As Homeless Agencies Bicker Over Blame, Time Runs Out for Hundreds Living in Hotels

By Erica C. Barnett

Up to 250 people experiencing homelessness who have been living in hotels around the region could be back on the streets in the next few days now that funding for the hotels, provided through a one-year federal grant to a group of homeless and formerly homeless advocates called the Lived Experience Coalition, has abruptly run out. The people at risk of eviction include both individuals and families, and most have no housing plan in place.

Ordinarily, the LEC is not a housing or shelter provider; its primary role is advocating for policy solutions to homelessness and ensuring that people who’ve experienced homelessness have a seat at the table when policy decisions are made.

Last year, though, the LEC received a series of federal grants, including a $1 million, one-year grant to rent hotel rooms from FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program and another $330,000 to program to connect hotel residents to employment. The LEC signed an agreement with the nonprofit Building Changes to serve as its fiscal sponsor—a pass-through agency that distributes funds for new or grassroots organizations.

Over the past year, but particularly between January and March of this year, the LEC moved hundreds of people into hotel rooms funded by the federal grant. By March, cash flow was dire. As of early April, the estimated gap between the funding the LEC had on hand and what it owes various hotels totals more than $700,000, and the shortfall is ballooning at a rate of about $1.1 million a month, according to several sources familiar with the situation.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which has distanced itself from the hotel program, also used the LEC hotel rooms to move people off the streets of downtown Seattle as part of a public-private partnership aimed at ending unsheltered homelessness downtown, called Partnership for Zero.

“We’ve been notifying [the LEC] about the cash issues for a year,” Building Changes executive director Daniel Zavala said. “We shared [concerns] on several occasions throughout 2022, and really in December of this last year we were more formally flagging some of the cash flow issues.”

In emails and memos obtained by PubliCola, the LEC denied this, and said Building Changes failed to provide them with information about their cash flow when they requested it.

“For a very long time, we were operating blindly which caused us to spend $370,000 more than the grant we were awarded,” LEC director LaMont Green wrote in an email detailing LEC’s grievances with Building Changes. “We consistently asked for the financial reports but to no avail. Building Changes made us aware of this gross overspend less than 2 months before year end. … Additionally, when LEC received financial reporting it was often inaccurate.”

Zavala, from Building Changes, disputes this account. “We provided financial information on numerous occasions to the LEC over the last year,” Zavala said. “We’re here because the LEC mismanaged its finances.”


But the crisis isn’t just about a single organization falling into arrears.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which oversees the region’s response to homelessness, also used the LEC hotel rooms to move people off the streets of downtown Seattle as part of a public-private partnership aimed at ending unsheltered homelessness downtown, called Partnership for Zero.

The organization that runs Partnership for Zero, another nonprofit called We Are In, initially floated the idea of using $1 million of the remaining program funds to get the LEC out of arrears—and keep the hundreds of people living in the hotels from falling back into unsheltered homelessness.

As of two weeks ago, according to emails, We Are In planned to use $1 million of the $10 million it pledged for Partnership for Zero to pay for the hotels. “We will be allocating $1M of the remaining partnership for zero funds at KCRHA to the outstanding LEC hotel invoices,” We Are In director Felicia Salcedo wrote to Zavala on March 30.

Taking these funds out of Partnership for Zero, Dones responded in the same email thread, would “cause the KCRHA to pause hiring as these funds were obligated to support staffing. My team estimates that this will reduce the overall housing capacity of the project by at least 1/3 if not more.”

On Monday, We Are In spokesman Erik Houser said the organization ended up using $1 million of its own funds, separate from the Partnership for Zero, to pay the LEC’s outstanding invoices for the hotels. That money ran out on Friday, and Houser said it’s now up to “other partners,” including government funders, to address the problem.

A spokeswoman for the KCRHA said Monday that “together with public and private partners, we have been working to identify possible solutions.”


Last week, a frenzy of finger-pointing almost overshadowed the imminent human crisis.

In one email exchange with LEC director Green’s requests for help coordinating shelter or housing for people living in the hotels, for example, KCRHA CEO Marc Dones wrote, “As I have stated repeatedly this is not a kcrha program and funding decisions are not being made by kcrha staff. …  I am unclear how else to be of assistance.” It was a comment Dones would echo repeatedly throughout the week, and not without justification—the KCRHA was not involved in the original FEMA grant and played no part in the LEC’s partnership with Building Changes.

