This afternoon the Human Services Department briefed the City Council on the performance of its homelessness response programs. It was the dawn of a new era in transparency and accountability for the department.
In a sudden and unexpected move today, Council President Bruce Harrell introduced a bill that would repeal the recently-enacted employee-hours tax (aka the “head tax”) and scheduled a special meeting of the full City Council for tomorrow to deliberate and vote on it.
Yesterday, King County released a report with statistics from its annual “Point in Time” count of homeless people living in the county. The 140-page report is an ocean of data and charts. But if you look closely, you can see the story of what’s happening to the homeless population — as well as the city and county’s response.
Back in January, Mayor Durkan announced a proposal to use $5.3 million from the sale of a city property to fund “bridge housing” to get more of the city’s homeless population off the streets. The City Council tweaked the plan a bit, but in the end Durkan’s $5.3 million survived and the Council ratified the funding plan in February.
Today Durkan is revealing the next step: a specific plan for how the money should be spent.
This afternoon the City Council resolved its stalemate and passed a compromise “head tax.” It imposes an annual tax of $275 per full-time employee (or full-time equivalent) on businesses making $20 million or more in revenues per year in Seattle.
Friday morning the Council will once again take up the proposed head tax, this time offering and voting on specific amendments. While we can expect some last-minute amendments, several have already been posted online. Here’s what will be up for consideration.
Last fall when the City Council wrote the budget for 2018, it inserted a proviso on funding for removal and cleanup of unsanctioned homeless encampments. That proviso requires all such funding to be spent in conformance with the Multi-Department Administrative Rule (MDAR) established in January of 2017 that specified the specifics of how cleanups should be carried out.
The proviso also spoke to the unease that some of the Council members feel toward that MDAR, and demanded that the executive branch review it and recommend changes by:
Furthermore, the Council intends that the Executive shall review MDAR 17-01 and FAS 17-01 protocols to improve the unauthorized encampment removal process and reduce harm to unsheltered individuals and provide a report by April 6, 2018, to the Chair of the Human Services and Public Health Committee and Council Central Staff Director. Recommendations for changes to the existing policies, proposing new policies, or legislation should also consider input from the Advisory Committee on Implementation of Rules of Removing Unsanctioned Homeless Encampments and the Office of Civil Rights’ encampment monitoring reports.”
That report was due last Friday. And it now looks like we won’t see it until the end of July.
Earlier this week, Council member Kshama Sawant held a discussion in her committee to push for some revisions in how the city reports on scheduled encampment cleanups.
Last Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled on the case of Steven Long, a homeless man who had been living in his truck after he was evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay the rent. When his truck stopped running, he left it parked on a Seattle street longer than the allowed 72 hours, and after being warned about it, a few days later the city impounded it and called Lincoln Towing to take it away. Lincoln’s charge to retrieve his truck was hefty (on top of the city’s fine for exceeding the 72-hour parking restriction), and he decided to go to court over it — represented by local nonprofit legal services provider and homeless advocate Columbia Legal Services.
This case has received a fair amount of press attention this week, but it’s been difficult to report on accurately for lack of good information on the judge’s ruling. Shaffer ruled “from the bench” last Friday, and her scrawled-out written ruling basically says “what I said in court on Friday” and points to the transcript of the hearing, which hadn’t yet been produced. That transcript finally became available this afternoon (here it is); it’s a pretty free-wheeling discussion of the case but paints a more nuanced version of the judge’s ruling than what was portrayed in the Stranger (who mostly got it right) and the Seattle Times (who got much of it wrong).