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Downtown programs will expand to Capitol Hill to help calm ‘street disorder’

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A concentration of drug related arrests on Capitol Hill since 2011 is part of the rationale behind expanding LEAD. (Image: SPD)

A strategy first deployed in downtown Seattle for keeping chronic drug users and mentally ill people out of jail by connecting them with social services is expanding to Capitol Hill.

Within the next three months, East Precinct police officers will be teaming up with social service workers and using an arrest diversion program to help address “street disorder” around Pike/Pine and Cal Anderson Park, city officials tell CHS.

By expanding Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and the Multi-disciplinary Team outreach program, Mayor Ed Murray and others are hoping to partially answer one of Capitol Hill’s most intractable problems: What can be done to help the increasing numbers of people living on the street?

Representatives from the mayor’s office and SPD will announce the planned expansion to City Council on Thursday as “Council Central Staff present an overview of key changes to City Department budgets,” according to the budget committee agenda.

“Simply arresting people and locking them up is not the only tool that changes crime statistics,” Murray, a longtime resident of Capitol Hill, tells CHS.

“Many of the chronic offenders are not committing major criminal offenses, but it’s a challenge for the neighborhood.”

The mayor’s budget proposal includes $1.8 million to fund body cameras for every patrol officer and budget to hire 30 new police officers in 2016, keeping the city on pace for 100 additional officers by 2018. Administration of LEAD will be moved to the Human Services Department, a change CHS was told is not significant for the program and was only “a technical relocation of the funding.”

While LEAD specifically focuses on diverting drug users (and to a lesser extent, sex workers) from jail into treatment programs, the MDT casts a wider net. Under the program, outreach workers contracted by the Metropolitan Improvement District go on patrol with officers to offer a range of social services. In addition to ongoing individual assistance, MDT workers can provide city and regional bus tickets, motel vouchers, connections to homeless shelters, and other social services.

The MDT has been in operation around downtown for nearly two years, but outreach workers are increasingly finding their way up the Hill to follow clients. Now, roughly three MDT members will regularly serve the neighborhood on as many calls as possible.

The programs are funded through a combination of city, county, and private sources. LEAD and MDT were allocated a combined $1.7 million in Murray’s 2016 budget, although no actual increase in funding was required for the expansion. According to Mayor’s office, the programs will use carryover money from last year to begin operations on Capitol Hill.

Downtown businesses fund part of the current MDT program through the MID and some Capitol Hill businesses can expect to be asked to contribute as well. After an expanded Business Improvement Area gets its footing, Murray said its members ought to pitch in, provided the program is working.

Scott Lindsay, who works in the Mayor’s office on police reform and public safety, says downtown business owners have been receptive to the program as they’re more willing to call the police when a person is in crisis knowing a case worker may be there to help. Whether it is someone passed out in front of a business or someone in mental or emotional crisis, the MDT targets issues officers don’t typically have the time or the ability to handle.

“Many of the chronic offenders are not committing major criminal offenses, but it’s a challenge for the neighborhood,” Lindsay said.

LEAD was launched in Seattle in 2011 and has since been replicated in cities across the country. It works by placing drug use suspects into counseling before they’re booked into jail. Typically, an officer will call a LEAD outreach worker to assess a drug user they think may be a good candidate for the program (no warrants or violent criminal history). The outreach worker then schedules a crisis assessment offered through Evergreen Treatment Services.

Results from the program have been promising. LEAD participants were 87% less likely to be incarcerated after entry than those who didn’t participate, according to a 2-year study (PDF) of the program recently completed by the University of Washington. They also had 58% lower odds of a subsequent arrest.

The Public Defender Association and the Capitol Hill Community Council have been among those advocating for the program to expand beyond downtown.

Some of MDT ground work has already been laid at the East Precinct. In response to repeated community calls for more officers walking the street, precinct commanders recently started directing officers to spend more of their “down time” on foot, making contacts with people on the street. So far, East Precinct officers have made a total of 1,523 such contacts, according to East Precinct’s Lt. Bryan Grennan.

Of course, officers will still be making arrests and when they do, chronic offenders who repeatedly turned down services may find less sympathetic judges, Grennan said.

It’s fair to say the expansion of LEAD and MDT is relatively modest given what many are calling a crisis situation. At the risk of promising too much too fast, Murray said the LEAD and MDT expansion is meant to be built on, not just a test run.

“People need to see outcomes on the street,” Murray said. “This isn’t one of those things where we’re there and we’re gone.”

UPDATE: Thursday’s budget meeting documented the costs of the program.

“It is possible for LEAD to expand to Capitol Hill without additional funding for three reasons,” report on the plan reads. “The first is that the expansion area abuts the current downtown service area and does not create substantial additional costs for travel and supervision. The second is that LEAD is not getting as many referrals as predicted, so that there is additional staff capacity for the expansion. The third reason is that the Public Defender Association is working with the City on several operational improvements that should make administration of the program more efficient.”