But the KCRHA was aware of the program. In fact, the agency’s own system advocates—outreach workers who connect people living unsheltered downtown to shelter and housing—were using the LEC hotel rooms to shelter people living downtown. Starting late last year, KCRHA staff utilized LEC-funded hotel rooms to shelter at least 90 people living in downtown Seattle, something PubliCola first reported back in February. According to an email Green sent to a group of agency and nonprofit partners last week, Green told Dones about the program in April 2022.

Green did not respond to a request for comment (in general, the LEC makes decisions and statements collectively) and the KCRHA declined to speak with PubliCola about the timeline. However, a KCRHA spokeswoman did confirm that of about 30 of the people KCRHA staffers moved into hotels through the LEC program were still in the hotels last week. The spokeswoman said all 30 were either moving into permanent housing or had housing plans in place.

Last week, with accusations flying between the LEC, Building Changes, and the KCRHA, Building Changes announced it was pulling its fiscal sponsorship from the LEC, which will be unable to receive or distribute funds until it obtains its own nonprofit status. The LEC sent a letter to Building Changes saying it would create “cruel and unusual duress” for Building Changes to drop its sponsorship without an exit strategy, but the decision appears final. “I can confirm that we have terminated our business relationship with the Lived Experience Coalition,” Zavala said.

Building Changes is also the fiscal sponsor for We Are In, which has pledged $10 million to the KCRHA for its Partnership for Zero work. That effort, which the KCRHA initially hoped to wrap up within a year, is behind schedule, in part, because landlords have been reluctant to rent to people with one-year subsidies without knowing what happens in “the 13th month,” according to an update from Dones in January.

As the program enters its second year, KCRHA is under pressure to show it’s making progress; We Are In is distributing its $10 million pledge in tranches, including an initial $4 million last year.


It’s unclear what, if any, funding is available to cover the hotel funding shortfall, which continues to grow every day the LEC’s clients remain in their rooms, which are distributed across several hotels in South and North King County, as well as one in Tacoma.

The implementation board includes three members (out of a current 13) who were appointed by the Lived Experience Coalition, including LEC co-founder and co-chair Okesha Brandon.

King County, which (along with the city of Seattle) is one of the KCRHA’s primary funders, says it does not have the money to pay for the LEC’s hotel bills. “We were recently made aware that the Lived Experience Coalition (LEC) is unable to maintain their temporary hoteling program, which had been used to shelter people experiencing homelessness,” a spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine said Friday.

“To determine how this situation occurred and ensure oversight and accountability, KCRHA is calling for a formal inquiry and audit of how the LEC program was managed and what will be done to prevent a similar situation in the future.”—King County Regional Homelessness Authority

“The hoteling program is independently run and managed by the LEC and is not a program within the KCRHA,” Constantine’s spokesman continued. “However, public and private partners are concerned about the impact on individuals currently sheltered in hotels and are working together to identify possible solutions.”

Spokespeople for Mayor Bruce Harrell and the city’s Human Services Department did not respond to requests for comments.

In a statement, the KCRHA said the agency was “recently made aware that the Lived Experience Coalition (LEC) is unable to maintain their temporary hoteling program, which had been used to shelter people experiencing homelessness.

“The LEC is an independent organization, and their hoteling program is not funded by KCRHA. However, we recognize that the closure of any shelter program has a significant impact on our communities and on the lives of the people given refuge in these hotels.”

The homelessness authority is “calling for a formal inquiry and audit of how the LEC program was managed and what will be done to prevent a similar situation in the future,” the statement concluded. Meanwhile, at press time, it was unclear what will happen to the people still staying in the LEC-funded hotels, and whether they’ll get to stay until they can move to other shelters or housing or be sent back out onto the street.

The KCRHA’s implementation board will meet on Wednesday, when Dones and the board are expected to discuss the hotel issue in public for the first time.

22 thoughts on “As Homeless Agencies Bicker Over Blame, Time Runs Out for Hundreds Living in Hotels”

  1. A private landowner couldn’t get away with evicting these residents in such a manner.

  2. Homelessness won’t be solved until the city imposes an empty unit tax on property owners. That’s it. That’s when it will end.

  3. It is indeed a recession for the public sector as pandemic funds are drying up. Same is true of school districts across the country. A reckoning for a can kicked down the road years ago.

  4. The whole “lived experience” thing is wokeism run amok.

    “Lived” experience… as opposed to “unlived” experience?

    And “experience” in what? Being a bum?

