Category: homelessness

County Executive Dow Constantine, Seeking Reelection: “The Status Quo Has Been Upended”

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who served in the state legislature and on the King County Council before beating eight other candidates for county executive in 2009, was supposed to run for governor—until the current governor, Jay Inslee, decided he wanted to keep the job. With a bid for higher office thwarted until at least 2024, many political observers expected Constantine to step down this year rather than seek a fourth term.

Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly, all eyes were on King County and its public health department, whose capable response to a fast-moving, ever-evolving crisis made the county a model for the nation. Constantine decided to run again, and for the first time in 12 years, drew a credible opponent—Democratic state Sen. Joe Nguyen, who represents the same West Seattle district Constantine did in the state House and Senate. (In a further twist of internecine West Seattle politics, Nguyen defeated Shannon Braddock, who’s now Constantine’s deputy chief of staff.)

I sat down with Constantine over Zoom last week, and started out by asking him why he decided to seek another term.

Dow Constantine: I mean, I was thinking about running for governor, but then the governor ran for governor. And because I’m a good Democrat, and I want to ensure that we have Democratic leadership in Olympia, I chose not to run for governor along with all the other potential candidates.

I have lots of options in life. But the best opportunity right now coming out of this crisis is to advance the work we’ve been doing. I think this is a unique, exciting moment where the status quo has been upended. And a lot of the things that we have been dutifully building toward in equity and social justice and environmental restoration and police transformation and so forth become dramatically more possible. So, you know, once the, the COVID crisis started, we’ve been in it, and there’s really been no looking back.

PubliCola: Looking back over the last 14, 15 months of the pandemic, is there anything that you would have done differently in the early months, if you had known kind of how things would turn out?

With hindsight being 20/20, instead of trying to distance people in a congregate setting, like in shelters, we would know that having people just farther apart but all in the same room, was still going to be problematic. We [eventually] moved to the hotel model, which immediately and dramatically slowed the spread of the disease. Obviously, if we had more knowledge at the time, we might have made different choices about requiring mask use early on, or getting people into hotels and single-room settings rather than shelters. But in general, I think that the people responded well to a crisis with a lot of unknowns.

“Simply saying that the government can’t be involved in anything that in any way facilitates someone using the substance to which they are clearly physically addicted is just inhumane.”

PC: One of the things [Downtown Emergency Service Center director] Daniel Malone has said since early in the pandemic, when DESC moved people from their downtown shelter to the Red Lion in Renton, is that they’re never going to go back to the way things were, with people staying in overcrowded, congregate shelters. And yet it feels like that’s kind of what’s happening at the city level. Do you think that in a year or two years, we’re going to be right back where we were?

DC: That is not what the county is doing. Other than in isolated cases, for an immediate overnight emergency, we’re not going to be investing in mats-on-the-floor, get-kicked-out-in-the-morning shelters, because we have seen what having a room of your own, a place of your own, even just space of your own, can do for people.

It used to be that people were very focused on long-term, purpose-built, supportive housing, and it was sort of, we’ll just wait and let people rotate through these congregate shelters until those things are ready. With some exceptions, I think we’re moving much more toward a model where we try to get everyone a place that is genuinely a better alternative to the streets or a tent—a place that has a lock on the door with their own bathroom and some dignity and the ability to get rested and cleaned and centered. And that seems like kind of an obvious thing. But the pandemic created the opportunity to demonstrate how much better that works than a congregate shelter setting.

“I do think it’s likely that we want to find [a new sheriff] who is an outsider, someone who doesn’t owe anyone anything and is not beholden to people so that they can make difficult decisions and see things with clear eyes.”

PC: The opiate task force came out with its recommendations almost five years ago, and I remember at the time thinking that, in particular, the [supervised consumption site] recommendation was never going to happen. And sure enough, it hasn’t. Why do you think that is? And do you think the county has come through as promised on the remaining recommendations, including access to treatment on demand?

DC: I do think that the task force was correct that a safe, monitored place would save lives. And we’re seeing continued deaths from heroin that’s tainted with fentanyl, for example. And for the parents, for the families who’ve lost their children, the moralizing that I come across in the media about not facilitating drug use rings kind of hollow. Simply saying that the government can’t be involved in anything that in any way facilitates someone using the substance to which they are clearly physically addicted is just inhumane.

Will we, as a practical matter, be able to get one of these things up and running? I don’t think, unless there’s a significant political change, that it’s going to be possible to do. But I will say this. The advances in both treatment and the drugs to reverse overdose mean that it’s absolutely imperative that people not be in basements and alleys and other places where they don’t have eyes on and them can’t get help, because we can save lives in the short run. And we can save people from addiction over time. And we have much better mechanisms that we had even a decade ago to do that.

“It is the state of Washington that requires us to have a youth detention facility. And we would very much welcome the state legislature actually removing that legal obligation, and instead providing us with the funds and the mandate for alternatives.”

