Category: homelessness

After Planned Encampment Removals, Just 15 Percent Go to Shelter—and That’s the Best-Case Scenario

Slide from the city’s presentation on pre-announced encampment removals, which don’t include no-notice “obstruction” sweeps

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, which removes encampments and informs their displaced residents about available shelter beds, made 1,352 offers of shelter during scheduled removals during the second quarter of this year, the Human Services Department reported this week. The number of shelter offers is greater than the number of individuals who received information about an open bed, because the number represents people who were told about shelter more than once.

Within that number, the UCT provided 554 “referrals,” in which a person said they would go to shelter. Finally, of that subset, there were 206 shelter enrollments, meaning that in 206 instances, a person with a referral actually showed up at a shelter and stayed there for at least one night. That number, which also includes duplicates, suggests that only around 15 percent of people who got a shelter “offer” actually took it; however, the true percentage of people getting into shelter after planned sweeps is probably much lower, because people tend to relocate once the city puts up signs announcing an impending encampment closure.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services.

An HSD staffer, strategic advisor Chris Klaeysen, presented the numbers to the council’s homelessness committee on Wednesday. Klaeysen demurred on a number of key questions, referring council members to Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, who wasn’t there.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda asked Klaeysen why his presentation focused so much on the fact that the UCT offers shelter to everyone remaining at an encampment, which is something they are required to do. “Just saying that 100 percent received offers of shelter when 15 … percent confirmed they went into it—I don’t see how that conforms with our requirement that they receive an offer of shelter that works for their individual needs,” Mosqueda said.

People “refuse” shelter, to use the city’s term, for many reasons, including restrictive shelter rules, concerns about theft, and the fact that most shelters are single-gender and require people to relinquish pets and leave their partners behind. Klaeysen said UCT members have started asking people why they decline shelter, but his presentation only included the top three reasons: People wanted to wait for a tiny house; didn’t “want shelter”; or didn’t want to be separated from their partner, family member, or friends.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted Wednesday, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services. “I don’t have any baseline to compare [these numbers] to,” Lewis said.

Historically, the city has justified no-notice sweeps by saying that a person, tent, or other property constitutes an “obstruction” if it occupies public space. Last month, a King County Superior Court ruled that the city’s definition of obstruction is unconstitutionally broad, and that the city may be violating a ruling, Martin v. Boise, that prohibits cities from displacing people when they have nowhere to go. The city has said it plans to challenge that ruling.

Former KCRHA Director’s New $250-an-Hour Contract Focuses On Medicaid Funding for Homelessness

Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones speaks at a press conference about the new public-private "Partnership for Zero" Thursday
Former KCRHA director Marc Dones at the “Partnership for Zero” announcement last year

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle Human Services Department released the details of former King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones’ $250-an-hour contract with the city on Friday. PubliCola reported on the contract, which is widely viewed as a payment in lieu of severance (for which Dones, who resigned, was ineligible), in June. Real Change was first to report on the contract details on Friday. Dones’ contract began on June 20, the first business day after their final day at KCRHA.

Under the contract, Dones (through their company, Gray Sky Consulting) will receive $60,000—the equivalent of three months’ salary—for performing 240 hours of work, including 30 hours determining the scope the work to be performed and creating a timeline for deliverables.

City consulting contracts don’t generally require an exact accounting of hours—see, for example, former deputy mayor Tim Ceis’ own $250-an-hour contract to “build community consensus” on Mayor Bruce Harrell’s preferred light rail station locations—so it’s impossible to say how much actual time Dones will spend delivering on this contract. Coming up with or list of “stakeholders,” for example, is supposed to take the former KCRHA director five hours, and writing a final report accounts for another 60.

The contract says Dones will do a “landscape assessment” of existing programs and come up with recommendations for using Medicaid funds “to maximize the region’s resources available to address homelessness.” As we’ve been reporting since February 2022, Dones planned to use a Medicaid-funded state program called Foundational Community Supports to pay for the downtown Partnership for Zero, an ambitious (and unrealized) plan to eliminate visible homelessness in downtown Seattle by as early as last year. The KCRHA’s adopted 2024 budget assumes$5.2 million from Medicaid reimbursement, an estimate Dones called “conservative.”

Providers who have used Medicaid funding to pay for programs addressing homelessness cautioned that Medicaid reimbursement is almost more trouble than it’s worth, because the use of the federal program is severely limited and documenting units of care, known as “encounters,” has proven extremely difficult. It’s unclear what additional research Dones is expected to provide beyond the work KCRHA did to justify the assumptions about Medicaid reimbursement that informed its 2024 budget.

The contract also includes 30 hours of research on the integration of existing “labor, public health, and violence prevention” programs, including violence prevention research with a “specific focus on the overlap between gang violence and encampments.”

