Tag: LEAD

Ending the Navigation Team Isn’t As Easy As Just Cutting their Budget

By Erica C. Barnett

Tomorrow, the Seattle city council will take its most definitive action yet to eliminate the Navigation Team—a group of police, litter removal workers, and outreach staff that removes encampments from public places—by voting on a mid-year package of budget cuts that eliminates funding for the program. But the ultimate fate of the team will lie with Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, who have the final say over departmental spending.

The two votes attempt to cut the team, which costs the city around $8.4 million a year, using two different types of budget actions. The first vote would prohibit SPD from spending money allocating 14 of its officers to the Navigation Team, using a spending restriction called a proviso to remove police from the team. The second would cut funding for the rest of the team, which includes staffers from the Human Services and Parks departments, and direct the mayor to reallocate that funding to contractors that do outreach and engagement to people experiencing homelessness, such as the nonprofit group REACH. REACH was originally part of the Navigation Team, but stopped participating alongside police as the team shifted its emphasis to encampment removals.

“The Navigation Team exists for the purpose of forcing people to move without giving them somewhere better to go,” Alison Eisinger, the longtime director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said after last week’s vote.Shelters and tiny house villages were routinely full before the pandemic, when the team performed multiple sweeps every week, and since then, the city has added fewer than 100 new shelter beds.

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“The number one thing that determines whether or not somebody who is homeless and without shelter gets off the streets is whether or not there is an accessible, appropriate, available better alternative—and the person who can connect them to that alternative is a person who has some kind of trust relationship with them,” Eisinger said.

Although the team was originally envisioned as collaboration between police and human service providers that would combine the stick of enforcement with the carrot of shelter and services—the “navigation” part of the equation—its role shifted under Mayor Jenny Durkan, and in recent years it has focused primarily on removing “obstruction” encampments from parks and other public spaces, a type of action that does not require any prior notice or offer of services or a better place to go.

Durkan has resisted every effort to cut the Navigation Team, which has nearly doubled in size since it was created in 2017. In 2018, Durkan even characterized a move by the council efforts to merely slow down the expansion of the team as a devastating “cut.”

Given that history, council members and advocates are worried that Durkan will simply ignore their budget directives. Although the budget proviso says SPD can’t spend the money it had allocated this year for the Navigation Team, it acknowledges that any effort to lay off the officers on the team will create labor issues—a problem Paul wrote about in detail on Friday.

“This action will dramatically restrict the City’s ability to address unauthorized encampments on City property and will significantly impact the City’s ability to ensure that Seattle is safe, healthy, clean, and accessible for all residents, both unhoused and housed.”—Human Services Director Jason Johnson

Additionally, the chief could ignore the council’s directive to reassign the 14 officers and look for savings elsewhere in the department, or move the officers off the Navigation Team without actually cutting the size of the police force. Hammering out those issues could delay any cuts to the sworn portion of the team.

A bigger barrier for those hoping to eliminate the Navigation Team is that unless the council uses a proviso to explicitly restrict spending, city law does not require the mayor to obey the council’s budget directives. Historically, this hasn’t been a problem, because the council and mayor have had an understanding that, with some exceptions, the mayor will spend the budget in the manner the council directs. But Durkan has repeatedly ignored the council’s directions when she has disagreed with them, leaving open the possibility that she will do so with the Navigation Team as well.

For example, Durkan recently used $1.4 million intended for non-congregate shelter on rental assistance; failed to spend money the council allocated for mobile showers; and has refused to approve an expansion of the LEAD program that could have temporarily housed dozens of people and provided them with case management and a path out of the criminal justice system. The open warfare between the mayor and council could well lead to a situation where the council issues a forceful directive to defund the Navigation Team—and the mayor shrugs.

“There’s no reason to believe that the city will not pick up garbage without having the Navigation Team in existence. It did it before and it can do it again.”—City Council member Tammy Morales

REACH director Chloe Gale, who testified before last week’s vote that the Navigation Team “conduct[s] expedient, politically motivated transactions that result in continuous displacement and trauma,” says Durkan “has a lot of opportunities to not implement this, and she also can set things up to fail by not having responses where you need to have responses in the community.”

In a scathing letter to the council last week, HSD director Jason Johnson suggested that without the Navigation Team—specifically, the four “field coordinators” from HSD and Parks— the city would be unable to respond to the more than 16,000 calls for service it receives about encampments each year.

