Tag: King County Regional Homelessness Authority

Feds Come to Seattle to Set Up “Command Center” for Downtown Homelessness

Photo by Joe Mabel; CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

By Erica C. Barnett

Contractors with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development convened at the city’s Emergency Operations Center last week to begin setting up a formal “housing command center” for addressing homelessness in downtown Seattle, PubliCola has learned. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority requested HUD’s help setting up the command center, which agency CEO Marc Dones touted during the announcement of a public-private partnership called “Partnership for Zero” earlier this year.

HUD, which funds housing through housing vouchers and other programs, has been meeting quietly with officials from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, and officials from the city’s Human Services Department over the past two weeks. The goal, according to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, is to set up a “incident response system” plan for homelessness, treating it like an emergent crisis rather than a perpetual, unchanging problem.

“We’ve heard from our neighbors that we need to treat this emergency like an emergency, so that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Martens said.

The difference isn’t just semantic. “An incident command system is a management structure that can really be used to organize any big event,” from planning a wedding to planning for emergency shelter during heat and smoke, Curry Mayer, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, explained. In practice, this means setting up several teams to deal with operations, logistics, planning, and administration, all reporting to a command team that runs the show and gets information out to the public and press.

“We are taking best practices learned from years of emergency housing response during disasters like hurricanes and other major displacements, and applying those proven practices to help people experiencing homelessness move inside,” Martens said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for HUD’s regional office said that although the technical assistance does not come with any new funding for housing or services, it “helps communities apply the lessons learned from other communities, including those that used a similar structure to assist people experiencing homelessness following major disasters. The duration of the technical assistance will depend on the circumstances on the ground, but it will likely last a few months.”

The team is already meeting daily to share updates on each team’s progress and challenges, the same way local agencies meet daily during short-term emergencies, like the snowstorm that shut down transportation around the city last year and left thousands of unsheltered people out in subfreezing temperatures for days.

This approach is a dramatic departure from the traditional approach to homelessness, which is divided into silos such as encampment removals, emergency response, shelters, and housing. The logistics team, for example, might be in charge of figuring out ways to make permanent housing accessible more quickly, such as waiving eligibility requirements (HUD rules currently require a person to be homeless for at least a year before they’re eligible for a voucher, for example) or offering incentives to landlords to move people into apartments quickly.

“This effort will further improve coordination and speed up action, with permanent housing as the top priority,” Martens said.

Although the command center doesn’t come with additional funds for housing, multiple people familiar with the effort expressed hope that it could open the door to additional HUD funds in the future. In 2020, a McKinsey report estimated that it would cost as much as $1 billion a year to fully address homelessness in King County—more than eight times the KCRHA’s current annual budget. Mayor Bruce Harrell—whose office directed questions to the KCRHA—has indicated that he has little interest in contributing tens of millions more to the KCRHA’s budget, as the authority has requested.

The Office of Emergency Management won’t be directly participating in the command center’s operations, but they will provide meeting space and a press room for regular briefings. Because the EOC’s operations are sensitive, the question of access has been the subject of some internal debate. The building where the KCRHA is located, a former jail that also houses the county’s sobering center, and the Seattle Municipal Tower across the street from City Hall, were both reportedly considered but rejected in favor of the high-tech, visually appealing emergency hub.

“Authentic” Harrell Doubles Down, Public Safety Director Myerberg Reassigned, Baseless Complaint Claims PubliCola Engaged in Pro-Cop “Quid Pro Quo”

1. Mayor Bruce Harrell doubled down yesterday on comments he made during a Seattle Police Department roll call that were subsequently leaked to Jason Rantz, a host at the conservative station KTTH, telling reporters he stood by “whatever people said I said.” According to quotes from the meeting, Harrell blamed at “inexperienced” city council members, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and service providers for the “mess” the city has become—calling out the KCRHA, in particular, for “working against” Harrell by publicly opposing encampment sweeps.

“I’ve been in the city my entire life. And there’s one thing about me, is I am authentic,” Harrell said. Gesturing toward his wife, Joanne, who was standing behind him, he continued, “[I’ve] been with my best friend and wife, we’ve known each other for close to four decades. By the way, she’s a tough critic. But she’s seen me say the same things over and over and over again. So it’s time to stop playing small ball. Let’s play big ball. Let’s attack racism. Let’s attack police reform. Let’s revitalize our downtown. That’s big ball.”

Harrell declined to say whether he would actually propose defunding the regional homelessness authority, which receives the bulk of its funding, about $70 million, from the city through its annual budget process. “We’ll present our budget in a few weeks, but you will see our clear recognition of a lot of the great work they are doing,” Harrell said. “You will see continued support. What I owe to the leaders in RHA is my expectations. And I think they share my concern that we have to get this work done. … I’m still very optimistic. I’m very optimistic. But I’m not going to look at any of the work we’re doing in the city through rose-colored glasses.”

Harrell has been publicly and privately critical of the KCRHA and its director, Marc Dones—complaining publicly, for example, about the agency’s request for city and county funding that would nearly double its existing budget to fund a slew of new projects. Privately, Harrell has reportedly questioned the need for the authority, which still lacks meaningful buy-in from suburban cities and is entirely funded by Seattle and King County.

