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Big givers launch $10M Partnership for Zero ‘to Dramatically Reduce Unsheltered Homelessness in Downtown Seattle’

UPDATE: Capitol Hill’s Seven Hills Park was swept of an encampment Thursday morning

Connie and Steve Ballmer (Image: The Ballmer Group)

Mayor Bruce Harrell has repeatedly said that charitable giving from the private sector and not new taxes should be part of Seattle’s strategy to combat homelessness.

Thursday, Harrell was set to join a cadre of officials and representatives from the giving wings of some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the region to announce a new $10 million package of philanthropic giving to power “peer navigators, flexible funding, a command center and data” in an effort to to “dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle.”

It is a relatively small beginning hoped to boost the King County Regional Homelessness Authority — especially considering the major list of donors.

The Partnership for Zero will coordinate some $10 million in funding from “major businesses and philanthropies in King County that have formed the We Are In homelessness charity effort led by the Ballmer Group, and including Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Campion Foundation, Costco, Expedia Group, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, JP Morgan Chase Pacific Northwest, Kaiser Permanente Washington, Madrona Venture Group, Microsoft Philanthropies, Nordstrom, PATH, Puget Sound Energy, Raikes Foundation, REI, Russell Investments, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Symetra, T-Mobile, Weyerhaeuser, and Zillow Group.

“The King County Regional Homelessness Authority is an incredible asset to our region, helping to design a stronger, more coordinated county-wide response to a humanitarian crisis. We and the philanthropic community are pleased to be able to provide bridge funding to support the Authority to quickly launch Partnership for Zero, a proven approach to substantially reduce homelessness,” Connie Ballmer, co-founder of Ballmer Group Philanthropy, the “lead funder of Partnership for Zero” said in the announcement.

Publicola was the first to report on the new “peer navigator” program that represents the biggest new investment for the philanthropic project:

Peer navigators are case managers with lived experience who help “navigate” people experiencing homelessness into services, shelter, and housing. Last year, the KCRHA asked the Seattle City Council for $7.6 million to hire 69 navigators who would each work with about 15 clients in downtown Seattle. The council declined to immediately fund the program, and asked the authority to come back with a “system-wide needs assessment” that would look at other organizations doing similar or redundant work and include a plan for sustainable long-term funding.

Officials form the partnership announced this week say the project will be led by KCRHA director Marc Dones “and receive significant private funding through the members of We Are In.”

“Together, the goal is to build a future where homelessness is rare overall and brief when it occurs, by combining resources and investing in targeted infrastructure and capacity to put every person who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the path toward permanent housing,” the announcement reads.

The new King County Regional Homelessness Authority is hoped to better organize the various county and city services currently addressing homelessness in the area even as Seattle has been left footing most of the bill.

Harrell, meanwhile, has promised his administration will do more to address issues of public safety and clearing encampments. During the campaign, his homelessness plan called for more housing and “a capital campaign” supported by charitable giving from the private sector, not new taxes.

The Partnership for Zero campaign is being announced following this week’s first results for Seattle’s tax on its largest employers that showed higher than expected revenue for the city.

Harrell, meanwhile, warned this week in his first “State of the City” address that Seattle is heading toward a $150 million budget gap due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

The campaign launched Thursday is being described as a five-phase rollout:

  • Phase 1: Ramp Up and Unified Command Center. The establishment of a Unified Command Center with clear lines of decision-making authority over resources, to facilitate a coordinated emergency response in Partnership for Zero’s target areas. The Unified Command Center includes representatives from the Lived Experience Coalition, the City of Seattle, King County, and the King County Regional Homeless Authority.

  • Phase 2: Development of a By-Name List. A “By-Name List” includes granular, real-time information about who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and what they need to move to stability. This tool relies on relationships built by outreach workers, and enables effective case planning and service matching.

  • Phase 3: Case Planning and Service Matching. An assessment of what services and resources are needed to successfully support people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and put them on the path to stable, permanent housing. The gaps identified between available resources and population needs will inform the expansion of infrastructure and capacity.

With funding from We Are In’s business and private partners, KCRHA will hire and manage sufficient staff to do the hard work of caring for people. The workforce will include 15 trained incident responders and up to 30 peer navigators who can provide longitudinal support to get people to stable outcomes. Peer navigators have lived experience of homelessness and an understanding of how the system works and how to access resources, enabling them to establish the trust needed to help people move from homeless to housed.