This is not your question, but this has been bugging me lately. There are a lot of people on the streets who have some level of opioid dependence. And some of them had it before they were homeless, and a lot of them developed it on the streets and are at grave risk because of tainted drugs that can come in to the community. And there have been plenty of suburban kids and parents who have died. But I continue, as I make calls, to hear this basic, moralistic perspective—like, they’ve just got to get off the junk, and then we can offer them all these services.

And we know that’s not how it works. Getting just some solid ground under people’s feet first is an almost indispensable prerequisite to people being able to succeed in treatment. When you’re fighting for survival every night, it’s very hard to adhere to some sort of program that’s going to help you get off of whatever you’re addicted to. Continue reading “County Executive Dow Constantine, Seeking Reelection: “The Status Quo Has Been Upended””

Inslee Issues Pro-Housing Partial Veto; Another Avoidable Outbreak Preempts Planned Sweep; Affordable Housing Data Supports Single-Family Upzones

1. An important follow-up story to our Olympia coverage: On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee vetoed several sections of a supposedly pro-accessory dwelling unit bill that ADU advocates convinced him failed the smell test. A pro-affordable housing coalition starring the AARP, Sightline, the Sierra Club, and the Washington State Labor Council, initially supporters of the legislation, wrote Inslee a letter after the session ended telling him the bill would actually end up being detrimental to the pro-housing movement.

PubliCola wrote about this bill all session, noting that housing development antagonist State Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46, Seattle), the House Local Government Committee chair, derailed the bill with, among other objections, odd complaints about “profit tourism” (a scary-sounding, but frankly meaningless epithet).

State Sen. Marko Liias (D-32, Edmonds) originally passed the bill on the Senate side, but by the time it came back from the House, thanks to Rep. Pollet and Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-42, Bellingham), the legislation was watered down to the point that the affordable housing advocates felt compelled to send their letter urging Inslee to veto major portions of the bill, including provisions that gave cities veto power over ADU mandates.

Inslee’s message was clear: Let’s actually do something to create more affordable housing stock.

Now that the governor has weighed in, I’ll be working to pass an even stronger bill in 2022.

After Inslee’s partial veto, Liias told PubliCola:

“We need more housing options. Renters and homeowners both benefit from ADUs. I was disappointed in the House amendments. Now that the governor has weighed in, I’ll be working to pass an even stronger bill in 2022.”

A key piece of Liias’ bill did survive Inslee’s pen, a section that prohibits local rules barring non-related people (such as roommates) from sharing housing.

2. A new outbreak of an unspecified gastrointestinal illness temporarily halted a planned sweep at a homeless encampment near White Center this week, after King County Public Health recommended strongly against uprooting people with severe symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.

The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that cities refrain from sweeping encampments during the pandemic, because redistributing large numbers of people throughout cities causes an obvious risk of community transmission. But the city has begun ramping up sweeps of homeless encampments in recent months anyway, citing the need to keep parks and playfields safe and clear for kids going back to school, among other justifications.

“In general, we recommend taking into account potential communicable disease risks if there is a plan to move an encampment where there is either an active disease investigation or an active outbreak.”—King County Public Health

A spokeswoman for the public health department, Kate Cole, said the county is trying to figure out what pathogen is making people at the encampment sick. There have been several reported outbreaks of shigella among homeless people in the last year; the disease spreads rapidly when people lack access to sinks with soap and running water, which the city, under Mayor Jenny Durkan, has been reluctant to provide.

“In general, we recommend taking into account potential communicable disease risks if there is a plan to move an encampment where there is either an active disease investigation or an active outbreak,” Cole said. “We understand there are many health and safety factors that play into the City’s decisions about moving encampments and we maintain regular coordination with the City to address these complicated situations.”

The city identifies a list of “priority” encampments each week and directs outreach providers to offer shelter to people living at these sites before removing them. In addition the the White Center encampment, the city just placed encampments in Ballard and on Capitol Hill on its priority list.

3. We’ve got some more data to help put the city’s recent Mandatory Housing Affordability report in context. Last week, you’ll remember, we added some initial context to the report: Based on the total affordable housing dollars generated by development in the 6 percent sliver of the city’s single family zones that the council upzoned in 2019, it appeared that those areas were producing more funds for affordable housing than expected. Continue reading “Inslee Issues Pro-Housing Partial Veto; Another Avoidable Outbreak Preempts Planned Sweep; Affordable Housing Data Supports Single-Family Upzones”

County Invests in Hotel-Based Shelter, SPOG Campaigns for Sawant Recall, Durkan Records Requests Raise Disclosure Questions

1. In his State of the County address Tuesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that the county would purchase the Inn at Queen Anne, which has been serving as a temporary shelter operated by Catholic Community Services since April of last year.

The 80-room hotel, which CCS will continue to operate, will cost the county $16.5 million; the money will come from the new “health through housing” sales tax that the county council passed—with some notable abstentions from suburban cities—late last year. The county plans to purchase “several more properties in several more cities … in the coming weeks,” Constantine said in his address.

Even as the county moves to buy hotels, the city of Seattle is pushing in the opposite direction.

