Last Friday I interviewed new Council member Kirsten Harris-Talley on a topic that is coming up with increasing frequency in City Hall: community-based organizations (aka CBOs), who they are, their role in our community, and their relationship with city government.
Last week, the results of the annual One Night Count (renamed “Count Us In” this year) were released, giving us updated data on the extent and nature of the homeless crisis in King County and Seattle.
The full report is 116 pages of tables. It’s heavy on data and light on interpretation. After spending several days poring over the report, here are my thoughts on what it means.
Earlier this year, the city issued an update to its protocol for cleaning up unsanctioned homeless encampments. Notably missing from those rules was a formal role for the Office of Civil Rights in monitoring implementation and compliance, as it had been doing last fall when the city was accused of not following its own rules. The Office of Civil Rights stopped its monitoring work in January, but after public outcry the city backtracked and said that it would use the department in an “audit capacity.”
Last month, three city departments quietly signed a Memorandum of Agreement re-establishing a formal monitoring role.
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.