When Mayor Ed Murray declared Seattle in a homeless state of emergency, it help put into motion $7.6 million to be spent on alleviating the crisis (not to mention the $40 million already budgeted for homeless services this year). On Wednesday, City Council members will be reviewing a plan on how to spend it. Using a mix of mayor-directed emergency funds and City Council-added money, the draft plan is broken into three categories:
- Prevention efforts: $2.9 million
- Supporting people to move out of encampments: $2.5 million
- Meeting basic needs: $2.2 million
UPDATE: The human services committee advanced its $2.3 million emergency funding package to the full Council Wednesday following a wide-ranging and impassioned discussion of how the City is currently serving those sleeping outside. Added to the mayor’s $5.3 million, the funds will be used for homeless services like child care, day labor programs, emergency shelter for kids and adults, and diversion from encampments. $500,00 will be used for a mobile medical van expected to rollout this spring.
During a review of the spending plan, Council members once again wrestled with how the City conducts cleanups at unsanctioned encampments. $1.5 million of the total emergency funding pot is slated to to go toward encampment sweeps, which will fund nine outreach workers, cleanup crews, motel vouchers, and rehousing efforts. Sawant criticized the plan for putting far more money into sweeps compared to the $350,000 for sanctioned tent cities and questioned the public safety rationale behind the cleanups.
“The humanity has been missing, for the most part, towards homeless people,” she said.
While updated HSD statistics show that some 70% of people do not accept shelter following encampment cleanups, officials also recognized it might be because the type of shelter they want is not available. HSD’s Jason Johnson cited reasons such as restrictions on mixed gender shelters, pets, drug and alcohol use, or identification requirements for why some turn down shelter.
Council members also questioned the procedures for the sweeps and how personal belongings are accounted for. For sites with one or two tents, crews are not required to post a 72-hour cleanup notice or provide direct outreach, which Mayor Murray advisor Scott Lindsay said was due to a lack of resources.
“Everybody is entitled to advanced notice before the structure they are calling their home is removed,” said Council member Lisa Herbold.
Sawant cast doubt on Lindsay’s claims that crews take “extraordinary precaution” to preserve personal items, saying a review of the City’s database for such items was empty despite many recent sweeps.
The human services committee will be taking up a long range plan for homelessness investments in two weeks.
Original report: How the City “supports” people moving out of non-permitted encampments has received a considerable amount of attention — a debate that will continue during Wednesday’s human services committee meeting. The procedures for conducting sweeps are outlined in a 2008 “multi-departmental administrative rule.” Technically, there is little the City Council can do to change it, but some council members are calling for encampment clean-ups to halt altogether.
“I think sweeps are fundamentally problematic,” said District 3 rep Kshama Sawant during a Council hearing last week.
In the 11 weeks after the Mayor’s state of emergency declaration, the City conducted 38 encampment sweeps, which it says it does primarily for safety reasons. Critics say the sweeps are an unnecessary disruption for those choosing to live outside. Only 40% of the 184 people present at the sites accepted shelter, according to numbers presented during a City Council briefing last month.
Separating belongings from trash can be especially problematic and the administrative rule offers little guidance on how crews should make the distinction:
If something has a person’s name and contact information on it, the rules instruct crews to save the item and attempt to contact the individual.
CHS was there in September when backhoe crews cleared a sprawling encampment along an I-5 embankment on First Hill. Much of what was found on the site was thrown into dumpsters. Smaller camp sites also dot Capitol Hill, many tucked under and above I-5.
As part of the emergency funding plan, more than $1 million is planned for three new homeless outreach teams that will conduct “regular, coordinated clean-ups of unpermitted encampment sites; outreach and case management.”
The City is also making an effort to improve its procedures for clearing encampments. Human Services Department outlined the changes in a recent report:
- Better coordinated and reliably scheduled clean-ups, with the City’s Finance and Administrative Services Department (FAS) taking the lead for scheduling clean-ups and coordinating with City departments and the Washington State Department of Transportation as necessary.
- More centrally located storage for individual belongings.
- More intentional outreach with a newly designed service package that includes:
- 51 shelter beds set aside for people referred by the encampment outreach workers.
- Direct referral of 25 households into Wellspring’s Diversion and Rapid Rehousing services.
- 15 spots for the YWCA’s Late Night hotel/motel case management program.
- $60,000 in “flex funding” that can be used for any number of expenditures outreach workers deem appropriate, including survival items, motel vouchers, rent, travel, and documentation assistance.
- Employment connections.
- An explicit expectation that outreach workers and case management staff will make every effort to connect people with outpatient and in-patient chemical dependency and mental health beds and services when appropriate.
Adding to the concern over encampments was last month’s shooting at a Beacon Hill greenbelt encampment known as The Jungle which left two dead and three others injured.
In total, the Mayor’s emergency spending plan calls for the addition of 278 beds and 30 motel vouchers. The Orion Center at the base of Denny Way would get 10 additional beds and Capitol Hill’s Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets would get $80,000 for case management support.
$800,000 would go towards the City’s existing rapid re-housing and homeless diversion programs which seek to keep families and individuals out of a cycle of homelessness. The plan also calls for $288,000 to fund two new staff positions: a state of emergency project manager and a data manager.
Murray declared a homelessness state of emergency in November, allowing the city to add $5.3 million in homeless services spending. The City Council boosted the emergency spend by another $2.3 million thanks to Seattle’s windfall from higher than expected real estate tax revenue. A Sawant proposal to insert an additional $10 million for homeless services was voted down during last year’s budget negotiations, but the District 3 rep has continued her call for Murray to allocate $10 million for shelter beds.
The 2016 One Night Count found 4,505 people living unsheltered in the streets of King County overnight. That’s a 19% increase over last year’s survey. In Seattle, the count found 2,942 outside, up from 2,813 in 2015, a 4.5% jump.
With a great deal of attention on people living in their vehicles, the 2016 One Night Count showed 31% of unsheltered tallied in Seattle were in vehicles. The number was even higher outside the city limits where more than 40% of those counted were in a motor vehicle.