The MDT program will, however, require some budgetary action:

To fund the expansion of the MDT program to Capitol Hill in 2016, the Mayor is proposing to carry over $170,000 in GSF that remains in the 2015 Finance General reserve for the LEAD and MDT programs into 2016. This would increase the total City contribution to the MDT to $514,059 in 2016. The increased costs of expansion will be an ongoing expense if the program is continued in future years.

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The report also documents how the programs were initially funded and how funding has transitioned.

LEAD was initially funded through a $4 Million grant from the Ford Foundation, and other granters. When the geographic area of the LEAD program expanded in 2014, Council added $830,000 in GSF to the HSD budget for a contract with the Public Defender Association. The same amount of funding was provided in the 2015 Adopted, 2016 Endorsed, and 2016 Proposed Budgets, as shown in Table 1 below. The funding is located in a reserve in Finance General in the 2016 Endorsed Budget, based on a 2015 Council budget action (97-1-B-1), which required that a detailed evaluation of the LEAD program be provided before the funds would be released. This evaluation has been completed, and the Mayor is proposing to move the LEAD funding to HSD.


The MDT is funded by a HSD contract with the DSA. In 2014, the MDT budget was almost $500,000, an amount comprised of $155,000 of carryover from 2013 and $344,059 in new funds. As shown on Table 1, the MDT budget was has remained close to $350,000 in the 2015 Adopted, 2016 Endorsed, and 2016 Proposed Budgets.

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39 thoughts on “Downtown programs will expand to Capitol Hill to help calm ‘street disorder’

  1. Last night I was walking home along Broadway around 11PM and many of the storefronts were occupied by homeless people, including a large group camped in the entryway to the Lifelong AIDS Alliance thrift shop. The street had a general atmosphere of sleaze at that hour. Will this new initiative also include Broadway?

    • The initiative is connecting people with social workers, not giving them homes, sadly. A social worker doesn’t give you a place to sleep at night.

    • I’m not really sure how homeless people finding a halfway sheltered spot to sleep translates to a “general atmosphere of sleeze.” They were *sleeping* or at least resting; no harm or criminal element in that. If you felt unsafe, that’s fair; you were around a lot of strangers who are statistically more likely to have serious mental health problems. Feeling unsafe doesn’t translate to a “general atmosphere of sleeze.” You haven’t described anything that put you in danger other than your own fears and perceptions. I know most people won’t agree with my opinion that if public property isn’t being used, and no damage is done, there’s no harm in people using it for shelter, but please let’s not put our own feelings and beliefs on people who are freakin’ just trying to rest and stay warm.

      • Well, Robin, let me describe what atmosphere of sleaze means to me in this case, as I was walking on Broadway at around 8:30 pm yesterday and the atmosphere of sleaze is exactly what I experienced.
        Atmosphere of sleaze is when filthy homeless men are crossing your way and almost touching you. Usually one at once but more than one on your way. Depends on how many blocks you need to cover. They can also follow you for some time and certainly talk to you. It happens to you if you are a woman and the more fragile/uncomfortable you look, the more it will happen.
        And certainly most folks on Broadway are just “trying to rest and stay warm”, but many folks are trying to have fun, too.

      • I walk up & down Broadway at least twice a day, crossing it at different times – cutting through Cal Anderson. My phone is in my pocket – no ear buds. I see and hear exactly how people are doing. The majority of people sleeping on Broadway are psychotic or addicted or both. I talk to them, they know my name – I know some of theirs. I would encourage you to do the same.
        A person who is delusional, paranoid & agitated can flip in a second, perceive you as a threat and hurt you.
        If someone is agitated – yelling at unseen people you should be if not frightened, on alert. That aggression can shift.

        We cannot expect someone who is psychotic, paranoid and/or delusional to accept services or worry that a judge may not be ‘so understanding.’ They live in fear 24/7 already from things we can’t even see.

        Allowing others to live like this – how is it that we are not harming them?

        As a city, as a nation, we have lost our humanity.

      • I’m not so sure that the majority are as you describe….many are just unemployed drifters….but you’re right that many are addicted and/or mentally ill. We are not doing them any favors by looking the other way and by saying that everything they do is OK…….quite the contrary…we are enabling them not to get help.

        The knowledge that some of the campers are psychotic is more than enough to create an atmosphere of fear on Broadway at certain hours.

      • Robin, I disagree with you. There is a criminal element and it’s called “trespassing on private property.” The only reason the infraction is not enforced is that it requires the property owner to call the police, and they are not present during the hours when homeless are camping on their property, so no complaint is made.

