1. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority appears to be distancing itself from the Lived Experience Coalition—a statewide group of advocates who have direct experience with homelessness—in the wake of former CEO Marc Dones’ resignation, which became effective last week.
Last week, some members of the KCRHA’s implementation board raised questions about a new charter for the agency’s ombuds office—a semi-autonomous office that responds to questions and complaints from people who receive homelessness services, service providers, and KCRHA staff—that ices out the LEC, which previously played a key role in running the office and selecting its staff.
The agency’s chief ombudsperson, Katara Jordan, told the board that the KCRHA had terminated its year-old memorandum of agreement with the LEC’s fiscal sponsor, Building Changes (which functioned as a pass-through agency for the LEC’s money.) That agreement established a “joint ombuds office” for the agency, with half its staff employed by the LEC and half by the homelessness authority. The agreement gave the LEC the power to directly appoint the KCRHA’s chief ombudsperson and choose two of that person’s four paid staffers.
“For various reasons, the structure did not work,” Jordan said.
Under former KCRHA CEO Marc Dones, the LEC became the primary voice for people experiencing homelessness in the region, with the authority to appoint members to the KCRHA’s governing and implementation boards, co-develop the agency’s mission and founding documents, issue politically charged statements on the KCRHA’s website, and receive government contracts to run hotel-based shelters.
In recent months, however, the KCRHA and Dones began distancing themselves from the LEC, a situation that came to a head this spring when the LEC ran out of money to pay for the shelters it was operating around King County. The crisis led to a frenzy of finger-pointing and badly damaged the relationship between the KCRHA and the LEC.
The LEC remains an official partner in the public-private Partnership for Zero, which is behind schedule on its plan to eliminate unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle.
“The KCRHA ombuds is not beholden to what a particular organization demands, or wants, and may not always be in complete alignment with a particular organization, especially if it is not in the best interest of the public good, or people we serve experiencing homelessness.” —KCRHA Chief Ombudsperson Katara Jordan
During last week’s meeting, several board members questioned the agency’s decision to formally break ties with the group. “Why are we pushing the LEC out?” board member Ben Maritz asked. Jordan responded that while the voice of people with lived experience of homelessness is important, the LEC is not the only group in the region that represents that perspective.
“There needs to be boundaries and an understanding that the KCRHA ombuds is not beholden to what a particular organization demands, or wants, and may not always be in complete alignment with a particular organization, especially if it is not in the best interest of the public good, or people we serve experiencing homelessness,” Jordan said.
Recently, the KCRHA advertised for two vacant ombudsperson positions. Compared to the old job description for this role, the new posting eliminates multiple references to the Lived Experience Coalition and include more specific job qualifications related to past work experience, rather than life experience and unusual qualifications like “comfortable with ambiguity.”
2. In an email to human-service providers earlier this month, interim KCRHA director Helen Howell said the agency no longer plans to re-procure all of the contracts that make up the region’s nonprofit homelessness system this year, and now plans to start that process—a huge undertaking—in 2024.
As director, Dones frequently emphasized the need to swiftly revamp the entire homelessness system using new metrics and goals. However, after the agency fell months behind on paying its existing contractors for the second year, human-service providers demanded that the KCRHA focus on basics like getting checks out the door before recreating the entire system from scratch.
“Based on feedback we received from contracted providers and other stakeholders, KCRHA has decided to postpone the majority of the System Re-Procurement process until 2024,” Howell wrote. “We want to ensure that KCRHA has the organizational capacity necessary to achieve a successful equity-based re-procurement of homelessness services contracts.”
In a presentation on the decision to hold off on redesigning the system, the KCRHA noted that it has had trouble finding people to fill its finance and contracting positions because “staff in these fields are in incredibly high demand,” making it “difficult to recruit qualified staff for these positions.” According to the presentation, the KCRHA has four vacant grants and finance positions.
At the risk of rehashing ancient (well, two-year-old) history: When the KCRHA was first taking over grants and contracts work from the city of Seattle’s Human Services Department, the union that represented the people doing these jobs sought a succession agreement that would have given them the right to keep doing their existing jobs—managing the exact same grants and contracts— at the KCRHA. However, Dones objected to this idea, saying they wanted to hire an entirely new team, and that anyone at the city who wanted to keep doing their current work would need to apply for open positions.