The money will come from the sale of city property in South Lake Union, the proceeds of which will also go toward a plan by Mayor Jenny Durkan to fund a two-year pilot program for rent subsidies and to increase affordable-housing options in the city.
The Seattle City Council has restored $1 million for homeless hygiene and emergency services, months after the city’s Human Services Department cut some of that funding as part of its new strategy to address the region’s homelessness crisis.
The money, which should keep these programs operating through the end of the year, will come from the sale of city property in South Lake Union. Proceeds also will go toward a plan by Mayor Jenny Durkan to fund a two-year pilot program for rent subsidies and to increase affordable-housing options in the city, including the possible construction of so-called tiny homes.
The council’s unanimous decision on Tuesday followed a weekslong fight by a handful of homeless-service providers, namely SHARE/WHEEL and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), who’d either lost or seen a reduction in their funding for hygiene and emergency services, following the city’s rebidding of those contracts in November. The change was part of Seattle’s shift to an enhanced-shelter model, which focuses on providing clients wraparound services, like case management, with the ultimate goal of moving them into permanent housing.
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The city had not eliminated all hygiene and emergency-shelter funding. Some organizations, including SHARE/WHEEL, received transitional, so-called bridge funding to keep them operating through the first part of 2018.
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But concerns were rumbling through the provider community about the coming reductions. They argued the city was putting homeless people at risk for disease and disrupting their lives, before the new system of enhanced shelters was fully up and running.
The frustration culminated in a raucous Feb. 12 hearing, sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Sitting around the table with Sawant and city staff were members of WHEEL and the Women’s Referral Center, another shelter program that initially lost city funding but then received enough dollars to survive through the end of the year.
In response, Councilmember Lisa Herbold proposed the city use money from the property sale to restore the cuts. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda co-sponsored the measure, which shifted $1 million slated for a fire station in South Lake Union to the hygiene and emergency-services programs.
Money for the fire station will instead come from greater-than-expected Seattle’s Real Estate Excise Tax revenues.
Durkan, in a statement, applauded the decision, which kept intact the funding for her initiative.
“This bill focuses on essential services while investing resources to combat our affordability crisis,” the mayor’s statement said in part. Durkan must still return to City Council for approval on the specifics of her housing plan.
But the council’s vote can also be viewed as pushback against the Human Services Department’s efforts to overhaul the types of homeless services the city funds.
Department officials have emphasized the need to fund organizations that successfully move homeless people into permanent housing. They have announced a goal of doubling the number of people who get housing by year’s end.
That’s partly why the city did not award SHARE full funding for 2018 — the city rated the organization’s emergency-services application the lowest among any shelter working with adults because of its low-performance data. In a memo outlining program funding, the city said SHARE said it “would not be able to achieve the outcomes identified in the performance standards.”
Herbold said she is generally supportive of the city’s new homeless strategy. But she believes the city shouldn’t shift its investments to a new system before it’s clear that the strategy works in Seattle, a city with far less affordable housing than other places.
“I think we should transition funding away from old services and to new services after those new services prove to be more effective in realizing exits to permanent housing,” Herbold said, adding people aren’t leaving the enhanced shelters at the rate the city expected.
She also questions the city’s data about how effectively SHARE has moved people into housing.
Technically, the $1 million the council approved Tuesday could go to any homeless-hygiene or emergency-service provider.
The ordinance the City Council passed encourages the money to go toward emergency-service programs that received bridge funding from the city this year and hygiene programs that operate on weekends and at night — stipulations that are explicit references to SHARE/WHEEL and LIHI.
Human Services Department Deputy Director Jason Johnson emphasized that the money awarded Tuesday is one-time funding that will help ease the city’s transition to its new homeless-services model.
“This funding will allow us to … sort of build a longer bridge into the end of 2018,” said Johnson, adding the goal is to ensure “there’s not a hardship felt by the clients of SHARE/WHEEL and other organizations.”
He said his department will begin reaching out to these agencies in the coming days to determine how much funding they need to operate for the rest of the year.
A tough transition
When the city announced its new homeless-service-provider contracts last November, officials with the Human Services Department emphasized that tough decisions had to be made: They had received $105 million worth of requests but had only $34 million in funding available. The city was also shifting to the enhanced-shelter model.
The result was that many homeless programs the city had funded for years lost that money.
The drop-in, hygiene centers that saw a reduction or a total loss in their city funding all served single adults in the downtown area, a part of the city where homeless services have traditionally operated and where the population of chronically homeless adults is largely concentrated.
The city instead increased funding to drop-in, hygiene centers that served youth and families, with only a couple of exceptions.
Human-services officials emphasize they have never planned to cut adult services. Their main focus, beyond getting more people into housing, is changing the service model so homeless people don’t have to go “door to door” but instead can access everything at one location.
Twenty-one of the 22 shelter programs the city funded this year have hygiene facilities.
But in most cases, a person has to be staying at one of those shelters overnight to access the restrooms and showers — only six of the shelter programs offer drop-in services, and, of those, only two serve single adults.
In late December, the Health Care for the Homeless Network Planning Council, an advisory body to the King County-Seattle public-health department, sent a letter to the mayor, warning that reducing hygiene services for the homeless could increase the risk for disease, including hepatitis A. An outbreak of the disease in California has mostly affected the homeless population in that state, resulting in at least 21 deaths.
A homeless man living in Seattle was diagnosed with hepatitis A in late January, but he is believed to have contracted the disease while traveling in Colorado or Utah, said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Officials do not believe he had any contact with homeless encampments or shelters in Seattle, Duchin said.
The full impact of the hygiene services being reduced has remained unclear, partly because some programs received bridge funding.
Compass Housing Alliance’s Hygiene Center was the only stand-alone hygiene center shutting down completely. The organization had bridge funding to keep it operational through March 30. With the new funding, it could possibly remain open through the rest of the year.