Late last summer, Mayor Murray announced Bridging the Gap, his administration’s short-term plan too address homelessness while the longer-term plan Pathways Home, took its time to spin up. Both efforts have sputtered along since then, mired in city government bureaucracy and hidden behind a maddening lack of transparency and accountability. But there are now signs that the shorter-term effort is starting to find its groove thanks to a creative idea for how to reorganize the effort.
Wednesday afternoon in the Human Services and Public Health Committee meeting, the City Council was asked by the Human Services Department (HSD) to lift restrictions on $125,000 set aside in this year’s city budget for a contract related to human service providers in the North Seattle area. They asked no questions, and quickly passed it out of committee for final approval on Monday. This represents their general approach to oversight of HSD, and it is a big mistake.
Budget chair Tim Burgess’s plan for this year was to use two rounds of discussion to build most of the 2017-2018 budget by consensus, leaving today’s meeting to hash out whatever controversies remain. That is exactly how it played out, and even today’s meeting had few major conflicts.
I’ve been scratching my head all afternoon and evening trying to figure out how to write something coherent about what was fundamentally an incoherent, chaotic meeting of the Human Services and Public Health Committee this morning to discuss the pending homeless encampment legislation.
I’m going to give a quick rundown on what happened (ok, maybe not so quick) then share some thoughts and observations.
On a day when everyone in City Hall was supposed to be working on the budget, apparently no one was working on the budget. Instead, all attention was on competing efforts to craft an ordinance specifying when, where and how to clear unsanctioned homeless encampments around the city. When the dust cleared at the end of the day, there were two separately authored versions of the bill, plus a vague promise from the Mayor for his ideas on how to reform the current process. But equally important — and in the end probably more valuable — some people were finally willing to talk on the record about what has been happening behind the scenes since the bill was first introduced. Get ready for some serious legislative sausage-making.
The Human Services Department, often referred to as HSD, is one of the largest departments in the city with 325 full-time employees and a proposed 2017 budget of $156.7 million. Where does the money come from, and where does it all go?
The Council heard a fascinating presentation yesterday from Dr. Caleb Banta-Green of the UW School of Public Health, a member of the Seattle and King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force on its recent report.
Yesterday morning the Council had its first substantive discussion on the merits of the bill introduced earlier this month to rewrite the city’s protocol for clearing unsanctioned homeless encampments. While yesterday’s meeting was intended to be just a forum for discussion with no decisions, it nevertheless highlighted just how much work needs to be done on the details of the bill before it’s ready for adoption – and how unlikely that work will be finished before the Council’s self-imposed deadline of the end of the month.
Here are some quick hits from this morning’s weekly Council Briefing.
Council President Harrell noted that this week’s Education, Equity and Governance Committee will have a presentation from the FTC on combatting fraud in the African-American and Latino communities. Also, the Seattle Election and Ethics Commission will discuss their plan to roll out the Democracy Voucher Program.
Council member Sawant mentioned that there are openings on the Seattle City Light customer review panel; in particular they are looking for a residential customer and someone with strong environmental advocacy interests.
Sawant also said that at the next Energy and Environment Committee meeting on September 27th she plans to hold a vote on the proposed ordinance capping move-in fees for tenants.
Council member Gonzalez noted that she might schedule a special set of GESCNA committee meetings if Judge Robard gives his approval for police accountability legislation.
Council member Bagshaw’s Human Services and Public Health Committee will have special meetings this Thursday and next Tuesday as it works through legislation addressing unsanctioned homeless encampments. Meanwhile, the encampment task force created by her and Mayor Murray meets the next two Wednesday evenings at 6pm in the Bertha Knight Landes Room in City Hall.
A full read of the 99-page report of the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force paints a very different picture than what the press reported. The report isn’t without its faults, but nevertheless it’s worth understanding what it actually says — and doesn’t say.