On Wednesday, Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role. “He’s still part of our strong part of our administration and literally sits 40 feet from my desk. We’re looking forward to our continuing partnership,” Harrell said.

2. Harrell’s erstwhile director of public safety, former Office of Police Accountability director Andrew Myerberg, has been reassigned to a vaguely defined new position—”director of special projects”—where he will reportedly head up efforts to get the city out from under a consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Department.

Harrell has reportedly criticized Myerberg for his lack of connection to communities impacted by police policy, such as the ill-advised decision (supported by Harrell’s other chief public safety advisor, strategic initiatives director Tim Burgess) to crack down on “disorderly conduct,” including music, smoking, and shouting, at Third Avenue and Pine St. downtown.

On Wednesday, Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role. “He’s still part of our strong part of our administration and literally sits 40 feet from my desk. We’re looking forward to our continuing partnership,” Harrell said.

Asked what qualities he’s looking for in Myerberg’s replacement, Harrell said, “We want a person who understands constitutional policing, seven minute response times, [and is] willing to do the hard research on what’s working in other cities, issues dealing with gun regulations, just a good director of public safety.”

3. Local police accountability gadfly Howard Gale has filed a formal complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission alleging a “quid pro quo” conspiracy between me (Erica Barnett) and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and/or the city’s Office of the Inspector General, which reviews police misconduct investigations to publish information flattering to the OIG and Herbold and, by extension, the Seattle Police Department.

The “whistleblower complaint” asserts that either Herbold or someone at the Office of Inspector General leaked a copy of a report to me, and only me, in advance, in exchange for my agreement to provide flattering coverage. My straightforward piece describing the contents of the external report, which included recommendations for avoiding improper certification of investigations into police misconduct, is here.

“I believe this is a clear ethical violation because it was done with the intent to avoid negative coverage for both the OIG and CM Herbold, and done for professional mutual benefit (quid pro quo),” the complaint says.

The only evidence for this utterly baseless claim is that Gale contacted nine unidentified “journalists” and “none can find any notice of the independent audit being released/available.”

The reality, as it often is with conspiracy theories, is much more mundane. The OIG released an embargoed copy of the report to a list of reporters, including me, on the afternoon of July 27, one day before the office released the report publicly.

An embargo is an agreement between journalists and a person or entity releasing information, such as a government agency or advocacy group, that journalists will get the information in advance in exchange for agreeing not to publish it until a certain time; such agreements are extremely common and allow journalists to absorb the information (for example, details in a technical briefing or lawsuit), ask clarifying questions, and write their stories before something gets released publicly. I may have been the only one who wrote about the report when the embargo lifted, but lack of coverage is not evidence of a conspiracy.

Harrell’s Homelessness “Data Dashboard” Shows Plenty of Sweeps But Little Progress on Shelter, Housing

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell, whose macho comments to a group of cops about encampment sweeps, the regional homelessness authority, and the city council were not as private as he thought, has said he will provide unprecedented transparency into encampment removals and progress toward addressing homelessness in the city. Earlier this year, he unveiled a “data dashboard” on homelessness that turned out to be a mostly static website displaying information about where the city’s budget for homelessness goes along with general information about new housing units that will become available this year. 

The mayor’s office promised to update this “dashboard” four times a year. Earlier this month, new information appeared under a section of the site called “Bringing People Indoors”; according to the update, the city counted 814 tents and 426 RVs citywide, and made a total of 191 offers of shelter, in June, out of 616 in the second quarter of 2022.

The city’s Human Services Department, which keeps tabs on shelter referrals leading up to and during encampment sweeps, breaks down its shelter referral numbers by both total number of referrals and the number of individual people who received referrals—a smaller number, since some people get more than one referral from the city’s HOPE team and contracted outreach providers.

Assuming the numbers on the dashboard were calculated the same way, and applying HSD’s estimate that 38 percent of shelter offers during the same period resulted in a person enrolling at a shelter for at least one night, that means—very roughly—that around 72 people from those 814 tents and 426 RVs spent any time at all time in a shelter bed.

Of course, there are caveats to those numbers. The first is that the number of shelter referrals listed on the dashboard is higher, by about 150, than HSD’s citywide estimate. (We’ve contacted HSD for an explanation of this seeming discrepancy). The second is that the number of people who get shelter referrals is slippery, because it may exclude some people who aren’t registered in the regional Homeless Management Information System, which tracks unhoused people as they access various services.

The third caveat speaks to a primary issue with Harrell’s “dashboard” itself: The information is very obviously incomplete, as it was when the website first debuted. Although it purports to show both the number of “verified” tents and RVs by neighborhood, along with the number of people removed from “closed” encampments designated by dots on a map, it’s obvious that the map isn’t comprehensive (with thousands of unsheltered people living in the city, there are clearly more than 426 tents in Seattle, for example) and a closer look at many “closed” encampments provides no information about what happened to the people living there, or even the number of people who were displaced.

The site also continues to misstate the amount of money the city contributes to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, padding the city’s direct contribution, around $70 million, with nearly $50 million in federal relief dollars for a total of $118 million. Harrell used the same inflated number when talking to police, telling them (according to KTTH’s Jason Rantz, who appears to have gotten a recording from an officer), “I’m funding an organization that seems to be working against what I’m trying to do” (removing encampments) and suggesting he might consider cutting their budget this year.

