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In midst of $5.9B Seattle budget process, proponents hope $100k+ needed for Capitol Hill homelessness outreach doesn’t get lost in the shuffle

With the Seattle budget process fully in motion, a coalition of groups representing three central city neighborhoods including Capitol Hill is working the phones and inboxes at City Hall to increase funding for homelessness outreach spending to help people living on the street in areas like Broadway and Pike/Pine get services and, hopefully, a safe place to find shelter and help.

Egan Orion of the Broadway Business Improvement Area said the group is “pushing to get more robust funding” and hopes to “lessen the burden on the neighborhood to fund” the outreach workers. The shops, restaurants, schools, and organizations he represents need the support and outreach, Orion says, is a better way to help the people struggling with homelessness and addiction in the neighborhood.

“Right now the only number they can call is 911 which isn’t effective because many business owners and employees are not wanting to contribute to criminalizing homelessness,” Orion said. “So this helps us get back to a saner system.”

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Last month, CHS reported on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 budget proposal, the first budget submitted under her administration, and its Seattle-style austerity with little or no growth and belt tightening across much of City Hall to make way for increased hiring and spending for core services like Seattle Police and Seattle Fire.

Included in the millions for maintaining but not growing the city’s spending on homelessness is a line item for thousands of dollars are earmarked for expanding the city’s existing Navigation Team “to increase outreach to people living unsheltered and help to connect them with safer living alternatives such as the 500 new shelter beds and tiny houses.”

The proposed budget includes $200,000 “for additional neighborhood-based outreach to people experiencing homelessness.” The funding would support three full-time outreach workers in the International District, Capitol Hill, and First Hill, as part of the Downtown Seattle Association homelessness outreach program to connect people with services, housing, treatment and employment options.

Orion says the money takes care of a chunk of the spending needed to fund the additional outreach workers but that the DSA’s bid to provide the services has increased. The DSA’s proposal includes salaries for three full-time outreach workers — one single point of contact per neighborhood), benefits for those employees, and $70,000 in flex funding (bus passes, first/last deposit for housing, helping to get IDs etc). DSA says it will also require $60,000 for computers, equipment, and office space. Overall, the coalition says the proposed funding is currently about $120,000 short of what is need to restore the program.

The coalition — The BBIA, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, and Capitol Hill Housing, the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, and the First Hill Improvement Association — is working to “shave a little” off the equipment/office piece in the quote for services to lower costs. But it is also asking City Hall and the mayor’s office to help bridge the gap and increase the $200,000 lined up for the project in the mayor’s proposed budget.

The city launched its Navigation Team — “a specially trained team comprised of outreach workers paired with Seattle Police Department (SPD) personnel, to connect unsheltered people to housing and critical resources, while helping address pervasive challenges around the issue of homelessness in Seattle” — in 2017. (Image: City of Seattle)

In May, CHS reported on the push to restore locally focused homelessness outreach on Capitol Hill after funding ran out — and with or without the ultimately doomed Seattle head tax.

The city began 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. Its geography-based approach has been key. Proponents say 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.

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.

Paying for the outreach workers locally has been a challenge. In June, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce which administrates the Broadway BIA pulled back on a multi-year process to expand the improvement area and its funding across all of Capitol Hill.

Now, local business and the coalition are hoping the need won’t get lost amid the $5.9 billion budget proposal currently being shaped for approval by the Seattle City Council. A public hearing on the budget — the first in a series — will be held Thursday night beginning at 5:30 in council chambers.

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