Category: King County

Ceis Gets Another $30,000 from City, Poll Tests Anti-Andrew Lewis Messages, Burien Site May be Too Loud for Shelter

1. Tim Ceis, the consultant who received a no-bid, $280,000 city contract to work on issues related to Sound Transit’s Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail alignment earlier this year, received a $30,000 contract extension this month, bringing his total city contract to $310,000.

Ceis’ contract involves meeting with neighborhood advocacy groups and other stakeholders to build “community consensus” around the mayor’s priorities for the light rail extension, strategizing, and advancing Harrell’s views to the Sound Transit board.

PubliCola broke the story about Ceis’ initial contract in March.

At the time, Harrell was pushing a proposal to eliminate a station in the Chinatown International District (CID) neighborhood and replace it with a second Pioneer Square Station across from City Hall, roughly where the King County Administration Building currently stands. King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed creating a towering new residential neighborhood and new civic center in the area. Sound Transit board adopted this proposal as its preferred alternative in March, but left one potential CID option on the table in response to protests from residents and businesses.

The plan to skip over the CID would add a new light rail station near Lumen Field and an existing Salvation Army shelter, amid a broad swath of land owned by developer Greg Smith. As far back as 2022, Smith’s company Urban Visions had mocked up a proposal to move the planned CID station south into SoDo, suggesting the area could turn into a new destination like Chelsea Market in New York or the food and event center in the revamped Seattle Center Armory.

Documents obtained through records requests show that Ceis, along with the city’s designated liaison to Sound Transit, has met with Smith “to discuss potential partnerships related to the proposed CID south station” on Smith’s property. He has also met with attorney Jack McCullough, who represents the developer that owns the development rights around the proposed second Pioneer Street station.

The newly amended contract says that “due to delayed Sound Transit board action,” Ceis’ work will continue through November. The board spent several weeks this summer debating whether to eliminate a promised station on Denny Way or build it on Westlake as planned; Harrell, who initially seemed to support eliminating the long-planned station on Denny, ultimately got behind a station north of the original proposed site on Westlake that will cause less disruption to Amazon and the South Lake Union developer Vulcan.

Public records show that Ceis communicates regularly with Vulcan, and facilitated a meeting between Harrell and Vulcan VP Ada Healey, who told Ceis that the original plan for a station on Westlake would “put [the city’s] economic engines at risk and “sacrific[e] our downtown neighborhoods.” A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the scope for Ceis’ $250-an-hour contract remains unchanged.

2. There’s a new poll in the field testing positive and negative messages about District 7 City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, along with positive messages about his opponent Bob Kettle—a former Navy officer who received 31.5 percent of the vote to Lewis’ 43.5 percent.

The poll, which only tests positive messages about Kettle, appears to be from the Kettle campaign. For one thing, it mischaracterizes several of Lewis’ key positions in odd ways—saying, for example, that Lewis is “working…to bring rent control to Seattle” (in fact, he voted against a rent control “trigger” law earlier this month). For another, it describes Lewis’ views in a way that no human working on his campaign would be likely to phrase them—like a question that says Lewis “believes we can make progress… if we center the work and meet the moment with the urgency it requires,” or another that talks about “electrify[ing] houses.”

The real meat of the poll—the messages voters should prepare to hear from Kettle as he runs against Lewis from the right—is more or less what you’d expect from a guy with campaign signs all over the top of Magnolia and Queen Anne: Kettle will represent District 7 neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle, crack down on “open drug use and dealing from Downtown to our neighborhoods,” and “clean up our public spaces” by removing encampments now that “we’ve finally built-up enough shelter space to offer housing to everyone.”

Quick fact check on that last point: There are currently around 6,000 shelter and transitional housing beds in all of King County—a fraction of what’s needed to serve a homeless population that could be as high as 48,000. Even under the most conservative estimates, we have not “built up enough shelter space,” much less housing, “for everyone.”

3. A potential site for a Pallet shelter in Burien could be disqualified because of extreme noise levels from nearby SeaTac Airport. The property—an empty lot next to the Boulevard Park branch of the King County Library—sits inside a “35 decibel reduction zone,” in which all “living and working areas” must be soundproofed to reduce inside noise by 35 decibels.

Pallet shelters, which are thin-walled temporary structures ventilated to the outdoors, can’t be soundproofed—a fact the Port of Seattle brought up in rejecting a proposal from the city to site the shelter inside the Port’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA). In both locations, the average noise level is between 60 and 70 decibels, a level SeaTac Airport’s director of environment and sustainability said was “not conducive to residential purposes, especially when it is highly unlikely that any temporary housing structures (let alone permanent structures) could be modified to attain the City of Burien’s stringent noise mitigation code.”

A spokesperson for the city of Burien did not immediately respond to questions about noise levels at the potential shelter location and how the site, which has been vacant for many years, first came to the attention of the city.

As Camping Ban Looms, Burien Considers Privately Owned Lot Near Library as Potential Shelter Site

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday night, the Burien City Council decided not to immediately approve a bill that would ban sleeping outdoors in the city “at any time between sunset and sunrise,” opting to request more information from city staff about the implications of the ban before passing it.

During the same meeting, City Manager Adolfo Bailon said the city had been contacted by a private landowner who is interested in renting out their property to the city for use as a temporary shelter site for up to 24 months. According to a spokesperson for the city of Burien, Bailon learned about the site when Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling introduced him to the property owner.

Although Bailon declined to provide any details about the lease proposal, PubliCola has confirmed that the property is a commercially zoned lot sandwiched between a King County Housing Authority building and the Boulevard Park branch of the King County Library System (KCLS), about three miles east of the traffic circle where most of the encampment residents are currently living. Nearby businesses include a Dollar Tree, a laundromat, and a liquor store.

Over the years, the owners of the property have filed permits to develop the overgrown, unfenced lot into a mixed-use apartment building, a parking lot for the library, and a mixed-use townhouse development, but none of these plans have ever materialized. One of the current owners,Dan O’Neill of the O’Neill Design Company, did not respond to a call on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the King County Library System was unable to comment Tuesday about plans for the site. When the city first evicted encampment residents from outside City Hall in downtown Burien, some supporters justified the move by saying the encampment endangered patrons at Burien’s main KCLS branch, which is located in the same building.

