Tag: Unified Care Team

After Planned Encampment Removals, Just 15 Percent Go to Shelter—and That’s the Best-Case Scenario

Slide from the city’s presentation on pre-announced encampment removals, which don’t include no-notice “obstruction” sweeps

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, which removes encampments and informs their displaced residents about available shelter beds, made 1,352 offers of shelter during scheduled removals during the second quarter of this year, the Human Services Department reported this week. The number of shelter offers is greater than the number of individuals who received information about an open bed, because the number represents people who were told about shelter more than once.

Within that number, the UCT provided 554 “referrals,” in which a person said they would go to shelter. Finally, of that subset, there were 206 shelter enrollments, meaning that in 206 instances, a person with a referral actually showed up at a shelter and stayed there for at least one night. That number, which also includes duplicates, suggests that only around 15 percent of people who got a shelter “offer” actually took it; however, the true percentage of people getting into shelter after planned sweeps is probably much lower, because people tend to relocate once the city puts up signs announcing an impending encampment closure.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services.

An HSD staffer, strategic advisor Chris Klaeysen, presented the numbers to the council’s homelessness committee on Wednesday. Klaeysen demurred on a number of key questions, referring council members to Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, who wasn’t there.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda asked Klaeysen why his presentation focused so much on the fact that the UCT offers shelter to everyone remaining at an encampment, which is something they are required to do. “Just saying that 100 percent received offers of shelter when 15 … percent confirmed they went into it—I don’t see how that conforms with our requirement that they receive an offer of shelter that works for their individual needs,” Mosqueda said.

People “refuse” shelter, to use the city’s term, for many reasons, including restrictive shelter rules, concerns about theft, and the fact that most shelters are single-gender and require people to relinquish pets and leave their partners behind. Klaeysen said UCT members have started asking people why they decline shelter, but his presentation only included the top three reasons: People wanted to wait for a tiny house; didn’t “want shelter”; or didn’t want to be separated from their partner, family member, or friends.

Another issue, committee chair Andrew Lewis noted Wednesday, is that the numbers the Harrell Administration presented Thursday represent just a fraction of the total number of people displaced from encampments daily around the city—a number that also includes sweeps the city routinely conducts with no notice or offer of shelter or services. “I don’t have any baseline to compare [these numbers] to,” Lewis said.

Historically, the city has justified no-notice sweeps by saying that a person, tent, or other property constitutes an “obstruction” if it occupies public space. Last month, a King County Superior Court ruled that the city’s definition of obstruction is unconstitutionally broad, and that the city may be violating a ruling, Martin v. Boise, that prohibits cities from displacing people when they have nowhere to go. The city has said it plans to challenge that ruling.

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”

Harrell Budget Would Permanently Expand Encampment Cleanup and Removal Team

Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington and Mayor Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Previewing a budget proposal the council will discuss Friday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell said on Thursday that unless the city council renews and expands funding for encampment removal and response, the “significant decrease in tents in parks and on sidewalks” since he took office might go away.

“If that funding is not renewed … this level of service that we’re demonstrating will lapse. The progress we’re making in the city, building our ‘One Seattle,’ will lapse,” Harrell said.

Harrell has proposed spending just over $38 million on the Unified Care Team and the Clean City Initiative, two initiatives that encompass a wide variety of spending and staff across several city departments, including Parks, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities. The two programs include all of the city’s spending related to encampment removals, outreach, and trash pickup, including the city’s “purple bag” encampment trash abatement program.

A majority of that money, about $23 million, would continue existing programs. The rest would be new funding—$10 million to replace temporary federal dollars added during COVID, and $5 million in brand-new programming. 

According to council presentation, the new funding “could significantly increase the Unified Care Team’s capacity to conduct encampment removals” across the city.

Overall, Harrell’s budget would 61 new permanent positions to the city’s encampment removal, outreach, and cleanup efforts. Among other new positions, the money would pay for two new customer service representatives to respond to encampment complaints, six new “system navigators” to do outreach and make offers of shelter in advance of encampment removals, and 48 new permanent positions in SDOT and the parks department to coordinate and conduct encampment removals.

In addition to making a number of positions funded with one-time federal emergency dollars permanent, Harrell has proposed changing the way UCT staff are deployed. Instead of working as a citywide team, staffers would be assigned to one of six geographic areas, a change Harrell said would enable encampment response workers to become more familiar with the communities and organizations where they work.

Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington said that since Harrell took office, the city has eliminated a backlog of “1,500 complaints related to unauthorized encampments” and continues to develop more tools to respond to and resolve encampment complaints.

“What that means,” Washington said, “is that… we send someone from the Unified Care Team to do an inspection and then we resolve the issue if we can. ‘Resolve’ could be RV remediation. It could be hauling away a burnt RV that had been sitting there for weeks. It could mean making a referral to shelter and then resolving the site. And so when we say we cleared [a request], it means that for all of those [1,500] requests, someone went to the site to do an inspection, put the data in the database, and then we either addressed it, or it self-resolved.”

Harrell’s proposal would also eliminate funding for street sinks that would have provided unsheltered people places to wash their hands, and would reduce spending on public “hygiene stations” (temporary restrooms) and mobile shower trailers for people experiencing homelessness, saving a total of $1.3 million.

The request for millions in additional funding for encampment cleanups comes at a time when the city is trying to close a $141 million shortfall that is projected to grow larger every year until at least 2025. According to an issue-identification presentation prepared for the city council’s budget committee, which will discuss Harrell’s proposal tomorrow morning, the new funding “could significantly increase [the UCT’s] capacity to conduct encampment removals” across the city.  A memo accompanying that presentation adds that, legally speaking, there’s no guarantee that the new funding won’t be used to “accelerate encampment removals.”