City’s Primary Tool for Sweeping Encampments Without Notice Ruled Unconstitutional

Two after-the-fact notices after recent back-to-back sweeps in Occidental Park

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Superior Court Judge David Keenan ruled against the city of Seattle this week in a case brought by two unsheltered Seattle residents, Bobby Kitcheon and Candace Ream, whose tents were repeatedly swept by the city without notice.

In his ruling, Keenan found that although the city has the right to remove tents and other items without notice in some circumstances—for example, if they pose an imminent safety risk or completely block a sidewalk—the city has used an overbroad definition of “obstruction” to unconstitutionally invade people’s homes, destroy their property, and move them from place to place without offering shelter or other services. This invasion of privacy, Keenan wrote, is “no different than if one returned to their single-family stick-built house in any Seattle neighborhood after a personal errand to find that it had vanished.”

“Denying [the plaintiffs] any protected privacy in their homes would be yet one more permission slip to consider them not fully human,” Keenan added.

The ruling could force Seattle to narrow its rules for encampment removals so that they only apply to actual obstructions. (The city provides notice, information about available shelter beds, and property storage for some encampment removals, but those aren’t at issue in this lawsuit.)

“Denying [the plaintiffs] any protected privacy in their homes would be yet one more permission slip to consider them not fully human.”

Under rules established in 2017, the city can remove any “people, tents, personal property, garbage, debris or other objects related to an encampment” if those items are in a public park or on the sidewalk, on the grounds that they inherently constitute an “obstruction” to other people’s use of that public space. The city has routinely used this rule to justify sweeping encampments whether or not they actually obstruct anything—such as a handful of tents located in a secluded, heavily forested area of a public park.

“Since the definition was expanded in 2017, there has been a dramatic increase in obstruction removals, versus encampment removals that were subject to advance notice,” said Jazmyn Clark, director of the ACLU-WA’s Smart Justice Policy Program.

Removals that rely on this overbroad definition of “obstruction” constitute “cruel punishment” under the Washington state constitution, Keenan wrote, “because that definition allows the City to move unhoused people who are not actual obstructions, without offering unhoused people shelter.”

“There were circumstances in which unhoused folks would leave to, say, attend a doctor’s appointment, come back, and their entire home is just gone,” Clark said. “That is so disruptive and destabilizing— and then to have that practice continue over and over again; it just continually harms the folks that are most vulnerable because they have such limited resources to try to be able to start fresh.”

The case involved two unsheltered people who repeatedly lost all their belongings during no-notice sweeps. One of the plaintiffs, Bobby Kitcheon, described going through at least eight sweeps in less than four months, losing his wedding ring, his work boots, family heirlooms, and medication,  along with the tent and camping equipment he shared with his wife. Kitcheon said losing his work boots and equipment made it impossible for him to work, and that he and his wife now “feel like they have to be on constant alert and wake up every time someone walks by their home for fear that it is the City about to threaten them with arrest and destroy their property,” according to the lawsuit.

Keenan’s summary judgment is not the end of the road for the lawsuit, which is currently scheduled for trial in September. City Attorney Ann Davison could also choose to appeal the summary judgment ruling. In response to questions, a spokesperson for Davison’s office said, “at this point, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is evaluating next steps.”

After Refusing Shelter Offer from King County, Burien Proposes Camping Ban

Aerial view of the site the Burien council proposed for a potential pallet shelter, with SeaTac runways visible in the lower right corner.

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of a grueling, sometimes tearful three-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday night, the Burien city council directed its city manager, Adolfo Bailon, to draft a encampment ban modeled after Bellevue’s law, which criminalizes living in the city unsheltered.

The 4-3 vote came immediately after the council majority voted to reject a $1 million offer from King County that would include 35 pallet shelters (with a total capacity of up to 70 people) and a temporary land swap between the city and the county. Under the proposal, the shelter would go on city-owned land that is currently being used as storage by a Toyota dealer; the county would provide free space for the dealer’s cars at the nearby Burien Transit Center, which it owns.

The council rejected two other sites, including a single-family lot owned by Seattle City Light, while adding a new option that would require an agreement with a whole new government entity into the mix: A triangle of land owned by the Port of Seattle next to SeaTac Airport, part of Burien’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA). Opponents of this plan pointed out that it would subject homeless people living in thin-walled shelters to average noise levels of up to 70 decibels, prompting a brief sidebar discussion about whether metal sheds could be insulated for noise protection the same way houses are. (Probably not.)

Councilmember Stephanie Mora, who previously suggested homeless people relieve themselves in dog waste bags, was not interested in whether excess noise would be harmful to people living in pallet shelters by a runway. “You know what else poses a health risk not only to the campers, but also the public? The drug use and alcohol use of the people that are sleeping out on our streets,” Mora said.