King County Regional Homelessness Authority spokeswoman Anne Martens said the KCRHA hasn’t received much information yet about the potential shelter site. “We will be pulling together a meeting with all relevant parties to discuss,” Martens said. “This is still being scheduled, but we hope to do it soon.”

Earlier this year, King County offered the city $1 million, along with 35 Pallet shelters, and proposed a land swap that would have allowed a shelter to open on city-owned land, but the council narrowly rejected that proposal. Any action to turn the privately owned lot into a shelter will likely take several months, and will almost certainly require funding beyond $1 million King County has offered, depending on how much it costs to rent the land and hire a homeless service provider to run the shelter. The council may also need to rezone the lot.

“We have lots of tents throughout the city. These people are breaking into our houses, they’re breaking into our cars. Yes, I get that they’re trying to feed a [drug] habit, but that’s not acceptable to me.”—Burien City Councilmember Stephanie Mora

Meanwhile, the outdoor sleeping ban will take effect, assuming it passes, on October 1—meaning that even in a best-case scenario, there will be a period when homeless people are effectively banned from Burien after dark.

Although the legislation, modeled on a nearly identical law in Bellevue, is a bit of a fait accompli—four of seven council members support it—a strong council majority was still interested in getting more information about its impacts.

The exception was Councilmember Stephanie Mora, who proposed an unsuccessful motion that would have actually accelerated the legislation, allowing the council to pass it without additional review, last night, and putting the ban into effect immediately. “We are not criminalizing being homeless,” Mora said. “We are criminalizing criminal activity. We have lots of tents throughout the city. These people are breaking into our houses, they’re breaking into our cars. Yes, I get that they’re trying to feed a [drug] habit, but that’s not acceptable to me.”

Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon and City Attorney Garmon Newsom II

Neither Mora nor several public commenters who claimed the encampment was a haven for child sex trafficking produced specific evidence to back up their claims. According to a state crime report, which Burien Police Chief Ted Bo presented earlier in the evening, crime dropped 8.5 percent in Burien last year, with significant reductions in burglary and robbery reports. There were no human trafficking reports in Burien in either 2021 or 2022.

Because a Ninth Circuit ruling called Martin v. Boise bars most encampment sweeps unless people have somewhere to go, the city will only be able to enforce the ban if shelter is “available.” However, the bill the council is considering defines “available” shelter broadly, as “any public or private shelter with available overnight space, open to individuals experiencing homelessness at no charge.” As written, the bill could strip away people’s right to decline shelter that requires attendance at religious services, discriminates against LGBTQ+ people, forces people to abandon partners and pets, or does not accommodate people’s physical and behavioral health care needs.

The bill explicitly defines drug and alcohol use as a “voluntary” choice among people who turn down spots in shelters that require strict sobriety, effectively criminalizing physical dependence on alcohol and other drugs.

Council members asked Bailon to come back with more information about how the King County Sheriff’s Office would enforce the sleeping ban, what kind of legal liability Burien will be taking on by passing the ordinance, and how far away shelters can be located to count as “available,” among other unanswered questions. Burien has no year-round beds for single men, who make up the majority of those living unsheltered in the city; the nearest year-round men’s shelters are in Seattle and Bellevue.

“I am not in favor of this ban, but I do think it’s important for us to know exactly what we are banning and what we are defining [as shelter] when we do it,” Councilmember Sarah Moore said.

Councilmember Cydney Moore, who also opposes the ban, requested information about how much enforcing the new law will cost the city—a question that could be critical, given that the city could face cuts or layoffs next year, according to a budget Bailon delivered earlier in the meeting. A spokesman for King County, which provides Burien’s police force through the King County Sheriff’s Office, said the county has not done an analysis of what would be involved in enforcing a potential sleeping ban.

Burien Considers Handing Contract for Homeless Services to Private Sweeps Startup With Scanty Record

The More We Love logo (fair use)

By Erica C. Barnett

For months now, the city of Burien has been locked in a stalemate over how to address a group of unsheltered people who remain in the city after repeated sweeps.

The latest plan: A potential contract with Kirkland mortgage broker Kristine Moreland, who offers private sweeps, at a cost of $515 per “camper,” or about $20,000 for a “40 person sweep,” through a new nonprofit called The More We Love, incorporated under the name The More Wee Love on April 10.

Moreland is a longtime volunteer at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, a religious charity that offers shelter, housing, and a Christian treatment program, and used to run a small nonprofit called the MORELove Project, which was dissolved in 2019. In interviews and public comments, Moreland has argued that homelessness is a drug problem, not a housing problem. This view is in conflict with a more widely accepted approach called “housing first,” which holds that people can’t achieve lasting recovery if their basic needs aren’t met.

Burien officials have been debating how to deal with encampment residents since March, when the council and King County Library System voted to evict a group of people living in tents outside the building that houses Burien City Hall and the local library branch. Ever since, the city has swept this group of several dozen unsheltered people from place to place; in June, King County offered the city a million dollars, a shelter location, and 35 Pallet shelters, but a four-member council majority voted to reject that offer in July, arguing it was a bad deal for the city.

Meanwhile, the same council majority has spent the better part of the summer proposing sites that are unavailable or uninhabitable—like a contaminated Port of Seattle property located right at the end of a SeaTac Airport runway.

On August 21, the council plans to take up a new proposal to criminalize unsheltered homelessness in the city, modeled on Bellevue’s near-total “camping ban.”

Last week, the council—at the request of Mayor Sofia Aragon—directed City Manager Adolfo Bailon to “explore a contract with Kristine Moreland” for homeless services,  “given what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes.”

According to people who work with Burien’s homeless population, Moreland started showing up at encampments in April, shortly after the initial sweep at City Hall. By the next month, Moreland was pitching herself to Burien leaders as a more effective alternative to longstanding nonprofit groups like Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (LEAD) and REACH, which she described in an email to City Manager Adolfo Bailon and the council as “struggling” and “not…successful.”

“As you may know,” Moreland wrote to Bailon in May, “we have been monitoring the encampment downtown and have been working with a number of individuals living there to provide essential services such as food, shelter, and healthcare. While we have been successful in our efforts, we have also noticed that other resources have been struggling to address the needs of the encampment and its residents.”

“Our organization has worked with other local governments and non-profit organizations to provide compassionate and respectful assistance to those in need,” Moreland continued, “and we believe that we can help the city do the same.”