    If someone is going to run a non-profit social service program for the homeless, the top qualification should be experience in non-profit social services delivery – period. Yes, the experience of having been homeless should count… as bonus points, not as a qualification.

    And why aren’t the people receiving aid not required to do something to earn their keep – starting with cleaning up the encampment site they’re being evicted from? We’re paying government employees Union wages to do what these bums should be doing to qualify for the free motel space they’re getting.

    1. you do know that your comments are valid up until you read you comments about them being called bums . question why hide your name ? big guy like you calling people you dont know bums should not hide behind fake names ….

  5. There needs to be more accountability when money is doled out to groups that are not even registered as a non profit. The fact that this group was unable to keep track of how much the hotel rooms were costing them monthly and then know to stop adding rooms is proof that we should not be just handing money over to activist groups no questions asked like they seem to be doing.

  6. Just to clarify – this was an extra $1M of Federal Emergency Funds for Shelter Programs funding that was available from an extra allocation from the Covid era, so pretty much all of the comments above really aren’t on point about how it’s defunding KCRHA. The more relevant issue is that this was pretty clearly one-time funding when it was granted, and now ECB is painting it as something that was supposed to continue into perpetuity and that it’s a huge injustice that these rooms will no longer be funded. Should people have seen it coming? Probably, but blaming the KCRHA in this instance is misplaced (not that the agency isn’t a mess on many other fronts).. That being said, though, I think the reliance on lived experience from folks with no grant or project management experience is certainly problematic, and this is a good example of that problem.

  7. Trying to track the flow of money and communication between these organizations has given me a headache and not any clarity as to where the accoutability lies for this cluster. The “NO” box is getting checked again.

  8. This is so sad. The mad dash for the cash in the “nonprofit industry and the lack of accountability — pathetic.

    1. The money will continue because of the “humanity” and there will continue to be no accountability. What does accountability even mean. The people who are hurt are the homeless and drug/mentally challenged. Those who could work should work but not happening except in pick up the trash positions.

  9. What have they done about job placement for those in the hotels? The article mentioned that was part of the lived experience organizations mission.

    1. i was someone that was placed in a hotel by the L.E.C .then after about 2 weeks was offered a job working with the l.e.c doing security at the hotel that they house there people from the street’s… i worked this job for about 2 months with out pay .. then if i remember right on the 20th of last month at 8am i get a knock on my door by “Maria” the lady that got me the hotel room plus the job. telling me that i have five minutes to get out .. i was shocked i had no car no phone no money nothing … i mean what hell . what can i do the hotel room phone was not hook up as part of the l.e.c program i guess . so ive been back on the streets ive now lost most of the stuff i had and to this date ive not been paid for the hours i work for them … if anyone out there can help me with housing or getting payed by these guys i could shure use it …

      1. Yeah the LEC owes me money too. It seems that’s a huge problem of theirs. They promise pay, money and many people don’t get paid.

      2. No notice eviction is harsh – and hard to believe – but did you think you were going to live rent-free forever? By your own account you were there for more than two months – did you use that time to find a job or otherwise stand up on your own feet?

      3. nospin if you read my comments you would read that i was working for them and that i trusted them to pay me yes i put all my eggs in there basket .. yet i was working for them when ever they asked id show up no questions ready for work .. i would of had the money to get a place or something set up if they would have just payed me what the owed ..

  10. A lot of fingerpointing and disclaiming of responsibility, and where’s the money? Where did it go? Apparently nobody knows, or if they know, they refuse to tell, and yet they want MORE MONEY! That’s the upshot of this stuff, of course. Not another cent!

    Regular people, you know, “taxpayers,” have to keep track of their money so we can pay those taxes, but those who spend it have apparently no accountability. Only occasionally do disputes like this one surface, followed by insistence that more funding is urgently required. And no results, no explanations, a few highly paid people like Dones and Sharon Lee and their ilk doling it out to their pals and cronies. This all must end.

  11. One problem with all the focus on people with “lived experience” in homelessness is that they do not have much, if any, business experience that would have helped them understand the challenges they now face. This particular crisis is made worse by King County Regional Housing Authority’s attitude. FFS, KCRHA gets hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and yet Director Dones cries that he’s going to have to cut staffing by 1/3 because another nonprofit wants to help the Lived Experience Coalition by redirecting one million dollars of their money from KCRHA?

    Those of us who are paying thousands of dollars in taxes to fund this endless debacle are looking at our ballots and upcoming levies and bonds with very big question marks. The “NO” box is looking better all the time.

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