“This action will dramatically restrict the City’s ability to address unauthorized encampments on City property and will significantly impact the City’s ability to ensure that Seattle is safe, healthy, clean, and accessible for all residents, both unhoused and housed,” Johnson wrote. “The Council’s actions effectively returns the City’s response to unsheltered homelessness to a pre-2017 model where service providers alone were the City’s response to encampments. This model was a failure, demonstrated by the proliferation of large, unsafe and unhealthy encampments that spread across Seattle.”

Council member Tammy Morales, who sponsored the amendment to defund the Navigation Team, countered last week that the council has heard from outreach workers that litter pickup and removing tents that are blocking entire sidewalks “is really important, but they would like someone else to be doing it so they can focus on outreach and engagement.” Eisinger adds: “There’s no reason to believe that the city will not pick up garbage without having the Navigation Team in existence. It did it before and it can do it again.”

Eliminating the Navigation Team would not prevent the police from removing encampments without prior notice—a fact Gale says still needs to be addressed, whatever happens to the official team. Police are still authorized to remove encampments that constitute “obstructions” with little or no notice, and will retain the ability to do so even if the Navigation Team goes away. Police were taught to “define an obstruction or hazard [as] all right-of-way and every piece of park property,” Gale says—a definition that has allowed the Navigation Team, as well as regular SPD officers, to remove encampments without any notice or offers of shelter or services.

Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda says Johnson is wrong when he says the council has no plan to respond to encampments without the Navigation Team. “There is a plan, and it’s not just a plan it’s a program that’s already in place,” she says. “We have partners like REACH and LEAD who are already doing this work and are already showing better outcomes at getting folks into housing options and shelter options. It’s a matter of directing funding out of the Navigation Team and into REACH and LEAD and other organizations that have already built trust” with people experiencing homelessness, she says.

Johnson’s letter explicitly calls out REACH, specifically, as a “data-less model” that “cannot produce the same level of data, detail, or examples of success” as the Navigation Team. “This is another example of a budgeting process that is untethered from operational impact, designed to achieve a near-sighted and expedite political outcome— with little regard to City employees or the people the Navigation Team serves.”

Eisinger counters that existing providers could be very effective if they were actually funded sufficiently, empowered, and provided access to shelter and housing options. (Currently, the Navigation Team has exclusive access to many of the enhanced shelter beds that people prefer, including the entire Navigation Center). “I think what’s going on now is a much longer, larger, long-overdue conversation about where to prioritize public dollars,” Eisinger says.Eight point four million dollars a year could go a log way towards increasing quality, culturally appropriate, community-based, non-congregate, accessible shelter and affordable housing.

Morning Crank: A Political Motivation

1. Well, god damn.

I’m reserving judgment on the sex abuse allegations against Mayor Ed Murray until all facts are out, because I don’t know a whole lot more than anybody else who’s reading the Times report and watching the statements that come out of the mayor’s office, but I will say this: the victim-blaming strategy Murray’s team has taken so far isn’t a good look. Moreover, it seems sure to backfire. A person’s criminal history (which was related to both addiction and homelessness) has no bearing on whether an accuser is telling the truth. Likewise, the amount of time that has elapsed between an alleged incident and when the alleged victim reports that incident to authorities has no bearing on its veracity, and suggesting a political motivation or saying “why did he wait so long to come forward?” is inexcusable (and, incidentally, also detracts from Murray’s defense). I would like to think that, in the post-Cosby era, we were beyond requiring accusers to be “perfect victims” and questioning their motives when they come forward, but if the statements made by Murray’s attorney Robert Sulkin in his defense yesterday are any indication, apparently we are not.

It’s unclear how Murray plans to proceed (so far, he has said through his attorney that he will vigorously defend himself against the charges) but if he continues to seek reelection, contributions are bound to dry up and candidates who had been holding back because of Murray’s apparent invincibility won’t hold back any more. If Murray resigns before the end of his term, the city charter mandates that the city council president take his place; currently, that’s Bruce Harrell, who ran for mayor (against Murray and incumbent Mike McGinn). If Harrell declined to serve as mayor, the council would elect a mayor to serve out Murray’s term from among its members.