A majority of the council was apparently impressed by Moreland’s pitch. Last week, the council—at the request of Mayor Sofia Aragon—directed City Manager Adolfo Bailon to “explore a contract with Kristine Moreland” for homeless services,  “given what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes.”

What outcomes was Aragon referring to? According to Bailon, who singled out Moreland’s group during a presentation on Burien’s homelessness efforts last week, Moreland got a group of unsheltered people to move on from a piece of vacant land near Burien Town Square, and then performed a similar feat when an encampment popped up outside a nearby Grocery Outlet, clearing around 20 tents from the property and “identifying housing for multiple people” at the site.

Moreland declined to speak to PubliCola, and did not respond to a list of detailed questions about her work. Speaking to conservative commentator Jason Rantz on August 11, said The More We Love had “successfully removed 27 people” from the site by guiding them into “truthful, real, intentional services”—like detox and treatment—and getting “real organizations in there that can do the real work and understand how to actually help these humans.”

It’s unclear how many people Moreland has actually referred to detox, treatment, or housing. But here are some facts. For people with little or no income, getting into detox and treatment can take weeks or months. King County offers only two detox facilities for people who can’t pay for private detox, including the 33-bed Recovery Place center in Seattle, so competition is high. Even after longer-term treatment, relapse is extremely common,  especially for people who have nowhere to live; sober housing is an option for some, but beds are rare, and most facilities immediately evict people when they relapse.

Comparing her work favorably to longstanding nonprofits like the Downtown Emergency Service Center, Moreland told Rantz it was high time for the government to stop spending resources on people experiencing homelessness and let “the private sector step up”—including her own group, which she called one of “the most effective organizations I’ve seen yet.”

Aragon did not respond to a request for an interview. Bailon referred PubliCola’s questions to a spokesperson for the city, who said they had “no update to share on the nature or scope of any potential contract at this time as the directive was just issued this week during the City Council’s meeting.” The spokesperson then directed the rest of our questions to Moreland.

After one sweep, REACH case manager Stephanie Tidholm said, Moreland said she had housed 14 people, but Tidholm saw many of them in the relocated encampment a couple of weeks later. “We keep a spreadsheet of all our clients in Burien, and there is no way she housed 14 people.”

Moreland has told interviewers that her father struggled with addiction and was often homeless, an experience that has shaped her approach to people living unsheltered and struggling with addiction. “Nobody wants to be living in this hell, but the fact of the matter is it’s drug addiction, and that drags you down to the depths of despair,” Moreland recently told FOX 13 News. “So, it’s our job to lift them up and out of that.”

Talking to KIRO News before the Grocery Outlet sweep last last week, Moreland said she had already moved several people from the site into shelter or housing, and had “beds” available for at least another six people who remained at the location. “[We] do an intake at the beginning when they come into our care, Moreland explained. “Once we’ve done the intake, [and] we understand their full story, from there, we can connect them to services, and sometimes that looks like sending them home to their families. It just depends on what the greater story is.”

Jeff Rakow, the owner of the Grocery Outlet property, confirmed that he hired Moreland to remove the encampment, and called her work at the site “remarkable.”

“In response to widespread drug use and unsafe conditions for the unhoused and the community, coupled with the absence of urgent government action, we engaged The More We Love to connect those living in the encampment with human services,” getting people into “detox, shelter, back with family, or other solutions best suited to their individual needs.”

But people familiar with the homeless population in Burien say they continue to see the same people month after month, including people who have accepted Moreland’s housing and shelter offers and ended right back where they started. In one case, according to encampment volunteer Charles Schaefer, an encampment resident “told [volunteers] she transported him down to [a place in] Lacey,” about 50 miles south of Burien. Schaefer was head of the Burien Planning Commission until June, when the council majority ousted him for telling unsheltered people about a city-owned lot where they had a legal right to sleep.

The Lacey site was neither housing nor shelter, Schaefer said; “it was a detox or treatment facility, and that wasn’t what he was looking for or led to believe. So he took three buses to get back to Burien from down there,” Schaefer said. “He was lured with some offer that did not materialize.” PubliCola was unable to connect directly with this individual, but heard about his experience from Schaefer and two other sources.

In other cases, sources familiar with the homeless population in Burien say, Moreland’s clients received hotel beds for a few nights, then ended up back on the streets in Burien when the money for their rooms ran out. After an earlier sweep, REACH case manager Stephanie Tidholm said, Moreland claimed she had housed 14 people, but Tidholm saw many of them in the relocated encampment a couple of weeks later. “We keep a spreadsheet of all our clients in Burien, and there is no way she housed 14 people.”

Kristine Moreland speaks to KIRO News in front of the pile of rocks that has replaced an encampment near the Grocery Outlet in Burien. KIRO News screenshot.

During the recent Grocery Outlet sweep, longtime clients contacted Tidholm to tell her Moreland was offering housing and detox services to people who agreed to leave the site. “Nobody she was with knew where they were going,” Tidholm said. “Somebody told me they weren’t allowed to go [with her] because they weren’t going to do detox. They thought they had to leave no matter what.”

A video posted by Discovery Institute staffer Jonathan Choe, who was fired by KOMO News for promoting a rally held by the insurrectionist group the Proud Boys, features a seemingly impaired woman describing how grateful she is for Moreland’s work to secure “the hotel we’re going into.”

According to Tidholm and others familiar with the encampment, Moreland moved as many as 12 encampment residents to a hotel in Renton owned by the company REBLX. Although REBLX has partnered with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and LEAD to provide rooms for their clients in the past, the company is not itself a service or shelter provider. Proposals to turn the whole 116-room hotel into a shelter for Burien residents fell flat, in part, because Renton law effectively prohibits new shelters in the city.

Already, according to sources familiar with the situation, REBLX has kicked out one of the former encampment residents Moreland placed there for violating the hotel’s code of conduct, which applies to anyone staying in its rooms. REBLX did not respond to a request for comment.

Since the sweep, Tidholm said she has only managed to reconnect with clients who didn’t go to Renton; the others, she said, “are now gone.”

The size of any potential contract between Moreland and the city of Burien remains unclear. A sample budget sent to council members by one of Moreland’s allies, Dan Mathews (of the commercial real estate company Kidder Mathews) suggested that King County could use the $1 million it proposed spending on shelter in Burien, plus additional funds the city could save by “redirecting resources away from current less effective solutions for the unhoused” to hire Moreland at an annual cost of $1.8 million.

