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15 things CHS heard at the chamber’s Capitol Hill Homelessness Forum

Thursday’s panel on stage at the Broadway Performance Hall (Image: Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce)

A small crowd gathered in the Broadway Performance Hall Thursday night for a forum on homelessness hosted by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce as the crisis continues to grow.

Representatives from a number of organizations looking to aid people who are homeless, including the REACH program, the Seattle Police Department’s Navigation Team, and the Unsheltered Crisis Response Team, discussed the strategies they’re currently utilizing, while attendees wanted answers as to why an issue that’s been declared a citywide emergency for three years isn’t getting better.

The event was moderated by Egan Orion, newly selected as the chamber’s director and a candidate for Seattle City Council.

With 12,112 homeless people counted in last year’s point-in-time count, the sixth year in a row the numbers increased, King County continues to be the epicenter of the crisis. Washington, the 13th largest state in America, had the fifth largest homeless population of any state, according to federal data.

15 Things CHS heard at the forum

  1. One of the top concerns of both the panelists and attendees was that organizations don’t have enough money to run their organizations in the most efficient way possible. “Clearly there aren’t enough resources in the city; none of you have enough resources to do your job as well as you would like for it to be done,” one man said. “Clearly the city doesn’t really view it as an emergency. They just want to say it’s an emergency, but they haven’t put the money behind it.”
  2. Logan Bowers, who is challenging Kshama Sawant to represent Capitol Hill and District 3 at City Hall, echoed this point, telling CHS after the panel “the work that the folks are doing to reach out to our unhoused neighbors and get them services is absolutely phenomenal, and it’s clearly not enough,” and adding later: “We funded a cut-rate system and we got a cut-rate system.”
  3. Meanwhile, another D3 challenger, Orion, who is the executive director of the Chamber and emceed the event, applauded the passage of the mayor’s budget, which funded bringing homeless outreach workers back to Capitol Hill: “We were thrilled.”
  4. Brenda Frazier, who supervises the REACH program chosen to fulfill a portion of the new outreach effort, described how the approximately 23-year-old organization, which now has about 80 case managers, functions. The workers develop relationships, get to know the people on the ground, and connect them with resources, such as housing and medical help. For example, if they don’t have identification, they take them to the Department of License to figure that out.

    (Image: Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce)

  5. The city’s Navigation Team’s encampment response manager, August Drake-Ericson, said her team receives about 400 complaints per week. She said they reach out to as many as 12 large sites per month. “We know that we’re addressing pittance of what needs to be addressed in the city.”
  6. SPD Lt. Sina Ebinger, who says there are over 300 encampments in the city, talked about the tough role officers have to play in trying to help people that are homeless and acting as much as a social worker as a cop. “It is a very tough role for the police officer,” she said. “It’s every day seeing what you have to see out there.” She said she still enjoys her job after 19 years, adding “I’m loyal to the police department, I’m loyal to the mission.”
  7. Ebinger told attendees they could report an encampment by calling 684-CITY or by using the Find It, Fix It smartphone app, but if there’s a crime in process, she urges people to call 911.
  8. Multiple panelists noted that the city and the state continues to lag behind in dealing with the mental health aspect of the homelessness crisis. Jackie St. Louis, director of the Unsheltered Crisis Response Team, said “on demand resources are largely unavailable” and “the people doing the work are the worst compensated.” It’s no secret that Washington faces a workforce shortage in the behavioral health field.
  9. Cathy Hillenbrand, who who was instrumental in the 20-year process to bring a planned 428 residential units – 41% of which (176 units) will be designated affordable housing – to the Capitol Hill Station development, brainstormed different ways to help people struggling with homelessness, including paying them to pick up their own garbage: “What if there was some other approach to these encampments.”
  10. When asked by Orion for one thing working well in response to the homelessness crisis, Drake-Ericson couldn’t think of anything working extremely well, but noted that communication between departments has been improving, specifically between police and human services, which makes the job easier.
  11. St. Louis noted that the system of using low-income apartment tenancy as an end goal is perpetuating generations of poverty, and the work needs to continue beyond that. David Mooney, who used to be homeless and said it took him five years to get through a waitlist to transition from temporary supportive housing to permanent supportive housing, said that gap is “a recipe for failure.”
  12. Drake-Ericson said that the reason they decide to clear sidewalks of unsheltered people is to primarily provide outreach. She said, “That’s our main goal is to give an opportunity for people to accept shelter.” There also health risks to campers and Seattle more broadly.
  13. When asked what he would consider a success three years from now, St. Louis, of the Unsheltered Crisis Response Team, said “I hope that within three years we’ll have understood the population, which I don’t think we do right now, and we would’ve created a system that responds to that.” He added: “I think we need to be more targeted in our approach.”
  14. Along those same lines, St. Louis said that the mayor’s office is currently working with Microsoft to build a new platform for data collection that is more comprehensive than the current database in a private-public partnership.
  15. One woman who said she was new to Seattle, asked the speakers where she could go to help people who are homeless. One panelist said she could volunteer at the Recovery Cafe, while Orion added Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, which is located on 11th Ave E. “They just have to believe you care, that’s it,” Mooney said.

