Seattle-area advocates for programs to help ease the homelessness crisis worry the new administration could roll back essential funding for those sleeping on the streets.
Dozens of volunteers fanned out early Friday to count how many people were sleeping outdoors.
The annual accounting of King County’s homeless could yield a bigger number than in past years as the county takes over the process and uses a more systematic approach.
And some advocates worry the crisis could worsen as the Trump administration takes power and possibly rolls back federal aid for the unsheltered.
President Trump has yet to signal an opinion on the level of financial support the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should provide to homelessness programs in Seattle and elsewhere around the nation.
But as a candidate, Trump said he’d slash discretionary spending on social services. And Ben Carson, the former GOP presidential candidate Trump nominated to run HUD, according to reports once said, “Poverty is really more of a choice than anything else.”
Carson took a more moderate stance at his confirmation hearing this month, saying that while he plans to evaluate HUD programs with the aim of reduction, he thought many are effective.
“We must continue to tackle this problem (homelessness) by continuing to build strong partnerships with counties and cities across America,” Carson said. “I want to build on this progress.”
Some Seattle-area recipients of HUD grants remain anxious about the future.
“It’s not a stretch to assume this and other organizations will face cutbacks,” said Mike Buchman, Solid Ground communications director. Solid Ground receives about $400,000 yearly from HUD to support the operation of Sand Point, a housing complex designed to transition chronically homeless families into permanent housing.
Patricia Hayden, YWCA Seattle chief program officer, said she and other leaders are “watching things unfold like everyone else.”
The YWCA operates several homeless programs that are supported through HUD grants.
Solid Ground and the YWCA are among several organizations that receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in HUD grants to combat and prevent homelessness.
In 2010, HUD awarded service providers in King County more than $22 million. As the county’s homeless population has increased, so too has federal aid for local anti-homeless projects. Last year, the department awarded local service providers about $34 million.
The region’s ability to ease the homelessness crisis is tied to that money.
A significant amount of the work organizations like Solid Ground do around homelessness is funded by HUD grants, said Meg Olberding, external-affairs director for Seattle’s Human Services Department.
Although Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to fight homelessness, called Pathways Home, is not reliant on those grants, local programs rely on each other to function, Olberding said.
In 2015, Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed states of emergency over homelessness in Seattle and King County. The city and county spend more than $70 million a year that wouldn’t be affected by federal policy.
Efforts to combat the crisis could be complicated by a growing number of unsheltered people.
For this year’s count, rather than only looking in areas where people without homes have been known to congregate, volunteers for the first time were deployed to count homeless people in every census tract in King County.
Officials at All Home, the agency that coordinates homeless services across King County, have said the new approach is more thorough, and could lead to an increase in totals.
“We do expect to find some people we wouldn’t have found” before, All Home director Mark Putnam said.
The result of the count is scheduled for release in May.
Over the next two to three weeks, Putnam said, teams will revisit the tents, RVs and other places they visited on Friday to survey the people living in those spaces. The questionnaire will ask each unsheltered person how many people he or she shares a space with, as well as other questions, giving organizers an average number of residents living in each tent, RV and vehicle in King County/Seattle. Before, organizers used a multiplier of two.
Also, teams that counted vehicles on Thursday recorded the last few digits of license plates. Researchers will review those numbers to ensure vehicles are only counted once, he said.
The report will include the unsheltered count, the count of those at shelters and the survey’s results, Putnam said.
President Trump signed an order Wednesday cracking down on sanctuary cities, threatening to yank federal funding from jurisdictions that don’t comply with immigration actions. The order adds uncertainty over the future of HUD funding, even though it’s unclear what impact the order will have.
Murray vowed to maintain the city’s policies on immigration enforcement, despite the threat of losing federal funding.
“These are our neighbors, and we will continue to support our neighbors,” Murray said.