In an interview yesterday, Constantine said he saw the hotels as “stops on the way to permanent supportive housing or independent housing, including affordable housing—places where you could live for a while and stabilize and take advantage of services.” Traditional, congregate shelters, including “enhanced shelters” like Seattle’s Navigation Center, don’t offer the kind of privacy and stability hotel rooms provide; “the difference between being able to come inside for the night and having a place of your own with a lock on the door seems to be everything,” Constantine said.

Even as the county moves to buy hotels, the city of Seattle is pushing in the opposite direction. Between now and June, Seattle plans to close down a temporary shelter at Exhibition Hall and relocate the people living there into shelters whose populations were “redistributed” last year, including the Navigation Center. After resisting calls to move Seattle’s homeless population into hotel-based shelters, the city finally rented about 200 hotel rooms this spring—a temporary solution (the rooms will be occupied for 10 months) and one that represents a fraction of the need. At the same time, Seattle is ramping up homeless encampment sweeps.

Asked about the apparent contrast between the county’s approach and Seattle’s, Constantine said, “first off, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If people need a place to be inside at night, we have to figure out a way to make that happen.” However, he added, “If you’re going to move people out of an encampment, at a bare minimum, you can’t just chase people from one street corner to another or one park to another. That is tremendously unhelpful.”

Constantine is up for reelection this year; his challenger, state Sen. Joe Nguyen, told PubliCola he supports the regional homelessness authority that the county is setting up but thinks the county has failed forge partnerships with the leaders of cities within the county.

The email, which the police union sent to its members last Friday, asked off-duty officers to appear in plain clothes to collect signatures and wave anti-Sawant signs at four Capitol Hill intersections on Saturday and Sunday.

2. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) asked its members to participate in signature-gathering events for the Recall Sawant campaign over the weekend, according to an email from SPOG leadership.

The email, which the police union sent to its members last Friday, asked off-duty officers to appear in plain clothes to collect signatures and wave anti-Sawant signs at four Capitol Hill intersections on Saturday and Sunday.

Recall Sawant campaign manager Henry Bridger II told SPOG members in the email that their presence would help “beef up” an otherwise meager group of volunteers. “Our goal is to have about 40+ people each day and we have about 15 right now and many probably won’t show for fear of retaliation,” he wrote, warning that “Sawant’s people will be there in mass [sic] to interfere.”

“We are just wanting to have plain-clothed volunteers to help hold signs and gather signatures so we look like we have a lot of coverage,” Bridger added. He also asked officers to bring their family and friends to boost turnout.

SPOG’s push for turnout seems to have fizzled: Twitter chatter about campaign volunteers at the intersection of Broadway and Denny suggests that few recall supporters showed up at the campaign event.

3. On Monday, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission held a brief discussion on a report that prompted outrage from major-media outlets last week because it revealed that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office had failed to produce many of her text message in response to records requests in 2020.

Specifically, the report—produced by independent public disclosure expert Ramsey Ramerman in response to a whistleblower complaint by two longtime mayoral public disclosure officers—found that 10 months of Durkan’s texts were missing, and that the mayor’s office had routinely excluded Durkan’s texts from requests for text messages from mayoral staff, on the grounds that the requests didn’t explicitly include the mayor.

The report, posted on the city’s website last week, was a bombshell, but it seemed to hit major media outlets somewhat differently than it hit us at PubliCola, for a simple reason: While we have filed dozens of records requests for text messages and other forms of communication, such as messages on internal City messaging systems, during the Durkan administration, we have routinely received only emails in response—a fact that suggests Durkan and her entire staff don’t use text messages, internal communications systems, or any other form of written communication other than email at all.

Since we know this is not the case (in fact, a quick text history search found a number of messages that would have been responsive to some of our requests), the only conclusion we can reach is that the mayor’s office did not provide records that would have been responsive to our requests, despite having the ability to do so and despite apparently filling other media outlets’ requests for text messages and other forms of communication. (A full list of PubliCola’s records requests to the mayor’s office since August 2018 is available here.) Continue reading “County Invests in Hotel-Based Shelter, SPOG Campaigns for Sawant Recall, Durkan Records Requests Raise Disclosure Questions”

Homeless Outreach Providers Balk at New Contracts That Would Put them at City’s “Beck and Call” for Sweeps

Tents at Gilman Playfield in Ballard, one of the city's "high-priority" encampment locations
Tents at Gilman Playfield in Ballard, one of the city’s “high-priority” encampment locations

By Erica C. Barnett

Homeless outreach agencies that contract with the city’s Human Services Department have threatened not to sign their 2021 contracts over new requirements that they argue would harm their relationships with clients and give unprecedented new power to the city.

Agencies that provide outreach and engagement to homeless encampments, including the outreach that happens before the city removes an encampment, have been operating without contracts since January. Late last month, HSD sent out new contracts that included requirements—not included in previous contracts—that would effectively subordinate the agencies to HSD’s HOPE Team (formerly the Navigation Team).