KCRHA director Marc Dones— clearly a thorn in Harrell’s side, based on the mayor’s many public comments about his frustration with the agency—has asked the city to not only renew its existing budget but give the agency tens of millions more to fund new high-acuity shelter beds; purchase buildings, such as hotels and single-family houses, to serve as “bridge” housing; and open several new safe parking lots for people who live in their vehicles.

In response to our request for comment about Harrell’s biting comments, the KCRHA provided a terse statement that says a lot by saying very little. “The Regional Homelessness Authority was designed as a community-wide effort, working together with all 39 cities, King County, businesses, philanthropy, housed and unhoused neighbors, in order to implement real solutions. With our partners, we are working to create vibrant, inclusive communities where everyone has a safe and stable place to live, and we can accomplish that goal when we work together,” the statement said.

Council Considers Using Excess JumpStart Revenues to Patch $141 Million Budget Hole

Before and after: The growing budget shortfall at the city.

By Erica C. Barnett

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said yesterday that she would propose using JumpStart payroll tax revenues to supplement the city’s general-fund budget for the fourth and fifth years in a row, after the City Budget Office released new projections of a growing budget shortfall through the next five years. Between 2023 and 2026, the city now projects an average budget gap—the difference between revenues coming in and expenditures going out—of $142 million, on average, including a $141 million budget gap next year.

JumpStart—a payroll tax paid by the city’s largest employers on the salaries of their highest-paid workers—has consistently produced more revenue than originally anticipated. Since it went into effect in 2021, the tax has paid for COVID relief, housing, small business support, and to top off the general fund. Mosqueda’s proposal, which hasn’t been formally drafted, would use JumpStart revenues in excess of the city’s original 2020 projections to backfill the general fund in 2023 and 2024; currently, the city projects those excess revenues at $71 million and $84 million, respectively.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option. This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”—Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

“The broad coalition that proposed JumpStart always intended to avoid austerity, and we can do both the spend plan as codified in 2020 and potentially find some short-term solutions for addressing the shortfall,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. In the meantime, she said, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office is convening a new progressive revenue task force to consider other locahoul revenue sources. The original progressive revenue task force, which recommended a payroll tax in 2018, also said the city should consider a local estate tax, a tax on excess compensation, and a tax on real-estate speculation, among other options.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option,” Mosqueda said. “This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”

In addition to new revenues, the city could be looking at cuts to departments, including the elimination of some positions that have been vacant but funded in the budget for long periods. Advocates for reducing the Seattle Police Department’s budget aren’t likely to see much trimming in that area, though; the last time a council member (then-council president Lorena González) proposed reducing SPD’s budget by eliminating unfillable positions, the council voted it down.

At the same time, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is primarily funded by the city, sent a budget proposal to the city and county earlier this year requesting $90 million for new programs, on top of the $119 million that it currently receives from the city and county. If the city funded this extra spending proportionally to its current contribution ($70 million in 2022), that would amount to an additional $60 million in city spending.

Harrell has expressed frustration publicly about the KCRHA’s budget, and has reportedly wondered aloud privately what the agency is doing with its money. Efforts to stand up a program to “navigate” people off the streets of downtown Seattle by placing them in shelters or housing, launched with a one-time infusion of private money earlier this year, are going slowly, with one of the program’s high-profile leaders leaving the agency after just three months in June. In February, KCRHA director Marc Dones said one of the goals of the initiative was to reduce the number of people living unsheltered downtown to around 30, or “functional zero,” in as little as 12 months.

When PublICola asked Harrell about KCRHA’s big budget ask back in June, he said the agency seemed to “approach the budgeting process as, ‘in a perfect world, this is what [we] could do.’… But at some point, I need you to do the hard work, which is tell us exactly what you need. This is not a negotiate, ‘you go high, I go low,’ process.”

Harrell will send his proposed budget to the council on September 24.

Labor Fizz: Homelessness Agency Workers Unionize, State Vaccine Requirements Go Above and Beyond, City Accuses Parking Officers of Bad-Faith Bargaining

1. Employees of the King County Homelessness Authority have joined the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17)—the first step toward negotiating a contract that will establish mandatory standards for wages, hours, and working conditions at the agency, which has about 75 employees. The KCRHA, which oversees contracts with nonprofit homeless service providers around the region, has been operating without a union since last year.

KCRHA evaluation and analytics coordinator Claire Guilmette, who led the push to unionize, said she’s optimistic that the union will be able to reach an agreement quickly and collaboratively with KCRHA director Marc Dones, who will be on the other side of the bargaining table. Both non-managerial employees and some supervisors will have union representation; the state Public Employee Relations Commission is currently considering the agency’s argument that two employees, intergovernmental affairs manager Nigel Herbig and Dones’ executive assistant, Katherine Wells, should be excluded from the bargaining unit.

In a statement, Dones, who has expressed support for unionization in the past, said, “Our people are our greatest strength and we will continue to support our employees with what they need to be successful.” KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said the agency could not comment on current organizing efforts. In response to PubliCola’s question about whether KCRHA has a human resources department, Martens said, “We do indeed,” but did not provide a list of employees in this department. The agency’s staff list is no longer available on its website.