Council members who opposed considering the Port side argued that initiating a brand-new shelter siting process would drag things out even more without satisfying advocates who want to find humane shelter for Burien’s homeless population or those who simply want them out of sight.

Is the cruelty the point? That’s what Councilmember Cydney Moore seemed to think, as she tearfully begged her colleagues not to pass a motion directing Bailon to draft a camping ban for consideration at the council’s next meeting. “This is just mean, and language that tells people that we don’t like them and we wished we can make them go away,”

“Us choosing this NERA site is not helping these people,” Councilmember Hugo Garcia said. “It’s just delaying. It’s just poor policy when it comes to housing, to equity. Out of the three, I’m just shocked that we even are having a discussion on it.”

At several points throughout the meeting, council members who voted to move forward with a ban on sleeping in public said that all the people living in encampments in Burien have been offered shelter and housing. While this is impossible to verify, since there are many private groups doing outreach to unsheltered people in the city, LEAD and REACH—two outreach organizations that connect people to shelter —reported last month that they had only found shelter placements for eight people out of several dozen.

Other organizations, such as the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission, offer shelter in Seattle that is sex-segregated and comes with behavioral rules that people with addiction and many mental health conditions may not be able to meet. For example, UGM requires sobriety—people suspected of drinking must pass a breathalyzer test—and its recovery programs are explicitly Christian and not based in science.

Some church-based programs impose even stricter rules. For instance, a program Mora and others on the council majority have frequently championed moves clients from the street into a three-day detox, followed by permanent housing with strict sobriety requirements. If a person fails to stay sober and gets kicked out, they become instantly ineligible for other types of housing for one year, because they were recently housed. The program, run by a Kirkland mortgage broker, also offers “sweeps services” for $515 a person—or just over $20,000 for a “40 person sweep.”

Is the cruelty the point? That’s what Councilmember Cydney Moore seemed to think, as she tearfully begged her colleagues not to pass a motion directing Bailon to draft a camping ban for consideration at the council’s next meeting. “This is just mean, and language that tells people that we don’t like them and we wished we can make them go away,” Moore said, “but we can’t. And that’s just not helpful. It’s cruel to a population that faces hostility every single day.”

Mora, who made the motion, countered that she cared too much about homeless people to allow them to continue living outside, and said they would go into shelter and follow the rules if their only other option was jail. “Every single person that is sleeping outside has been offered beds,” Mara said. “They don’t want help. … There is nothing that is pushing them to take the beds [and] they need something else to push them to take these beds.”

The motion—which passed 4-3—directs City Manager Bailon to come back at the next council meeting (scheduled for July 24) with an ordinance modeled on Bellevue’s camping ban.

Under a Ninth Circuit US District Court decision called Martin v. Boise, jurisdictions can’t ban people from sleeping in public unless they can offer another place to go. Cities, including Seattle, have interpreted this creatively—counting every shelter “offer” as appropriate and viable even if it’s miles across town or would require a couple to split, for example—in order to continue sweeping encampments.

But Bellevue’s law goes further than many, in a couple of ways. First, it actually criminalizes “public camping”—a broadly defined term that includes cooking, rolling out a sleeping bag, and stashing personal belongings in a public space—making it a misdemeanor.

Second, it says that anyone who is unable to accept a shelter offer because of “voluntary actions such as intoxication, drug use, unruly or assaultive behavior, or violation of shelter rules”—that is, people with addiction and behavioral health disorders—the city can force them to move or arrest them for “refusing” to accept an available shelter bed.

One of the problems with mandating sobriety and appropriate behavior—and criminalizing people who fail to comply—is that addiction and mental health disorders are not responsive to punitive legislation. A person who becomes agitated by the presence of other people will not lie quietly on a shelter floor even if they know an outburst will land them in jail, any more than someone dependent on drugs will stop using in exchange for a night indoors. Every city has to learn this lesson eventually, and Burien is about to get its turn.

Jail Guard Falsified Security Check Prior to Inmate Suicide; Candidate Proposes Shipping Homeless Out of Seattle

1. King County Jail Guard Falsified Records Surrounding Inmate Suicide

A correctional officer at the King County jail in downtown Seattle failed to do a required security check less than two hours before a 47-year-old man with “a history of mental health issues” committed suicide in his cell last year, then falsified a record to make it appear that he had performed the check, PubliCola has learned.

Disciplinary records from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention confirm that the guard, Emmanuel Palaita, did perform a check about an hour before the inmate, Keith Denegal, was found dead in his cell in the early morning of February 20, 2022. However, Palaita failed to do the previous mandatory check, leaving Denegal alone in his cell for more than an hour and a half, in violation of jail rules requiring checks at least once an hour. An investigator concluded that Palaita’s “failure to act endangered the safety of the inmate population he was responsible for.”