Harrell’s proposal would also eliminate funding for street sinks that would have provided unsheltered people places to wash their hands, and would reduce spending on public “hygiene stations” (temporary restrooms) and mobile shower trailers for people experiencing homelessness, saving a total of $1.3 million.

Harrell’s predecessor, Jenny Durkan, repeatedly refused to fund or implement the street-sink program, which could have helped prevent repeated outbreaks of diseases like shigella and hepatitis A among Seattle’s homeless population.

“We have to simultaneously improve service response to rapidly house people living in shelter, and coordinate strategies to ensure public spaces are open, safe, and can be used for their intended purpose,” Washington said. As we’ve reported, there are far more people living unsheltered in Seattle than there are available shelter beds, which means it is not even theoretically possible to shelter everyone who is living outdoors.

On Wednesday in downtown Seattle, officials formally announced an effort we reported on last month to create a unified “command center” to connect people living unsheltered downtown to housing and shelter.

On a practical level, what this means is that when the city sweeps an encampment, most of the people living there do not end up in shelter, but simply “self-resolve” by moving to another location. Outreach workers, including those employed by the city, may have only one or two shelter beds to offer to the people who remain on site, which may or may not be appropriate for the people who happen to remain in that encampment. Even when people do “accept” an offer of shelter, half or more don’t end up enrolling for even one night, a damning indictment of the shelter referral system the city uses in the overwhelming majority of encampment “resolutions.”

During his presentation Thursday, Harrell name-checked the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which will receive around $90 million from the city next year—a $10 million bump. On Wednesday, Harrell, KCRHA director Marc Dones, and representatives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office officially announced an effort we reported on last month to create a unified “command center” to connect people living unsheltered downtown to housing and shelter.

The center—technically a conference room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center downtown—is part of a public-private effort to reduce the number of unsheltered people downtown to “functional zero” by next year. The goal, KCRHA and HUD officials said, is to break down the “silos” that keep various parts of the homelessness system from working well with each other; for example, cities often require people to go through the shelter system before they “graduate” to housing, an extra step that can act as a barrier for people stuck in the homelessness system.

So far, according to data KCRHA provided this week, the agency’s outreach staff have connected with 665 people living unsheltered downtown and identified about 300 units of existing housing for them; the goal, Dones said Wednesday, is to offer people at least three housing options to choose from, instead of the typical one, and to reduce the barriers to housing faced by people who are homeless or poor.

“What we have built into our housing system for folks experiencing homelessness is this incredibly aggressive set of mechanisms that are all based on the idea that people who are poor are out to commit fraud at every turn,” Dones said. “This morning, we were talking about,  how do we not need any of the things [like ID cards and income checks] that we’re used to needing? And if we just had this piece of paper, with someone’s housing preferences on it, how can we have them housed in 12 hours?”

That concept, however, remains speculative; so far, the effort has not moved anyone into housing, and there is no funding for additional housing or shelter attached to the project.

Harrell’s Parks Plan Would Nearly Double Levy to Fund Restrooms, Park Rangers, Maintenance, and More

By Erica C. Barnett

Standing next to a busy playground at Rainier Playfield in Columbia City on Wednesday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a new “phase two” plan for the Seattle Parks District that will nearly double the amount homeowners and renters pay to fund parks and community centers across Seattle.

Voters authorized the city council to pass a property tax levy of up to 75 cents per thousand dollars of home valuation in 2014; Harrell’s proposal would nearly double that amount to 38 cents per thousand dollars, for an average annual cost of just over $360. That’s more than twice the current average cost of $155 because homeowners’ property values keep going up.

The levy has to be approved by the parks district board, which is made up of the entire city council.

Peppering his comments with anecdotes about playing and coaching baseball in the field behind him, Harrell stressed the public safety aspects of his plan, which includes $3.6 million to expand city’s Park Ranger program, a largely moribund anti-crime effort that started downtown in 2008, from two rangers to 28. The plan, which would raise $115 million a year, would also fund winterization to allow more parks restrooms to stay open all year ($580,000); add five new staffers to respond to graffiti and vandalism ($600,000); add staff on nights and weekends to increase parks maintenance (“especially of restrooms,” according to a fact sheet on the plan); and open 10 more acres of parks while doing major maintenance at several community centers.

Harrell focused on the need to keep parks “open and accessible to the public for their intended use,” rather than “closed or impacted by unauthorized encampments,” and praised the Unified Care Team, which includes the Parks and Recreation workers who remove encampments from parks, for their work. “We don’t sweep. We treat and we house,” Harrell said.

As we’ve noted before, this statement is inaccurate on several levels: When the city removes encampments, it almost never refers people directly to housing, and of the people who accept referrals to temporary shelter (instead of simply moving along), fewer than half ever show up to shelter for a single night. The city also doesn’t directly provide or fund drug or mental health treatment.

Still, an increase in restroom hours and better restroom maintenance will inevitably help homeless parks users as well as those who are housed.  The city closed many public restrooms in parks and community centers during the pandemic, and many remained closed after 2020, forcing people who live in public to relieve themselves in public and contributing to outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases like shigella because closed restrooms mean people can’t wash their hands. Former mayor Jenny Durkan subsequently failed to approve and open fully funded “street sinks,” raising endless objections about placement, vegetation, water supply, and graywater disposal—and leaving unsheltered people (and everybody else) with few options to clean their hands.

The parks board will meet and take public comment on Harrell’s proposal next Wednesday.