PROTEC17 organizer Jessica Olivas said KCRHA’s employees are “extremely mission-driven,” sometimes to the detriment of advocating for themselves. “I’m actually happy that they took a step back and said, We deserve a voice on the job to help retain and recruit staff, and that’s what’s best in helping to advance their mission,” Olivas said.

As we reported last month, a number of high-level staff have left the agency in recent months, including peer navigator program director Dawn Shephard, senior advisor Lisa Gustaveson, special assistant Naomi See, and chief community impact officer Denille Bezemer.

2. Earlier this month, Governor Jay Inslee announced a new COVID-19 vaccination policy that will require all state employees to be not just vaxxed and boosted but up to date with current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, now and in the future, beginning next July. The new mandate goes beyond what the city of Seattle and King County require; for city and county employees, “fully vaccinated” means having received an initial one- or two-shot course of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

A spokesman for the state Office of Financial Management, which will be responsible for drafting a formal policy and negotiating with the unions that represent state employees about that policy, said that after July 1, 2023, “employees would need to be up-to-date on any recommended COVID-19 shots/boosters,” subject to bargaining with the unions that represent state workers. PubliCola has reached out to the Washington Federation of State Employees for comment on the new requirements and will update this post if we hear back. 

CDC recommendations change periodically and are different for people of different ages. Currently, for example, the CDC recommends that everyone 50 or older get two booster shots. In a proclamation last year, Inslee defined “fully vaccinated” the same way the oity and county do: One full course of a single vaccine, with no booster requirements.

The complaint alleges that the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild bargained in bad faith with the city by proposing a one-year extension to its existing contract that the union knew its members would reject

3. Last month, we reported that the city’s parking enforcement officers filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the city for taking away their access to a system that provides instant information about vehicle owners, such as whether they have a warrant and for what offense, when the officers moved out of the police department and into the Department of Transportation. Three months later, the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild (SPEOG) filed a second complaint related to union participation on a special safety committee.

As that complaint moved forward, the city filed its own Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the parking enforcement officers’ union—an unusual step, since most labor complaints are made by employees against their employer, not the other way around. Continue reading “Labor Fizz: Homelessness Agency Workers Unionize, State Vaccine Requirements Go Above and Beyond, City Accuses Parking Officers of Bad-Faith Bargaining”

New Details Emerge About Harrell Administration’s Encampment Removal Plans

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office said the “eco-block strategy” referenced in the second column “is related to the City’s response to the eco-blocks placed in the ROW by others.” Eco-blocks are cheap concrete blocks businesses use to prevent RVs from parking on public streets; placing them in the public right-of-way is illegal but the city does not enforce this law.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s administration drafted a new “sidewalk strategy” for homeless encampments earlier this year that would have empowered the city’s new Unified Care Team, bolstered by Seattle police, to require anyone living in a public right-of-way in Seattle to move with just two hours’ notice, PubliCola has learned.

In January, Harrell’s strategic initiatives director Tim Burgess sent a memo to King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones titled “A New Approach to Tent Encampments on Sidewalks and Other Transportation Rights-of-Way.” In the memo, which PubliCola obtained through a records request, the new administration outlined a zero-tolerance strategy toward people living on sidewalks, in which “[c]ampers that remain will be given two hours’ notice to leave” to leave. The Human Services Department’s HOPE Team, along with King County Regional Homelessness Authority “outreach teams will offer services as appropriate, but these services will not be a prerequisite before asking campers to clear the public space,” the memo said.

Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen told PubliCola the sidewalk plan was never implemented. “Instead, the Mayor’s Office focused on streamlining City efforts through the launch of the Unified Care Team,” a group of employees from several city departments who are in charge of “”address[ing] the impacts of unsheltered homelessness in the city,” Housen said. But the administration’s dramatic acceleration of encampment removals, and its decision to focus first on reducing the number of people living on downtown sidewalks to zero, echo these early policy discussions.

In addition to the memo shared by Burgess, PubliCola has obtained a PowerPoint presentation created by administration officials earlier this year describes the downtown “Partnership for Zero,” which aims to eliminate encampments downtown by relocating people to appropriate shelter or housing, as the administration’s “safe sidewalk plan.” Harrell “wants to address obstructions in the right of way ASAP,” according to the presentation.

A separate set of presentations and internal memos, obtained through the same records request, reveals another aspect of Harrell’s approach to encampment removals that the administration has been reluctant to describe publicly: An “encampment scoring system” that allocates “scores” to encampments based on a set of criteria, including violent incidents, fires, proximity to parks or children, and sidewalk obstructions.

Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen described the scoring system as only one part of the mayor’s encampment prioritization strategy. “The scoring system is the building blocks for encampment prioritization,” Housen said. “The system is currently being tested and frequently refined as we learn more, to ensure the right information is driving decisions.”

A PowerPoint presentation dated 6/21/22 but presented to Harrell, according to internal emails, on April 19

The “Sidewalk Strategy”

In a memo from late January titled “Tent Highlights,” the Harrell administration outlined the basics of a new strategy to “[e]nd tent encampments on sidewalks and transportation rights-of-ways… a step that is essential to the economic recovery of the downtown and our neighborhood business areas.”

“City staff, including specially trained police officers, will be present when campers are notified that they must relocate,” the memo continues. “This is a harm-reduction approach, meaning campers will be asked to leave/relocate so the space remains clear and accessible by all.”