2. James Toomey, a private security guard who worked for a company hired by Magnolia homeowners to protect their property last year, was already on probation when he pepper-sprayed Andrew Harris, a homeless man who had been sleeping in his car. Toomey was put on probation after being charged with assault for pepper-spraying two teenagers and slamming one of the teens’ head on the ground in Tacoma in 2014. In that case, as in the Harris case, Toomey justified his aggressive actions by saying the teens were “doing drugs.” In the Harris case, Toomey also claimed he was “in complete fear for my life” from the homeless Harris, who was attempting to record Toomey with his cell phone when the security guard hit him with pepper spray. “I was scared for my life. I have four kids and a wife,” Toomey said later by way of explanation.

Turns out that wasn’t the only time Toomey had claimed to be afraid for his life from an unarmed pepper-spraying victim. Earlier this month, Pierce County prosecuting attorney Pedro Chou unsuccessfully attempted to convince a judge to revoke Toomey’s parole in the 2014 head-slamming and pepper-spraying incident by introducing a security video from 2011, as a way of demonstrating a pattern of violent behavior by Toomey that would, along with the incident in which he pepper-sprayed Harris, justify revoking his parole and punishing him for the 2014 assaults. (Toomey has convictions on his record for felony forgery and violating a no-contact order in a case related to domestic violence charges by his ex-wife and required to take anger-management and domestic-violence classes.)

In the video, Toomey can be seen gesticulating and yelling at a woman who is trying to enter the Latitude 84 nightclub in Tacoma. The woman is turned away by Toomey (who later reports that she pulled out her ID “in a very threatening way”), and argues with him briefly before walking away and yelling at him from several yards away. A moment later, the woman begins walking toward Toomey again and is restrained by a bouncer, who pushes her woman against the wall and holds her arms; at that point, Toomey can be seen approaching and pepper spraying the restrained woman in the face several times.

toomey-video

In the police report and in his recorded testimony, Toomey struck a familiar refrain: He was afraid the woman planned to hurt or kill him. In the report, Toomey describes the woman, who is black and considerably smaller than Toomey, as almost superhumanly strong and powerful, claiming that she was trying to “smash through” the bouncer who stood between her and Toomey to get at him. In addition, “she kept on making verbal threats, saying stuff like, ‘I’m going to have my homies do this and do that,'” Toomey said. “You see how powerful she was.”

In his statement to police, Toomey writes, “Thank you so much for filling these charges against them, it is hard enough to run a security company as it is, and it makes are job a little less stressful knowing that these type of people are in jail and have to face charges for their criminal actions!” (The prosecuting attorney’s office never pursued charges against the woman, but they did consider charging Toomey, according to Harris’ attorney, Mike Maxwell).

Toomey remains on probation. (The judge in Pierce County was unconvinced that Toomey had demonstrated a pattern of unjustified attacks, and seemed very disturbed by Harris’ use of profanity during his statement.) Harris, meanwhile, continues to pursue his civil case against Toomey and Central Protection, the company that employed him. Harris, who is seeking about $300,000, remains homeless; he says he is working two jobs and hopes to have an apartment soon.

3. Two interesting items from Wednesday night’s meeting of the North Precinct Advisory Council, where the three North End city council members—Debora Juarez, Rob Johnson, and Mike O’Brien—spoke briefly and took questions, mostly about the delayed North Precinct police station replacement, from a roomful of North Seattle residents and business owners. (O’Brien walked in late after racing up to North Seattle College from the Ballard Library, where his monthly “office hours” with constituents were dominated by a group of Green Lake Community Center and Evans Pool users who wanted his assurance that he wouldn’t support “privatizing” the pool and community center.)

First, O’Brien said he expected that the city would begin taking concrete actions to bring the once-controversial, now-wildly-popular Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a pre-arrest diversion program for low-level offenders that started in Belltown, citywide.

Second, council member Deborah Juarez announced that she would be introducing an amendment to police accountability legislation that would require that seven members of 15-member Community Police Commission be appointed by districts. At the council’s public safety committee meeting Thursday morning, Juarez announced rather abruptly that she had gotten pushback to her idea of district representation by CPC members, who suggested that district appointments “would limit the available pool of applicants to those living in the districts … when there might be an ideal candidate living elsewhere. The translation for me,” Juarez continued, “is that there is an assumption—an unfair assumption and a bias—that there will be no qualified applicants [in each district.] … That’s a false narrative.”

