By Erica C. Barnett
Update 11am April 15: This morning, the KCRHA reportedly sent its own outreach workers, known as system advocates, to the hotels where the Lived Experience Coalition has been paying for rooms through a federal emergency grant to figure out who is in the rooms and what their needs are. The KCRHA did not immediately respond to a request for more information about what the goal of this outreach is and whether funding has come through to pay for the rooms or provide other accommodations to the people living in them.
An unusually chaotic meeting of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s implementation board yesterday left unanswered questions about the fate of at least 165 people who remain in hotel rooms administered by the Lived Experience Coalition, which ran out of federal grant money to pay for the hotels earlier this year. As PubliCola reported exclusively on Monday, a public-private partnership called We Are In provided $1 million to pay for the hotel rooms through last Friday, but the KCRHA itself has said it can’t provide ongoing assistance for any hotel residents other than its own clients, who numbered about 30 (of as many as 250) as of last week.
In a conversation with PubliCola, Lived Experience Coalition director LaMont Green expressed confidence that no one at the hotels would end up back on the street. “A majority of the folks [who have left the hotels so far] have been accessing diversion, noncongregate shelter, shared housing, and some just regular permanent housing” using rapid rehousing subsidies, Green said.
However, it’s unclear whether the LEC will be able to continue moving people out successfully on their own; a majority of the people who have left so far are KCRHA’s own clients, and if the agency and local funders wash their hands of the situation, the LEC, an advocacy group that is made up largely of volunteers, will be on its own.
“The KCRHA recently became aware of an LEC program that has some financial difficulties . … We need to step away, frankly. I will again clarify for the public, the program is not operated by KCRHA, is not being funded by KCRHA, and has no formal connection to the KCRHA leadership level.”—KCRHA CEO Marc Dones
City officials, including the mayor’s office, did not respond to requests for comment earlier this week. However, on Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington said in an email addressed to “funders and partners” that the “LEC seems fully capable of winding down the work without assistance from KCRHA. I propose that we release KCRHA leadership and staff to focus on other work and key initiatives like partnership for zero”—a reference to the Partnership for Zero effort, funded by We Are In, to eliminate homelessness in downtown Seattle.
Although the KCRHA’s own downtown outreach workers, known as system advocates, were directly responsible for placing dozens of KCRHA clients into the LEC hotels, agency CEO Marc Dones has maintained that the KCRHA knew little to nothing about the hotel program or its funding.
“The KCRHA recently became aware of an LEC program that has some financial difficulties and we are currently evaluating with the city, county, state, and private funders to determine how to fund the program and support residents of it,” Dones said during Wednesday’s implementation board meeting. “We need to step away, frankly,” Dones added. “I will again clarify for the public, the program is not operated by KCRHA, is not being funded by KCRHA, and has no formal connection to the KCRHA leadership level.”
The board meeting included other signs of the growing schism between the LEC—a coalition that advocates for people with lived experience, which the authority has described as “an independent organization that appoints representatives to the KCRHA Implementation Board and Governing Committee, and is a partner in our efforts to end homelessness”—and the KCRHA. Three positions on the board reserved for people with lived experience of homelessness remain unfilled, and a simmering debate over who should fill those roles bubbled to the surface as part of a separate discussion about bylaws, whose details the board is still debating after three years in existence.
Dones said the process for appointing the lived experience positions has been haphazard and “needs to be rethought,” and that the nominees should include “people who are not members of the LEC.” However, members of the advisory committee that appoints people to the board the nominations have tried to call a special meeting to make their nominations, and claim the KCRHA is blocking them from doing so by refusing to post a meeting notice on their website, as required by law. In short: It’s a mess.
With the clock running down on Wednesday, the board had just a few minutes to ask questions about a 2024 supplemental budget proposal they had received less than 24 hours before the meeting (and that still isn’t posted publicly on the KCRHA’s website).
With the clock running down on Wednesday—the KCRHA ordinarily caps its board meetings at two hours, but this one went long—the board had just a few minutes to ask questions about a 2024 supplemental budget proposal they had received less than 24 hours before the meeting (and that still isn’t posted publicly on the KCRHA’s website). Dones said it was “alarming” that the board wasn’t familiar with the proposal, and noted that the board already approved the agency’s biennial budget in 2023, suggesting that this was just a continuation of that budget.
During a brief discussion, board members argued that biennial budgets still deserve scrutiny, and often change from year to year; both the state of Washington and the city of Seattle, for example, operate on a biennial system but still go through a lengthy annual budget process. The KCRHA just proposed a revision of its new five-year plan that would refocus the agency on immediate shelter under a new mission statement—“To Bring Unsheltered People Inside as Quickly as Possible to Prevent Death and Further Harm”—that could, board member Ben Maritz argued, require the agency to change its spending strategy as soon as next year.
Additionally, the 2024 budget proposal includes requests for funding for nearly a dozen new KCRHA staffers, including three new HR staffers and a new “Housing Central Command Manager” for the “housing command center” that opened as part of Partnership for Zero last year. A memo on the budget that outlined the new positions is available on the KCRHA’s website.
The board decided to postpone approving the budget until its next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled yet, and the meeting ended abruptly after several members dropped off the Zoom call, depriving the meeting of a quorum.