City Council wraps up 2022 budget with focus on ‘Housing, Homeless Services, Healthy & Safe Communities’

Seattle added a new Black Lives Matter outside City Hall in 2021 (Image: City of Seattle)

The Seattle City Council put a bow on the city’s annual budget session Monday with a vote approving the $7.1 billion spending plan marked by increased spending on the city’s three major crises: affordable housing, homelessness and addiction, and COVID-19 recovery. There were plenty of echoes of recent budget sessions past including a major tangle over ultimately minor changes to Seattle Police, and, yes, another year without unanimous approval as District 3 representative Kshama Sawant continued her long-running practice of voting against the final spending package.

Like last year, Sawant blasted colleagues and budget chair Teresa Mosqueda Monday for an unwillingness to make more substantial changes to the way Seattle spends its revenue. The big change, Sawant said, is how her fellow council members were spinning the numbers, saying last year’s budget “was described by the same council members as on track to defund the police by 50%, which was not true.” This time around, Sawant said she could not join the council’s efforts when “the police budget is actually growing.”

Sawant is facing a December 7th recall vote in a campaign that has focused as much on her political style as the charges brought against her.

Overall, the council’s final 2022 budget package includes $355 million for SPD, a $7 million cut from 2021 and $10 million less than Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan called for. Continue reading

Seattle 2022 budget proposal would create team of ’24/7 Citywide Mental Health Crisis Responders’

A Seattle Crisis Center holding area (Image: CHS)

The winners and the losers emerging from this week’s moderate-leaning Seattle election results agree: Seattle policing needs to change. Like his opponent Lorena González, likely victor Bruce Harrell campaigned on a platform including calls to “reimagine” the Seattle Police Department and “revisit where a gun and badge shouldn’t go.”

A proposed amendment to the city’s 2022 budget would create a much needed resource in reducing Seattle’s dependence on gun and badge responses.

Northwest Seattle Councilmember Dan Strauss, along with Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Councilmember Andrew Lewis have proposed spending $13.9 million next year to expand the city’s existing Mobile Crisis Team and to boost behavioral health programs to establish a 24/7 citywide mental health crisis first response system in the city. Continue reading

With firefighters and social workers, not cops, Seattle expands Health One to respond to homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues

(Image: City of Seattle)

After more than a year providing aid for homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues across downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill, Seattle Fire’s Health One is adding a second unit to expand its reach across new parts of the city.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and SFD Chief Harold Scoggins announced the expansion of the innovative program Tuesday.

“Seattle has pioneered community safety initiatives like Health One. As we continue to reimagine public safety, we will expand civilian public safety alternatives like Health One that sends a firefighter and social worker to a 9-1-1 call,” Durkan said. Continue reading

Amid record spike in overdoses and with money to spend, Seattle and county still working on plan for ‘supervised consumption’

(Image: yestoscs.org)

Supervised drug consumption sites have been a bone of contention in the city for years, but could Seattle see progress this year?

The Seattle City Council included in its 2021 budget $1.12 million specifically for health services for drug users after approving funding earmarked for facilities meant to give space to use opioids or other drugs with medical supervision multiple times in recent years, but that was never spent.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s Public Safety & Human Services Committee, noted that while the council can allocate these funds, it has no power to spend them, a power reserved for the mayor.

“This is really in the hands of the mayor’s office right now,” Herbold told CHS earlier this month. Herbold said she has been involved in conversations with Mayor Jenny Durkan on consumption sites — most recently in December — but Durkan has not made commitments to move forward. At the same time, Durkan has not expressed she wants to reallocate this money against the council’s wishes, so Herbold “remain[s] optimistic.”

Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for the mayor, said that the mayor’s office and representatives from the city’s Human Services Department planned to meet with Public Health — Seattle & King County.

“HSD will continue to work with Public Health – Seattle & King County to implement a proposal to expand access to drug treatment and increased services for people experiencing substance use disorders,” Nyland said in an email. She did not have specifics yet on what this might look like, saying that would likely come out of the meeting.

This comes amid a recent spike in overdoses, with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office reporting 42 suspected or confirmed overdose deaths between Dec. 27 and Jan. 9.

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Seattle City Council shows support for changes to allow poverty, addiction, and mental illness as defense for misdemeanor crimes — but legislation will probably have to wait

The City Council on Wednesday debated a budget proposal that would lead to making poverty, mental illness, and addiction possible defenses for people accused of misdemeanor crimes in Seattle.

The proposal from West Seattle representative Lisa Herbold would lead to the creation of new defenses allowed under the city’s code for misdemeanor crimes in an effort to keep more people out of incarceration to reduce the city’s costs utilizing the King County Jail and reduce so-called “poverty crime” in the city.

Herbold said Wednesday that the effort would give Seattle courts the authority to hear a defense with transparency about the conditions that led the defendants to the alleged crimes and would help reduce city jailing costs. Continue reading

Remember Lisa Vach

Lisa Vach (Image courtesy Sirena Ross)

She was kind, and funny, and an artist.