Because of the fraudulent log, investigators found Palaita had violated department policy, falsified documents, caused loss or injury to the county or public, and breached jail security. He was never disciplined, however, because he left his shift and never came back, going on leave for several weeks before turning in his official resignation more than a month after walking off the job. According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, Palaita never responded to notices about the internal investigation, and declined a hearing after the investigation to clear his name.

Because Palaita falsified a DAJD record, the department forwarded his name to the King County Prosecutor’s office for inclusion on the county’s Brady list—a list of law enforcement officers whose testimony in court is suspect because they have a history of dishonesty.

Since 2021, nine people have died “unexpectedly” at the jail, including five who committed suicide. Haglund said the department “has taken several important steps since last year to protect jail residents against self-harm,” including retrofits to remove gaps between beds and walls, limiting the distribution of over the counter medication, and increased suicide prevention training.

Since 2021, eight DAJD employees have been disciplined for falsifying security checks, Haglund said.

Because Palaita falsified a DAJD record, the department forwarded his name to the King County Prosecutor’s office for inclusion on the county’s Brady list—a list of law enforcement officers whose testimony in court is suspect because they have a history of dishonesty.

PubliCola has also determined that after Palaita left the county last February, he applied to be a Seattle firefighter, although it does not appear the department has hired him. According to records maintained by the city’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission, Palaita passed all the tests required for placement on the Seattle Fire Department’s Firefighter Register, one of the first steps toward becoming a firefighter in Seattle, and he will remain on the list until June 2024.

We have reached out to the fire department for more information about Palaita’s application and whether the department takes the Brady list into consideration when hiring firefighters.

2.  Here’s a Bold New Idea from Westneat’s Favorite Candidate: “Triage” Homeless People Into “Open Space” in King County

On Wednesday, the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat posted a layup column lightly mocking “the good, the bad, the bizarre ideas” coming from some of the candidates who are unlikely to make it through this year’s August 1 primary. Among the “out-there ideas” Westneat chose for mockery: Taxing spray paint to stop graffiti; building campgrounds for homeless people around the city, including one where people could use fentanyl (“imagine the community meetings,” Westneat snorts) and using AI to audit city departments for waste. “Their ideas,” Westneat chuckles, are like “Seattle satire.”

Given his interest in oddball ideas, it’s strange that Westneat—who says he’s been attending forums and debates all around the city—failed to mention any of the bold new proposals from a candidate he helped boost to prominence two years ago: Kenneth Wilson, who’s running for the open seat in District 4. In 2021, when Wilson was running against council incumbent Teresa Mosqueda, Westneat wrote that he, “stands out in the crowd”  being “being boring and competent.” Westneat was thoroughly charmed by Wilson’s “dorky” engineer vibe, and praised him for his back-to-basics campaign focused on “mismanagement,” government waste, and “building housing for the homeless faster.”

So you’d think Wilson’s big idea this year would be right up Westneat’s alley. Wilson wants to fix homelessness with a “triage” system that will take homeless people off the streets of Seattle and relocate them to an as-yet-unidentified piece of land somewhere in King County, providing recycling bins for them to store their belongings while they “move along in the right path with us.”

“We could do something with triage, especially with King County and their big resources in land. And we would actually move and get these people on the path that’s away from drugs, it’s away from the challenges of the city,” Wilson said at a recent forum.

“There’s so many people in [Seattle] who’ve got mental issues and things like that,” he continued. “In King County, we have a lot of open space, beautiful areas where we can actually make a difference in people’s lives, get them away from the challenges that are making the addictions, causing some of the mental health spill-out, where the damage is coming to our community.”

Wilson, unlike the candidates Westneat poked fun at this week, has a decent shot of making it through the primary, thanks in part to the credibility Westneat’s column gave him during his first campaign. As of Wednesday, he had raised more money than any other candidate in his race.

At Mariners’ Request, Mayor’s Office Pushed for Encampment Removal to “Make Opening Day Great” Last Year

By Erica C. Barnett

For weeks, the city has been scrambling to make downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, and the stadium district inviting to the tens of thousands of people expected to pour into the area this week for All-Star Week. In addition to trash pickups and temporary park “activations” (pickleball, a free outdoor roller rink), the city has flooded the neighborhood with police; last Friday, in tiny Occidental Square alone, PubliCola counted at least eight officers, six park rangers, four private security guards, and about a dozen Downtown Seattle Association ambassadors.

And, of course, the city is sweeping unsheltered people by removing tents and RVs from the area.

Last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office categorically denied that the encampment and RV removals had anything to do with the big baseball event, telling the Seattle Times that the sweeps were based on an “objective prioritization matrix” that naturally leads to frequent encampment removals in the area.

