Tag: homeless services

Homeless Service Providers, Many Unpaid Since Last Year, Demand Reforms

The Low-Income Housing Institute, which runs tiny house villages around the region, is one of more than a dozen agencies to sign the letter asking for reforms to KCRHA’s contracting process.

By Erica C. Barnett

More than a dozen homeless service providers have written a letter to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s implementation board, as well as agency CEO Marc Dones, asking for action after the agency has failed, for a second year, to sign contracts and pay agencies on time.

The letter, which is signed by the leaders of Solid Ground, YouthCare, the Multiservice Center, and other housing and shelter providers, says the KCRHA needs to undertake “major reforms and changes in procedure … to ensure that our critical human services infrastructure doesn’t break under pressure, and that service agencies can be adequately supported to make progress on our shared goals of ending homelessness in our community.”

Providers also showed up at the KCRHA’s implementation board meeting Wednesday to make it clear that their concerns have not been addressed.

In response to the letter, KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said, “we appreciate the thoughtful recommendations from providers and are reviewing how to best integrate their feedback.”

The KCRHA oversees more than 300 contracts totaling more than $110 million. As of May 9, the authority had signed just over 150 of those contracts and paid invoices worth a total of around $15 million, according to Martens. The Seattle Times wrote last week about the contract delays.

In internal emails, the KCRHA has attributed the contract delays, in part, to providers requesting changes to their new, non-negotiable “boilerplate” contracts, as well as a complex new software system called Fluxx that has “bugs”—for example, it doesn’t notify providers when it’s their turn to look at a document they’re working on with KCRHA staff, and deletes users’ work if they have to go back and make a change. Martens said providers can set up notifications through Fluxx, but said the KCRHA is “actively working on stabilizing Fluxx to improve provider experience, and will also be evaluating other potential systems.”

The providers are asking the implementation board to delay plans to rebid and re-procure all homeless service provider contracts, planned for 2024, for at least a year “so that the KCRHA can demonstrate that it can manage its existing workload and normalize invoice and payment practices and timelines.”

The new form contracts reportedly include a reduction in the amount the KCRHA will pay for agency operations, or overhead (from 15 to 10 percent of the overall contract budget) and changes to contract requirements that could impact agencies’ ability to secure funding from other sources to do work that is partly funded by the KCRHA. Update: After publication, Martens contacted us to say this information, which came from a homeless service provider, was incorrect and that the new contracts do not limit indirect costs to 10 percent.

PubliCola has asked KCRHA for a copy of its new boilerplate contract language.

For more than four months, service providers big and small have been using up their reserves, even going into debt, to keep programs going; the Low-Income Housing Institute, for example, has “floated” more than $3 million, while YouthCare, a smaller agency, used up most of its existing $1 million line of credit to pay staffers and keep programs going. The Downtown Emergency Service Center and Compass Housing, which decided last year it would no longer contract with KCRHA to provide emergency shelter during freezing weather, also experienced payment delays.

“Operating reserves exist for emergencies, like responding to the Covid-19 pandemic; they are not there to cushion what should be a straightforward administrative function from KCRHA,” the letter says. “For some small organizations it could result in layoffs, or worse, put them out of business.”

Late payments to service providers are not strictly a KCRHA phenomenon. Before the KCRHA took over the region’s homelessness system, service providers that contracted with the city’s Human Services Department often operated without contracts for months as well; in May 2021, for example, outreach providers that had already gone unpaid for months declined to sign contracts that included new requirements that were incompatible with their organizational missions.

In their letter, the providers ask the implementation board to delay plans to rebid and re-procure all homeless service provider contracts, planned for 2024, for at least a year “so that the KCRHA can demonstrate that it can manage its existing workload and normalize invoice and payment practices and timelines.” In April, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness called the KCRHA’s timeline for re-procuring its contracts plan “high risk, and said it “should only be initiated once core functions for contracting are solidly in place at KCRHA.”

The letter also requests immediate actions to make sure that providers will get paid in future years, regardless of whether KCRHA has finalized their contracts. For example, they write, “KCRHA should automatically extend all contracts through the first quarter of each year,” replacing these first-quarter contracts with the final contract once it’s signed. In addition, they write, the authority should pay 75 percent of invoices up front, instead of waiting until they’ve gone through a detailed review that one provider said can amount to a type of audit.

For delays that require providers to take on debt to stay in operation, the letter continues, the “KCRHA should compensate providers for these financial losses that are tied to administrative delays.”