 

  • Phase 4: Draw Down. The majority of housing and shelter placements will happen in Phase 4, as outreach workers and peer navigators facilitate the movement of people into shelter or housing that matches their needs.

  • Phase 5: Hold Steady. Once Phase 4 is complete, KCRHA will maintain the infrastructure necessary to immediately respond to new individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in target areas.

The plan calls for “phase 5” to be reached in “as fast as 12 months” in Seattle’s downtown core. An additional “set of regional communities to be named soon” will also be included in the plan.

“Partners expect that there will be learning and adjustment over the course of the project and will operate with full transparency to keep the community updated,” the announcement reads.

While the $10 million start is significant, the full funding of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is a much larger endeavor. Its annual budget was planned to be around $132 million with Seattle city government pulling around 56% of the load.

 

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Little Saigon Resident
Little Saigon Resident
7 months ago

With this and the crackdown finally at 12th/Jackson, I finally have the slightest bit of optimism for the state of the city. Time will tell though.

Eddy Spaghetti
Eddy Spaghetti
7 months ago

Fingers crossed. I bicycle down Jackson ST to work in Pioneer square every day and did see the police presence at 12th the last two days clearing out what I call Ground Zero’s Ground Zero. The bulk of the people relocated three blocks west underneath the I5 overpass. While not ideal, the merchants at 12th must be relieved. The $10MIL mentioned in the article should be dedicated to repairing and revitalizing 12th and Jackson so Seattle can better understand the level of effort to reclaim a small portion of our city back.

d4l3d
d4l3d
7 months ago

Please let this be a joke.

DD15
DD15
7 months ago

PHEW! The wealthiest people on earth fixed everything again!

What happens when there isn’t housing to move these people into in “Phase 4?” Do they magically become housed? Is this program also going to teach people experiencing homelessness to give up avocado toast to save up for a down payment?

For reference $10 million is 0.01% of just Steve Ballmer’s estimated net worth ($95.6 BILLION) not to mention the rest of the region’s wealthiest who scraped together this underwhelming amount of money.

Nomnom
Nomnom
7 months ago
Reply to  DD15

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m relieved at this donation but think it’s terribly sad that private donors need to step up and provide basic city services. It doesn’t place our city council in a very good light. Again.

DD15
DD15
7 months ago
Reply to  Nomnom

Anytime enormously wealthy individuals and massive corporations announce their generosity through a splashy press conference, you should always look at it very critically. These types of “gifts” tend to benefit the givers more than the recipients.

Billyb
Billyb
7 months ago

If we need more shelters and housing, I don’t know, maybe build more of those with the money.

Reality
Reality
7 months ago
Reply to  Billyb

I don’t know, maybe a camping ban to stem the unsustainable migration of drug addicted homeless into Seattle from surrounding areas, congregate shelter beds, and free greyhound bus tickets?

kermit
kermit
7 months ago

“….the full funding of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is a much larger endeavor. Its annual budget was planned to be around $132 million with Seattle city government pulling around 56% of the load.”

I believe that Seattle alone was spending about $200 million/year on homelessness, so the KCRHA budget of $132 million is a significant reduction. Maybe that’s a good thing, because there is a general consensus that the $200 million was not being used very efficiently.

The private program now announced will apparently be using “peer navigators” to try and get people into housing. I hope they will be more effective than the “outreach workers” who have had limited success. But I do realize it’s a very hard nut to crack.

Privilege
Privilege
7 months ago
Reply to  kermit

The Venn diagram of people who complain about the “efficiency” of the spending on the housing crises and those who promote, say, increasing spending on police to combat crime without considerations of the “efficiency” of that expense is a circle.

But it’s true that reducing budgets is probably good. As we’ve seen throughout the world, austerity totally works. I mean, it hasn’t, historically, but it totally will this time.

Most of the time, you reduce budgets as the first step toward eliminating the service altogether. Reductions decrease its effectiveness, allowing your to point out how inefficient and ineffective it is, and eventually you just shut it down.

CD Rez
CD Rez
7 months ago

There is no “fix” there will be only incremental improvements. For the most part we let people live their lives how they see fit here. Where it fell apart was that we start stopped arresting them when they broke the law. You can get as high as you want to inside your own house. Shot you can get as high as you want to in the jungle. But when you start ruining the common areas of society shit and stealing everything not nailed down things have to change.

Capitol Hill Resident
Capitol Hill Resident
7 months ago

I hope that the $10m was a typo and you meant to say $10b? When Steve Ballmer sneezes, $10m falls out of his jacket pocket.