PubliCola has filed a records request to find out more about the process that led to the recent removals.

“Opening day for the Mariners is April 15th and they would like to ensure that the public has a good experience. Can you let this team know what you can do to make opening day great?”— Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington to Seattle encampment program manager Donna Waters, April 2022

In the meantime, here’s how Harrell’s office dealt with demands by the Mariners to remove encampments around T-Mobile Park, where the All-Star Game is happening, in 2022: By sending a message to the city’s encampment program manager, titled “ACTION ALL – HIGH PRIORITY T-Mobile Park,” asking for an encampment removal in time for opening day along with “clean-ups throughout the [baseball] season.”

The urgent request was prompted by an April 6, 2022 email from the Mariners’ executive vice president and general counsel Fred Rivera, who complained that there was new “encampment activity” that “happens to be in the path between stadium station and the ballpark, which thousands of fans will access on the 15th.”

“Is there anything that can be done to prioritize this area, support shelter placements for individuals encamped here, and clean-up in advance of April 15th and potentially throughout the season?” Rivera wrote.

Three minutes later, Harrell’s strategic initiatives director Tim Burgess responded to Rivera personally, copying Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, “who leads these issues. I’m sure you will see some action soon,” Burgess wrote. The following day, Washington forwarded Rivera’s email to Donna Waters, who heads up the encampment program for Harrell’s Unified Care Team, describing it as “a request from the WA State Ballpark public facilities district.”

“Opening day for the Mariners is April 15th and they would like to ensure that the public has a good experience,” Washington wrote. “Can you let this team know what you can do to make opening day great?” Waters responded that the city was continuing to do trash pickups and cleaning in the area, but did not say anything about removing the encampment.

“How is this looking for Friday’s opening day events? Will there be a removal before Friday or Friday morning?

“Unfortunately, no we do not have the capacity to complete a removal by Friday.”


Several days later, Burgess followed up. “How is this looking for Friday’s opening day events?” he wrote. “Will there be a removal before Friday or Friday morning?”

“Unfortunately, no we do not have the capacity to complete a removal by Friday,” Waters responded.

Burgess then forwarded Waters’ email to then-deputy mayor Kendee Yamaguchi, along with a one-word comment: “Ugh.”

The encampment the Mariners, and Burgess, wanted to remove in 2022 included approximately seven tents and six individuals. In contrast, the encampments and RVs that were removed in the runup to the All Star Game displaced an estimated 24 people living in tents, along with 15 RVs.

In response to questions about efforts to remove tents in time for the Mariners’ Opening Day in 2022, mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said the city does “not have a standard practice” for removing encampments for large events, and noted that the encampment “was not removed before Opening Day but was closed at a later date.” The SoDo neighborhood, he added, “has the highest number of verified tents and RVs in our database. “As such, outreach, remediation, and resolution efforts continue to be a focus in the neighborhood.” This is almost identical to what the mayor’s office said this year to justify encampment removals in the same location.

Burien Leaders Face Crisis of Confidence on Homelessness, More on Former KCRHA Director’s Next Steps

1. The Burien City Council is still seeing fallout from its 4-3 decision to oust Burien Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer two weeks ago, ostensibly because he directed unsheltered people to a piece of city-owned land prior to the May sweep of an encampment outside Burien City Hall earlier this year.

Schaefer said he was acting as a private individual, and not in his capacity as a volunteer member of the planning board, when he, along with Councilmember Cydney Moore, informed people who had been living at an encampment next to City Hall that it would be legal for them to set up tents on a nearby piece of city-owned property that some condo owners have been using as a dog relief area.

The vote to oust Schaefer sparked a wave of resignations by other volunteer commission members, including the entire Planning Commission.

The city later rented out the land to a local animal shelter run by the head of the Burien business group Discovery Burien for a future dog park, displacing encampment residents again. Many moved their tents to a small strip of city-owned land along SW 152nd St., the “Main Street” of Burien. Within weeks, large boulders had popped up along the strip, along with campaign signs for Alex Andrade, a city council candidate running on a public safety and accountability platform who’s endorsed by three members of the Burien council’s four-person anti-encampment majority.

The Burien Human Services Commission’s letter was a toned-down version of the initial draft, which accused city leaders of “choosing … to invest time and energy on show trials that do nothing to provide access to housing and other support for our neighbors.”

“We’re running out of space and Burien does not have any piece of public property that’s not parks that’s remotely habitable,” Moore told PubliCola this week. “Over the last several months, at almost every council meeting since the first sweep happened, I have asked at the start of meetings if we could amend our agenda to have a discussion about where these people can go.” But every time, Moore said, her request has been deemed out of order—a claim that is not supported by the city’s council rules, which allow proposals to “alter the current agenda” near the beginning of each meeting.