The new rules would require agencies to drop whatever targeted outreach they are doing with their existing client base—non-English-speaking day laborers, for example, or chronically homeless Native American men—and provide outreach and shelter referrals to whoever happens to be living in “priority” encampments identified by the city in the runup to an encampment sweep.

“We’d be at their beck and call,” said Derrick Belgarde, interim director of the Chief Seattle Club.

The new contracts would also require providers to create detailed “supplemental daily outreach reports” about who they contacted and what services they offered each day.

“For American Indians and Alaska Natives, we know they’re not grouping in these larger encampments—they tend to stick together in smaller groups, and they’re kind of hard to find,” Andrew Guillen, the grants and contracts director for the Seattle Indian Health Board, told PubliCola. “If we’re going to be prioritizing just the city-designated high-priority encampments, then we’re often going to be excluding American Indian and Alaska Native people.”

“The fact that they seemingly thought they would sneak it in and we’d sign the contracts and agree to these new changes without any negotiation—that’s the thing that’s been the most surprising.”—Andrew Guillen grants and contracts director, Seattle Indian Health Board

The Seattle Indian Health Board was one of seven outreach providers that signed a letter to HSD late last month saying they would not sign their new contract in its current form. The letter raised four broad objections to the new contract language, including the “lack of trauma-informed care” in the contract requirements, the fact that the city’s encampment removal schedule gives them just two or three days to meet with clients and refer them to appropriate shelter and services, and the fact that the contracts require agencies to go through the HOPE team to place people in shelter, imposing a new “middle-man” on their relationships with clients.

“There was a complete lack of communication around any of these changes,” Guillen said. “The fact that they seemingly thought they would sneak it in and we’d sign the contracts and agree to these new changes without any negotiation—that’s the thing that’s been the most surprising.”

The new contracts stipulate, among other requirements, that all the city’s outreach providers must “Engage in coordinated outreach strategies at City prioritized encampments as directed by the HSD’s HOPE team … Provide coordinated outreach at City prioritized encampments including day-of removals” and “utilize the City’s recommendation and referral process” for shelter beds.

New reporting requirements, which include monthly reports to the HOPE team, include items like, “Describe your program’s level of participation in HSD’s HOPE team-coordinated outreach strategies at City-designated high-prioritized encampments this past month”—a major shift, providers say, toward a centralized, top-down approach to outreach and engagement.

“They expect us to be on call when they need to focus on certain areas,” said Derrick Belgarde, interim director of the Chief Seattle Club. “We have a problem with what’s defined as a ‘problem area’—it’s always the ‘nicer’ areas with louder voices that seem to get the attention of the mayor.”

Belgarde said the criteria for outreach “should be what’s in the best interest of people on the streets. We have our outreach people out there—they’re the professionals; they should be able to go and work on these people they’ve built relationships with without being told they can’t because they have to go to other neighborhoods.”

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The city’s “recommendation and referral process” would require providers to work through an elaborate “decision tree” to make the case that individual people at encampments—people they may be meeting for the first time, and for whom their agency is not the best fit—deserve one of a small number of beds the HOPE team has reserved on any particular night. The process requires providers to take down detailed personal information from every person at each encampment the city prioritizes for removal, including mental health and substance abuse history, sexual orientation, immigration status, and other extremely personal information. Continue reading “Homeless Outreach Providers Balk at New Contracts That Would Put them at City’s “Beck and Call” for Sweeps”

Still No Street Sinks, Pedersen Tone-Polices Council Colleague, No Discipline for Cop who Retaliated Against Whistleblower

1. The nearly year-old debate over street sinks for people without access to indoor plumbing boiled over at last week’s meeting of the city council’s homelessness committee, as Seattle Public Utilities director Mami Hara outlined some of the Durkan Administration’s many objections to providing cheap, accessible places for people experiencing homelessness to wash their hands.

As PubliCola has reported, the city council funded street sinks last November, with a goal of quickly installing more than 60 simple sinks at key locations around the city. Access to clean running water and soap—not just hand sanitizer, which the city is currently considering as an alternative to sinks—is essential to preventing the spread of communicable diseases such as shigella, hepatitis, and cryptosporidiosis, which have spread among Seattle’s homeless population since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of most publicly accessible sinks last spring.

Six months later, there are still no sinks on Seattle’s streets. Instead, the mayor’s office, SPU, and the Department of Neighborhoods have expanded the scope of the funding to include food waste disposal, “options for accessing safe drinking water,” and new ways to “reduce illegal dumping and litter.” Last month, the city put out a request for proposals for a new “Seattle Water & Waste Innovation Pilot” with the goal of picking two or more contractors later this month.

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said the council’s budget directive wasn’t “to evaluate what kind of additional programs or services should be investigated … it was, how fast can we get these dollars out the door for very low-cost, already proven handwashing strategies. So I would like to ask…. where are the handwashing facilities and why is it taking so long?”