In his pitch to Burien officials, Mathews credited Moreland with leading the team that swept a notorious Seattle encampment called the Jungle in 2016; building the city’s first “mobile shower truck”; and providing “outreach services for SPD Seattle’s Navigation team,” which removed encampments during the Jenny Durkan administration. The first two items appear to refer to Moreland’s work as a volunteer with UGM, which provided outreach before the city swept the Jungle. The city has not responded to questions about whether Moreland ever provided “services” for the Navigation Team, but the team itself was made up entirely of city employees. Mathews did not respond to a request for an interview.

Two incidents in Moreland’s past could raise concerns for the city as it considers signing a contract for her services. The first is her arrest for DUI last August, when Kirkland police pulled Moreland over for allegedly driving 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. (In an incident in 2021, an officer who pulled Moreland over for speeding said she drove “past my vehicle fast enough that it shook” and acted “inconvenienced” by the stop.)

When Moreland rolled down the window, according to the police report, her “eyes were watery and her speech was slurred,” and the “odor of intoxicants was emanating” from her breath. Moreland failed a field sobriety test and blew 0.133 on a blood alcohol breath test—significantly above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Subsequent tests showed she had a blood alcohol level between 0.11 and 0.13 percent.

Between 2014 and 2016, according to the charges, Moreland facilitated “short-term, high-cost loans” with an unlicensed lender for at least four home buyers, then turned around and refinanced the loans through the company that employed her as a mortgage broker, pocketing the commission.

The court initially suspended Moreland’s license for 90 days. Instead of accepting the penalty, she contested the charges, arguing that the breath test was inadmissible. Her case is now on hold pending the results of an unrelated lawsuit challenging the alcohol testing method used by agencies across the state. In that case, lawyers for a man arrested for a DUI argued that because the state’s standard testing equipment truncates test results after the second decimal instead of rounding them up or down, it could indicate that a driver was more intoxicated than they actually were, resulting in unfair charges.

A drunk driving charge is not, in itself, disqualifying for a job working with people who are actively using drugs and alcohol; in fact, many drug and alcohol counselors get into the work because of their own personal experiences with addiction and recovery. Given the zero-tolerance views Moreland has expressed about drug and alcohol use among homeless people, though, her own recent alcohol-related arrest and decision to fight the charges instead of taking responsibility seem inconsistent with the kind of policies she advocates for others.

Another incident that could be relevant to the council’s contract deliberations took place in 2020, when the state Department of Financial Institutions found Moreland had violated the state Consumer Lending Act while working for the licensed mortgage company Caliber Home Loans. The charges included engaging in unfair or deceptive practices, aiding and abetting violations of of the law, and making false statements to the department, among other violations.

Between 2014 and 2016, according to the charges, Moreland facilitated “short-term, high-cost loans” with an unlicensed lender for at least four home buyers, then turned around and refinanced the loans through Caliber, pocketing the commission.  Later, according to DFI documents, Moreland failed to report on her license renewal application that she was under investigation for violating state law, which is itself another violation.

Moreland could have lost her license over the charges or been permanently barred from practice. Instead, the department agreed to a consent order in 2021 in which Moreland would pay a $15,000 investigation fee, plus another $14,000 to fund financial literacy and education programs. State records indicate that the department put her on a $500-a-month payment plan for her $24,000 unpaid balance the following year; a spokesperson for DFI said Moreland still owes the state $18,500, and has paid $10,750 so far. “Ms. Moreland has missed periodic payments and payments have been modified to $50 per month,” the spokesperson said.

Many people who spoke to PubliCola for this story noted that no matter what approach a service provider takes with their clients, access to shelter and housing is dictated by the availability of shelter and housing—and currently, there isn’t enough of either. According to every estimate of King County’s homeless population, there are thousands more unsheltered people than shelter beds—perhaps tens of thousands.

Housing is even harder to come by, especially for people living in encampments. Under federal rules, service providers have virtually no ability to allocate housing themselves; instead, applications go through a process called Coordinated Entry that prioritizes people based on need. Private entities that don’t participate in the official housing system like Union Gospel Mission, can house people directly, but the housing they offer often comes with high barriers to entry, including drug testing, work requirements, and even dress codes for women.

If Burien’s elected officials aren’t aware of the fact that that sweeps don’t actually address homelessness it seems like Burien’s business owners are. As Schaefer, the former planning commissioner, notes, every time an encampment gets swept, business owners fill the vacant property with rocks. “I think the businesses know it’s not going to be permanent and the homeless folks are going to show back up at some point.” If most people were actually accessing untapped shelter and housing resources through private groups like Moreland’s, why would there be any need to keep them from coming back?

No Solutions for Unsheltered Burien Residents After Another Contentious Council Meeting

By Erica C. Barnett

Burien officials continue to insist that they are doing everything in their power to shelter several dozen homeless people the city has been sweeping from place to place since March, even as they have antagonized potential partners, including the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and King County, and proposed a total ban on sleeping in public.

At a meeting of the Burien City Council Monday night, City Manager Adolfo Bailon doubled down on this no-fault narrative, laying out a version of events in which the city of Burien considered, and is still considering, every possible option for temporarily or permanently housing the city’s homeless residents,.

“We had these options that initially seemed like they were great options, and they just kept falling away,” Bailon said.

The truth is more complicated. In April, the KCRHA told Bailon it was willing to amend the bidding process for a new city of Seattle-funded tiny house village to specify that it would be located on a Seattle City Light property in Burien, with half the units reserved for Burien’s unsheltered residents. The catch, it seems, is that Burien would have to foot half the bill for its reserved shelter beds.

Bailon said he saw no reason to tell the council about the KCRHA’s proposal or city officials’ ongoing conversations with the KCRHA, any more than he would share mass emails from marketing companies marketing “the latest, greatest” new software

According to the homelessness authority, the city never responded to the KCRHA’s offer, and the deal never happened.

On Monday, Bailon said he saw no reason to tell the council about the KCRHA’s proposal or city officials’ ongoing conversations with the KCRHA, any more than he would share mass emails from marketing companies marketing “the latest, greatest” new software, as both were “unsolicited offers … superfluous to the general operations of government.”

Bailon said the offer “was not at all what we had been talking about with the City of Seattle,” adding that he had needed to “take a break from the particular issue for a few hours” before forwarding the proposal to city of Seattle officials.