Dones expressed concerns in their comments on the memo about the possibility that the city would start sweeping downtown sidewalks before the KCRHA could implement its business-funded Partnership for Zero strategy. This strategy, which is still getting underway, aims to provide intensive case management by dozens of “system advocates” who will fan out across downtown and attempt to place everyone living in the area into appropriate shelter or housing, leaving downtown effectively encampment-free.

I don’t think that going through the city and just saying ‘No tents on sidewalks’ is feasible or advisable…  and saying to folks, ‘You have two hours to move all your stuff’ is not reasonable.”—King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones

“This seems like something that would be more successful if implemented completely after [the Partnership for Zero] drawdown phase is complete. Because then it’s about keeping sidewalks and right of ways clear,” Dones commented. The two-hour rule, Dones added, “feels difficult to enforce. How will people be made aware of the shifting rules? I would also extend the initial timeline so that when it’s announced people have X amount of time but then in the future they have Y amount of time.”

Reflecting on their comments on the memo last week, Dones said, “I don’t think that going through the city and just saying ‘No tents on sidewalks’ is feasible or advisable…  and saying to folks, ‘You have two hours to move all your stuff’ is not reasonable.” 

“Some of this sounds like what would make sense for implementation after [the “drawdown” phase of Partnership for Zero], as we’re talking about maintaining functional zero,” Dones added. “Then we could have that conversation about how we want to maintain spaces where people are not encamped, but the reason they’re not encamped is because we’re actively [housing or sheltering] them in real time.”

Housen, from the mayor’s office, said the city “stands in partnership with the KCRHA, King County, and We Are In in our support of Partnership for Zero. We look forward to the ramp up of that project and opportunities to work in alignment and coordination with the RHA towards the goal of the project.”

Asked how maintaining a visible police presence during encampment removals represented a “harm reduction approach,” Housen reiterated the city’s position that “activists and protestors” pose a threat to workers during sweeps and that police—who only began are necessary to “ensure that all people onsite, including City workers and encampment residents, are safe.”

Prioritizing for Sweeps

In addition to obstructions on sidewalks—the basis of the early “sidewalk strategy”—the mayor’s office established criteria for deciding which encampments to remove. During a recent press event, both Housen and Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington declined to describe any of the criteria in detail, but emphasized that they were “objective”— in other words, “you don’t get a higher rank because 20 people called” to complain, Washington said.

An internal presentation on the prioritization system, distributed in April, but bearing the official date June 21, 2022, says the Unified Care Team prioritizes shootings, fires, and major obstructions, followed by issues like trash; proximity to parks and places where children or elderly people congregate; and places where tents pose a visual obstruction to drivers.

According to Housen, the “scoring system” in the presentation represents “the building blocks for encampment prioritization. The system is currently being tested and frequently refined as we learn more, to ensure the right information is driving decisions.”

Image from city presentation on encampment prioritization, showing an example of a high-ranked encampment at Sixth and Cherry.
Image from city presentation on encampment prioritization, showing an example of a high-ranked encampment at Sixth and Cherry.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority is preparing to release its own set of criteria for prioritizing encampments for outreach and offers of shelter or housing next week, which will differ somewhat from the city’s criteria. “We talk about encampment resolution, not removal, and resolution for us is everybody actually came inside,” Dones said. “We are not in favor of a displacement-based strategy, and we will engage over whatever period of time is necessary to get everybody into a real placement—not a referral, a placement.”

Overall, though, Dones said the Harrell administration’s prioritization scheme is about “85 percent consistent with how the authority is going to view prioritization,” including the emphasis on violence at encampments. “We agree with that prioritization,” Dones said, and “in our work, we have a corresponding section that looks at violence—things like physical assault, potentially nonphysical assault, verbal abuse, etc. between campers, ranging between simple assaults all way up to shots fired, and ranks those things with different weights.” Continue reading “New Details Emerge About Harrell Administration’s Encampment Removal Plans”

Social Housing Initiative Pushes Forward, Fact-Checking Harrell on Homelessness

1. The campaign for Initiative 135, which would create a new public development authority to build publicly owned “social housing,” announced on Wednesday that it had just turned in 29,000 signatures to qualify their citywide initiative for the November 2022 ballot.

The House Our Neighbors campaign, led by the advocacy group Real Change, used paid signature gatherers to give their effort a boost in its final weeks, but the final count leaves little room for chance: To get on the ballot, a measure must be backed by signatures representing 10 percent of the voters in the last mayoral election, or about 26,500 names. Because many signatures are typically invalid, campaigns often try to collect as many signatures as possible; House Our Neighbors had hoped to collect around 35,000 names.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Real Change policy director Tiffany McCoy said the campaign combed over its signatures to eliminate as many as possible with non-Seattle addresses or information that was otherwise unclear. “If for some reason we come up five [signatures] short or 100, we do have a 20-day window to gather those requisite signatures and turn those in get on the ballot,” McCoy said. “Even if we don’t succeed this time, we will succeed in the future,” McCoy added. “This is happening one way or another.”

2. During a question-and-answer session sponsored by the business-backed homelessness nonprofit We Are In Tuesday evening, Mayor Bruce Harrell stuck to talking points about “treatment,” “data,” and “compassion” in response to questions about his administration’s progress on homelessness. Instead of covering all his responses to We Are In director Felicia Salcedo’s friendly questions, we thought it would be useful to provide a short fact check on a few of the mayor’s key talking points from Tuesday’s event.