The city also needed to ensure that the sinks are “really durable and resilient against lots and lots of things that can happen to them,” SPU director Mami Hara said, and to make sure they don’t present “a tripping hazard or another hazard.”

Andres Mantilla, Durkan’s DON director, responded the city had expedited the grant application process to move more quickly than usual. Hara added that although the council might find it “counterintuitive when your’e trying to get things out quickly to consider public health requirements,” the utility has an obligation to think about people’s safety. For example, she said, people could “cross-contaminate” sinks with germs if the water isn’t “continuous, reliable, and adequate.” The city also needed to ensure that the sinks are “really durable and resilient against lots and lots of things that can happen to them,” Hara said, and to make sure they don’t present “a tripping hazard or another hazard.”

“The point isn’t to build super sinks and only be able to afford five of them; the point is to be able to get sinks out throughout the city so that folks [can] have access to running water.”—Councilmember Tammy Morales

“I understand the frustration—it’s like, ‘Let’s just put a sink out there,’ versus making sure that it’s done in a way that does not cause injury or harm to folks as well,” Hara said.

In response, Mosqueda pointed out that the city expedited temporary permits for restaurant owners to put tables on sidewalks in response to COVID, and council member Tammy Morales noted that while she was glad to hear that the executive branch now wants to open up the application process to small groups besides the Clean Hands Collective, such as mutual aid groups, “this work was intended to be out the door months ago and we are entering the fourth wave now of COVID.”

“The point isn’t to build super sinks and only be able to afford five of them; the point is to be able to get sinks out throughout the city so that folks [can] have access to running water,” Morales said.

2. Later in the same meeting, Morales addressed public commenters, saying they should direct their anger about ongoing sweeps of homeless encampments at the mayor’s office (which oversees encampment removals) rather than the council (which has adopted legislation opposing them). After following that comment with a number of calm but pointed policy questions, Morales got a dressing-down from Durkan ally Alex Pedersen, who suggested she was being rude to executive department staff.

“I just want to implore my colleagues to strive to treat our city government colleagues with respect and to not question their intentions,” Pedersen said, admonishing Morales to “take the temperature down and treat our colleagues with respect.” 

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Pedersen’s tone-policing comments prompted Mosqueda to jump in. Morales, she said, had been “respectful and in order,” and her questions were “very much appropriate for the situation that we’re in—a year into the pandemic, when the CDC has continued to say that we should not be sweeping people if we had no alternative non-congregate options available.” We’ll have more on the state of outreach and encampment removals this afternoon.

3. Two officers who filed a complaint against Navigation Team director (and former SPD lieutenant) Sina Ebinger subsequently complained that a friend of Ebinger’s followed them in her police cruiser, cut them off, and threatened them with professional retaliation after Ebinger lost her assignment on the team, a newly released Office of Police Accountability case file reveals. Continue reading “Still No Street Sinks, Pedersen Tone-Polices Council Colleague, No Discipline for Cop who Retaliated Against Whistleblower”

Homeless Advocates Challenge Compassion Seattle Ballot Measure

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness challenged the ballot title for the “Compassion Seattle” initiative in King County Superior Court on Thursday, arguing that the short description of the proposal—which is what Seattle voters would see on their ballots in November—is inaccurate and “prejudicial” because it implies that the measure would guarantee new funding for housing and homeless services when it does not, among other reasons.

The petition, filed by Real Change, the Transit Riders Union, Nickelsville, and Be:Seattle, makes several key points. First, the groups argue that the ballot language—which says the measure would require the city to “dedicate minimum 12% of the annual general fund revenue to homelessness and human services”—inaccurately implies an increase in funding for homelessness, when in fact the 12 percent would go to human services in general, which currently make up about 11 percent of the city’s general-fund budget.

“Requiring twelve percent of the general fund to be placed in [a new] ‘Human Services Fund may not add any funding to homelessness services,” the petition says.

“To put [encampment removals] in the statement of subject, which is those first ten words [of the ballot title], is inflammatory, which is prejudicial,” said Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the advocates.

Second, they argue that language saying the charter amendment “concerns actions to address homelessness and keep areas clear of encampments” is misleading because it implies that the initiative will keep the city clear of encampments, when the measure actually says the city will balance homeless residents’ interests against the city’s interest in having encampment-free parks and public spaces.

“To put [encampment removals] in the statement of subject, which is those first ten words [of the ballot title], is inflammatory, which is prejudicial,” said Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the advocates.

Compassion Seattle has consistently argued that the initiative, which began as a sweeps-focused measure that evolved to include aspirational language about ensuring that people have access to shelter or housing, does not require sweeps. By taking proponents at their word—that is, by conceding their point that the proposal is actually designed to house people so no one will need to live in public—advocates are essentially arguing that the proponents of the initiative are relying on prejudice against homeless people to sell the measure.