In a followup email to PubliCola, a spokesperson for the city of Burien said the KCRHA’s offer “included factual errors that misrepresented the nature of the conversation commenced by the City of Seattle” about the City Light site. “The offer letter was shared by the City of Burien with appropriate personnel from the City of Seattle; they confirmed that the City of Seattle was not consulted and did not contribute to the creation of the offer, and subsequently expressed similar concern over the information and characterization presented by KCRHA. The City of Seattle and City of Burien decided jointly to move forward without providing any additional comment to KCRHA.”

PubliCola has reached back out to the city of Burien as well as City Light for more details about their decision not to move forward with a shelter on the City Light-owned property.

After the City Light plan fell through, King County proposed a land swap that would have provided Burien with $1 million, a free place for the unhoused people to stay, and enough Pallet shelters to accommodate up to 70 people, but the city council voted down the offer on a 4-3 vote last month, in the same meeting where they asked the city attorney to draft a camping ban.

Two other nonviable proposals appear to be officially off the table: A former Econo Lodge hotel owned by a company called REBLX, which has been “eliminated from consideration,” according to a council update posted July 27,  and a contaminated site owned by the Port of Seattle next to SeaTac Airport that the Port has said is uninhabitable.

Although Bailon implied Monday that the REBLX site may still be an option, KCRHA chief of staff Anne Burkland told both Bailon and Councilmember Kevin Schilling in a July 31 letter that REBLX “was clear that the use of its building would require rental of the entire hotel at significant cost, as well as identifying and contracting with a service provider for day-to-day site management and service connection.” As Bailon has repeatedly made clear, Burien does not have the money to fund a shelter on its own, much less rent and staff a 116-room hotel.

The Port had already informed Bailon that it would be impossible to locate a shelter on the site, and the reasons why, well in advance of the July 17 council meeting when Bailon first presented the site as a viable option that appeared to have “no contaminants” on site.

As for the Port location: On July 27, the Port’s aviation environment and sustainability director Sarah Cox sent a detailed memo to the council and Bailon explaining why the location is “not an option for any type of residential or housing use,” including shelter. “[A]mong other concerns,” the memo noted, the site “is not compatible with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety requirements, existing soil and groundwater contamination and associated Department of Ecology site requirements, and high airport noise levels.” For example, the site is at the end of the airport’s third runway, in a Runway Protection Area that has to remain unoccupied “to protect people on the ground,” Cox wrote.

Cox noted that the Port had already informed Bailon that it would be impossible to locate a shelter on the site, and the reasons why, well in advance of the July 17 council meeting when Bailon first presented the site as a viable option that appeared to have “no contaminants” on site. On Monday, Mayor Sofia Aragon defended keeping the site on the table, saying the additional study helped the council “get information to say, how possible is it to remediate that site? And so we’re hearing a lot more on the negative side at this time, but that wouldn’t have happened unless it was put out there as a question.”

King County’s $1 million offer is still outstanding, but without a location, the money is theoretical. The county has made clear it will not release the money until the city has identified a site in Burien, or found a location in another city that agrees to host a shelter for Burien’s homeless residents. The next Burien City Council meeting is scheduled for August 21.

County Councilmember Says Ex-Employees Who Refuse to Vaccinate Should Get Their Old Jobs Back

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn proposed a resolution urging King County Executive Dow Constantine to “quickly re-hire” the 281 King County employees who lost their jobs because they refused to get the COVID vaccine. Speaking at a council meeting last Wednesday, Dunn said his resolution would help the county fill “a lot of employee vacancies, both in the sheriff’s department and the jail and other areas of the county.”

All of the fired employees were ruled ineligible for the county’s religious exemption, which allowed people to claim that the vaccine was against their religion. Under the county’s current rules, the fired employees have the right to be rehired to their previous jobs as long as they remain eligible and their job classification still exists.

County Councilmember Claudia Balducci noted that in nearly 40 minutes of self-pitying comments from former employees, “I didn’t hear one word about our commitment to the people we serve and keeping them safe.

Among other reasons, sheriff’s deputies claimed that they shouldn’t have to be vaccinated because the vaccine uses fibroblast cells that originated with fetal cells  derived from two fetuses in the 1960s. “All of the available vaccines at the time [of the terminations] were created with aborted fetal tissue,” Enumclaw-based officer Jason Brunner declared, inaccurately. “Because I believe that all children are innocent and precious in the eyes of God. I couldn’t very well put that vaccine into my body when I am vehemently against the the abortion aspect. As such, I was persecuted, along with my brothers and sisters, for our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

As KING-5 reported in 2021, almost every Christian denomination, including the Catholic Church, allows vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

Because King County no longer has a vaccine mandate, the fired employees are eligible to re-apply for their former positions. Former sheriff’s deputies who spoke during public comment last week argued this process was insulting and “frightening” because they would have to go through a probationary period as new hires. They also demanded back pay for the time they have not been employed by the county. Of about 25 members of the King County Police Officer’s Guild who were terminated because of the mandate, only 12 have expressed an interest in returning, a county staffer confirmed during the meeting—4.7 percent of the 252 vacancies at the sheriff’s department.

Source: King County COVID data dashboard=

County Councilmember Claudia Balducci pointed out in a Twitter thread that the county’s labor unions are already in negotiations that will result in rehiring many employees who lost their jobs because they didn’t want to protect themselves and others against COVID-19. On Wednesday, Balducci noted that in nearly 40 minutes of self-pitying comments from former employees, “I didn’t hear one word about our commitment to the people we serve and keeping them safe. I heard only about the impact on the employees. We are here with a mission, and our mission is to serve the public.”

To Balducci’s point: The COVID vaccine saves lives and has prevented many cases of severe COVID. And COVID continues to kill even as government entities treat their own decisions to require vaccines like an ill-conceived, fear-driven folly.

About 85 percent of King County residents received an initial two-dose vaccine, but only a third are fully vaccinated. Those who aren’t fully vaccinated are far more likely to die or be hospitalized from COVID, according to the county’s COVID data dashboard. Since the date when King County implemented its vaccine mandate, more than 7,700 King County residents have been hospitalized for COVID, and more than 1,400 have died. Three-quarters of the people in both of these groups were not fully vaccinated against the disease. Since the end of the county’s vaccine mandate in February of this year, 91 people have died of COVID countywide; about three-quarters of that group were not fully vaccinated.

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.