“Housing and Treatment”

As he has at many press events involving homelessness, Harrell said the city’s response to homelessness would focus on ensuring people get the “treatment” they need. Responding to a question about the increase in encampment removals, Harrell said, “I lead with housing and I lead with treatment.”

In fact, even in the handful of cases where the city has done months of focused outreach before sweeping an area, sweeps almost never lead directly to housing or treatment. Instead, the city’s HOPE Team provides referrals to available shelter beds, which include everything from congregate “enhanced” shelter to tiny house villages. (Less than half of shelter referrals, generally speaking, result in someone actually showing up and staying at a shelter for at least one night). The city of Seattle provides very limited funding for programs that can lead to treatment, such as community court, with the overwhelming majority of local treatment dollars coming out of the King County budget.

“An unprecedented level of transparency” 

Earlier this month, Harrell rolled out what he described as an unprecedented public dashboard containing information about where people are living unsheltered, what kind of shelter or housing the city is offering people prior to encampment removals, and new shelter and housing units that are opening up.

Asked about the dashboard, Harrell said that it includes not just “a heat map” of “where people are living [and] where we’re offering people shelter” but a detailed breakdown of what the city is spending on homelessness and information to help the public “as we track our police and fire responses” to encampments.

In reality, the website Harrell announced shows only very high-level and partial information about the state of homelessness in Seattle. For example, the information on emergency responses consists of three high-level, citywide numbers representing information available through April, and the “heat map” includes an obviously incomplete count of tents and RVs by neighborhood; as an example, the map says there are no tents or RVs in the entire University District, and just one in Beacon Hill and South Beacon Hill combined. The information is also incomplete (many former encampments the map highlights include the note “outreach data not available”) and out of date; the most recent update came from information available in mid-May, and the website does not allow viewers to download any data themselves.

Information about what the city spends on homelessness, meanwhile, is misleading; a pie chart and several slides meant to illustrate the city’s contribution to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s budget includes tens of millions of dollars in federal emergency funds that do not come directly from the city, which contributed just under $70 million—not $118 million—to the authority last year.

Suburban Cities

Asked about the role suburban areas can or should be playing in addressing homelessness, Harrell said he would continue helping people who are “not from Seattle” but are moving here because the areas where they live are less “compassionate” toward people experiencing homelessness. Continue reading “Social Housing Initiative Pushes Forward, Fact-Checking Harrell on Homelessness”

Despite Concerns, Homelessness Authority Approves Budget that Funders “Have No Realistic Ability to Pay For”

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

By Erica C. Barnett

On Friday, after a half-hour of discussion, the governing board of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority voted unanimously to move forward with a 2023 agency budget that would require Seattle and King County to come up with $209 million next year to fund the authority—$90 million more than its current “base” budget of $119 million.

Seattle, which provides about 60 percent of the authority’s direct local funding, just received a six-year budget forecast that includes cascading budget shortfalls after next year, including projected operating deficits of $146 million in 2024 and 2025. Seattle’s budget planners are currently discussing ways to reduce such shortfalls in the future, through better long-term financial planning, reducing the number of times departments can change their adopted budgets throughout the year, and making the budgeting process more transparent.

Seattle and the county are the only local funding sources for the regional authority, which also receives some federal funds, including short-term COVID dollars the authority is using to fund some ongoing programs. The Sound Cities Association, representing nearly 40 suburban cities, has voting representatives on the authority’s implementation and governing boards but does not contribute financially to the authority. The city and county agreed to this financial and power imbalance in 2019, when they signed off on a heavily amended agreement that also barred the authority itself from ever raising revenue or issuing debt to pay for homelessness programs.

My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans.”—Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis, who sit on the governing board, tried to pass an amendment to the budget clarifying that the proposal was unrealistic without additional funding and “that without such additional funding, the parties to KCRHA’s interlocal agreement will need to make adjustments to reduce” the proposal. The amendment, sponsored by Lewis, also asked the authority to list new spending requests in order of priority “when expenditures are anticipated to exceed current resources” in the future.

After representatives from suburban cities pushed back on the budget amendment—including Redmond Mayor Angela Birney, who said statements about funding required a “broader conversation—Lewis downgraded it to a nonbinding resolution, which passed. But Lewis said that in the future, the authority needs to stop sending the city and county budgets that it knows are unaffordable.

“My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans,” Lewis said. “If we’re going to pass a budget we know we have no realistic ability to pay for, it puts the city in the position where we draw regional criticism and criticism from the media for not fully funding requests that we were never in a realistic position to be able to do on our own.”

The KCRHA’s budget request includes funding for safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles; a wage supplement for nonprofit homeless service providers; a new “high-acuity shelter” serving up to 55 people with significant behavioral and physical health needs; and “emergency housing,” a kind of intermediate housing between shelter and permanent housing, for up to 345 people.

Mayor Bruce Harrell promised to “identify” 1,000 new shelter or housing beds in the first six months of his term, plus an additional 1,000 beds by the end of the year. On Tuesday, he plans to make an announcement about progress toward that goal, which could include housing and shelter that was already in progress before he took office. Harrell will also unveil a new “dashboard” that could include the location of encampments in Seattle—an idea that many homeless advocates oppose, because they worry it will open unsheltered people up to additional harassment.

