting to hear, and I’m pleased with what he’s been doing to clear encampments. While I have compassion for those living in them, they clearly and indisputably attract crime as predators prey on them, and everyone else in the vicinity. I hope by making clear that public spaces are not available for camping, the rest of the government and the people themselves will be compelled to find better solutions. There are jobs going begging, and the Times this morning has a story on Seattle Conservation Corps and its successes. We, and those needing housing, will be much better served by shifting our focus from funding the current so-called housing providers, who seem to be more interested in keeping themselves in business than in resolving the issues, to similar programs that help the needy get situated in jobs that can help them resume supporting themselves and for those with mental illness, acquiring in some fashion appropriate treatment beds.

  2. A Joy, yes indeed, Harrell is worse. Mark, it’s obvious now, to anyone who wants to admit what is glaringly factual. However, I don’t think that the City — which now seems to be personified as Bruce Harrell — cares about anything but “cleansing” the streets and parks. He was fairly blunt about that in his remarks to the cops, and certainly his mentor Tim Burgess has held that as a priority for years. With that as a priority, data on a “dashboard” mean nothing — that’s just a sop to the ill-informed public. Only action by Parks and SPD is meaningful to them.

  3. The only surprise here is that Harrell has actually managed to find a way to be more antagonistic towards the homeless than Durkan was.

  4. I can only say that it’s very hard to understand or verify any of the data on that map. It’s also hard to determine area boundaries, etc. I’ve been counting tents in camps for 18 months now, and it’s impossible to keep accurate track of everything, clearly. But, for example, For Seven Hills Park, the city says 2 residents in February and 2 accepted shelter. Yet, on 12/23/21, there were 11 tents there. I also know that the Reach folks offered only congregate shelter, far away – it was all they had (I asked them the day before the sweep).

    The big sweep of Woodland park was on 5/10/22, and there were 40 to 60 tents in the park. The city data says 59 people resident, 109 offers of shelter and 90 accepted. And yet, on the day of the sweep, there were a dozen folks sitting in a line on a curb who had had no offer of shelter. Yes, most folks at Woodland did get into some shelter. A couple days ago I ran into Kaitlyn in a tent on a street in South Lake Union. I had gotten her an ID when she was in Woodland. She got into a Tiny House, but got kicked out for breaking some minor rule. How do we count her case?

    How do we measure progress? We need a system that tracks all the people, not these vague summary statistics. The sweeps are not a serious methodology to resolve the glaring problem of homelessness in Seattle. Sooner or later this will become obvious.

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