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Wanted: $55K to return homelessness outreach workers to Capitol Hill

At night, Seattle City Hall becomes an emergency shelter (Image: CHS)

The effort to fund homelessness outreach workers on Capitol Hill has shifted — the good news is the price is more clear but the challenge now will be getting City Hall and the Seattle City Council to find a way to help pay for it in time.

“Of all the central downtown neighborhoods, only Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Chinatown/ID don’t currently have homeless outreach services,” Egan Orion, director of the Broadway Business Improvement Area said. “We saw in the two-year pilot on Capitol Hill how single point of contact for businesses and residents alike and a full-time advocate for our unsheltered neighbors on the streets was a very compassionate and effective approach to issues of homelessness on the Hill.”

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CHS wrote about the outreach workers here and the $200,000 line item in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 budget proposal to help kickstart the expansion of the downtown teams to Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the International District.

Orion tells CHS the cost of the teams run by the Downtown Seattle Association has been worked out to cover the neighborhoods for a total of $300,000, leaving the coalition of neighborhood organizations representing the three areas $100,000 short. Orion says the BBIA, Capitol Hill Chamber of CommerceCapitol Hill Housing, the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, and the First Hill Improvement Association have agreed to kick in $15,000 for each area. The question now is where $55,000 can be come up with as the Seattle budget process shakes out.

“If Council , the Mayor’s office and/or (Human Services Department) are unable to find money to help meet the budget of this program, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to move forward,” Orion said. “Out of a multi-billion dollar budget, surely $55,000 can be found. It’s a small cost for a big benefit.”

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 originally 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. Some business representatives have also preferred having the workers available so they don’t have to call 911 over homelessness issues.

The Seattle City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal Tuesday night beginning at 5:30 PM (PDF) at Seattle City Hall.

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2 years ago

I used to manage a retail store in Belltown and the Downtown Ambassadors were an amazing resource for situations that required a little mediation but where police intervention would have been overkill. I’m now running a shop on the hill and absolutely could use a little backup from time to time. I really hope this pans out!

2 years ago

The DSA/MID outreach services provided between 2016 – 2017 were very helpful to neighborhood businesses. We often heard from business owners, managers and staff that the MDT team was helpful, compassionate, organized and shared statistics and data monthly. It was clear that it would take multiple interactions to get someone into services. I really hope these funds are restored and CH businesses and organizations get the support they need.