After defunding the Navigation Team, the Seattle City Council passed a bill Monday afternoon that reconstitutes some funding for a city team to coordinate outreach to homeless encampments through the end of the year.
The vote came after weeks of negotiations with social-service providers and the Mayor’s Office, which vehemently opposed dismantling the group of police officers and city workers who removed encampments and referred people in those encampments to shelter.
The temporary team of city workers will be capped at eight people, and unlike the Navigation Team, no city human-services workers will do outreach or engagement at encampments in the field other than for the purpose of storing people’s belongings. Instead of competing with city-contracted outreach workers for access to shelter beds, the new city team would take up the job of coordinating with outreach providers and city departments themselves.
“This is the first step to all of us realizing our common interest in this and moving forward in a way that can hopefully, finally, bridge the divide and get people the really critical resources that they need and that this council has appropriated money to address,” bill sponsor Councilmember Andrew Lewis said.
The legislation appropriates $2.074 million to expanded outreach contracts, including $245,000 for the new team, amending a council proviso earlier in the year that redirected all Navigation Team and encampment-cleanup funding to expanded contracts.
Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant expressed concern about setting aside the earlier proviso that would have redirected more funding for expanded outreach contracts, although Councilmember Alex Pedersen said he was worried that the eight-person team was smaller than the group that formerly made up the Navigation Team.
Sawant, however, was the bill’s only “no” vote; the bill passed 7-1, with Councilmember Debora Juarez absent.
Service providers released a “shared framework” document shortly before the vote that summed up, in broad strokes, discussion among the City Council, the providers and the Mayor’s Office about how to create a more permanent plan for addressing encampments in 2021.
Those discussions are still ongoing, although Morales has proposed a team of five city workers that would support outreach and coordinate among different city departments. Morales’ plan would aim to permanently end police involvement in homeless outreach and give city-contracted outreach workers the power to make decisions about encampment removals.
This story has been updated to correct the count of the city council vote. The vote was 7-1, with Councilmember Debora Juarez absent.