Broadway businesses will pay to keep homeless outreach team in place

Money is running out on a program to provide outreach workers to help with problems around homelessness and addiction on Capitol Hill. A business group is stepping up to foot the bill — for now. (Image: CHS)

Broadway businesses are banding together to keep what they say is a vital service –Outreach workers on the streets of Capitol Hill talking with people suffering a mental health crisis or struggling with homelessness — in place as City Hall funding for the program comes to an end.

But as it finds a new way to pay for the service, the Broadway group may also need to find a new organization to provide the outreach workers.

For the past two years, the Broadway Business Improvement Area has contracted with downtown’s Metropolitan Improvement District to staff a crew of outreach workers who can help handle the day to day crises of homelessness, mental health, and addiction that arise along Broadway. The money to expand the effort from downtown to Capitol Hill came from then-Mayor Ed Murray’s office after some creative budgeting moved existing funding into place to support the outreach workers. The effort followed promises made in the wake of a shooting at Broadway and Pike to bring more services to Pike/Pine to help free up East Precinct officers who found themselves on the front lines of Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

But, by the end of March, the Broadway BIA will now be footing the bill to support the outreach through the end of 2018. 2019? Part of that will likely be decided by how the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to expand the BIA across the entire Hill is working out.

First, however, the BIA must find a way to staff the outreach. “Due to several factors” a representative for the organization said the Metropolitan Improvement District will no longer be able to provide staff for the Capitol Hill area. The search for a new solution is underway.

At its start, the MID program had two outreach workers assigned to Capitol Hill and a third drug abuse and mental health counselor on the way. CHS accompanied the team “on patrol” in the winter of 2016:

The morning’s first contact came around 9 AM in Cal Anderson Park when a 29-year-old named Jayson approached the two homeless outreach workers and a Seattle police officer. Jayson quickly opened up, talking about how he had been living on the streets for a decade while struggling with drugs, alcohol, and mental health issues. He said he was released from the hospital the night before, but could not say why he was admitted.

“If you see someone in non-emergency distress, the Capitol Hill Metropolitan Improvement District Outreach (MID) team operates from 8:30 AM-5:00 PM,” the Broadway BIA promises its member merchants.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has not responded to CHS’s questions about the end of funding for the Capitol Hill component of the outreach and officials from the Broadway BIA said they were not sure why the two years of support had come to an end.

“Our job was to make sure that we take care of our ratepayers and keep the service going for them at this time,” Stacey Krynsky of 1st Security Bank and the Broadway BIA board said. “We have budgeted it through the end of this year, and will keep in close contact to see if this will be approved for following years.”

Earlier this month, the BIA announced the “bridge” funding for the outreach workers and a boost in budget for the summer’s Pride street festival on Broadway as it brought in a new director to manage the organization that is being lined up for a major expansion across the entirety of Capitol Hill.

At the launch of the expansion campaign a year ago, officials said they already had support from about 30% of the property owners to be impacted by the assessments which could run between $2,000 and $5,000 per year for most of the 850 or so properties involved. 60% of all potential members in the existing and newly proposed area must vote to approve any agreement to create new borders under the city’s Office of Economic Development program. Then each BIA agreement must be approved by the Seattle City Council.

If the Capitol Hill expansion effort is going to move forward this year, the 60% package of property owners needs to be wrapped up by mid-summer to be in place in time for the legislative and city budget process required.

The chamber has administered the existing Broadway BIA for 30 years. The assessments for the BIA bring in around $200,000 which provides services such as cleaning and beautification. The expanded organization — planned to be called the Capitol Hill Alliance and replace the existing BIA and the chamber — could bring in an estimated $1.6 million based on property assessments. Roughly 70% of those funds would go toward street cleaning, hot spot patrols, and district-wide social worker outreach.

Danielle Hulton, owner of 15th Ave E’s Ada’s Technical Bookstore, a Capitol Hill property owner, and a chamber board member, supports the expansion.

“This will be an incredible return on investment,” Hulton said. “We can pivot and shift to new problems as they come up.”

UPDATE 3/28/18: The BBIA included this update on the situation around the outreach program in its most recent newsletter to members:

Starting APRIL 1, HOMELESS OUTREACH WILL TEMPORARILY BE DISCONTINUED ON CAPITOL HILL. Through the city, funding has been shifting to groups serving specific populations. We at the BBIA have committed funds to extending outreach efforts but recently learned the MID would not be able to take on those responsibilities as we had thought. We are working with other community groups and the city to make sure this is a temporary blip and that this outreach continues to serve the community in 2018. Stay tuned for more information on that.

