As the Workers Behind the KCRHA’s Abandoned Partnership for Zero Program, We Were Betrayed. And So Were You.

Editor’s Note: As part of its privately funded Partnership for Zero effort to end visible homelessness in downtown Seattle, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority hired several dozen “systems advocates” with personal experience of homelessness to help to hundreds of people living unsheltered downtown navigate the byzantine homelessness system and access resources and housing. The initial idea was simple: The systems advocates would get to know people living downtown and work to overcome their barriers to housing, rapidly connecting them to either permanent supportive housing or subsidized, private-market apartments and helping them sustain that housing.

The homelessness authority revamped the program several times over its first year, changing the systems’ advocates roles and creating geographic “zones” within downtown in an attempt to address smaller, more manageable areas one at a time. But the authority never came up with a sustainable long-term funding source for the program, assuming—despite warnings from existing service providers and outside experts—that it would be able to rely on a novel use of an existing Medicaid program to pay for ongoing operations.

Last month, the KCRHA shut down the program, laying off dozens of systems advocates, including many who were recently homeless. Some had moved to Seattle from other cities or given up their housing vouchers to take jobs at the agency, and are now facing the possibility of becoming homeless again. This piece is by a group of system advocates who reached out to PubliCola to tell their story.


As former Systems Advocates for the recently shuttered Partnership for Zero program, we have been deeply disappointed in and betrayed by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, as have all of you.

While much has been made of us being hired because of our lived experience of homelessness, the majority of us also had years of direct homeless service and community-building experience and were considered some of the best in our field, which is why we were chosen for this team. We were tasked with building a trauma-informed, holistic approach to deal with one symptom of the systematic economic and social abandonment of Seattle’s poor and working class. All of us signed on to spend five years of our lives building this approach. We left stable jobs and some of us traveled across the country to participate.

From day one, however, our team was undermined by a constant barrage of consultants and bureaucrats, most of whom had spent years failing up the ladder within the Homeless Industrial Complex. Our program was stalled for months at a time by indecisive management more concerned with pleasing politicians than fulfilling our mission.

We were also forced to waste three weeks trying to resolve an “encampment” at Occidental Park, where no people actually camped, because the mayor wanted to put in an ice skating rink; another four months navigating clients who mostly came from outside downtown Seattle from hotels into housing; and the last two months resolving another non-encampment at a dog park in Belltown so the hip restaurants across the street could sell overpriced biscuits and $8 tacos without having to gaze upon the results of decades of bad public policy. These were our assignments, instead of working in the four actual encampments we had repeatedly identified as good candidates for a housing-first approach.

Some of us would not have pursued this job, as this layoff has put several of us in a position to be homeless again ourselves. This action by management has resurfaced feelings of instability in our own lives, and most certainly in the lives of our clients

In addition, it is shameful that the equitable wages that we received for our skilled and challenging work have been cited as part of the reason for the closure of this program. Our original mandate was to do housing navigation and stabilization, which is normally the work of two separate full-time positions; later, the KCRHA expanded our jobs to include outreach as well, even though the authority is already paying longstanding and skilled organizations to perform that work.

At the end of the day, King County and the city of Seattle got a steal, off our backs. We cannot expect to break the cycle of homelessness by supporting anything less than an equitable wage for the people who do this work. That brings us to KCRHA’s labor practices. We were hired as full-time, permanent employees. Our program was never described as a “pilot” in our hiring paperwork, job descriptions, or any of the founding documents. The first time we heard the word “pilot,” or any official word about the precariousness of Partnership for Zero funding, was when KCRHA management decided to discontinue our team.

Some of us would not have pursued this job, as this layoff has put several of us in a position to be homeless again ourselves. This action by management has resurfaced feelings of instability in our own lives, and most certainly in the lives of our clients. KCRHA has also stalled union negotiations for the entirety of our team’s existence and is now pleading poverty in a transparent attempt to avoid paying out our sick and vacation hours, while simultaneously hiring nearly a dozen new administrative and management staff in the last two months.

The first System Advocates were not hired until June 29, 2022, and the program was not at functional capacity until late October of last year. In the short time we were allowed to work toward our mission, we were able to permanently house hundreds of people. We count this as a great success. Compared to downtowns in other major cities, our work has been some of the best in the country. If even 40 percent of the people we were able to put in rapid rehousing are allowed to economically and socially stabilize, taxpayers will save more than the cost of the program in carceral and medical costs alone, as well as reaping the benefits of a healthier society.

We could’ve done much more if our program was given the chance. But the KCRHA is clearly not living by its founding ideas of creating a homeless response system that centers the needs and voices of the unhoused. Instead, the agency seems intent on becoming yet another bureaucratic barrier to getting people housed. We expected more, and the staff, our unhoused neighbors, and the people of King County deserve better.