Enrique Gonzalez, a CPC member who was at the previous night’s meeting in North Seattle, countered that the current system doesn’t prohibit the CPC from having members from all across the city, but that there may be times when it makes sense for some communities with acute public safety and police accountability concerns (say, South Seattle) might need more representation on the police-oversight board than other areas with fewer concerns (say, North Seattle).

 

 

 

Council Budget Restores LEAD Funding, Adds Money for Shelters

The city council’s proposed revisions to Mayor Ed Murray’s 2017-2018 budget include the restoration of funding for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program expansion, money for lockers so people can store their belongings at overnight shelters, and longer hours at a daytime shelters so that at least some homeless people who use shelters aren’t forced to wander the streets during the day.

The council considered 104 proposed additions and cuts to Murray’s budget yesterday; together, they would cost the city an extra $16.4 million in 2017 and 3.9 million in 2018.

LEAD funding came into question last week, when council members wanted to know why the mayor’s budget eliminated spending for LEAD expansion into the East Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill. LEAD, a pre-arrest diversion program aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug and prostitution offenders, started in Belltown but has since expanded throughout central Seattle; supporters hope to see it expand to neighborhoods citywide in the next few years. The $150,000 in one-time funding is supposed to be covered by new revenues from a special King County sales tax for mental illness and drug dependency (the MIDD tax); however, as I reported last week, the county has already allocated much of its new LEAD funding for other purposes (like filling a budget shortfall by paying a county prosecutor out of MIDD funds), and plans to expand LEAD in other parts of King County, not the city of Seattle, using those tax dollars. That leaves LEAD potentially underfunded, and will likely put the burden of expanding the program in Seattle on the city, not the county.

Which brings us back to that $150,000. Although the mayor’s office says the funding is guaranteed, the council wants to take no chances, and put the money back in the budget. “I think it’s really, really important that we continue funding this very effective program,” council member Kshama Sawant said yesterday. Council member Mike O’Brien, noting that the council has heard that “the funding from the county wasn’t going to be available in the way we thought,” seconded Sawant’s statement. He added: “I am still interested in discussing how, over the next year or two, we can expand LEAD to cover the whole city. I’m interested  in exploring what those next steps might be over the next few days and see if there’s any budget implications in the near term.”

Residents of Highland Park, in council member Lisa Herbold’s district, and Ballard, in O’Brien’s, have requested LEAD expansion in their neighborhoods.

Other changes in the council’s human services budget include:

• $105,000 for a social worker to staff the Downtown Public Health Center, the likely location for a low-barrier “bupe-first” pilot treatment project for people with opiate use disorder. The idea behind “bupe-first” is to get opiate addicts on buprenorphine (brand name: Suboxone), a drug that suppresses the physical need to use more harmful drugs like heroin; the same site will also offer needle exchange, case management, and followup services.

• A directive to the Human Services Department to come up with cost estimates for implementing the recommendations of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, which include screening students for risk factors for drug abuse, expanding access to buprenorphine, and establishing supervised drug consumption sites.

• About $350,000 a year for the  Lazarus Day Center, which serves people over 50, to expand its hours and daytime services.

• $545,000 to add 4.5 new positions for 2017 to implement the mayor’s “bridging the gap” plan to address homeless encampments, by setting up four new sanctioned encampments, expanding outreach to people living in unsanctioned camps, and improved needle and trash cleanup (including between 11 and 17 new sharps containers for the entire city).

The next scheduled budget committee is Wednesday, November 9, at 9:30am.

Popular Jail Diversion Program Still Underfunded in Latest City, County Budgets

Last Wednesday, in a meeting about the mayor’s proposed budget for the Human Services Department, city council members raised alarms about what looked like a $150,000 cut to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion–a successful pre-arrest diversion program aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug and nuisance crime offenders. LEAD started in Belltown, but has been so successful that it has been extended throughout downtown and the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill; the $150,000 was one-time funding for that expansion. Neighborhoods across the city, from Ballard to far Southwest Seattle, are now clamoring for LEAD expansion into their neighborhoods.

Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget this year included $830,000 for LEAD funding, but did not renew the $150,000 expenditure for the East Precinct. The question council members raised, essentially, was whether that cut would be compensated by new funding from the county’s sales tax for mental health and addiction services, known as the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency II (MIDD II) tax, or whether the reduction would threaten the East Precinct expansion in 2017 and beyond. Previously, LEAD was funded through a combination of various county funding sources, private funds, and city dollars–now, its funding from the county will all come from MIDD sales tax revenues*.

