A new online dashboard tracking Seattle’s progress in tackling homelessness is a refreshing step toward transparency and accountability.
While clear, useful and publicly accessible data won’t be enough on its own to solve this humanitarian crisis, it could help ensure all stakeholders are on the same page.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell unveiled the dashboard Tuesday, when he announced the plan to make good on campaign promises to turn the tide on the growing problem. Though overdue — he took office in January — the frank transparency of both the dashboard and plan show an encouraging commitment to public accountability.
The dashboard makes several important data points easily available for the first time, including a map of known encampments and RVs, available shelter and housing, city spending and public-safety data. Combined, these figures shed important new light on the problem, particularly of unsheltered homelessness.
Harrell’s plan offers no knee-jerk solutions, rather aims for systematic progress that balances compassion with accountability, which is exactly what voters appeared to be seeking when they elected him last fall.
Harrell’s plan calls for removal of problematic encampments while acknowledging that doing so without offering shelter options is disruptive and ultimately unproductive. The dashboard tracks offers of shelter before encampment closures through mid-May.
The dashboard also tracks progress toward Harrell’s promise to stand up 2,000 new units of shelter and supportive housing with a named list of projects that are open, under construction or in the works.
It is also frank about the city’s spending in the fight against homelessness, which has increased by 125% over the past four years, from $77 million in 2018 to $173 million in 2022. Of that, $118.3 million will go to the Regional Homelessness Authority. The city will spend an additional $9.8 million this year to remove RVs and encampments, $10 million on health care and services, $14.7 million to clean up garbage and recycling, $18.8 million on housing and $1.1 million on administration.
Importantly, Harrell’s plan does not ignore the public-safety issues that plague some encampments, rather acknowledges the grave safety concerns that contributed to moderate Democrats’ victories in last November’s election.
“We cannot hide from this reality,” Harrell said Tuesday. Here, again, the dashboard offers hard numbers: 3,707 medical-response calls to encampments, 608 fires, 53 shots fired or shootings where the victim or suspected offended is experiencing homelessness between January and April.
This plan and its commitment to transparency appears to have promise. The continued tracking and updating of these statistics will leave no doubt whether Harrell’s administration’s policies are working. That’s exactly what Seattle residents want and deserve.