The company, which has backed several initiatives to address the homeless crisis, called for the city to reform its homelessness programs and show results before it seeks more money.

Share story

Starbucks, like other major companies based in Seattle, opposes the proposed employee-hours tax. John Kelly, the company’s top executive for public affairs and social impact, says the city should reform its homelessness programs and show results before it seeks more money — a message the company has sent before.

Kelly said the tax itself and what it would cost the company are beside the point. He claimed Wednesday not to know how much the coffee giant would pay under the proposal to raise $75 million a year to pay for more affordable housing and homelessness services.

“We’re obviously trying to calculate that along with everybody else,” he said.

Starbucks has more than 10,000 employees in Western Washington, including its corporate headquarters, but it did not disclose its workforce specifically in Seattle. Large employers would owe $500 per full-time employee in 2018 and 2019 under the proposed head tax or employee-hours tax.

“We share the same concerns of every other major employer and small employer in Seattle and are opposed to the tax, but are more concerned that we’re missing the opportunity to reform and to focus on a compassionate need of hundreds of children sleeping in cars in Seattle,” Kelly said in an interview before heading to a panel discussion on the subject with Mayor Jenny Durkan.

He added, “There’s no reason why one of the wealthiest cities in the world should have children sleeping in cars.”

But the solution is not to funnel more money through a City Council that has thus far failed to show it can spend it effectively, he said.

“Our strong belief is quite simply reform first, show progress, and then talk about additional revenue that’s needed,” Kelly said, pointing to consultant reports that he said the city has not heeded on how to better run the homelessness response.

The city has in fact made some changes recommended by the reports such as shifting funding away from more basic “mat-on-the-floor shelters” to enhanced shelters with wraparound services on site. As part of these changes, the city rebid its homeless services last fall, so a full year of results is not yet available.

Starbucks, a funder of The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless reporting initiative, is among several locally based corporations and nonprofit groups that since 2014 have supported the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, aimed at ending family homelessness. Kelly said the campaign has raised $6 million to expand capacity for families at emergency shelters and help hundreds of people into permanent housing.

He acknowledged that family homelessness is “the most solvable part of a very complex problem.”

Families made up 24 percent of the homeless people identified during King County’s 2017 point-in-time count, a one-night snapshot of the homeless population. The vast majority of those families had shelter on the night of the count, the report said.

Seattle head-tax debate

Listen | Downtown Seattle Association’s Jon Scholes on case against head tax ⇊
Listen | Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González defends 'head tax' ⇊

Starbucks, with cafes throughout the city and headquarters in Sodo, is acutely aware of the crisis, confronting it on a daily basis, Kelly said. Even some of the company’s employees — which it calls partners — are experiencing homelessness.

“The homelessness crisis is very real if you are in retail here in Seattle,” said Kelly, who lives in Kirkland. Homeless families come into Starbucks stores to rest or get a drink of water, he said. “This is why this matters to Starbucks partners,” he added.

Starbucks outlined a “surge” plan aimed at family homelessness that includes a summit focused on emergency shelters; outreach events to bring services to families in need, in partnership with United Way and Mary’s Place; continued work with Durkan; and supporting The Home Shows — two Pearl Jam concerts planned in Seattle in August to raise at least $10 million.