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7 thoughts on “15 things CHS heard at the chamber’s Capitol Hill Homelessness Forum

  1. So basically, in three years we’ll understand the population more, and there will be more population probably.

    Does anyone have any actual new ideas here or is it just that we need to provide more money to the 8 different groups selected by the mayor to work on the problem?

  2. If everyone who really wants to help the homeless took one in, there wouldn’t be homeless. Hell, if the religions who don’t pay taxes would practice what they preach and care for the poor by taking them in, there wouldn’t be homeless. People are making a living and making money from the homeless problem and the homeless problem continues.

  3. Hmmm. Point #1. “Clearly the city doesn’t really view it as an emergency. They just want to say it’s an emergency, but they haven’t put the money behind it.”

    Really? Seattle and King County taxpayers are funding efforts to address the homeless situation to the significant tune of nearly $1,000,000,000 a year. How much would be enough? Would $2 Billion be enough? We need leadership willing to fund programs that work, and stop funding those that don’t. And to try some of the things that are working in other places. This should be performance-based funding. Act like it’s money coming out of your pocket—because it is. We are an empathetic community. What we are spending is significant. Let’s put this money to work to really help solve this problem instead of buying more of the same that’s making it worse.

    • $1 billion and Logan Bowers doesn’t think that’s enough. (I know who’s not getting my vote.) Meanwhile we are paying the salaries of organizations which (a) profit from keeping people homeless, (b) are at war with each other and (c) have locked city officials out of their city sanctioned shack village! The corruption and lack of accountability (and refusal to comply with the mayor’s requirement that they keep up to date stats) of these organizations is not something we should be throwing MORE money at. Make the recipients of the current money produce and document results or stop funding them. Sharon Lee at LIHI makes over 200K per year. Scott Morrow is throwing away food at the shack village because if he can’t rule the roost, the homeless can’t eat. INSANITY on your dime. So no, do not give MORE money. Manage the $1 billion we already throw at this problem.

    • I agree that we are spending enough taxpayer money, but I’m not sure where you get the $1 billion figure. The last I heard, combined spending by Seattle & King Co. on the homeless issue is about 200 million.

  4. The whole LIHI/Nickelsville situation is turning into a low-rent version of Game of Thrones, starring Scott Morrow as Joffery, Durkan as Cersei, and I’ll let the rest of you fill in the blanks.

  5. The people living on the street now used to be in mental institutions because they can’t take care of themselves and/or are a danger to themselves and others. Now, there’s way more of them because of the population explosion; way better access to drugs; and way fewer mental institutions. Regan cleaned them all out in the 80s in California and put these people on the street and here they are. I think this state was so desolate in the 80s, with such a low population, that it wasn’t a problem. We need to bring forced institution and we need to pay for it and stop paying the Sharon Lees at LIHI, the Chris Persons at Capitol Hill Housing and THEIR Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Plymouth, All Home, etc. who clearly have no idea what they are doing and it shows.