Council member Lisa Herbold, a longtime ally of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD, said last week, “I believe the idea was that the MIDD II would fund that expansion, but apparently that’s not really how it’s working out. What I’m hearing is that moving the $150,000 will impact LEAD’s ability to even do their current work, much less expand to the East Precinct, and I understand there’s also interest in other areas of the city for LEAD expansion,” such as the Highland Park neighborhood in Herbold’s district. Other council members, including Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, and Lorena Gonzalez, piled on. “I’m really uncomfortable with betting on MIDD II funding to keep it going,” Johnson said. “I believe we should be propping up this existing program and expanding.”

The $150,000 reduction received some press coverage characterizing the reduction as a “cut,” which isn’t technically true: The mayor’s office points out that the plan was always to fund the East Precinct expansion of LEAD, and additional expansions in other Seattle neighborhoods, through the MIDD tax, starting in 2017. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s public-safety advisor, says that “the city advocated for the significant MIDD II funding  for LEAD, and as a voting member of the MIDD II oversight body, we are not cutting this program.”

However, that isn’t entirely up to the city: The city may provide 42 percent of MIDD II’s tax base, but the city of Seattle holds just one of 28 positions on MIDD’s oversight board. Other cities in South and East King County are interested in LEAD, and they are also represented on the oversight body.

And LEAD has bigger challenges on its hands than backfilling the $150,000. Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard says that much of the county’s MIDD funding for LEAD–which totals $1.5 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2018–has already been allocated to pay for things that have historically been paid for out of the county’s general fund, including a King County prosecutor, clerical support staff,  and a new staffer in the county’s behavioral health and recovery division. Currently, LEAD’s total budget is about $2.3 million, which would just be covered by the total funding from the city ($830,000) and county ($1.5 million) in 2017. That funding does increase in 2018, but the extra half-million will be needed to fund items LEAD has identified as necessities to continue even existing operations, such as a dedicated city attorney, which could leave little or nothing to pay for expansion to other Seattle neighborhoods.

“By the time you allocate all these essential functions out of MIDD II, there’s very little room for growth,” Daugaard says. “The spirit is willing, but the capacity is not presently there. The city and the central budget office, in good faith, had every expectation that substantial expansion would be funded by MIDD II investments, but then a series of events took place” and the money became spoken for. (This past year, LEAD also lost about $800,000 in funding that had been provided by a private foundation, Daugaard says.)

Tim Burgess, chair of the city council’s budget committee, says it’s still unclear “how much of the MIDD money is going to supplant other county funding sources and how much will truly be new revenue. And we don’t know that, and we won’t know that, until the county makes their final decisions on their budget” in November, around the time when the city council will adopt its own budget. With that uncertainty in mind, Burgess says, many council members are telling him they want to make sure LEAD is fully funded regardless of what the county council decides, by continuing to fund the $150,000.

That’s certainly Herbold’s position. She says that “if we want LEAD to expand in Seattle, we cannot cut the funding intended for expansion. The theory from [the mayor’s office] was that the $150,000 was unnecessary because LEAD would have expansion funding in MIDD II–but that’s not actually how it’s working out.”

Herbold also says she expects that the county will want to spend any “extra” funding available for LEAD on expansion outside Seattle; indeed, the MIDD’s service improvement plan, released earlier this year, calls for gradual expansion “to other communities throughout King County” between 2017 and 2022.

midd

“The expansion that the county is contemplating is explicitly for non-Seattle King County cities,” Herbold says. That means that if the city wants to expand to areas like Highland Park (last year, the members of the Highland Park Action Committee wrote a letter to the mayor requesting LEAD expansion into their neighborhood), it may have to come up with the money itself. Daugaard says the PDA’s original expansion plan for LEAD, which would have extended the program into “all the communities that had expressed willingness to use LEAD,” would cost about $5 million a year.

Daugaard says she thinks the PDA could expand LEAD citywide by the end of 2018, but that would require funding beyond what’s in the current city budget and what the county is likely to allocate to Seattle in its MIDD II budget.

County budget officials did not respond to requests for additional details about MIDD funding.

* As a side note, it’s important to remember that sales tax revenues decline during economic downturns, so we can expect that MIDD revenues will be less robust than they are when the economy goes through its next down cycle.

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