A timeline of the Navigation Team

Given today’s existential debate on the Navigation Team, I thought it would be useful to have a timeline for it, extending from its creation in early 2017 to the present day.

  • January 2017: the Executive Branch first informs the Council that it is standing up “a new multi-disciplinary outreach team consisting of outreach workers and police officers who will serve as a referral source for the Navigation Center and provide individualized solutions for those living in unsheltered areas.”
  • February 2017: the new team is christened the “Navigation Team.” In a presentation to the Council, the city announces its goals, including working to resolve the underlying needs of people living in the streets, focusing on the highest impact people and most problematic locations, and quickly responding to the most challenging people and situations. The city also listed the metrics and outcomes that would be used to measure the team’s performance.
  • March 2017: The Navigation Team moves into the Emergency Operations Center, as part of Mayor Murray’s effort to better coordinate the multi-deparment repsonse to the homeless crisis. The EOC operation also defines a set of “missions,” with the Navigation Team taking the lead on #3: “Connect people with services and mitigate the most hazardous encampments.”
  • June 2017: the Navigation Team, still operating within the EOC activation, annnounces that it is seeing a 36% acceptance rate for its offers of shelter, and that 66% of people it makes offers to accept some form of service. The Office of Civil Rights is given responsibility for “high-level oversight” to ensure that the city is following the encampment removal protocol.
  • November 2017: The Office of Civil Rights reports to the City Council on its oversight of encampment cleanups, restating the shelter acceptance rate down to 21%. It also notes that the prioritization process for encampment cleanups is opaque, and questions why the Navigation Team is organized under Finance and Administrative Services instead of the Human Services Department. SOCR also ended its oversight of the encampments, leaving encampment removals essentially unsupervised.
  • November 2017: as part of the Council’s stormy budget negotiations (including the first attempt to pass a head tax, and when Tim Burgess resigned as budget chair to become Mayor), a fight breaks out over rewriting the “MDAR” rules for encampment removals. This is the first time it’s broadly acknowledged that the Navigation Team has taken the central role in cleanups (or “sweeps.”). It’s resolved with a slightly modified version of the MDAR rules that the city agrees to conform to, an advisory committee sent off to further review the MDAR, and a budget proviso requiring the city to agree to provide the Council with regular reports on the Navigation Team.
  • ¬†2018: Mayor Durkan takes office, and lots of arguments about Navigation Team work ensue. The City Auditor is asked to review the Navigation Team.
  • November 2018: as part of the 2019 budget, the Council passes a proviso releasing the Navigation Team budget in quarterly installments once the city has submitted its quarterly reports to the Council.
  • February 2019: the City Auditor releases his report on the Navigation Team. In it he says: “The City does not currently use a robust systematic approach for managing homeless outreach field operations, which involve nine nonprofit organizations, multiple City agencies, and King County. Without such an approach, the City cannot ensure outreach work is well-coordinated and effective.” He particularly faults the city for not having an outreach plan for those who have just become homeless and are more easily diverted, in part because the Navigation Team is only dispatched to “problematic” and “hazardous” sites. The report includes a long list of recommendations, some of which have nothing to do with the Navigation Team itself (such as investing in hygiene services for the homeless population).
  • February 2019: HSD delivers its first quarterly report, with a set of statistics on exits to permanent housing that subsequently get ripped to shreds in the process for double-counting exits when multiple service providers were involved.
  • May 2019: REACH, the outreach service provider working with the Navigation Team, pullls back from providing outreach to homeless people on the day of an encampment cleanup, because they don’t want their workers to be viewed as associated with a cleanup operation. REACH still provides outreach in advance of cleanups. The Navigation Team hires its own “system navigators” to help bridge the day-of gap.
  • May 2019: Erica Barnett reports that the Navigation Team’s efforts have quietly shifted away from encampment cleanups that require a 72-hour advance notice to the residents, outreach visits, and meaningful offers of alternative shelter, toward an increase in cleanups of “obstruction” encampments that are exempt from those requirements.
  • June 2019: HSD presents its second quarterly report, fixing its statistics on exits to permanent housing. HSD’s Director of Homelessness provides context on REACH’s request not to be involved on the day of an encampment cleanup, and explains that the Navigation Team is doing fewer 72-hour cleanups because of the lack of availability of shelter options to refer people to. She also affirmed that neither the Navigation Team nor any other outreach provider is measured against exits to permanent housing.
  • September 2019: the Mayor’s proposed 2020 budget includes adding two FTE field coordinators to the Navigation Team on top of the two system navigators that were added during 2019 when REACH pulled back from day-of outreach work.
  • October 2019: In presenting the Mayor’s 2020 budget for the Navigation Team, HSD Interim Director Jason Johnson notes that the department can, for the first time, track whether people referred to shelter by the Navigation Team actually arrive and check into the shelter. Following up on this, Erica Barnett reports that only about 30% of people receiving referrals actually arrive at the shelter.
  • October 2019: in response to comments made by Council members questioning the value of the Navigation Team and suggesting that its budget should be cut, eight city department heads jointly write a memo reiterating their support for the Navigation Team and laying out what they see as the negative consequences for the city if the team’s budget is cut or even eliminated.¬† Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong forwards the memo to the City Council on the morning they are debating budget issues for the Navigation Team.

    The memo acknowledges that the rate at which the Navigation Team’s referrals result in enrollments into shelter is lower than the city’s other outreach providers, but argues that the context of the Navigation Team’s work is different.

  • October 2019: As part of the budget process, Council members propose competing changes to the Navigation Team’s budget. Council member Juarez proposes adding two new positions to focus on encampments in North Seattle. Council member Sawant proposes eliminating the Navigation Team budget entirely. Council member Herbold proposes extending the 2019 quarterly-reporting proviso into 2020, noting that the city has provided incomplete information in its reports to-date.

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