The advocates also argue that the ballot title is misleading in another way: Rather than requiring “action,” as the short description implies, its primary impact would be imposing new policies and performance standards on programs, which could end up having a bigger impact than aspirational language about encampments or vague funding promises. For example, the proposed amendment says would make it official city “policy to make available emergency and permanent housing to those living unsheltered.” Continue reading “Homeless Advocates Challenge Compassion Seattle Ballot Measure”

As Summer Approaches, Encampment Sweeps Ramp Up

By Erica C. Barnett

As summer approaches, the city has accelerated the pace of homeless encampment removals, which declined dramatically during the pandemic thanks in part to public health guidelines that cautioned against moving people from place to place.

But now that many people are vaccinated and students are returning to school, notices of impending encampment removals are starting to show up again in parks and other public spaces around the city. The Parks Department, which is in charge of removing most homeless encampments after the dissolution of the Navigation Team, will post notices like the one above at seven “high-priority” encampments this week. If people are still on site on the day of a posted removal, the department can remove their property, including tents and survival gear. The encampments are:

Madrona Park (Madrona)

Albert Davis Park (Lake City)

Second Ave. Extension (Pioneer Square)

Hubble Place/Convention Center (Downtown)

Amy Yee Tennis Center (Mt. Baker)

Broadway Hill Park (N. Capitol Hill)

8th and King St. (Pioneer Square)

The city refers to these sweeps as “MDAR removals,” a reference to the multi-department administrative rules that describe how and when the city can remove encampments. Generally, the city justifies such sweeps by saying an encampment is obstructing the use of a public space or poses a danger to its residents or the surrounding community. For example, the city recently removed a large encampment in Miller Park on Capitol Hill, arguing that the homeless residents posed a danger to middle-school children returning to school nearby and were preventing youth sports leagues from using using the park.

We have asked the Parks Department and Mayor Durkan’s office why they chose these specific encampments for removals and will update this post when we hear back.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

When the city decides to “prioritize” an encampment for removal, the Human Services Department’s HOPE team notifies outreach workers who work to connect people living there to shelter and services. Two days before a sweep, city staffers post a sign announcing the time and date when everyone has to leave a location.

A persistent problem with this approach, going back to the days when the HOPE Team was known as the Navigation Team and included a large contingent of police, is that people often mistrust city government and don’t want to move into shelter, which is often a poor fit for people with complex mental health issues or those who simply prefer the privacy, autonomy, and community an encampment provides, however tenuously. Lately, the city has been referring some encampment residents to the Executive Pacific Hotel, where the Low-Income Housing Institute has 139 shelter rooms.

On the day of a removal, cleanup crews from the city’s Parks Department, who are not outreach workers, in remove any tents, trash, come through to remove any tents, trash, or possessions that remain. Nonprofit outreach workers and HOPE team members, according to Durkan spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin, also show up to offer shelter referrals on the day encampments are removed; “for instance,” she said, “11 referrals to shelter were made at Gilman Playground last week, with transportation assistance also being provided.”

Continue reading “As Summer Approaches, Encampment Sweeps Ramp Up”

Deputy Mayor Sixkiller Joins Crowded Mayoral Race; Police Union Joins Calls for Sheriff’s Resignation

Deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller at the opening of King’s Inn hotel shelter.

1. Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller joined the crowded race for mayor Tuesday, after months of hinting that he would make an announcement soon. He told PubliCola that, if elected, he would propose a bond measure, backed by a property tax increase, to build 3,000 new permanent homes for people experiencing homelessness; back a local version of universal basic income; and work to find “common ground” between people on all sides of the homelessness issue.

“If there’s one issue that we can all agree on, it’s that the conditions of our parks and our streets is unacceptable, and despite spending a record amount of money, homelessness has gotten worse,” Sixkiller said. “One part of the strategy for homelessness going forward is, number one, continuing to move more folks inside and creating safe spaces for people to move into shelter, but second, we’ve got to build or require more permanent places for folks to [live].”

Sixkiller is leaving the mayor’s office to campaign full-time.

As deputy mayor, Sixkiller was in charge of overseeing Mayor Jenny Durkan’s response to homelessness. In that role, he often clashed with the city council, defending Durkan’s reluctance to open more restrooms for unsheltered people early in the pandemic and proposing a huge new “shelter tent” for homeless people in early April of last year, when it had already become clear that COVID-19 could spread quickly in mass shelters. But he also advocated for hotels as a replacement for congregate shelters later that year, negotiating a compromise between the mayor (who was not a fan of hotels) and the council that ended up resulting in about 200 hotel-based shelter beds, with another hotel in north Seattle on the way.

“I think what the charter amendment underscores is that folks across our city and from all ends of the spectrum want to see results… both for folks that are experiencing homelessness and those impacted by it. As an organizing principle, it’s a really important thing.”—Casey Sixkiller

Sixkiller wouldn’t say whether he supports the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which would impose a new human services spending mandate on the city and lays out conditions for future sweeps. “I’m still looking at” the proposal, he said, adding, “I think what the charter amendment underscores is that folks across our city and from all ends of the spectrum want to see results… both for folks that are experiencing homelessness and those impacted by it. … As an organizing principle, it’s a really important thing.”

