The search is on for a leader to spearhead the regional effort to end homelessness in King County. The stakes are high.
The King County- and Seattle-led effort to regionalize homelessness response is a bold and complex shift in public policy but remains controversial among some elected city officials. It’s a critical moment in the long fight to get a handle on this unyielding problem.
As members of the authority’s Governing Committee and Implementation Board interview candidates for the nascent Regional Homelessness Authority’s top position, they must select a results-driven leader who can work with a multiplicity of stakeholders and transcend the politics that have stymied progress in the past.
It’s easy to agree in theory to a unified response to the crisis of homelessness. In practice, it’s infinitely trickier, as the ongoing controversy over the county’s decision to shelter more than 200 people at the Red Lion Hotel in Renton clearly shows.
The King County and Seattle City councils and the King County Regional Policy Committee formed the Regional Homelessness Authority nearly a year ago. The goal is to align programs, eliminate redundancies and establish strong central leadership to finally end chronic homelessness in the area, making sure people’s experiences of such are no more than brief, one-time occurrences. Progress in standing up the new authority has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the CEO hiring process is finally underway.
Search consultants are compiling a candidate shortlist for the authority’s Implementation Board to consider around mid-December. The first round of interviews are expected to begin shortly after the new year.
The CEO will be responsible for building the new authority from the ground up, creating the infrastructure and hiring staff. This person will be expected to launch a comprehensive countywide crisis response system and coordinated entry system to streamline and coordinate homelessness response throughout the county. Access to services like diversion and rapid rehousing programs should increase. A new, higher standard for evaluating programs and system performance is necessary. Stakeholders should work with the CEO to establish rigorous metrics for accountability.
The new leader must be unafraid to shake things up to create an efficient system that balances compassion with accountability. Especially important, the CEO should be able to bridge the festering disagreements among jurisdictions.
To do this, the CEO must be able to work not only with Seattle stakeholders, but suburban cities and diverse subregions with unique challenges and perspectives. The CEO must challenge entrenched and experienced service providers to work differently, when appropriate, and hold them accountable.
The new leader must prove to taxpayers and residents tired of funding years of homelessness eradication efforts with little apparent progress that this time, the work will yield results — and then deliver.
Regional leaders must choose wisely when filling this critical post.