By Erica C. Barnett
After an emergency meeting last Friday, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority sent dozens of its downtown outreach workers, known as system advocates, to four hotels where the majority of people temporarily sheltered by the Lived Experience Coalition have been staying, to assess what their needs are and where they can go now that funding for the LEC hotels has run out.
As PubliCola has reported, the LEC—an advocacy group made up of homeless and formerly homeless people who also appoint members to the KCRHA’s implementation board—received federal grants to move people from the streets into hotels across King County through a partnership with the nonprofit Building Changes, but ended up spending far more money than they had. Money from a philanthropic group called We Are In paid for the rooms, which recently totaled over 200, through April 7.
The KCRHA’s CEO, Marc Dones, has distanced the authority from the hotel debacle, saying they only “recently became aware” of the situation. However, KCRHA’s own system advocates used the LEC program this year to shelter dozens of people as part of an effort to end unsheltered homelessness downtown, which is partly financed by We Are In.
People living in least 55 of the LEC-funded hotel rooms are participants in the state-funded Recovery Navigator program, which provides resources for people with addiction, including co-occurring mental health disorders; that program is now responsible for those residents.
The KCHRA is reportedly trying to place other hotel residents in shelter through the United Way, Salvation Army, and other nonprofit agencies.
“KCRHA, with the support of King County, the City of Seattle, and We Are In, has moved into an active emergency response to address the financially unstable LEC motel shelter program,” a KCRHA spokeswoman told PubliCola Monday.
“There Will Always Be a Crisis”
Dones was at the KCRHA’s emergency meeting on Friday, and did not attend a long-planned, all-day implementation board retreat at the same time. Portions of the retreat were audible at a publicly accessible Zoom link on Friday. During their discussion about an upcoming vote on the agency’s 2024 budget, board members expressed frustration that Dones didn’t show.
Dones has no formal contract or job description, board member Ross added, which will make it hard for the board to conduct a credible evaluation of their performance.
“[The hotel emergency] is one crisis, with up to 300 people, but there are thousands more out there,” board member Christopher Ross said. “There will always be a problem [or] a crisis. You should be able to have other people step up. And this crisis, by the way, has been going on for several weeks, so to miss the one day where you need to bond with your bosses—they are creating a hole by not being in this room.” Dones has no formal contract or job description, Ross added, which will make it hard for the board to conduct a credible evaluation of their performance.
Dones has suggested that the budget vote should be a pro forma matter, since the agency adopted a biennial budget last year, but the proposal includes an expansion of the agency to include 11 new staff positions (two of which are currently grant-funded). Board member Ben Maritz questioned the budget’s focus on adding administrative staff, including three human resources officers. “This budget ask doesn’t reflect our shared goal of getting as many more people inside as possible,” he said.
The budget also assumes that the KCRHA will be able to continue the Partnership for Zero project after private funding runs out. The agency plans to use $5.2 million in Medicaid funding through a program called Foundational Community Supports, which pays for “pre-tenancy services,” like case management, for Medicaid enrollees people with complex health problems that make it difficult to keep housing or hold a job.
Also during the retreat, the implementation board decided to have a special meeting Tuesday evening to go over the budget in more detail before approving it and passing it on to a separate governing committee made up largely of elected officials from around the region. That board, whose job is mostly limited to approving policies and strategies the implementation board recommends, is scheduled to meet this Thursday and pass the budget.