14 thoughts on “As the Workers Behind the KCRHA’s Abandoned Partnership for Zero Program, We Were Betrayed. And So Were You.”

  1. 100% feel for workers impacted by these failures, and would love to see the conversation go deeper, learn from mistakes, and hold our leaders to account. Who led the organization down this Vision Zero path, and what was the downfall specifically? Who had oversight to these decisions/leadership, and how did they let this happen? What measurable benefit does this organization provide the public and how do we sync that up with people making organizational decisions? Public trust in such agencies is paramount, and we can’t have that without being very transparent with who or what went wrong.

  2. The pandemic period brought in a lot of what is proving to be temporary money. I work for one of the old school housing providers and I recently got a nice pay bump. I have to wonder just how permanent it will turn out to be.

    1. Well, you know the math here…. it might have been possible to round up all the pandemic money into one pot and build some actual low income housing with it. Because it takes over $400k per unit to build new low income housing, those pandemic dollars might not have really built many units, but even a few more units is better than silliness like putting people up in hotel rooms for a month or two.

      To be clear, the KCRHA hasn’t brought a single unit of long term housing to the party.

  3. For starters, if you’re going to print shit like this, you should include the names of the authors; anonymous letters doesn’t allow the sunshine in.

    The tone of the letter says a lot; blaming everyone but themselves merely confirms that these people didn’t/don’t have the prerequisite skills to do the job. Worse yet, the structure of the KCRHA was a shitshow, there was no human resources department, there was no training, there was no employee manual, and for the people that did apply, they were being interviewed by people that just got hired to do the same job! I know, i interviewed for one of these jobs. The whole application process was completely unprofessional and was quite clear from going through that process that I wouldn’t want to work there for any amount of money.

    Unfortunately you can’t replace education with lived experience when it comes to performing a job, you may be able to relate very well because of your lived experience but if you don’t know how to communicate you’re not gonna get the job done. That’s pretty much what I saw with not only the advocates but everybody else that I came into contact with in that organization. And God forbid anyone should try and get any information out of them because they weren’t talking. Ever. About anything. I kept on wondering what they were trying to hide and I guess it was that they had no idea what they were doing.

    1. Wow, so you were not qualified enough to be hired by people who ” didn’t/don’t have the prerequisite skills to do the job” I don’t think I would have admitted that one man. It seems like you are coding a little bit brother. Was the problem really that the hiring panel lacked qualifications, or the fact that they were majority Black?

    2. It feels like you are coding a little bit my brother. Is it that you hiring panel was not qualified, or was it because they were majority black? So, you are not even skilled enough to convince people who “didn’t/don’t have the prerequisite skills to do the job” to hire you? I don’t think I would have admitted that one man.

  4. I am a current employee that was laid off, and due to the circumstances I am now facing no housing, suffering pay bills my life is just upside down. I have a family to take care of and I’m a single mother just reading this article put me in a very emotional mental depression mode right now. Thanks for doing this Adam ! They need to pay us for what they’ve done.

  5. The tone of this says it all about why these folks were formerly homeless–they apparently failed to have any skepticism or to do any research about the KCHRA or its plan or the whole situation in Seattle for the last 10 years or so up till the time they accepted their positions. Instead of taking responsibility for themselves, they are whining out at us, when many of us could have told them to expect exactly what happened given the players involved. So, I agree they should have been able to trust what they were told, yes, but that’s where that old saw, “Trust but verify,” comes in. Why anyone would have taken a flyer to move across the country or to leave stable jobs and housing after having been homeless with so little investigation is simply beyond me. I’m truly sorry for their situation, but I’m even sorrier for we taxpayers who’ve been played on all sides of this.

  6. These are the people I have been saying we should have been listening to from the very beginning. And it looks like I was right.

  7. The contempt for the boring old normies who pay the taxes to fund these programs is palpable. Helpful hint, making the normies the vile enemy for being actually responsible for themselves won’t win much sympathy from same.

  8. “…overpriced biscuits and $8 tacos without having to gaze upon the results of decades of bad public policy,” that is devisive and judgey.

    Biscuit wenches and taco vendors have bills to pay just like you guys do.

  9. For the two non- encampments you mention I have some questions. We’re there tents or RVs or lived-in looking cars around them and in them? If nobody lived in the tents, RVs or cars what was inside them? Were they being used to store items? What were the items? Were they used to run a business? What type of business?

    1. Occidental is a public square where all kinds of people hang out, but no one camps. 3rd and bell is an open air drug market, not an encampment, has been for 39 years.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.