        And sometimes the homeless camp on public property (examples: NE corner of Broadway & Harrison; E Thomas St p-patch), and damage IS done….masses of litter left behind, as well as excrement/urine. Do you really want to condone this?

        Shelters are available most nights of the year, and especially when the weather is as mild as it has been lately.

      • No, I don’t condone anything that harms other people or significantly harms property. But, are you sure some of that urine isn’t from people stumbling out of bars at all hours? :p

  2. I don’t know this will help mental illness doesn’t disappear with the wave a finger. Last week I was driving on my scooter and some homeless guy wearing nothing but a pillow case as a loin cloth lunged at me from the side walk. There were 2 spd cars sitting watch this guy. I parked about a block away and walked back to see this guy doing yoga in front of the library. I asked the cops what’s the deal this guy just lunged for me. His risponse: “did he get you? Did he make contact with your body?” My response: I was on my scooter I excelerated. His response: “this is Travis we know him very well he’s a nice guy when he’s not high he suffers from severe mental illness we keep bringing him and this keeps happening. The system is failing these individuals. ENOUGH SAID. I don’t think this will change the problem every year there’s an excuse bad batch of drugs weather yada yada yada.

    • But why do we have so many of these people in Seattle? Seriously, is anyone addressing this? I don’t know anywhere else in the world that has as many mentally ill people per capita. It seems that we must be attracting them from other areas, and if this is the case, how can we financially ever afford to solve this problem? There are more of these poor souls in the US than Seattle property tax payers can afford to care for.

      • (a) some of it is probably that West Coast winters aren’t guaranteed to kill anyone sleeping outdoors.

        (b) An EMT friend is pretty sure that non-Seattle Washington municipalities arrange travel for their local unfortunates to specialized treatment in Seattle, but never arrange a *round trip* ticket, and treatment never lasts long.

        Historically, this was dealt with by hukow or Poor Law registration and poor families having to travel to their legal place of origin and give birth in a manger. Nor are there as many mangers as there were.

    • Where are the street cops getting their orders from lately? This is so scary. Your encounter adds to my current experience with SPD that they will do nothing to prevent a crime or accident, but are willing to respond after the fact. After injuries and/or property loss.

      I sincerely hope I am wrong.

      • Short bus, you are not wrong in your assessment. The same subject keeps coming up over and over, why is SPD not doing more to control this epidemic. I work closely to this area and can say one thing for sure. SPD is not in charge of your city’s well being anymore. Your elected officials are in charge and make policies and laws that our police have to follow. If they don’t they get shown the door without anyone even wanting to see things differently. We the people have spoken, SPD is/was bad and change has come. Welcome to our new reality.

  3. If I was Czar I would demand the homeless, mentally ill, drug addicts and whatever else who sleep in doorways, parks, etc. be mandated to clean up the garbage they leave every where they go. Broadway/Harrison was the worst I have ever seen this morning. Tough love requires some responsibility. I don’t care how dysfunctional you are, if you do something, it is better than nothing. If I threw a can out my car window I would be pulled over. As for the new program keep people out of jail, there are no stats on repeat visits, etc. Are they social workers making progress getting them to function responsibly again?

    • Yes, the corner of Broadway & Harrison is a pigsty most of the time. The mass amount of garbage strewn on our streets by the homeless is one of the things that create an “atmosphere of sleaze.”

      And there are other negative effects too….recently, two large residential dumpsters were flipped on their sides on the street where I live, and Cleanscapes had to send out a special crew to get them upright again. Also, someone intentionally scattered a large amount of litter throughout the E Thomas St p-patch.

  4. I avoid Capitol Hill.

    I’m glad I have a car. I can also avoid all the Capitol Hill businesses who think I enjoy the Capitol Hill experience.

    However, I am considering making a Capitol Hill calendar.
    Yeah. 12 photographs of Broadway sidewalk vomit, shit, piss, and other general filth.

  5. There should be far less tolerance for the lack of accountability toward the drug users and homeless people on the streets. As a resident of Cap Hill, I’m completely appalled with these individuals who do absolute nothing to contribute to the greater good of society, yet expect people to give them ‘weed’ because they “just want to get high.” I’m so tired of being harassed on a daily basis by a group of people others are willing to enable. If our community allows this, our society is doomed. I question these sorts of programs and whether or not they really provide any benefit at all. Based on what I see daily, I highly doubt it will have any impact whatsoever. I certainly hope the programs help, but I’m skeptical as I question whether or not help is wanted.