Before joining the mayor’s staff, Sixkiller worked briefly as the chief operating officer for King County. Prior to that, he founded a D.C.-based lobbying firm, Sixkiller Consulting, with his wife.

So far, there are 16 candidates in the mayoral race; the filing deadline is May 21.

2. Sixkiller’s departure leaves an open position at the mayor’s office, but not for long; Durkan’s office says they plan to bring former deputy mayor David Moseley out of retirement to take Sixkiller’s place. Moseley will take over most of Sixkiller’s portfolio, which includes transportation, utilities, parks and housing, but deputy mayor Tiffany Washington will be in charge of homelessness.

Washington headed up the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division until 2019, when she resigned to take a position in the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning. Her relationship with the city council could charitably be described as tense; her explanations for city policies such as an earlier increase in encampment sweeps were often vague and inconsistent, and was often defensive in response to criticism, including from journalists who questioned the city’s sunny claims about homelessness.

Durkan hired Washington for her current position last year.

3. The latest call for King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s resignation is coming from inside the house: on Monday, the King County Police Officers’ Guild—the union representing most of Johanknecht’s sworn officers—joined county and state lawmakers pressuring Johanknecht to step down from her post.

Guild President Mike Mansanarez told PubliCola on Tuesday that his union’s members have lost confidence in Johanknecht’s competence as a leader and ability to communicate with her officers and other county leaders. “The rank and file don’t see [Johanknecht’s] leadership team—they don’t come to the precincts,” he said. He added that union members are frustrated with some of Johanknecht’s appointment decisions, and with the sheriff’s perceived willingness to overlook misconduct by her appointees.

Opposition to Johanknecht grew in March, after the county reached a a $5 million settlement with the family of Tommy Le, a 20-year-old killed by King County Sheriff’s deputy Cesar Molina in 2017. Continue reading “Deputy Mayor Sixkiller Joins Crowded Mayoral Race; Police Union Joins Calls for Sheriff’s Resignation”

Community Groups Support Equitable Development Staffers; Sidran Opposes “Compassion Seattle”

1. Members of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative board, along with dozens of community organizations, signed a letter of support for two EDI leaders at the city’s Office of Community Planning and Development who wrote a scathing letter late month accusing Mayor Jenny Durkan and OCPD of emotionally abusing EDI staff while sowing division among the communities EDI is supposed to support.

“As community stakeholders and EDI Board members, we… have witnessed the emotional labor required of EDI staff, valued for their deep ties to community, but directed to lead this program in a way that has perpetuated inequities for those it purports to serve,” the letter of support says. “The City of Seattle, OPCD, and the EDI must do better by BIPOC staff and community organizations.”

EDI manager Ubax Gardheere and EDI strategist Boting Zhang wrote an open letter last week saying they were taking a “mental health break” from the city. “Our bodies have been weaponized in an institution that historically and presently has actively fought against you, and you have sensed this,” they wrote.

The Equitable Development Initiative began in 2015 under then-mayor Ed Murray as a revolving fund intended to advance community-led projects in areas of the city with a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity. None of four demonstration projects that were chosen to launch the initiative have been built.

By saying “it is city policy” to avoid dispersing people unless they’re impeding the use of public spaces, the former city attorney argues, the amendment will make it impossible for the city to sweep anyone, including, potentially, someone who is “blocking traffic by pitching a tent in the middle of 5th Ave. downtown.”

During last year’s budget process, Durkan proposed eliminating a long-promised $30 million fund to pay for EDI projects out of the proceeds of the Mercer Megablock sale, citing the pandemic; the council restored the funds, but EDI proponents saw Durkan’s willingness to defund the initiative as a betrayal.

Since then, the mayor has appointed her own Equitable Communities task force to recommend spending priorities for $100 million in investments in BIPOC communities, which includes the $30 million; some advocates have criticized the makeup of the task force, saying it is composed largely of Durkan allies and groups that are seeking a slice of the money.

“When she set up the task force, a lot of people didn’t want to join,” Yordanos Teferi, of the Multicultural Community Center, recalled. “And then we learned that those who did join the task force were not coming into the process trying to advocate for communities at large—they were just advocating for their own projects or their own organizations.” The MCC, along with Africatown, the Ethiopian Community in Seattle, Puget Sound Sage, Friends of Little Saigon, and more than two dozen other groups, signed the letter of support.

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2. Former Seattle city attorney Mark Sidran—best known for defending the Teen Dance Ordinance, impounding people’s cars over expired driver’s licenses, and, oh yeah, supporting a zillion laws aimed at criminalizing homelessness—opposes the Compassion Seattle Charter initiative. Continue reading “Community Groups Support Equitable Development Staffers; Sidran Opposes “Compassion Seattle””

Another Sweep in Ballard, JustCARE Disputes Mayor’s Cost Claims, and Former County Dems Leader Resigns

1. On Friday, the city will remove any tents that remain at Gilman Playfield in Ballard, part of a wider strategy of removing encampments that are near schools, playgrounds and sports fields. The Gilman sweep comes after similar encampment removals at Rainier Playfield and Miller Park on Capitol Hill, which the mayor’s office said were necessary to make the parks “safe and accessible” to students and children playing sports.

