Monday afternoon’s meeting of the full Seattle City Council could be a doozy. Kshama Sawant’s resolution to send back Mayor Jenny Durkan’s nomination of Jason Johnson as Director of the Human Services Department will be a rare public flare-up in the debate by city leaders about how best to respond to Seattle’s ongoing, seemingly not improving homelessness crisis.
The resolution lays out two issues: 1) It declares that the council will not take action on an HSD Director nomination — Johnson or otherwise — until the Mayor’s Office completes “a formal search process that comports with the goals and priorities of the City’s Race and social Justice Initiative.” And 2), It lays down requirements for the search committee that the Mayor should convene, including representatives from non-profit human services providers, individuals experiencing homelessness, other clients of HSD, and HSD employees.
UPDATE 4:10 PM: In a 5-3 vote, the council rejected Sawant’s resolution. Mike O’Brien and Teresa Mosqueda, both saying they would like to see more transparency in the selection process, joined Sawant in support of the resolution. SCC Insight reports that the question now is how to move forward on the selection and says that Mosqueda has a plan that would “clarify expectations on the Mayor for the search process for department head nominations” that could be the compromise the situation needs.
The resolution passed out of Sawant’s Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights Committee but that vote didn’t reveal much about the council’s probable direction Monday afternoon. Only Sawant approved the resolution in the committee vote with Bruce Harrell and Lisa Herbold choosing to abstain. Before the vote, Mayor Durkan accused Sawant of being unreasonable in refusing to move Johnson’s appointment forward.
Along the way, Sawant also held a committee session at Capitol Hill’s Miller Community Center in which city staffers from the Human Services Department, community members, and activists spoke out against the appointment. Opponents claimed the mayor’s office “made the decision independently and without input from community members, particularly those who would be most affected by the work of the Human Services Department,” the South Seattle Emerald reported.
HSD and the city’s Navigation Team effort have also been under fire for being unable to produce meaningful measurement of progress in addressing the city’s homelessness needs:
Representatives from the Human Services Department, including Navigation Team leader Jackie St. Louis, were on the defensive yesterday after the city auditor presented a report finding significant shortcomings in the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness. The auditor’s report, which I covered in more detail earlier this month, found that it’s hard to know whether the Navigation Team—which removes unauthorized encampments and informs their residents about available shelter beds and services—has been successful at getting unsheltered people into safer situations, because HSD doesn’t have a rigorous system for tracking that information and has refused to allow an independent assessment of its performance.
Uncertainties about the Seattle Navigation Team effort, which includes outreach workers and SPD personnel, are also holding up smaller but still important initiatives including funding for homelessness outreach on Capitol Hill.
In its $5.9 billion city budget, the Durkan administration furthered its direction of shifting funding toward homelessness solutions that emphasize transition to more permanent housing and away from reliance on emergency shelters and services. Last week, after extending shelter operator SHARE/WHEEL’s contract despite the housing-focused direction, the mayor’s office decided to cut back its funding for the organization. “A spokesperson for the Human Services Department said the decision was to more closely monitor the organization’s data collection,” Crosscut reported.
In an op-ed published last week, Sawant said her pushback on Johnson is a response to the mayor’s “underfunded and punitive approach to the housing and homelessness crisis.”
“The Mayor’s strategy effectively ignores the deeply embedded economic inequality, unaffordable rents, racism, sexism, and social inequalities built into the fabric of capitalism, problems that have been dramatically worsened by City Hall’s longstanding support for and reliance on the for-profit market,” she writes.
Last week, Sawant was also busy in the Central District with a press conference and rally to protest development plans at the Section 8 housing Chateau Apartments.
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