The team will grow from 22 members to approximately 30, with the help of $500,000 from King County and the state.
Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday the expansion of Seattle’s Navigation Team, a collection of police officers and outreach workers who interact with people living in the city’s hundreds of unauthorized homeless camps, including in the days before those camps are removed.
The team will grow to approximately 30 permanent members, with the help of $500,000 from King County and the state. There are currently 22 people on the team, including nine police officers.
The additions will include “more outreach workers, (police) officers, field coordinators and data administrators,” according to an email from Stephanie Formas, the mayor’s spokeswoman. The city provided no further detail on how the new spots will be allocated.
The news wasn’t entirely surprising. King County Executive Dow Constantine had already announced in June plans to commit those funds to the Navigation Team.
Between January 2017 and the end of March this year, almost 200 unauthorized encampments of varying sizes were removed in Seattle, according to data the city provided to The Seattle Times.
With a few exceptions, city guidelines prevent removals of unsanctioned homeless encampments unless there is enough available shelter for every camper, even if not everyone accepts those offers.
As recently as February, a lack of shelter space had slowed down the pace of the cleanups.
Responding to a question about a potential increase in unsanctioned-camp removals, Formas wrote that “more capacity will allow the Navigation Team to reach out to more sites that are public safety and public health concerns.”
Durkan’s office has recently pushed toward creation of 500 new shelter beds in the city, including spots in Seattle’s sanctioned tiny-house villages and more beds in the city’s Navigation Center, an enhanced shelter that offers wraparound services. At least 80 of the spots are “basic” mats-on-the-floor, a type of shelter the city has been trying to move away from; another 20 spots will come in the form of motel vouchers, according to a post this week on the city’s Homelessness Response blog.
First-quarter data shows that the eight basic emergency-shelter programs that received funding this year did not meet minimum benchmarks for the rate of permanent exits out of homelessness.
With the additional shelter spots, Formas said the mayor wants to see more people moved into shelters and the Navigation Team to “increase outreach to offer services to those living unsheltered.” The team will also work with the city’s public-utilities department on cleanup of trash associated with homeless encampments or people living in their vehicles.
Thursday marked a flurry of homeless-related news from Durkan’s office — internal personnel changes, as well as the creation of an Innovation Advisory Council, made up of private-sector members, to help address the city’s homeless and housing-affordability crisis. The material impact of those policy changes also remains unknown.
For example, it remains unclear how the city will financially sustain the larger Navigation Team. According to the city, the combined cost of the Navigation Team and encampment removal in 2017 was $10.2 million.
Since its creation in early 2017, the Navigation Team has been housed under the city’s Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) Department.
The City Council voted last fall to move the team to the Human Services Department, which oversees the city’s homeless-services investments. That move officially happened July 1.
Thursday’s news release said FAS Director Fred Podesta will now move to the Human Services Department to direct the Navigation Team there. Calvin Goings, Seattle City Light chief of staff, will replace Podesta as head of FAS.
Other changes include the promotion of Tiffany Washington, the Human Services Department’s division director of Homeless Strategy and Investments, to the department’s deputy director of homelessness. Washington will continue to oversee those investments, oversee the Navigation Team and lead the city’s homeless subcabinent with Deputy Mayor David Moseley.
The announcements come one day before a regional task force on homelessness was set to reconvene for the first time in months. The task force, called One Table, was created late last year to study the root causes of homelessness.
But focus shifted away from One Table after the Seattle City Council approved a plan to tax local businesses in order to fund more affordable housing and homeless services.
In an unprecedented about-face, the City Council eventually voted to repeal the tax, known as the employee hours or head tax, following furious opposition from the private sector.
One Table’s meeting Friday will be the first time the group has met since April.