Homelessness Authority Board Signs Off On Request to Double Agency’s Budget; Fire Chief Responds to Letter Demanding Action on Hate Crimes

KCRHA KCRHA budget presentation graphic reading "Basis for 2023 Incremental Budget Requests"
Graphic from KCRHA budget presentation

1. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s implementation board, which has the power to amend and approve or reject the agency’s budgets, unanimously signed off on a budget proposal that would nearly double the size of the agency on Tuesday.

The additional $90 million, which would come from a combination of the Seattle and King County budgets, would pay for 400 new shelter and emergency  housing beds, raises for social service workers, day centers, and safe spots for people living in vehicles, among other new expenditures. Most of the new beds (345) would be emergency housing, which a presentation by the authority described as “a dignified place for people to wait for permanent housing.”

The unanimous vote means that after the budget is approved by the agency’s governing board—a group made up mostly of elected officials that is charged with approving the implementation board’s decision—it will be up to city and county elected officials to decide whether to fully fund the request or eliminate some items, as the city did last year.

“This isn’t necessarily what we should expect to see come back to us,” KCRHA CEO Marc Dones told the board on Tuesday. “This budget will be taken up and looked at in relationship to all of the funding priorities that the city and county have.”

For the first time on Tuesday, Dones offered a three-tiered prioritization of the agency’s new funding requests, which could guide city and county officials when they’re deciding what to fund. At the top: Safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles ($5 million); an increase in nonprofit homeless service providers’ pay ($15.4 million); and a $1.5 million grant fund for organizations focused on “centering [the] lived experience” of people who have experienced homelessness firsthand.

In the second tier: $750,000 to expand severe-weather shelters; $7.2 million to hire more agency staff; and $20 million for a new “high-acuity shelter” serving up to 55 people with significant behavioral and physical health needs. These new shelter beds would be in addition to the 40-bed high-needs shelter King County is funding separately as part of its ever-expanding shelter complex in SoDo.

For the first time, Dones offered a three-tiered prioritization of the agency’s new funding requests. At the top: Safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles ($5 million); an increase in nonprofit homeless service providers’ pay ($15.4 million); and a $1.5 million grant fund for organizations focused on “centering [the] lived experience” of people who have experienced homelessness firsthand.

The rest of the budget adds, including $20 million for emergency housing, $15 million for daytime gathering spaces, and funding to assist smaller and BIPOC-led providers, are now in tier 3. The city and county will both get their own crack at the budget this fall; last year, the city council made significant cuts to the agency’s proposal, declining to fully fund the high-acuity shelter and asking Dones to come back with details about a “peer navigator” program that the agency subsequently launched using one-time private donations.

Dones has been a vocal advocate for “emergency housing”—a type of bridge housing between shelter and permanent housing that could include single-family houses, converted hotels, or —and a slide deck they presented at Tuesday’s meeting suggested that this housing type has an off-the-charts 95 percent rate of exits to permanent housing and 5 percent rate of return to homelessness, meaning that almost everyone who enters emergency housing is permanently housed and does not become homeless again. We have asked the KCRHA how it came up with these numbers and will update this post when we hear back.

2. Last week, Seattle Fire Department chief Harold Scoggins responded to a letter from members of the the city’s race and social justice network demanding action on hate crimes and racism inside the fire department after two incidents in which firefighters found nooses hanging in their stations. The initial letter asked Scoggins for regular updates on the investigation into the incidents; a restorative justice process for fire department staff; and the immediate termination of the people responsible for placing the nooses in the two fire stations, among other demands.

In his letter, Scoggins laid out a list of actions the department has taken over the past few years to train and educate staff about racial bias, including sessions on implicit bias, cultural competency, and microaggressions, but did not commit to any of the specific actions the RSJ teams demanded in their initial letter to the department.

“We are committed to pursuing the appropriate level of discipline depending on the outcome of an investigation,” Scoggins wrote, adding that the department had closed its investigation into the first noose incident, at Fire Station 17 in the University District because they “could not identify the responsible party.” The investigation into the more recent incident, at Fire Station 24 in North Seattle, is still ongoing, Scoggins wrote.

Homelessness Authority Asks to Double Its Budget; Money Would Fund 400 New Beds, Safe Parking, Worker Raises, and Day Centers

By Erica C. Barnett

Next week, the governing board for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority will vote on a proposed budget that would nearly double the amount of money the authority is requesting from Seattle and King County, which fund the authority.

Overall, the proposed $209 “base budget,” not counting $12 million in one-time COVID relief funds, would require the county and city, collectively, to contribute an additional $90 million to the regional authority, on top of this year’s total contribution of $119 million. The majority of the KCRHA’s existing funding—about $70 million—comes from the city through its annual budget process; the rest comes from the county.

Nearly 40 suburban cities, organized as the Sound Cities Association, receive services funded through the KCRHA and have seats on its governing board, but do not contribute any funding to the authority.

The KCRHA has not presented a detailed breakdown of its budget requests to each of its two funders yet, but if the money was divided up along similar lines as this year’s contributions, it would amount to about $54 million in additional funding from the city, for a total of more than $122 million.