Although council members, including Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, have claimed that encampment residents are simply refusing to accept shelter and housing, the city’s own Human Services Commission noted in a letter to the council last week that this claim “is simply not true.” The letter also decries a recent decision by the council and city manager Adolfo Bailon to reject an offer from King County to provide $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters, which can house two people each, along with a land swap that would open up a city-owned site for the shelter.

It was a toned-down version of the commission’s initial draft, which accused city leaders of “choosing … to invest time and energy on show trials that do nothing to provide access to housing and other support for our neighbors.”

Meanwhile, Bailon, who was hired by the city council, is undergoing a performance review by an outside consultant. It’s unclear whether the council plans to publicly discuss the details of that review, which is reportedly less than flattering. In Burien, which has a population of just over 50,000, the council hires (and can fire) the city manager, who manages the daily operations of the city.

2. Former King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones, whose last official day at the authority was June 16, is negotiating a contract from the city of Seattle, through the Human Services Department  for work “related to using Medicaid funding for homelessness services,” an HSD spokesman confirmed.

As we reported earlier this month, the contract will serve as a kind of payment in lieu of severance. It’s unclear what work product Dones will be expected to produce, and the city did not reveal the size of the potential contract; PubliCola has filed a public disclosure request for this information.

As CEO of the homelessness authority, Dones was a vocal proponent for using a Medicaid program called Foundational Community Supports, which provides pre-tenancy services for chronically homeless people, to fund the KCHRA’s Partnership for Zero effort to eliminate visible homelessness downtown.

Neither Dones nor the city provided further details about this contract, which they said would be finalized this week, except that, according to Dones, “broadly[,] it’s pulling together the policy framework to integrate the systems.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this item said that Dones was going to work for the Schultz Family Foundation; Dones followed up to say that they are not taking a position there. 

“Downtown Is You”: Harrell Unveils New Downtown Plan Against Backdrop of Anti-Sweeps Protest

Mayor Bruce Harrell speaks to a crowd of supporters and press at Westlake Park

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell gathered supporters in Westlake Plaza Wednesday morning to announce his latest downtown activation plan, officially titled “Downtown Is You.” But the press event was initially sidelined by a group of anti-sweeps protesters holding signs and chanting, “stop the sweeps” and other slogans from a few feet away. After halting his prepared remarks, Harrell hopped down from the stage and attempted to get the protesters to be quiet, but gave up and returned to the stage after several responded that they didn’t trust his offer to talk to them in a different venue.

“Westlake Center is a center for civic engagement,” he told the audience. “Unfortunately, that’s not civic engagement—that’s just yelling.”

“These [unsheltered] folks you see down here, they’re not strangers to me. I grew up on these streets,” Harrell continued. Gesturing toward the group of young activists, he added: “How dare anyone say I’m going to sweep anybody. I don’t see anyone over there I grew up with.”

Under Harrell, the city has dramatically increased the speed and frequency of encampment removals.

The seven-point downtown plan Harrell announced Wednesday does not directly address encampments. However, it does envision a downtown occupied by shoppers, sports fans, and residents of new high-rise apartment towers along a section of Third Avenue between Stewart and Union Streets, where drug users and unsheltered people frequently congregate. The proposed upzone includes the block that includes a McDonald’s and a check cashing outlet as well as the block anchored by Ross Dress for Less.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, mayoral advisor (and soon-to-be deputy mayor) Tim Burgess said “several” developments in the area were “ready to go” once a proposed upzone goes through. The proposal would increase the maximum height for new buildings from 170 feet to 440 (460 if new developments include child care or education facilities) on about five blocks that are adjacent to a area where 450-foot-high buildings are already allowed. The city’s land use database does not include any active permits for these blocks.

On Tuesday, Burgess said the proposed rezone reflects “a recognition that we need to make some dramatic changes in order to shift what’s been several decades now of problematic street uses and disorder.”

Police almost outnumbered protesters during a demonstration at Mayor Bruce Harrell’s announcement of his downtown activation strategy.

Harrell’s plan also includes legislation to allow a broader mix of uses on the ground floor of buildings (apartments or conference spaces instead of retail, for example) and throughout buildings themselves, in the form of “vertical residential neighborhoods within buildings” that allow residents to access everything they need, from child care to retail stores to pickleball courts, inside their buildings.

The idea is a nod to the fact that—Harrell’s back-to-work order and admonishments notwithstanding—many people have continued to work at least partly from home, leaving significant vacancies in downtown office buildings. “I don’t think this is a philosophical shift away from retail” serving downtown office workers, McIntyre said Tuesday. “It’s embracing some flexibility and some new ideas and wanting to encourage a different mix on the ground floor area as the as the city continues to change.”

