Jason Johnson resigns as HSD Interim Director

Today Jason Johnson resigned as Interim Director of the city’s Human Services Department, effective in June. This follows a disastrous hearing with the City Council on Wednesday that further undermined his credibility and leadership. Erica Barnett broke the story yesterday morning, and provided a full report Saturday morning.

Here is Johnson’s email message to HSD staff this morning, announcing his resignation:

Dear HSD –  

For nearly seven years, I have had the great honor to work alongside you in a variety of roles – first, as the Community Support and Assistance Division Director, then as the department’s Deputy Director, and most recently as your Director. This time at HSD has awarded me the privilege of working alongside some of the most dedicated people in public service and true trailblazers in the human services sector. Together, we have been the voice for underserved people in this region, deepened accountability for results and racial equity, and oversaw significant investments and services to address needs throughout King County. We have championed support for new, grassroots and culturally-responsive organizations, invested more in opportunities for workforce training and development, continually improved our business processes, built and deepened relationships with one-another and across our community with many partners, and offered innovative solutions to many of the city’s toughest issues. And under the Mayor’s leadership, the City has taken one of the biggest steps to address the region’s fractured homelessness response by creating a new regional homelessness entity.  

When I agreed to serve in the Interim Director role, I committed to doing so in that capacity for up to two years. As we approach the two-year mark, it is with a heavy heart and also a great sense of accomplishment and pride, that I share with you the difficult decision to end my tenure at the Human Services Department. This was not an easy decision, and the Mayor, her team, and I discussed it at length. I am encouraged by the vision and continued leadership that Mayor Durkan offers our city, and her commitment to the department’s mission and to the people who work here.  

My last days with the department will be in June 2020 – offering plenty of time for a thoughtful transition and continuity of services. The Mayor’s Office and SDHR will be developing a recruitment timeline and hiring process in the coming weeks.  

Over the next few months, my focus will be the leadership transition; supporting the success of the co-location phase and recruitment of a CEO to launch the King County Regional Homelessness Authority; to develop the 2021 department budget; and continuation of the department’s staff-led Vision Forward work. I share this decision with you now in the spirit of full transparency, and so we can plan next steps together.  

I remain committed to the efforts of this department, and to each of you. I acknowledge that this will be transition period at the department, but I know we will continue to be focused on our mission of serving others. So many across this region are depending on us and we still have much to accomplish.  

I am looking forward to connecting with as many of you as possible before my departure. 

With deep gratitude, 


Last year Mayor Durkan nominated Johnson to be the permanent Director of the Human Services Department, but withdrew the nomination when it became clear that the City Council would not confirm him. Instead, she re-appointed him as Interim Director, to lead the department through the launch of the new regional homeless authority — at which point much of HSD’s budget and a fair number of its staff will be transferring to the new organization and HSD will look very different.

Johnson has held the thankless job of leading the city’s human-services response to the homelessness crisis, which has seen disappointing results. His responsibilities include the Navigation Team, the subject of Wednesday’s fiery Council hearing.

Johnson has been with HSD since 2013, when he joined as Division Director for homelessness services. From 2015 to 2018 he served as Deputy Director under Catherine Lester, who left in 2018. When Lester left, Mayor Durkan appointed Johnson to serve as Interim Director. Prior to joining the department, he worked for the City of Kent for nine years in its Planning and Human Services Department.  Here is his resume, as was submitted last year with his nomination for HSD Director:

Mayor Durkan issued a statement today on Johnson’s resignation:

“Jason has brought his life experience, and heart and soul, to his work. Over the last seven years at the City, Jason has delivered every step of the way to make our City a better place. Under his leadership over the last two years, the City have moved forward to our region’s largest systemic change to the fractured homelessness response – the creation of a new countywide homelessness entity. He implemented changes to our contracting to require more accountability for results and racial equity, oversaw a significant transformation of our emergency response to provide significantly more enhanced shelters, and increased our shelter capacity by almost 25 percent. He acted with compassion and grace, and it is unfortunate that the City will lose his leadership. In the coming months as we begin a search process, he will continue to work to ensure the successful launch of the Regional Homelessness Authority and HSD’s mission of serving children, seniors, and the most vulnerable in our community. “