King County and Seattle council members will soon consider a framework for a consolidated response to homelessness. Staff members expect to transmit a draft interlocal agreement and proposed charter to councils this week.
If approved by both councils, Metropolitan King County Council members will create a new quasi-government regional entity to manage crisis responses ranging from homelessness prevention to support services. More than an estimated $110 million in city and county contracts could fall within the new agency’s responsibilities, county Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor recently said.
Officials say the regional entity will simplify and streamline services, eliminating duplication in contracts to providers serving the same populations. It is one important step toward establishing strong central leadership and direction to ensure experiences of homelessness are rare, brief and don’t recur.
A steering committee would include representatives from Seattle, the county and Sound Cities Association, as well as members who have experienced homelessness. This group would approve annual budgets and implementation plans, and confirm a governing board of technical and subject matter experts. Staff would include an ombudsperson and an executive director empowered to hire additional staff. Other King County cities and housing authorities could subsequently join, provided that they sign on to a regional implementation plan.
A joint authority is not a panacea for this thorny and persistent problem. The details of the proposal require close scrutiny and robust public discussion. In particular, true regionalization will require full participation of suburban cities, as well as a recognition of those cities’ diverse resources and needs.
That has been a point of contention as stakeholders have hashed out the details of the agreement. At an Aug. 21 meeting of local government leaders, several elected officials from smaller cities took issue with what they called “token representation” on the new authority and a lack of collaboration.
“There’s been very little discussion, frankly, among the cities outside of Seattle,” said John Stokes, Bellevue City Council member.
“The last thing I want to do is solve homelessness in Seattle and not around the region,” said Bothell City Council member James McNeal. “I want to be part of a regional policy that’s going to help all of us.”
Seattle and King County officials say ongoing discussions have addressed these concerns, and are reflected in the documents that will be circulated this week.
City, county and suburban stakeholders should identify and resolve any lingering differences before the agreements are signed.
A comprehensive, transparent and efficient regional authority could be a significant asset in the region’s struggle to reduce homelessness, but a sturdy structure requires a solid foundation.