Mayoral spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin said the Seattle Police Department responded 61 times in the past six months to “calls including disturbances, domestic violence, and other suspicious or potentially dangerous activity at the playground,” and that the fire department had responded to another 11 calls. Additionally, “Youth sports team coaches, parents, and neighbors have been reaching out to the City over the past few months with various safety concerns and to express their frustrations over not being able to use the field for youth sports,” Schulkin said.

On the day a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, the account retweeted a post from the Kent Police Department that read, “If you’re celebrating 420 today, DON’T DRIVE. Pop a squat on your 70s basement couch, play some Boston in the background, binge watch Fast Times and eat Doritos.” When a reader called the tweet “tone deaf,” the Kent account responded, “Just want to encourage people to be safe if they’re celebrating today 😊.”

The encampment was quiet on Wednesday morning, as outreach workers went from tent to tent to discuss options with the people living in the park. None of the tents were on the playground or the nearby playfield; the biggest concentration was in a shaded area near the restrooms and on the sidewalk outside the playfield fence.

According to an outreach worker on site, most of the residents would be offered rooms at the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown; if the majority of the dozens of people living in the park accept placements, the hotel would be essentially full, although some people who moved into the hotel have reportedly left without receiving permanent housing placements.

Encampment removals slowed down dramatically during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic but have been ramping back up this spring, including the removal of tents and encampment residents from University Playfield near I-5 last weekend.

Also Wednesday, the JustCARE program moved a number of people living in Pioneer Square near the historic First Avenue pergola to its own hotel-based shelters, the Navigation Center, and the Executive Pacific Hotel, most likely making a planned sweep of that encampment unnecessary; the city is reportedly planning additional encampment removals in Pioneer Square and the International District in the coming weeks.

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan has repeatedly claimed that JustCARE costs more than $100,000 a person, a claim that has so frustrated the organizations supporting the program that they produced a flyer outlining what they say the program costs “at scale”: Just under $50,000 a client, half of which is the cost of hotel rooms themselves.

Durkan’s office has shown little interest in expanding JustCARE, which is a joint project of the Public Defender Association, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, REACH, and other groups, arguing that there are cheaper options that do the same thing.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office provided a chart outlining the budget for King County’s extension of JustCARE, which comes in at an average of $104,000 a month per room. The mayor’s office says that they have always calculated and compared costs on a “per room” basis than a “per person” basis, a claim the PDA disputes. The PDA says that its cost estimate of around $49,000 per client is based on a longer-term model that would bring the program to “scale,” renting “more than twice as many rooms in the same hotels, and [serving] more than twice as many participants,” according to PDA director Lisa Daugaard.

In February, the city rejected a proposal that would have effectively expanded JustCARE by moving clients into the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown, insisting that they could not spend a penny more than $17,000 per client plus the cost of the rooms themselves.

Ultimately, the city signed two contracts for hotel-based shelters, with the Low-Income Housing Institute and Chief Seattle Club, that came in significantly above the $17,000 cap.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower told PubliCola, “We absolutely agree that a provider contract should be a longer-term commitment both for clients and efficiency and understand the county is seeking that approach. That’s why we created our hotel programs that are a year long and include rapid rehousing resources (and some [permanent supportive housing] resources).

3. Bailey Stober, the former director of the King County Democrats who lost his job after an investigation found him guilty of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct, is leaving his latest job as communications manager for Kent Mayor Dana Ralph under circumstances that remain unclear. Ralph would not provide details about why Stober is leaving, but confirmed that he has “resigned his position effective June 1.”

Contacted by email, Stober said, “When I took the job, I came to Kent from Texas and told the Mayor I would give her 18 months to two years and then my plan was to return to Texas. I took a great job offer in Texas and as I enter my 18/19th month with the city I’ve finished the projects I wanted to finish and am happily going back to Texas.”

Stober is the anonymous voice behind the city of Kent’s Twitter account, which gained thousands of followers for its puerile tweets mocking other cities and making jokes about “nuggs.” (Here are some lyrics the account  posted at 9:00 on a Friday night.)

On the day a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, the city of Kent account retweeted a post from the Kent Police Department that read, “If you’re celebrating 420 today, DON’T DRIVE. Pop a squat on your 70s basement couch, play some Boston in the background, binge watch Fast Times and eat Doritos. Be chill and stay off the roads.” When a reader called the tweet “tone deaf,” the Kent account responded, “Just want to encourage people to be safe if they’re celebrating today 😊.” Unlike many other local jurisdictions, the city did not acknowledge the Chauvin verdict on its Twitter account.

Earlier this year, Ralph stood by Stober when he got kicked out of a local bar after allegedly inciting a massive brawl and calling both Ralph and the chief of police and threatening to have the bar’s liquor license revoked.