No good deed goes unpunished.
That adage is on full display as one member of the Seattle City Council seems eager to cut the city’s investments in one of the bright spots and linchpins of our city’s homelessness response: The Navigation Team. This team is made up of specially trained police officers, outreach workers, and systems navigators who help the city of Seattle address the public health and safety issues that stem from unauthorized encampments across Seattle.
Since launch in February 2017, the Navigation Team has become a critical part of the city’s overall response to help people experiencing homelessness, and it literally save lives. Working with city departments like Parks and Transportation, it helps the city take a 360-degree approach to address unsanctioned encampments. It helps campers access services and shelter, addressing public health concerns and removing trash, and ensuring campers do not come back to unsafe sites — like those next to freeways.
During last year’s historic, dangerous February snow storms, the Navigation Team’s lifesaving work was on full display; they worked through the night to help more than 200 people get a warm place to sleep and access services. This year, Mayor Jenny Durkan expanded the team so it could work seven days a week with an overall team of 38 people.
And it’s making a difference: In the first six months of 2019, the Navigation Team addressed more than 200 unauthorized encampments around the city and removed 760 tons of garbage, waste, and debris from the public right of way. And most important, their compassionate approach has ensured that 128 people have entered a shelter.
The Navigation Team is doing more than ever to connect people with shelter and services. Is it any coincidence that as the city has expanded the Navigation Team, the annual Point in Time count showed the first decline of people experiencing homelessness in the Seattle area since 2012?
As leaders of neighborhood groups across Seattle, we’ve seen the Navigation Team’s work firsthand. We’ve seen them help people inside. We’ve seen them deliver sanitation kits to help manage the spread of disease. We’ve seen them address the garbage, debris, and waste that can pose risks to our soil and water, and to public health.
Earlier this year in May, Seattle Police Department broke up a drug and weapons ring in both Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District. During the raid, SPD served seven search warrants and made 10 arrests for drug and weapons violations. The raids partially took place in two encampments — on Second Avenue South and South Washington Street, and 10th Avenue South and South Dearborn Street — in which the Navigation Team was an integral part in making it a successful operation. During these situations, it’s often forgotten that those experiencing homelessness are victims, too. SPD worked with the Navigation Team to ensure homeless individuals living in or near these encampments were directed to services and offered referrals to shelters.
Despite the Navigation Team’s growing positive impact on our communities and neighbors, Councilmember Kshama Sawant has already laid the groundwork to try to make an $8 million cut to that very team. In addition, a proposal from Councilmember Lisa Herbold would tie funding to difficult-to-manage quarterly reporting requirements.
Why are council members so focused on cutting funding and adding obstacles to what we know works?
None of this is to say that the Navigation Team — along with the city’s overall homelessness response — should be immune from accountability, good data and hard questions. We ourselves have asked many times that the city’s response be more efficient, more transparent and more accountable. When we’ve seen where the city could do better with taxpayer dollars, we’ve said so.
But the investments in the Navigation Team are making a difference.
Stripping funding for the Navigation Team would mean fewer people connected to shelter and services, that the city addressed fewer unsanctioned encampments and obstructions, and the city would clean up less garbage. Is that good for Seattle?
Join us in telling the City Council: Don’t take us backward on homelessness. Protect the city’s smart investments in the Navigation Team, protect the progress we’ve made, and as a tough winter approaches, lay the foundation for more people coming inside to the safer place they need.