Seattle’s homelessness crisis is high on the minds of likely Seattle voters, according to a recent Crosscut/Elway Poll. About 79% of participants said this issue was important to them as they consider their ballot choices for elected city officials.

The Seattle Times editorial board asked the candidates for mayor and the city council’s two citywide positions how they would approach this challenge, if elected.
Below are the responses from the candidates for the council’s open 9th District seat, Sara Nelson, co-founder of Fremont Brewing, and Nikkita Oliver, a lawyer and activist.

Previously, The Times endorsed Nelson for the council seat. Sept. 22, we will publish responses from the 8th District candidates. Find answers from mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and M. Lorena González here.

Q: What three actions would you take within the first 100 days to create a more effective city response to homelessness?

Sara Nelson: I will work as a partner with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) as it develops, funds, and implements a regional response to homelessness, starting in January 2022. Seattle can’t go it alone, which is why we signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with KCRHA mandating that it will assume leadership of a regional response.

Regardless of which jurisdiction leads this effort, we need to stop doing what we’re doing because this is a city-made humanitarian and policy failure. What I would do within 100 days if I were in charge is:

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Survey our houseless population to identify how many people are living in encampments, vehicles, in the homes of loved ones, and in all forms of existing shelter/housing and understand what precipitated their houselessness (eviction, mental illness, domestic abuse, etc). We need to stop treating “the homeless” as a monolithic bloc in order to provide the services and individualized case management needed to get into stable, permanent housing.

Use the survey to develop concrete policy goals, a timeline to meet them and a budget — based on best practices established by federal partners and other cities. Then, create a real-time online portal that all providers and city agencies can access to know what kind of outreach each individual has received, what kind of housing and services they need and/or have received, and where they’re at on the way out of homelessness. Right now there is zero coordination among service providers or city agencies.

Identify a funding stream for mental illness/substance abuse treatment and prioritize getting people out of encampments by creating a real-time menu of available housing options. Engage in coordinated boots-on-the-ground outreach performed by permanent “peer navigators” who’ve experienced homelessness themselves. Finally, we must restore our public spaces so they’re clean and accessible to all.

Nikkita Oliver:

1. Effective collaboration with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority: Meet with the KCRHA to develop a plan for collaboration and to align the priorities of our office with those of our regional leadership; including a shared framework for sustainably ending homelessness. It is important to recognize that the KCRHA will issue 2022 contracts for City-based homelessness services. Providing KCRHA with clear directives and having a strong accountable relationship is key to an effective regional and citywide strategy.

2. Expand effective solutions: Assess, identify and work to grow effective solutions. This includes: a) Upstream and mitigative responses to the crisis such as expanded tenants/renters protections, rental assistance and cash assistance, increase supportive services, prioritize emergency housing vouchers for currently unsheltered residents, stop the sweeps and leveraging “sweeps funds” for “radical accessibility” to build rapport with residents without homes through mutual aid and supportive services; b) Expand our usage of non-congregate shelters, which requires purchasing more hotels and motels and preserving naturally deeply affordable housing for bridge housing; and c) Seattle must prioritize building permanent housing to scale with the need. The data is clear — the homelessness crisis in Seattle is one of affordability. The solution is the development of affordable and supportive housing. We will pursue leveraging city funds for green, social, deeply affordable housing on Seattle public lands.

3. 2022 Budget (determined by 2021 Council): Ensure money allocated for the 2022 budget cycle for housing and homelessness services is spent and implemented effectively — including that Tiny House Villages are a place of dignity with fidelity to Housing-First, Harm-Reduction, Trauma-Informed Models and Racial Equity and Social Justice Principles, including adequate plumbing, electricity and a quality standard of care focused on obtaining permanent housing and a self-governing, democratic environment where residents are empowered to make decisions about their own lives.

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Q: What specific data would you use to measure success?

Nelson: We need clear criteria for measuring success and a plan to track that data.

I will measure success in addressing our homelessness crisis by counting: a) individuals rapidly rehoused, b) individuals placed in permanent supportive housing or living independently and c) the number of public spaces made safe and accessible for all. We should also include goals for access to employment opportunities. Jobs are a missing piece of our conversation about homelessness. Many people who aren’t chronically homeless just need a job in order to earn a paycheck and pay rent. That starts with concrete policy goals and proven strategies to get there.

Oliver: We do not need to recreate the wheel. Seattle/King County has access to lots of data regarding both the crisis and the proven solutions.

Rapid Re-Housing Dashboard (which is updated quarterly): The Rapid Re-Housing dashboards show how well and how quickly rapid rehousing is connecting participants to housing.

The Crisis Response Dashboard (which is updated annually): The Crisis Response dashboards show the number of households entering and exiting the homeless response system each year.

Effectiveness of supporting residents transition into more stable and dignified housing: The average stay in a tiny house village, according to the Lived Experience Coalition, is 400 days, a metric of success would be adopting a “Move-on Strategy” to connect people currently residing in tiny homes with permanent housing, which would make more efficient use of existing tiny home units and simultaneously free up additional non-congregate shelter space in our community.

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Q: How would you hold programs and providers accountable for results?

Nelson: RFPs (requests for proposals) and provider contracts must be consistent with our policy goals, strategies and timeline to meet evidence-based outcomes. We must establish performance metrics for providers and benchmarks for meeting them, and if they fail to do so, their contracts should not be renewed. To ensure ongoing accountability, providers must provide up-to-date information on their progress meeting established benchmarks and report quarterly to City or KCRHA leadership. Ultimately, our response to the homelessness crisis must be structured in a way that lays the foundation for provider success. They need clear direction and implementable workplans. Finger-pointing, passing the buck and failing to take responsibility are not acceptable, and that goes for our elected leaders, city and KCRHA staff, and providers. Everyone has to be on the same page. We must lead with humility and course-correct if necessary. No progress can be made without transparency and accountability, and I think that’s been missing.

Oliver: It is significant that Seattle is moving into a new era of how we respond to the homelessness state of emergency. We have committed, with King County, to a regional approach to addressing the homelessness crisis through the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. As a result, in January of 2022 many of our current contracts for homelessness services will be subsumed and overseen by KCRHA. Our role as city council will be to identify key directives for KCRHA based on our local needs, identify dollars for investment in KCRHA and in deeply affordable permanent housing, pursue and grow our progressive revenue generating options to fund rapidly building deeply affordable, green, social housing, and to strengthen our investments in upstream solutions to prevent homelessness. Our greatest tools for accountability with KCRHA are through our budgetary investments and provisos that require particular outcomes, or returns, on our participation in the KCRHA.