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

Seattle set to go it alone on safe consumption

Left Behind

Seattle will stand alone in the effort to create safe consumption sites in King County — and there’s a push to utilize existing county health facilities in the city to do it.

The most recent maneuverings in the political process around creating the sites aimed at curbing the rising tide of opiate-related overdoses has left Seattle standing alone with officials pushing for the first site to be located at an existing King County public health center in the city. Continue reading

Broadway businesses will pay to keep homeless outreach team in place

Money is running out on a program to provide outreach workers to help with problems around homelessness and addiction on Capitol Hill. A business group is stepping up to foot the bill — for now. (Image: CHS)

Broadway businesses are banding together to keep what they say is a vital service –Outreach workers on the streets of Capitol Hill talking with people suffering a mental health crisis or struggling with homelessness — in place as City Hall funding for the program comes to an end.

But as it finds a new way to pay for the service, the Broadway group may also need to find a new organization to provide the outreach workers.

For the past two years, the Broadway Business Improvement Area has contracted with downtown’s Metropolitan Improvement District to staff a crew of outreach workers who can help handle the day to day crises of homelessness, mental health, and addiction that arise along Broadway. The money to expand the effort from downtown to Capitol Hill came from then-Mayor Ed Murray’s office after some creative budgeting moved existing funding into place to support the outreach workers. The effort followed promises made in the wake of a shooting at Broadway and Pike to bring more services to Pike/Pine to help free up East Precinct officers who found themselves on the front lines of Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

But, by the end of March, the Broadway BIA will now be footing the bill to support the outreach through the end of 2018. 2019? Part of that will likely be decided by how the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to expand the BIA across the entire Hill is working out. Continue reading

Seattle safe consumption study answers how big and how much — but not where

Safe consumption advocates took their message to I-5 last month

The easiest answers to the hardest questions surrounding the creation of a safe consumption site in Seattle will be on the table as a City Council committee hears updates on how much space is needed and how much it will cost to acquire or lease a property for the facility hoped to help stem the tide of opiate-related overdoses.

Where to locate it? That’s not on the board — yet.

Teresa Mosqueda’s Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights Committee is slated for a Thursday morning briefing on the Safe Consumption Site Feasibility Study at the center of $1.3 million in city funding to help get a site running in Seattle.

Officials now know how much space and what features the facility will need (PDF) — “2,000 square feet, with space for approximately 10 consumption stations, offices for the facility manager, clinical providers and social workers, needle exchange, reception, waiting rooms, restrooms storage and utility space.” Continue reading