King County Jail Director Asks Court to Rescind Rule That Limits Youth Detention

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)
Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)

By Erica C. Barnett

The director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DADJ), Allen Nance, has asked the state supreme court to rescind a rule barring local courts from issuing warrants against and jailing young people who violate court orders or fail to appear in court, unless the child poses a “serious threat to public safety.”

The court issued the rule in 2020 to reduce crowding in youth jails and made it permanent in 2021, sparking immediate pushback from judges and juvenile court administrators, who argued that judges need discretion to jail young people for their own good and so that they won’t commit more crimes in their communities.

In a letter to the court in April, Nance argued that judges are “uniquely situated to make informed decisions regarding the need for temporary custody of a youth following the issuance of a bench warrant and once a youth is brought before the court to have the warrant served or quashed, because they “often know the youth, their family, and social histories or have the expertise to obtain the information they need to help determine the presence of urgent and immediate necessity for a custodial response.”

For example, Nance continued, a young person may need to be held in jail because their parents “do not know where their son or daughter has been living or what challenges they face outside the home”—challenges that could include “the deadly effects of substances [such as fentanyl] that are readily accessible to youth and permeate our communities.” Although “most youth do not require custodial supervision and incarceration,” Nance wrote, “for a subset of the youth who come before juvenile court judges, a decision to issue a bench warrant or order custody may mean the difference between life and death.”

A spokesman for the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention said the department “does not track data specific to how young people who are released in their communities while awaiting resolution of their court issues may end up harming themselves or their community.”

However, the spokesman continued, the views Nance expressed in his letter “are about doing what is in the best interest of young people and what also promotes community safety. Proper judicial oversight is required to ensure that both the best interest of young people as well as the community are taken into consideration.” The letter, he added, is limited to the court rule restricting warrants for failure to appear and violating court orders. “We continue to advance our commitment to find alternatives to incarceration whenever possible, in the least restrictive environment that achieves the safety goals for youth and the community,” the spokesman said.

Anita Khandelwal, who directs the county’s Department of Public Defense, says if the court gets rid of the rule restricting warrants for youth who don’t pose an imminent threat, the most likely outcome is a return to pre-COVID policy, in which judges issued warrants “without examining whether the youth posed a serious threat to public safety,” including situations where “a youth didn’t come to court or wasn’t at home when they were supposed to be.”

The result, she says, will be a spike in warrants and youth incarceration, especially for young people of color; in 2019, before the court issued the rule, between 82 and 84 percent of warrants issued by King County Juvenile Court judges in 2019 were for youth of color, according to Khandelwal.

In a letter asking state Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven González to maintain the rule, dozens of advocates and defense attorneys argued that incarcerating young people harms their physical and mental health, disrupts their education, and worsens the racial disproportionality of the entire criminal legal system. “Because the juvenile legal system is entangled with many other institutions that have perpetuated racist practices like policing, housing, education, and employment discrimination, limiting the circumstances under which a youth can be incarcerated due to a warrant in a juvenile offense proceeding protects our youth and enables a more racially just future,” the letter says.

King County, under County Executive Dow Constantine, has vowed to shut down the youth jail by 2025, although that pledge has been coupled with an increase in youth incarceration and worsening conditions at the facility. So far this year, an average of 34 kids are incarcerated at the Clark Children and Family Justice Center in Seattle every day, an increase of almost 20 percent over  .

In a letter to Khandelwal, Constantine’s labor relations director, Megan Pedersen, said the county executive “has always empowered county leaders to weigh in on policy matters based on their operational vantage point and subject matter expertise. … This issue highlights the complexity we navigate with criminal justice issues within the Executive Branch given competing policy objectives.”

Khandelwal has asked to add Nance’s letter to the agenda for the next meeting of the county’s Care and Closure Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations on a path to closing down the youth jail; that meeting will be on Monday, June 24 at 4pm.

Burien Decides to Take No Action on Encampment on Its Property, Opening Path for Private Sweep

By Erica C. Barnett

After a heated public meeting Tuesday night, the Burien City Council declined to take any action on a longstanding encampment on city-owned property, effectively allowing a private business that has leased the property to remove several dozen people who have been living on the site since the city forced them to move from a strip of land next to City Hall in April.

As we’ve reported, the city of Burien evicted encampment residents from an area next to the building that houses both Burien City Hall and the local King County Library branch in April. After encampment residents moved (legally) to a city-owned lot nearby, the city decided to lease the property for $183 a month to a nonprofit animal shelter run by the director of Discover Burien, a local business group, which says it plans to open a dog park at the site.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which was frequently interrupted by loud disruptions from an unruly crowd, the council discussed and rejected several potential resolutions, including a land swap that would involve accepting $1 million from King County and relocating encampment residents into pallet shelters on a city-owned parking lot site currently leased by a Toyota dealership, which would move the vehicles it is storing there property owned by King County Metro. The Downtown Emergency Service Center will open a new 95-unit permanent housing project in Burien later this year, with 30 percent of the units reserved for people living homeless in Burien, such as the current encampment residents.

“We don’t know where people will choose to go. Certain sidewalks are available. The city does not have camping bans on sidewalks throughout the city. However, there are regulations that govern ADA accessibility … that the sheriff’s office has addressed in the past.”—Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon

As part of that deal, the encampment would move temporarily to a local Methodist Church that has agreed to host it until the city can work out a deal with the dealership, whose owner was out of town this week and apparently unaware of the discussion about his business.

King County floated this option during conversations with county officials, including Councilmembers Jimmy Matta and Hugo Garcia, last week. Councilmember Stephanie Mora called her colleagues “very unethical and not transparent” for talking to the county without letting the rest of the council know, leading Matta to note that as an elected official, he is allowed to meet with other government leaders.

Mora is a longtime encampment opponent who has unsuccessfully proposed a total ban on “camping” in Burien. During Tuesday’s meeting meeting, she claimed that homeless people draw drug dealers into cities the way children draw ice cream trucks to parks in summer; in April, she opposed placing a portable toilet near the encampment, saying that homeless people should relieve themselves in dog waste disposal bags.

Under a 2019 federal circuit court ruling called Martin v. Boise, governments can’t force homeless people to move from public property if there is no suitable shelter available. Burien has maintained that it isn’t violating Boise by leasing out the property and forcing people to move, because people can simply move their tents onto public sidewalks or other strips of land where they are technically allowed to be. (Burien bans people from sleeping in its parks, using a similar justification).