Another piece of legislation would make a half-block of Pike Street between First and Second Avenues pedestrian-only, connecting Pike Place Market Market to—well, one half-block of downtown directly adjacent to, but not part of, the market. (Asked whether the mayor would consider prohibiting car traffic in Pike Place Market—where pedestrians compete for space on the historic brick streets with exhaust-spewing cars—Office of Economic Development director Markham McIntyre said the city was still “talking to Pike Place Market … to figure out what what that might look like,” but had no immediate plans to get rid of cars in the Market, a change pedestrian advocates have been demanding for decades.


Beyond those concrete legislative proposals, the plan consists mostly of expanded pilot projects (doubling the number of businesses participating in Seattle Restored, a pop-up project that fills empty storefronts), initiatives that are already underway (reopening City Hall Park, “more murals” downtown), and ideas that are still very much in the whiteboard stages. It also incorporates many aspirational ideas that would require significant additional funding, such as completing the downtown streetcar, putting a lid over I-5, and creating a new “arts district” from South Lake Union to Pioneer Square.

Mayor Bruce Harrell speaks to a group of Stop the Sweeps protesters at Westlake Park.
Mayor Bruce Harrell briefly spoke to protesters before returning to his press event.

And, of course, it assumes a heavier police presence downtown—a mostly unspoken, but bedrock, element of the proposal. “Make Downtown Safe and Welcoming” is actually number one on the plan’s list of seven priorities, starting with arrests of people “distributing and selling illegal drugs” (and, presumably, using them—Harrell mentioned that a bill criminalizing drug possession and public use will likely pass in July). The safety plan also includes a number of initiatives to address addiction that Harrell announced in April, along with a plan to help private property owners remove graffiti—a particular burr under Harrell’s saddle.

Earlier this month, a federal judge issued an injunction barring the police from arresting people for tagging or graffiti, finding that Seattle’s broadly worded law “likely…violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by being both vague and overbroad.” On Wednesday, I asked Harrell—who had just expounded on the difference, as he sees it, between “art” and “graffiti” (“One word: It’s unwanted”)—what he would do if the judge overturned the law.

“We have to have the ability to arrest people for unwanted graffiti, so if there’s precise language in the law that is unconstitutional, that is vague, that’s ambiguous, we have to fix it,” Harrell said. “If we lose the lawsuit, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what the deficiencies are in the law, and we fix it or remedy it.”

“This graffiti stuff just drives me nuts,” Harrell added.

“I Regret Falling Into the Trap”: Former Homelessness Board Member Reflects on Controversy Over Sex Offender that Led to Her Ouster

King County Regional Homelessness Authority logo

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority gathered the members of its Continuum of Care (CoC) membership to vote on new members and a new charter for the Continuum of Care Board, a volunteer committee that, among other duties, oversees the KCRHA’s annual application for tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.

The online-only “convening,” whose public portion lasted less than 30 minutes, came on the heels of an explosive meeting earlier this year at which one of the CoC Board’s co-chairs, Shanéé Colston, yelled at another member, Kristina Sawyckyj, who objected to the appointment of a sex offender to the board. Sawyckyj, who said the nominee had also touched her inappropriately, went silent and left the meeting after Colston and another board member told her that her comments were out of order.

“We have no right to out anyone in this space,” Colston said. “I’m telling you that you cannot talk like that in this meeting. I will not have that here! If anyone wants to talk like that you will be muted and removed from this meeting.”

“This is about equity. And everyone—everyone— deserves housing. I don’t care if they’re a sex offender!” Colston continued. “This is an inclusive space, and we are equitable to all.” Another board member, Kristi Hamilton, defended the nominee and told Sawyckyj she should go to the police if she had a crime to report but that it wasn’t appropriate for her to raise those concerns in a public board meeting.

Colston told PubliCola she received death threats from around the world after the story about her comments went viral. She said she regrets “falling into the trap, and… that I was not prepared and I responded in reaction to [Sawyckyj’s comments] and not in thought.”

PubliCola reported on the meeting in May. Over the next few weeks, our story was picked up (and distorted) by right-wing media worldwide, spreading from local FOX affiliates to the New York Post to the Daily Mail. A petition, which falsely stated that the board approved the sex offender’s nomination—in reality, he withdrew his application—called for Colston’s removal “from all leadership positions” at the authority.  Many of the articles about the incident used racist language to portray Colston as a stereotypical angry Black woman lashing out at a meek white colleague (described by the Daily Mail as a “wheelchair-bound mother”) on behalf of a “child rapist.”

Colston told PubliCola she received death threats from around the world after the story about her comments went viral. She said she regrets “falling into the trap, and… that I was not prepared and I responded in reaction to [Sawyckyj’s comments] and not in thought.”

