By Erica C. Barnett
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has asked a member of its Continuum of Care board to step down after she yelled at a fellow board member who objected to the appointment of a proposed new board member, pointing out that he is a registered sex offender and accusing him of behaving inappropriately toward her in the past.
In an email to KCRHA staff and board members last Thursday, KCRHA chief program officer Peter Lynn said he was formally asking the board co-chair, Shanéé Colston, to resign after she “shouted down committee member Kristina Sawyckyj for identifying that one of the prospective AC nominees was a registered sex offender, which is public information. Ms. Sawyckyj was also shouted down by Chair Colston when she spoke of her experience being inappropriately touched by the nominee.”
The continuum of care board plays an important role in securing homelessness funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It reviews and approves applications for federal funding, oversees annual funding renewal requests and performance metrics for homeless service providers, and creates a prioritization tool to judge funding applications.
During a flurry of overlapping shouts, another board member interjected that she had had “nothing but good experiences with [the nominee]” and told Sawyckvj she should contact the police, which Sawyckvj said she had. Sawyckyj went silent, and eventually left the meeting.
The argument began a little more than 45 minutes into the meeting (viewable on the board’s website, which contains a trigger warning for the meeting), when board member Kristina Sawyckyj objected to the appointment of a man who has been convicted for multiple sex offenses involving teenage girls.
In 2010, when he was 25, he was convicted of harboring a minor, a 13-year-old runaway with whom he had a sexual relationship, according to court records. Two years later, the nominee was charged with raping a minor in a case involving a 15-year-old girl; he ultimately pled guilty to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, a felony sex crime. In 2018, Seattle police found him living in a tent near the Seattle waterfront with a 17-year-old girl, whose mother picked her up and took her home, according to Seattle court records.
Also on the agenda at the delayed meeting: An update to the charter for the Continuum of Care Board, which the board has proposed amending to specify that all 19 members must have lived experience of homelessness or housing instability.
“[He] is a sex offender, a repeat sex offender, and I have had [a] bad experience with him,” Sawyckyj said, adding that the nominee had “touched me” inappropriately in the past.
At that point, Colston cut her off, yelling, “we don’t do that here” and saying it was against board rules to “out” someone who was convicted of a sex crime. During a flurry of overlapping comments, another board member interjected that she had had “nothing but good experiences with [the nominee]” and told Sawyckvj she should contact the police, which Sawyckvj said she had.
Sawyckyj went silent, then left the meeting, while Colston continued. “I’m telling you that you cannot talk like that in this meeting. I will not have that here!” Colston said. “If anyone wants to talk like that you will be muted and removed from this meeting,” she said. “This is about equity. And everyone—everyone— deserves housing. I don’t care if they’re a sex offender! … This is an inclusive space, and we are equitable to all.”
The new board members were supposed to be confirmed during a special meeting last Friday, but the KCRHA canceled the meeting on Thursday. “This unacceptable behavior by leadership of the CoC Advisory Committee has created a hostile environment for KCRHA staff and committee members,” Lynn wrote in his email. “I will be working with KCRHA leadership and our attorneys to determine the next steps to ensure the safety of all those involved in the [board].
Also on the agenda at the delayed meeting: An update to the charter for the Continuum of Care Board, which the board has proposed amending to specify that all 19 members must have lived experience of homelessness or housing instability. The board, which is required by federal policy, predates the KCRHA. In its pre-KCRHA iterations, the board included elected officials, homeless and human service providers, and government staff, in addition to people with direct experience of homelessness.