With its vote, the council also declined to consider other potential options to relocate the encampment temporarily, including other county-owned properties, or continue working on a resolution while allowing people to stay where they are. Councilmember Sarah Moore asked City Manager Adolfo Bailon to address the distinct likelihood that—as the council’s own agenda noted explicitly—people would simply move onto local sidewalks since the city has not found anywhere for them to go.

“We don’t know where people will choose to go,” Bailon said. “To your specific question, yes, it is possible. Certain sidewalks are available. The city does not have camping bans on sidewalks throughout the city. However, there are regulations that govern ADA accessibility … that the sheriff’s office has addressed in the past.”

The King County Sheriff’s Office provides Burien’s police department. Last month, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s attorney sent a letter to the city of Burien saying the sheriff’s office would not help remove the encampment, prompting the city to issue a statement saying it was King County’s responsibility, not the city’s, to address homelessness in the region. Burien officials opposed to the encampment have suggested repeatedly that homeless people are migrating from Seattle to Burien, but there is little evidence for this claim.

Earlier this week, the organization placed signs around the property ordering people to vacate by June 1; according to KIRO, most people had vacated the encampment by early this morning.

With the Departure of Founding CEO Dones, What Comes Next for the Region’s Homelessness Agency?

By Erica C. Barnett

When the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s founding CEO, Marc Dones, announced they were stepping down earlier this month (news PubliCola broke on Twitter from vacation), reactions among homeless service providers, advocates, and agency insiders ranged from sighs of relief to deep concern over what’s next for the beleaguered agency.

Over the past two years, since Dones was hired in March 2021, the KCRHA has struggled to find its footing through a series of pivots, funding battles with Seattle and King County, and internal and public debates over its mission.

Did Seattle and King County create a regional homelessness agency to solve homelessness as quickly as possible, or is the KCRHA merely a clearinghouse for homeless service contracts previously administered by Seattle and King County, its two primary funders? Should the KCRHA set regional policies and spending priorities and expect its member cities to fall in line, or should cities have freedom to establish their own strategies based on their own local politics and context? Is “housing first” a nonnegotiable goal, or is shelter, even basic shelter with mats on the floor, a critical part of the region’s approach to homelessness?

One thing is clear: With Dones out, there is a power vacuum at KCRHA that will be difficult to fill, in a very practical sense: Despite the usual talk of a “thorough national search,” it’s unlikely the agency will be overwhelmed with qualified applicants. Dones, readers may recall, was the second pick for the position, and ascended to the job after the KCRHA board’s first choice, Regina Cannon, turned it down in 2020. The position now comes pre-loaded with two years of baggage and more urgency than ever; a new CEO will need not just a big-picture vision for the region, but a plan to show swift progress on homelessness and get the authority back on track.

Prior to taking the CEO position, Dones was a homelessness consultant whose firm, the National Innovation Service, created the framework for the KCRHA. As the architect of the regional plan, Dones frequently fought efforts to alter it, battling with local leaders over funding priorities, questioning the expertise of longtime service providers, and expending scarce political capital on ambitious plans that didn’t always pan out—like an early proposal to make big investments in safe parking lots for the thousands of people living in their vehicles across King County.

Under Dones’ leadership, the KCRHA established a clear picture of the homelessness problem in King County, but the agency also fell behind schedule on many of its initial goals.

Dones’ supporters praised them as a visionary who emphasized the disproportionate impact of homelessness on people of color,  particularly Black King County residents, foregrounded and empowered people with direct, “lived” experience of homelessness, and never shied away from telling the unvarnished truth about what it would take to truly end homelessness in the region. Critics said Dones elevated lived experience over practical expertise, engaged in unnecessary battles with potential allies like Mayor Bruce Harrell and homeless service providers, and focused on the 10,000-foot view while neglecting ground-level basics, like opening severe weather shelters and paying homeless services providers on time.

Under Dones’ leadership, the KCRHA established a clear picture of the homelessness problem in King County—tens of thousands of people are living unsheltered, in vehicles, and in emergency housing such as hotels and congregate shelters—and housing or even sheltering them all is a problem with a price tag of billions of dollars a year.

But the agency also fell behind schedule on many of its initial goals, including relatively short-term commitments like the plan, announced with great fanfare in February 2022, to end unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle in “as little as 12 months” through a public-private partnership with the corporate-backed nonprofit agency We Are In. Although efforts to respond to homelessness continue downtown—including escalated sweeps by the city of Seattle, combined with more thoughtful one-off projects like the Third Avenue Project—unsheltered homelessness remains a pervasive issue in the area.

The plan, known as Partnership for Zero, was for the KCRHA to use private donations to hire dozens of outreach workers with “lived experience,” who would serve as a single point of contact for people living unsheltered downtown, navigating them “longitudinally” and directly from street homelessness into permanent housing, much of it provided by private landlords motivated by a desire to help solve the homelessness crisis. The coordinating body for this partnership is a “housing command center” that meets daily to discuss clients’ individual cases, with the goal of moving them into permanent housing that works for them.

From inception, there were a number of issues with this approach, chief among them the fact that Seattle—unlike, say, New Orleans and Houston, two cities that have successfully moved people directly from the streets to housing—does not have an abundance of vacant apartments, much less housing low-income people can afford. (The Partnership for Zero plan assumes that, in many cases, people will begin paying full rent after a year or so of subsidy).

The plan also assumes that Medicaid will become the primary funding source for the partnership, an assumption many providers have called premature, given the difficulties existing agencies face securing Medicaid reimbursement even for services that are traditionally covered by the federal program.

By setting up a in-house outreach program that duplicated work the agency’s own nonprofit outreach contractors have been providing for years, the KCRHA also created an unequal system in which government employees receive substantially higher pay, and access to more housing resources, than existing outreach providers. This two-track system has understandably irked some nonprofit outreach agencies, who have protested that setting up a parallel system puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to helping clients and retaining qualified staff, who can earn far more money doing the same job for the KCRHA.

The agency’s initial five-year plan—widely, if somewhat unfairly, criticized for being a “$12 billion plan to end homelessness”—included a number of unforced errors, beyond its eye-popping price tag.

More importantly, the partnership hasn’t produced the results it promised, putting about 200 people so far on a “path” toward housing, according to the KCRHA—one reason agency leaders could sunset the program in the post-Dones era.