Lisa Vach died in Cal Anderson Park a week ago tonight, murdered by a man her life had become intertwined with. She was 38.

Remember Lisa Vach, please, friend and colleague Sirena Ross asks.

“She was extremely charming. One of those people who made you feel very at home as soon as you met her,” Ross tells CHS.

She and Vach met working together for Pioneer Square tourist institution Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. There, Vach ran the gift shop. Ross said Vach put her creativity and energy into overhauling the shop. That kind of energy to create also showed in another job Vach held down doing housekeeping for the bed and breakfast above the Merchant Cafe where she went beyond cleaning the rooms and took on redecorating the place.

Vach was also a fighter with a strong sense of justice who once confronted another employee over his abuse of a homeless woman, Ross said.

It is difficult to connect that life to the one that ended last Wednesday in Cal Anderson. CHS reported here on the domestic violence murder-suicide in which Vach was found assaulted. choked, and dying in the park and the police standoff with suspect Travis Berge ended with him dead inside the park’s reservoir pumphouse. Continue reading

Seattle Fire’s new Health One team for homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues ready to hit the streets of Capitol Hill

(Image: Seattle.gov)

Seattle has a new team of first responders on its streets starting today. Staffed with specially trained Seattle Fire Department firefighters and a civilian social worker, Health One has rolled out to help address the issues of homelessness and basic human health needs that are swamping Seattle’s emergency services.

The new pilot program will be focused on the city’s downtown core — including Capitol Hill — providing “alternatives to transporting individuals to emergency departments” and “allowing SFD units to focus on emergencies like structure fire and vehicle collisions,” the city says.

“We are taking an important step for a healthier downtown. As our city grows, our ability to deliver emergency and non-emergency responses needs to keep up. Here in Seattle, we pioneered Medic One, which became the gold standard in emergency health response and now we are pioneering Health One for non-emergency cases,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in the launch announcement Continue reading

Capitol Hill case at center of flap over judge’s cozy relationship with KOMO’s ‘Seattle is Dying’-themed coverage, political group — UPDATE

A call from the Seattle City Attorney for a municipal court judge to step down from his position leading the court over “apparent violations of the canons of judicial ethics” is also shining new light on Seattle media and activists who claim they are dedicated to shaping more accountable government in the city.

Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, director of the Department of Public Defense, say in a letter released Wednesday that Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna should step down as presiding judge and recuse himself from criminal cases after “predetermining harsh outcomes for defendants and advertising the sentencings to local media,” Crosscut reports.

The case at the center of the unusual courtroom activities has a Capitol Hill connection. The crime took place last November when an angry man punched a victim without provocation in the crosswalk at Broadway and Pine. The blow sent the victim’s headphones flying and left the shaken man with a swollen lip. It landed the assailant, Francisco Calderon, in jail and set in motion a bizarre episode in Seattle justice with a judge allegedly shaping his proceedings for a television reporter and a political group. Continue reading

Capitol Hill things to watch in Seattle budget ‘balancing package’ include homelessness outreach, ‘Community Health Engagement Location’ — UPDATE

Some big decisions were made Tuesday across the United States. Wednesday in City Council chambers will bring some big decisions for Seattle as representatives shake out the final roster of additions, tweaks, and cuts to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 budget proposal.

Included in the “green sheet” decision day is a proposal for the money sought by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and business community to support a homeless outreach worker in the neighborhood and some spends championed by District 3 rep Kshama Sawant including a bid to add $440,000 in 2019 to help finalize a decision on a location for a “Community Health Engagement Location” — a long-sought “safe consumption” site proponents say would help address problems with addiction and health in the city.

UPDATE: The proposed balancing package has been released including good news for the Capitol Hill homelessness outreach request and progress on a Seattle “CHEL”:

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‘We really need to have a timeline here’ — Seattle shifting safe consumption plan to mobile ‘community health engagement’ van

Thursday afternoon just after 1 PM, Seattle Fire medics fought to revive a 29-year-old found unconscious after overdosing inside his 10th Ave E apartment. He was taken to Harborview in critical condition. Another rescue took place just blocks away Sunday as medics revived an overdose victim on the Bobby Morris playfield. Wednesday morning, Seattle Fire could not revive a man in his 20s who died of an overdose at a homeless camp in the greenbelt below Capitol Hill’s Louisa Boren Lookout.

Thursday at City Hall, a Seattle City Council committee heard an update from the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force on its progress to form a plan to help stem the tide of overdoses with a safe consumption site in the city where people addicted to drugs can come and shoot up — and not be alone. But the years-long process is still not close to finding a site for such a facility, officials said Thursday. The new plan, if the city wants to get something in place anytime soon, officials say, is to buy and deploy a “community health engagement” van that would be deployed daily to a dedicated site but would not roam the city.

“When we began to look at all the various options we realized the city doesn’t own a lot of buildings and the buildings we do own often times community centers or park related centers,” task force member Jeff Sakuma, Mayor’s Office said Thursday. “And obviously those would not be appropriate types of building sites.” Continue reading