After nearly two years of heading Seattle’s Human Services Department, which oversees most city-funded homeless services, interim Director Jason Johnson announced Friday morning that he would resign.
Johnson, an internal hire, stepped into the role in May 2018, but remained “interim” after Mayor Jenny Durkan withdrew her nomination last spring, amid protest from Seattle city employees, human-services providers and some City Council members.
Over the past two years, Johnson has overseen much of the city’s growing budget to stanch its homelessness crisis and its preparations to merge with King County’s homelessness services system, a process that’s ongoing.
The city’s Human Services Department budget has grown by more than a third since 2018 as the city has increased its shelter capacity and financial assistance to quickly move people into permanent housing.
Under Johnson’s watch, the city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and social-services staffers tasked with cleaning encampments and getting people off the street and into shelter, has rapidly grown in size and extended its operations to seven days a week.
News of his resignation was first shared on Twitter by journalist Erica C. Barnett.
“This was not an easy decision, and the Mayor, her team, and I discussed it at length,” Johnson said in his resignation letter to staff on Friday. “I am encouraged by the vision and continued leadership that Mayor Durkan offers our city, and her commitment to the department’s mission and to the people who work here.”
In a statement, Mayor Durkan touted the department’s achievements during Johnson’s tenure, including increasing the city’s shelter capacity by nearly 25% and implementing performance-based accountability measures for the city’s shelter contracts.
“He acted with compassion and grace, and it is unfortunate that the City will lose his leadership,” Durkan’s statement read. “In the coming months as we begin a search process, he will continue to work to ensure the successful launch of the Regional Homelessness Authority and HSD’s mission of serving children, seniors, and the most vulnerable in our community. “
Johnson wrote that his last days at the department would be in June, and that the Mayor’s Office and the city’s Department of Human Resources would be coming up with a timeline and hiring process within the next month.
Johnson’s remaining work includes participating in the search for a CEO to lead King County’s regional homelessness authority, a merger of Seattle and King County’s homelessness systems that was finally approved by elected officials in December.