One criticism of the KCRHA, under Dones’ leadership, is that Dones’ big-picture proposals have sometimes been at odds with political and practical realities. For example, the agency’s initial five-year plan—widely, if somewhat unfairly, criticized for being a “$12 billion plan to end homelessness”—included a number of unforced errors, beyond its eye-popping price tag.

Under the agreement that established the KCRHA, the five-year plan was supposed to set out practical goals for the first five years of agency operations, with the goal of reducing homelessness among specific population groups. Instead, the initial version of the plan laid out what it would cost, in theory, to eliminate unsheltered homelessness in five years. (The plan does not deal directly with housing, which is the responsibility of other agencies, like the city of Seattle’s Office of Housing.) The plan proposed spending billions of dollars a year on shelter, along with thousands of new “safe parking” spaces for people living in their vehicles—an utterly impractical proposal, given the region’s inability to site even one permanent safe lot in more than a decade of efforts to do so.

The initial five-year plan also called for reducing funding for tiny house villages, singling out this shelter type (along with the region’s tiny house village provider, the Low Income Housing Institute) as undesirable despite the fact that the city of Seattle, the KCRHA’s chief funder, prefers to fund tiny houses over almost every other form of shelter. Defending the proposal to cut funding for tiny houses while investing billions in other forms of shelter and parking lots for people to live in their cars, Dones said it was “just math,” pointing to a survey the agency conducted of about 180 homeless people that was used to determine the mix of services in the plan.

The proposal antagonized other existing shelter providers, too, by asserting that almost one in four shelter beds are vacant (and, by implication, useless). And it set off alarms among suburban city leaders because it called for the complete elimination of funding for congregate shelters—the only form of shelter that exists in many cities outside Seattle.

Ultimately, the agency adopted a rewritten plan that omitted most of the prescriptive language from the initial proposal, along with language criticizing the purported failures of the existing shelter system. While the original proposal included seven goals and dozens of sub-strategies, the plan adopted by the agency’s boards earlier this month focuses on “one goal”: Reducing unsheltered homelessness and preventing homeless people from dying. More than 30 pages lighter than the original proposal, the new five-year plan meets the bare minimum requirements of the KCRHA’s charter while allowing plenty of room for future leaders to pick their own priorities. Continue reading “With the Departure of Founding CEO Dones, What Comes Next for the Region’s Homelessness Agency?”

County Won’t Participate in Planned Sweep of Burien Encampment Residents

Image via City of Burien

By Erica C. Barnett

An encampment on property owned by the city of Burien could be swept as soon as this week, after a nonprofit animal shelter run by the director of Discover Burien, a local business group, secured the right to lease the property from the city starting on June 1, and—according to Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon—evict the people living there. The shelter, Burien CARES, has said it plans to “revert” the property, which had been an informal dog park, “back to its most recent use by the community as a dog recreation and relief area.”

The encampment was originally located next to City Hall and the downtown Burien branch of the King County Library system, but was booted earlier this year after the condo association that owns the property, whose sole members are the library and the city, voted to make the area around the building a “no-camping” zone. Encampments are also banned in all city parks, limiting where people can legally sleep to bits of city-owned property like the one Burien CARES now plans to lease.

“If the city had taken the responsibility and said, ‘here’s a spot for the people living at City Hall,’ and put up some boundaries, [the encampment] probably wouldn’t have grown,” said Nancy Kick, a Burien resident and activist who opposes sweeping the encampment. “This was all foreseeable; if you don’t create a solution, then the solution creates itself. It’s going to just be what it is and you can’t control it at all.”

Although local advocates and outreach groups have asked King County and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to help secure housing or shelter for the dozens of people who will be forced to move their tents elsewhere in Burien if the sweep takes place, those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Earlier this month, KCRHA director Anne Martens told PubliCola agency staffers have been meeting with outreach, shelter, and advocacy groups, as well as the city of Burien, and “continue to work together to seek housing and shelter placements.” However, as of last week, those talks hadn’t resulted in a solution for the dozens of people who stand to be evicted from the site this week.

Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine informed the city of Burien that the county sheriff’s department, which provides Burien’s police force, would not help Burien CARES or city officials remove encampment residents from the property.

“Although the City currently owns the City Lot, it has not identified housing alternatives for the persons who live there despite constitutional duties imposed on the City under federal law,” the letter, signed by Constantine’s general counsel, David Hackett, says. “Instead, the City is attempting to circumvent those duties by entering a lease with a private party, who will maintain and continue the use of the City Lot as a public dog park while attempting to use criminal trespass to force unhoused persons from the premises.”

Meanwhile, the Burien City City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, May 30 to discuss—among other combatively worded agenda items—”the best response to the fact that Burien is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdiction other than Seattle to welcome a DESC facility, and yet King County refuses to help Burien help the unhoused” and “the value of the contract for King County Sheriff’s Office services since the Sheriff’s Office refuses to provide police services.”

Under a 2019 federal circuit court ruling called Martin v. Boise, governments can’t force people to move from public property if there is no suitable shelter available. Burien’s approach of leasing out its land and having its tenant evict encampment residents represents an attempt to “evade the holding in Martin,” Hackett wrote, because the land is still city property—and the city hasn’t offered the homeless people living there anywhere else to go.

Burien disagrees with this, arguing that the city doesn’t have an ordinance banning people from sleeping on city property in general, just parks, and that the city is “not asking for or seeking criminal penalties, fines, or even arrests” for the people it wants the sheriff’s department to assist in removing from its property.

Gallagher, a spokesman for Constantine, said the county has “continuously engaged with the City of Burien throughout the past few months to help the city identify a solution that meets the needs of our shared residents. Homelessness is a regional problem, and every jurisdiction plays a part in finding solutions. But that regional aspect doesn’t alleviate cities from the responsibility of serving their residents and taking action directly in their community.”

Last year the Burien City Council approved a new Downtown Emergency Service Center project that will provide 95 units of permanent supportive housing, with 30 percent of the units reserved for Burien residents. However, that building won’t come online until next year.

Meanwhile, the Burien City City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, May 30 to discuss—among other combatively worded agenda items—”the best response to the fact that Burien is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdiction other than Seattle to welcome a DESC facility, and yet King County refuses to help Burien help the unhoused” and “the value of the contract for King County Sheriff’s Office services since the Sheriff’s Office refuses to provide police services.”