At the height of the uproar, KCHRA chief program officer Peter Lynn sent Colston a letter demanding she resign, which she refused to do. Last week’s election accomplished the same result by prematurely terminating Colston’s three-year term.

According to Colston, she and other board members were not aware that Crowfoot was a sex offender “until it was announced (by Sawyckyj) that day,” and said that the committee that reviewed board applications before bringing them to the full board rejected several applicants because of their past behavior—including drinking on the job and using housing vouchers “to manipulate women,” according to Colston.

“I asked for her to be muted on her mic as it’s not the responsibility of a victim to have to be vulnerable and publicly announce their trauma to the world,” Colston said, “and it was breaking the rules” of the board. “I don’t agree he or others should have a seat of power on this CoC Board,” she continued, “but the voices of their experience with being homeless have to be heard, listened to, and some form of plan implemented to end homelessness [for them] as well.

“I don’t agree [the sex offender] or others should have a seat of power on this CoC Board, but the voices of their experience with being homeless have to be heard, listened to, and some form of plan implemented to end homelessness [for them] as well.

When she said that everyone, including sex offenders, deserve to be housed, Colston said she was identifying a well-known problem—sex offenders, as well as convicted arsonists, are systematically denied access to shelter and affordable housing, forcing many into unsheltered homelessness.

“When I stated that I was glad that he was there, it means that arsonists and sex offenders are a very vulnerable population” Colston said. “If KCRHA is really centering the Theory of Change and listening to those with lived experience to end homelessness for all, as radical as it may be, those populations of vulnerable individuals are included in housing all people.”

During Friday’s meeting, interim KCRHA CEO Helen Howell read a statement apologizing for “any distress or discomfort caused by the incident” at the CoC Board meeting, “and we want to assure you that we take this matter seriously [and] are actively working to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”

In addition to replacing Colston and electing eight new board members, Continuum of Care members voted Friday to adopt a new charter for the board that relegates “lived experience” to just one of many qualifications for board seats and significantly reduces the board’s authority.

Union Says Homelessness Agency Has Failed to Negotiate Over Wages, Workplace Safety

By Erica C. Barnett

Unionized staff at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority say the homelessness authority has failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate their first contract, canceling five out of eight scheduled bargaining sessions and refusing to discuss proposals for increased wages amid a “toxic work environment” that has driven at least 17 people to leave the agency, which recently surpassed 100 employees, since 2021.

According to a letter to the KCRHA’s governing and implementation board members from the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17), the workers—who unionized almost exactly a year ago—provided a draft contract to the agency earlier this year, but the union’s “calls for support and offers to negotiate at the bargaining table have largely gone unmet.” In March, the union filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the state Public Employee Relations Commission for refusal to bargain; four of the five cancellations occurred after that filing.

Although we are heartened by KCRHA’s response to our proposals at the June 15th bargaining session, this negotiation lacked any response or timeline for addressing our economic proposals, the letter to the agency’s governing and implementation boards says.

The union sent a similar letter to interim director Helen Howell this morning.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the KCRHA did not want to discuss cost of living adjustments, wage classifications, or other economic issues, and suggested that the agency has little control over what it can pay employees because its funding comes from outside sources—chiefly the city of Seattle and King County.

If not addressed soon, this could develop into an additional failure to negotiate. This lack of interaction with our union not only undermines the rights and well-being of the staff but also erodes trust within the organization,” the letter continues. 

Earlier this year, the KCRHA reportedly gave staffers a 3 percent cost of living adjustment, without notifying the union or negotiating the increase, which is below the rate of inflation.

The KCRHA has not responded to a list of questions PubliCola sent on Wednesday morning, including a request for confirmation of the 3 percent COLA. We will update this post if they respond.

It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”

The union also raised questions about the safety of the KCRHA’s system advocates—outreach workers with lived experience of homelessness—who go into encampments and other potentially dangerous situations to identify and follow up with clients in downtown Seattle. The system advocates were the brainchild of former agency CEO Marc Dones, and are funded through a public-private partnership with local companies and private philanthropic groups.

According to the letter, KCRHA leadership “targeted and retaliated against” one of the co-directors of the systems advocates, “for raising still unresolved safety concerns for our Systems Advocate workforce.” Earlier this year, after that co-director was terminated, organizers posted an online petition demanding safer working conditions for system advocates, including safety equipment and information about hazards that may be present at encampments.  

As we’ve reported, the KCRHA has had trouble hiring for a number of vacant positions, including grants and contract staffers who verify contracts and make sure hundreds of agencies who receive funding through the KCRHA get paid.

Projects and initiatives are delayed across the organization, including Partnership for Zero and contracting (which have been directly impacted by employee turnover),” the letter to the two boards says. “It is disheartening to witness the immense potential of the KCRHA that brought staff to the organization being squandered due to ineffective leadership.”