Even with the city’s new head tax on the books, a group of Broadway businesses have decided not to wait for new funding streams to start — and their decision on how best to put the money to use shows how the priorities to the issue can differ in the distance between City Hall and Capitol Hill. The Broadway Business Improvement Area will fund its own outreach worker to help people experiencing homelessness and be available to area merchants when issues arise.
In past years, the city had run a program funding outreach workers to visit areas around downtown to assist the homeless population. That program was then expanded to the International District and then to Capitol Hill. That program, at least the Capitol Hill portion of it, lasted for about two years before closing in March.
At the time, the businesses which make up the BBIA began looking to find a way to allow the program to continue, and now that may be taking shape, said Egan Orion, administrator of the BBIA.
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Orion said the BBIA is working out a deal with a different group to pay for one of their workers to visit the Broadway corridor and provide outreach services, at least for the summer.
Orion said his group has the funding in place for the worker. They are hoping for an organization who can provide a qualified worker who will come to the area between 10-12 hours a week — though they’ll take what services they can get.
“If we’re able to get someone for eight hours per week, we’ll take it,” he said.
The person could only work in an area that directly affects BBIA ratepayers, which are the businesses along Broadway between Roy and Pine. Though Orion noted there might be an argument that straying a block or so outside the area could still have a direct impact on Broadway, citing Cal Anderson Park as an example.
The program will be geography-based. Having the same worker return to the same areas on a set schedule allows them to build a rapport both with the homeless population and with the local businesses. It also allows people to know generally when and where the worker will be, so they can plan on seeing the person when necessary.
“Workers get to know folks in the neighborhood,” he said.
Additionally, it gives a single point of contact, which Orion said is a boon for both the homeless population and businesses. He noted there might be outreach workers in the area right now, but they don’t have direct contact with local organizations like his, and tracking someone down through the interlocking jurisdictions and groups can be a challenge.
He noted that under the old program, the workers would have a mental health background, to be able to assist people with mental health issues and in some cases with addiction issues. He is hoping the new group will be able to provide people with similar qualifications and skill sets.
Orion noted that the number of homeless people in the area tends to spike over the summer months, so having someone out and about during that time is crucial and is the group’s first goal.
Eventually, the Broadway improvement area could be extended across the neighborhood — and possibly the outreach program with it. The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is in the middle of a campaign to expand the BIA across the entire Hill.
There may also be long-term help coming from the city. Orian said Capitol Hill, in conjunction with groups from First Hill and the International District is working on a proposal to ask the city for $200,000-$300,000 to fund outreach workers for those neighborhoods. And that idea was before the head tax passed, which may have increased options for such a program.
A resolution accompanying the head tax vote suggested spending $731,000 on outreach workers in the first year the tax funding is available, though that number is both city-wide and subject to change in the budget process.
Mayor Jenny Durkan, meanwhile, signed Seattle’s new $275/employee tax on big businesses into law Wednesday. “We must make urgent progress on our affordability and homelessness crisis. Looking ahead, I am focused on acting to move people off the street and into safer places, to clean up the garbage and needles that are in our parks and in our communities, and to provide resources to those people experiencing homelessness, including job training, behavioral health services, and other supportive services,” the mayor said in a statement. Unlike with other major legislation, the mayor’s office chose not to hold a public ceremony to mark the occasion. The new tax is planned to go into effect starting January 1st, 2019.