  6. This program will fail, and in fact the mindset behind it is the cause and not the cure of our problem. I have been in Seattle since 1978 and living on the hill since 1988. In that time millions have been spent on the homeless, with the goal of ending homelessness in King County. Yet in that time it has clearly and visibly worsened. Data is lacking but those who address the matter tend to be caring advocates whose basic paradigm is to ‘help’ not to keep out, disinvite, or disincent those who I believe are not as a majority from this area. I am not speaking of the person actually down on their luck or the person who was truly priced out of a Seattle home they were actually renting and living in, and who is sober and working but not making enough etc. I am not speaking of the small percent of chronically mentally ill among the homeless who have always been with us, and whose paranoia and disorganization make them refractory to existing resources and housing.

    I am speaking of the street scum who seem to have nice bikes, dogs, and drugs. The street punks who travel up and down the Interstate and visibly appear to enjoy their tribe and hanging out. The panhandlers, the addicts and alcoholics and more who we have basically invited.

    No good deed goes unpunished and Seattle is seeing this close up. The massive increase in these folks encamped and hanging out where there was no such issue 5 years or less ago speaks to a shift that can’t be explained by economics, or politics, by something else.

    How about an actual census that asks these individuals their stories, including where they are from, how long in Seattle and King County, work history, mental health history, criminal history, income information, and more – with verification of claims when possible. Individual stories may be anecdotal but enough information can be instructive and valid. Hit the tent villages, the encampments, the store fronts, the park at 15th and Boston (where someone is now sleeping most nights).

    We can disagree and rant in ignorance, but I suspect that the actual facts will be disturbing for many, and may point to actual people with personal agency exercising actual choices like the rest of us do; choices that impinge upon a civil society, regularly break rules and laws, scare a lot of nice people including women who feel quite unsafe, trespass on private property, cost a lot of criminal justice and health care resources and more. Pulling the welcome mat that is explicit and implicit in our community may be a necessary step to resolve this. Anything but more resources. We have seen how well that is working.

    • Twenty years ago exactly, just back from having lived in DC for a time, I was shocked to see children on a Broadway side street eating out of a dumpster.

      That is something I never saw in DC, even with the emptying out of St. E’s and ersatz encampments in those squares named after revolutionary war heros.

      I also kept running into people who I knew when they were children in the neighborhood, now grown, now homeless. Some working and some struggling with drug addictions which meant jobs do not last long. I hear about deaths, body found under some bushes ‘at the corner’.

      There is no single life history or generalization. We need to house people. We need treatment expanded (subject of a court order now). We need to be responsible.

      I guess most people just shrugged when they saw children eating out of dumpsters, or ‘crazy’ vets. Keep defending your ivory castles. Keep believing that people somehow ‘deserve’ to be thrown away, and certainly should not be ‘allowed’ on the sidewalk.

  7. Let’s not forget that mental illness is not limited to homeless people. Lots of people move through society, work in our workplaces, sit next to us at the symphony, who have a history of mental illness or are struggling right now. Diference is that they have access to money for healthcare, the stability of a roof over their heads, friends or family to help, etc. Take even one of those things away, and the balance can tip. That goes for being homeless, too. I’ve heard folks who provide services for homeless people say that, in terms of life circumstances that can change on a dime (job, money, family issues, absence of crisis, etc), we’re all potentially just a few months away from being homeless. Let’s not draw such a clear line between us and them, when it comes to folks with mental illness, homeless folks, or any other group we see as diferent from ourselves.

    • I hear people say we are all a couple months/paychecks from being homeless. But here’s the thing: If any of my friends or family were facing homelessness, they could come stay with me indefinitely, as long as they didn’t act like complete assholes. I’m not saying I would love it, but there is absolutely no question about this. I have taken people in when they were in a tough situation, and I didn’t always know when or how it would end, but I felt that it was my responsibility to them and that they would do the same for me.

      Many of the drifters I see, such as the large crowd that camps in Cal Anderson, seem like complete, inconsiderate assholes to me. And I do wonder if they are not homeless either by choice or because they have been such assholes to all their friends and family that no one will take them in any more. And if that’s the case, why am I supposed to shell out to house them?

      • or, hey, maybe someone can NOT be, as you say, an “asshole” and they just don’t have the suuport structure your friends have. not everyone lives the same life you know.

        oh, and btw, your comment above, makes you an asshole in my eyes. good luck!

      • LGBQT kids get thrown out of their homes as minors a *lot* more often than straight kids do, and when we had minimum-wage jobs and share houses getting to Seattle or SF and forming a tribe sometimes worked, but it’s unlikely to work now.

        Not saying there aren’t assholes who have no understandable reason, but I know Capitol Hill has been a destination for “Lost Boys” for decades.

  8. To those who think that my analysis deserves to be seen, as well as the others whose comments represent a change from the tired old emoting and throw money at the issue – please send a link to this posting, and your own notes to elected officials. They need to know that a book of bus tickets, and arrests when breaking the law, will be wholly endorsed by many in the community. The homeless who violate the law and civil expectations are adults exercising choices. Let’s treat them accordingly. The last thing they need or want is help.