 

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10 thoughts on “Broadway businesses will pay to keep homeless outreach team in place

  1. The BIA is just another tax on businesses and residents to cover the costs of what the city should be providing by using the massive increase in available funds they’ve already received. Simple as that. If we add this tax, it just takes pressure off of the city to take care of the basics.

  2. As a building owner, I have been told by BIA advocates I can just pass these inreased costs along to my retail and residential tenants through triple net charges and rent increases. Of course, that assumes they are able to sustain those increases,p. It also assumes they won’t choose to relocate to an area of the city where businesses and residents do not need to endure self-imposed supplemental taxation just to get basic services from their cash flush city government.

    Area property owners need to say no to this BIA expansion and the city needs to begin delivering the basic services that businesses and residents already pay for.

    • @Glenn: In theory you are right, but you will have to wait “until the cows come home” for the City to do what you suggest. The only way to improve things on Capitol Hill is via an expanded BIA, which has a proven positive track record on Broadway.

    • Bob,

      Then why don’t we just increase taxes for all Seattle residents to address the problem issues rather than assessing them on a few who happen to own a building or business in certain areas? It is very easy to support taxation for others, but if we truly care about these issues they should be addressed through broad based taxation. I believe those funds have already been raised, but if you think more is necessary, broad based taxation is the proper way to raise the money.

    • @Glenn: The idea is that it is the businesses and building owners which would benefit most from an expanded BIA, although I’m not so sure profits would automatically increase. Residents of an area, such as myself, would also benefit due to the improved “quality of life” (less trash, graffiti, homeless camps, etc.), and I for one would be willing to be taxed for this purpose. Your point is a valid one.

  3. The neighborhood is outreach-rich and enforcement-poor. Existing programs like Community Lunch (https://www.communitylunch.org/) are valuable, but so is basic enforcement of existing laws against erecting tents on the street. While outreach programs absolutely should continue, they need to be augmented with enforcement.

    The proposed BIA doesn’t address enforcement at all, even though many – quite possibly a majority – of residents consider enforcement a more valuable service than outreach or litter cleanup.

    The proposed BIA expansion isn’t addressing the neighborhood’s most critical problem, at least in part because the buildings they’re proposing taxing were never asked what problem(s) they’d want a BIA to tackle (nor how they’d want the BIA’s results to be measured).

  4. These MID outreach workers seem, on the surface, to do some of the same things that the wildly successful LEAD does. However, MID’s program is very limited. And the outreach workers with LEAD are contracted from Evergreen Treatment Services.

    So again,
    same question after two years: What are the downtown business improvement district outreach workers’ qualifications for the job? Are they hiring qualified social workers like Evergreen’s staff? It is my understanding that this is not the case.

    The UW study found that LEAD is clearly effective. Why are the downtown business, and now also the Capitol Hill businesses, doing their own thing instead of supporting a proven-effective program that is already in place?

    The MID’s program has several specific things to offer people. It is very likely having positive effects on people, though it is by nature a bit band-aid-like. It seems well-intentioned. As of a couple years ago, I did not believe its effects have been studied. As far as I know, two years later, this is still the case.

    LEAD provides deep and intensive assistance to specific people, including those who are most burdensome to the community and who are the most difficult to reach. Case managers build trust and help those people get what they need to make long-term behavior changes–identification cards, bus passes, long-term housing, drug treatment, and more–over years-long periods of one-on-one engagement.

    From the Huffington Post article linked above:

    “Depending on their needs, [LEAD clients] may receive free apartments, clean clothes, college tuition, books for school or even yoga classes. Counselors lead them through a bureaucratic maze, helping them apply for jobs, food stamps, health insurance and other essentials.”

    Sharing of information between police, prosecutors, and case workers helps everyone involved make better decisions about how to support LEAD clients and facilitates intervention when needed. MID’s outreach efforts come nowhere near accomplishing this.

  5. The proposed BIA expansion is a very convenient cancellation of the existing BIA assessment on all the enthusiastic businesses in the area, replacing it with an assessment on property owners. Has anyone published a comparison of their current payments against the amount that they will pay under the new rates plan?