Catching up on the city’s homeless crisis response

If you’ve lost track of what’s happening with the city’s response to the homeless crisis, you’re in good company: there are now four separate issues, all with significant action expected over the next month. So let’s get caught up.

  1. The Jungle cleanup. The effort to deal with the large unsanctioned homeless encampment known as the “Jungle” (the city is trying to re-cast it as the East Duwamish Greenbelt Encampments or EDGE) continues to move forward. At the end of May, the Council passed a resolution that had been carefully negotiated with the Mayor laying out steps for clearing out the remaining inhabitants so the city and WSDOT staff could clean it up, make repairs to highway infrastructure, and improve access. The Mayor now feels that he has met the necessary conditions, and has submitted to the Council an assessment of the required outreach efforts and a written plan for how to move forward with relocating occupants to a nearby site and then bringing in the city crews to begin work.  Those are wrapped up in a resolution introduced to the Council this week to approve both of those documents and give its blessing to proceed. That will likely be considered in Thursday afternoon’s Human Services and Public Health Committee hearing, and may go before the full Council as soon as next Monday.
  2. Rewriting the rules for homeless “sweeps.” The executive branch has continued to be under fire for “sweeping” unsanctioned homeless encampments across the city, under the MDAR rules set in place many years ago. The Mayor and Council member Sally Bagshaw announced that they were convening a task force to review and recommend updates to those rules. Several homeless advocate groups responded by drafting a proposed ordinance to replace the MDAR. The executive branch responded in turn with a letter from several department directors — though curiously not signed by the Mayor or by his new homeless response czar — tearing apart the proposed ordinance. And the advocates replied with their own letter complaining that the city is mischaracterizing their proposal. In the meantime, the Mayor’s and Bagshaw’s taskforce members have been selected, and they have held their first meeting. Of note: while there were reports that the advocates’ proposed ordinance had majority support within the Council, none of the Council members have chosen to formally introduce it this week (though they still have that opportunity tomorrow afternoon at the Full Council meeting). So the question remains as to whether the Council prefers to legislate on the issue now starting with the advocates’ proposed ordinance, or wait for the task force to run its course.  We will learn the answer to that question this week.  UPDATE: the bill was introduced this afternoon.
  3. The Barb Poppe report. Noted expert on homeless issues Barb Poppe is due to deliver her long-awaited and overdue report on the city’s homeless response as soon as this week. Crosscut reported last week that a draft of the report has been circulating within City Hall for the pat month. Few surprises are expected: her report should take a “housing first” approach, and recommend investment in diversion and rapid rehousing programs; permanent supportive housing; drug, alcohol and mental health treatment programs; and 24-hour shelters that accept those with pets, possessions, partners, and substance abuse or mental health issues.  Even though the report is late, it should still provide useful feedback into the 2017-2018 budget development process.
  4. Navigation Center. Back in June, the Mayor announced that the city would be creating a new 24-hour shelter based on the innovative and successful Navigation Center in Seattle. According to the Mayor’s press release:

This workgroup will also coordinate closely with King County and other regional partners to provide technical assistance or coordination should other jurisdictions be interested in replicating San Francisco’s model in their respective jurisdictions to address the regional problem of homelessness. The workgroup will deliver its proposal to the Mayor within 60 days and the Human Services Department will then issue a request for proposal 30 days later, with a goal of successfully launching the service center by December 31, 2016.

The request for proposals was published by HSD last week. Responses are due by September 27th.

As you can see, there is a lot happening in parallel. Unfortunately, most of the attention and  energy from Seattle’s leaders is currently directed at dealing with unsanctioned encampments, rather than actually reducing homelessness. That needs to change if Seattle is to make progress on this difficult issue.