Seattle and King County officials say they are in the final stages of drafting a framework and action plan for a regional response to homelessness.
Properly executed, the approach could harmonize the important work of dozens of disparate programs and services, making way for a more effective response to this local crisis.
Staff are in the final phase of drafting an interlocal agreement that will consolidate most city and county services for people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming so, Tess Colby, the Seattle mayor’s senior adviser on homelessness, told members of the city’s Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability last week. They expect to present it to King County and Seattle council members next month.
If the agreement is approved by both councils, the County Council will vote to create a Public Development Authority to carry out the work. The new authority would be governed by a board with powers similar to a nonprofit’s board of directors, such as directing policy and funding. As a quasi-public entity, it would still be subject to open records, open meetings and other government laws. A regional action plan — also expected next month — will guide the board’s efforts, laying out goals, metrics, methods, accountability and estimated costs. The plan will provide a much-needed road map to help ensure experiences of homelessness are rare, brief and don’t recur.
Countless hours of thought, discussion and planning have led to this watershed moment, intended to address major shortcomings in a fragmented regional system which has lacked strong central leadership or direction. But the devil will be in the details.
First, the new structure must not simply add an extra layer of government. The regional authority will likely be charged with managing crisis responses ranging from homelessness prevention to support services, although the city and county will each retain control of certain capital projects and “upstream” anti-poverty programs, such as food banks. The city’s Navigation Team — formed in 2017 to connect people with services and shelter — would not migrate to the new authority, although some of its outreach efforts could, Colby told City Council members last week.
Even on paper, this is a complex proposal. In practice, the city and county must ensure resources and responsibilities are truly transferred, with minimal overlap and duplication. As much as possible, all money allocated to the new agency should be met with equivalent reductions in spending in the county administration building or City Hall.
Second, for the response to be truly regional, suburban cities must eventually join as full partners in the effort, with rights as well as responsibilities to craft responses to homelessness that are appropriate for their jurisdictions and contribute to the broader solution.
Finally, to build trust and confidence, the new authority must conduct business transparently, making full use of existing public, private and philanthropic resources.
Regionalization is a bold step in our communities’ efforts to minimize homelessness. It is worth the time and effort to start on the right foot.