In the long run, the providers say, the KCRHA should take on the responsibility for proactively contacting providers to let them know about delays, update the implementation board regularly about contract execution and delays, allow providers to consolidate contracts that are similar or duplicative, such as contracts for the same type of shelter in different locations, and include cost of living pay increases in all contracts,

Former Council Candidate Ousted Over Billing Irregularities, Fewer Seek Homeless Services, and More on Renton’s Shelter Saga

1. Wellspring Family Services, a homeless service provider that holds a $465,000 rapid rehousing contract with the city of Seattle, fired two of its housing specialists, Walter Washington and Jon Grant, after discovering that around $35,000 had been billed inappropriately to the wrong contracts—in effect overcharging some agencies that provide funding to Wellspring, with the money going into the nonprofit’s housing division. Washington was Wellspring’s senior director of housing services; Grant, who twice ran unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council Position 8, was the agency’s director of program development.

In a letter to agencies that fund the organization, including the city of Seattle’s Human Services Department, Wellspring president and CEO Heather Fitzpatrick described the discrepancy as a “billing error” in which “payroll expenses were erroneously billed to a contract for which the employee did not perform services.”

In an interview with PubliCola, Fitzpatrick said the “billing mistakes” were “predominately legitimate charges that should have been paid by the housing department but were billed to the wrong contract.” She said the agency acted quickly to address the problem. “We immediately reversed the charges and took immediate and appropriate action, including management changes, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Fitzpatrick would not identify the agency that got overcharged; nor would she confirm that $12,000 of the total came in the form of “severance pay” to a female employee who raised alarm bells and subsequently left the agency, as other sources indicated to PubliCola. A spokesperson for the agency said a thorough review of Wellspring’s finances found no evidence of outright embezzlement or misspending beyond the $35,000.

Neither Grant nor Washington responded to requests to talk on the record about their involvement in the discrepancies. According to Washington’s LinkedIn, he is now a team manager at United Way of King County. Grant, whose departure from a previous job as director of the Tenants Union involved allegations of “oppressive and tokenizing” practices, has not updated his LinkedIn bio.

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2. King County’s homeless population won’t be counted this year—as we reported on Twitter last month, the county agency that ordinarily conducts the street count and survey received a waiver this year because of the pandemic—but the number of people who are going unserved by the region’s homelessness agencies can be quantified by their absence from the homeless system.

According to the county’s homelessness dashboard, the number of people experiencing homelessness who are receiving services from providers in the region dropped dramatically between March and July, the last month for which data is currently available—declining from 13,343 households at the beginning of the pandemic to 11,053 three months later. This trend has held across all demographics, but was especially pronounced among single adults, according to county data.

The number of people experiencing homelessness who are receiving services from providers in the region dropped dramatically between March and July, the last month for which data is currently available.

Antonio Herrera Garza, a spokesman for the King County Department of Community and Human Services, says the county is exploring several theories for why the numbers have dropped, but a reduction in homelessness isn’t one of them. One possibility, he said, “is that households accessing the system during the pandemic show greater stability in services and longer lengths of stay, which means fewer households coming through the system during a given timeframe.”

Another possibility, Herrera Garza said, is that some people “more reluctant to access emergency services,” such as congregate shelter, because of the perceived risk of contracting COVID. Although there have been some outbreaks in tent encampments (including, contrary to claims in a recent Seattle Times piece, people living at Fourth and Yesler and Denny Park in downtown Seattle), most outbreaks have taken place in indoor settings. The county plans to release data through September sometime this month; Herrera Garza said they “expect to continue to see a decline in the numbers through September, although at a slower pace.”

3. Renton Chamber of Commerce CEO Diane Dobson, an outspoken opponent of a Red Lion hotel-based shelter run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, apparently threatened to revoke the membership of the Renton LGBTQIA+ Community, a nonprofit that promotes diversity in Renton, over advocacy by one of its board members in favor of the shelter.

The board member, Winter Cashman-Crane, has advocated in favor of the shelter and its residents, most of them former residents of the crowded Morrison Hotel shelter in downtown Seattle, since it opened last year. Cashman-Crane provided screen shots in which Dobson appears to say that Cashman-Crane has “flared up again” on Twitter, apparently referring to two tweets in which they noted that the city planned to give the Chamber a $150,000 grant after Dobson “personally spent this year advocating and inciting the community against the Red Lion shelter.” In the screen-grabbed conversation, Dobson says that if the LGBTQIA+ Community wants to stay in the Chamber, they will have to adhere to new “ground rules toward interaction and relationships.”

Dobson did not return an email seeking comment about her messages to the board member. In an email sent this past summer, she accused Cashman-Crane of “libel” for a private email expressing disappointment that the Chamber had opposed the shelter, which Dobson said was untrue.