At a recent meeting of the authority’s implementation board, agency CEO Marc Dones said, “I agree that this is a hefty ask,” but added that even doubling the authority’s budget won’t fundamentally transform the homelessness system, given the scale of the need in King County. “We went into this saying, and maintain, this is not the transformational budget for us,” Dones said.

PubliCola asked the spokespeople for Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine, as well as city council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, county council budget chair Joe McDermott, and city council homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis, how realistic they considered the KCRHA’s request, given the likelihood of significant budget gaps this year. The city, for example, currently estimates next year’s budget shortfall at around $34 million, and has asked departments to come up with potential cuts of 3 to 6 percent.

The budget proposal includes tens of millions for new shelter and “safe space” programs, including $20 million to add 55 new “high-acuity” shelter beds for people with acute medical needs; $20 million to purchase single family homes, hotels, single-room occupancy apartments, or other buildings that would serve as bridges between shelter and permanent housing; and $5 million for six or seven safe parking sites that could serve a total of 130 vehicles at a time.

Harrell’s spokesman said the mayor’s office “is still in the early stages of evaluating this preliminary budget proposal. We look forward to working with the KCRHA and CEO Dones, as well as our partners at King County, to help develop a budget through a collaborative and iterative process. We will at the same time be considering our own budget needs, addressing a significant financial gap, and working to determine what investments will most effectively address the homelessness crisis.”

A spokesman for Constantine said the county executive’s office is “reviewing the draft budget and are in communication with KCRHA and our partners at the City of Seattle to discuss needs and realistic budget expectations, as well as potential opportunities for funding.”

Mosqueda said she had not seen the budget proposal yet, “but with Seattle currently funding 68 percent of the budget, it underscores that regional funders are necessary.”

McDermott did not respond to our request for comment.

Lewis, the council’s homelessness committee chair, said the size of the request demonstrates the scope of the need. “I don’t think, in and of itself, that the total number is an unreasonable amount of money to be asking for some of the stuff that they want to do,” he said. “But we’re already paying 70 percent of [the agency’s budget], and Seattle taxpayers are actually paying more, because we pay into the county’s contribution too.”

On Thursday, Dones told PubliCola that even if the authority factored in all the money suburban cities are spending on homelessness, there would still be a “substantial” need for more funding. Under its charter, the authority has no ability to raise taxes or require suburban cities to help fund it: “The limit of what we can do is, this is what is necessary. This is the price tag,” Dones said. The governing board, made up largely of elected officials, could, however, advocate for a new local or county tax to fund homelessness. “They can’t effectuate it, but they are the ones politically situated to call that question and to be the appropriate envoys of the discussion.”

The budget proposal includes tens of millions of dollars for new shelter and “safe space” programs, including $20 million to add 55 new “high-acuity” shelter beds for people with acute medical needs; $20 million to purchase single family homes, hotels, single-room occupancy apartments, or other buildings that would serve as bridges between shelter and permanent housing for 345 people; and $5 million for six or seven safe parking sites that could serve up to 130 vehicles at a time.

Last year, the city council declined to fund the KCRHA’s request for the high-acuity shelter, citing a revenue shortfall and concerns that the authority had not coordinated their request with the city. Subsequently, King County expanded its shelter complex in the SoDo neighborhood, built with federal COVID relief funds, to include shelter for people with physical and behavioral health care needs. A  spokeswoman for the KCRHA said the $20 million would be for “new capacity, locations [to be determined].”

The 400 proposed new shelter and emergency housing beds represent just 20 percent of the 2,000 new shelter or housing beds Harrell vowed to add this year in the city of Seattle alone. Harrell’s office did not respond directly to a question about this discrepancy between the KCRHA’s proposal and his campaign promise.

Dones has advocated for emergency or “bridge” housing, which they recently described as “non-time limited housing-style options for people” moving from homelessness into permanent housing. The city began moving away from traditional transitional housing in the last decade, after a 2016 report by consultant Barb Poppe called the model “extraordinarily expensive” and the average time people stayed in transitional housing units “shockingly long.”

The agency’s analysis, in contrast, concluded that transitional housing had the lowest “cost per exit” of any shelter or emergency housing type KCRHA funds, and that tiny house villages—a type of shelter Dones has frequently criticized in the past—are the most expensive and have the longest average stay of any shelter type, with a 45 percent rate of exits to permanent housing.

The proposed budget increase would fund raises for nonprofit social service workers, who often make just a few dollars above Seattle’s minimum wage ($15.4 million); more emergency shelter beds for severe weather events ($750,000); up to 12 new day centers for people experiencing homelessness ($15 million); and more staff at the authority itself ($7.2 million).

It’s unclear how the authority derived the “cost per exit” metric, which differs from more frequently uses measures such as average cost per client per year. (Asked for more details about the math the agency used and for the data underlying the numbers, the KCRHA spokeswoman said the number came from “Performance data from HMIS, funding data from our contracts database” and did not provide the data itself.)

The Low-Income Housing Institute, which operates tiny house villages throughout King County, disputes the authority’s metrics, saying their own analysis shows about 50 percent of tiny house residents exit to permanent housing, and that the cost of sheltering one person in a tiny house for one year comes out to just over $9,000. Continue reading “Homelessness Authority Asks to Double Its Budget; Money Would Fund 400 New Beds, Safe Parking, Worker Raises, and Day Centers”