The Seattle City Council is deep into reviewing Mayor Tim Burgess’ 2018 Budget Proposal. They are currently in Phase III – Adopted Budget Preparation. During this phase, the City Council reviews budget items in detail, creates a list of issues that they have with the budget, and from those issues, develops statements of legislative intent and budget provisos. There are two items that will be instrumental in stabilizing the homelessness civil emergency that Seattle finds itself in. These are: The H.O.M.E.S. Tax that is being proposed by Councilmembers O’Brien and Harris-Talley and the Budget Proviso regarding the “removal of unsanctioned homeless encampments” Proposed by Councilwoman Sawant. The Housing for All Coalition is working hard to ensure that both of these measures pass through the budget cycle.
The H.O.M.E.S. Plan:
The proposed budget provides ongoing funding for services that already exist to combat homelessness, but does not propose adequate funds be allocated to funding more accessible 24-hour shelters, and there is no plan in place to provide for more necessary affordable housing. The Pathways Home program (Pathways) admits itself after in its first year internal review that, “Pathways Home recognizes that our region’s homelessness response did not effectively address the scope of our homelessness crisis.” In order to better serve the homeless population, Pathways has decided to allocate funds to organizations which have proven results of moving people through transitional shelter into housing, making homelessness a “rare, brief, and one-time” occurrence. Unfortunately, the measures for those results are only short-term solutions and do not track return to homelessness statistics.
Consider the Rapid-Rehousing program, which has been allocated $8 million in Burgess’ budget proposal. This program provides short-term housing vouchers for people who are recently unhoused. Rapid-Rehousing may well serve those who are on the edge, who have suffered a temporary job loss or financial setback. These folks may only need a few months to recover and return to paying a full market value rent payment. For people who are living at the lowest end of the income bracket (0-30% AMI or Annual Median Income), these vouchers set folks up for future homelessness, as they only last for 3, 6, or 9 months at a time. Pathways may be looking at the initial re-housing of an individual or a family as a success because housing was achieved, but for many, this re-housing is only serves as a band-aid. After the voucher period, people in the Rapid-Rehousing program are then expected to pay full market value for rent, leaving many facing eviction and a return to homelessness. As Councilwoman Kristen Harris-Talley posed, “We must ask ourselves not only what it means to provide access to housing, but to retain housing.”
The H.O.M.E.S (Housing Outreach Mass-Entry Shelter) Tax would serve to generate more transitional and permanent housing solutions, as well as outreach services. The tax proposes to charge companies with receipts of more than $5 million dollars $100 annually for each employee that works a full-time equivalent amount of hours, or about 5.2 cents per labor hour. This would raise nearly $25 million annually. During the council discussion on the proposal, Councilmember O’Brien said, “This will be a stable ongoing revenue source.” as opposed to the one time emergency funds that have been provided in the past. Councilwoman Harris-Talley made it clear that, “this is not a problem to solve in one budget cycle.” She said, “Homeowners have already made their contribution with the property tax levy that has raised nearly $290 million. We are asking for pennies on the dollar for big businesses to contribute to this as well .” Councilwoman Sawant later noted, “Big business in Seattle is only paying one half of one percent of their profits as tax.” These three councilmembers all make the point that not everyone in Seattle has benefited from the success of these big businesses, and it is their time to step up and help solve the housing affordability crisis that they are in part responsible for creating.
The money raised by the proposed tax would be spent in areas that are currently being neglected by the proposed budget. $1 million would go toward funding Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) as they do community outreach and divert the flow of low level drug and prostitution out of the prison system toward case management and assistive services. $5 million would be set aside for emergency 24-hour shelter services and transitional housing such as tiny house villages that is sorely needed to get folks out of unauthorized encampments. The remaining $18 million would go directly towards funding deeply affordable housing that is necessary to stem the tide of homelessness moving forward.
The Budget Proviso to Stop the Sweeps:
One of the largest issues that the unhoused community in Seattle faces today is the threat of the sweeps. During these sweeps, people forcibly removed from where they are currently staying, are moved around to new locations by a police force that specializes in these sweeps, and provided limited services by a navigation team of case workers. The sweeps are fueled by a “not in my backyard” sentiment, and do nothing to actually solve the problem of homelessness.
The largest proponents of the sweeps say that, “The sweeps are humane. We care about these people, and we don’t want them living in squalor!” This sentiment is nice, but since there are no other options available to folks living in unsanctioned homeless encampments, the sweeps destroy the fragile stability that unhoused have. The police action serves to criminalize the state of homelessness instead of helping them move toward housing.
Part of losing this stability is the loss of personal items. Sawant spoke of a man who lost all of his personal property, including all of the items that identify him as a citizen of the United States. Another woman spoke about a veteran who had fallen into the same situation, and would have to return to Las Vegas in order to reclaim his identity.
At the 10/17 budget discussion on homelessness, the mayor’s office constantly referred to the sweeps as the “cleanup of unauthorized encampments” to describe the navigation task force, and police effort that is currently being used to remove unsanctioned homeless encampments and the people who live therein. The language utilized by the city in itself does not validate the essential humanity of the people who live in these unsanctioned encampments. Currently, these unhoused folks are being treated like garbage one can simply “clean up.” There is currently over $1 million being spent on police involvement in the sweeps, and nearly $200,000 additionally being spent on police overtime payments.
Councilwoman Sawant has proposed a budget proviso that has the following wording:
“This budget proposal would place a proviso on inhabited unsanctioned homeless encampment removals while located on public property except when the inhabited unsanctioned homeless encampment is located inside school property, active right of ways including sidewalks, and activated spaces of parks. Nothing in this proviso would prevent spending towards inhabited unsanctioned homeless encampment removals while physically located on school property, active right of ways including sidewalks, activated spaces of parks, and private property.
For the purposes of this proviso, “removal of inhabited unsanctioned homeless encampments” means removing inhabitants and/or personal belongings, or providing administrative, security, or contracting support to those removals. Nothing in this proviso prevents funding from being spent on sanitation, law enforcement unrelated to residence in an unauthorized encampment, trash removal, counseling, outreach to mitigate any unsafe or hazardous locations, and other homeless services at those unauthorized encampments.”
Councilwoman Sawant, joined by Councilmembers O’Brien and Harris-Talley believes that those in our communities who are living unhoused are people who deserve dignity and respect. There should be more case management services and navigation teams sent out to these unsanctioned encampments. There should be trash pickup. There should be sanitation services. The important thing that will change if this proviso passes is that there will not be inhumane treatment of the people living unhoused in these sanctioned encampments. This proviso would be on the books until legislation is passed that would provide for concrete solutions to the problem criminalized homelessness.
Actions to Take Now:
- Call your council members and leave a voicemail! Over the weekend too. It is very effective if there is a large backup of voicemails for them to listen to Monday morning.
District 1 Lisa Herbold – 206-684-8803
District 2 Bruce Harrell – 206-684-8804
District 3 Kshama Sawant – 206-684-8016
District 4 Rob Johnson – 206-684-8808
District 5 Debora Juarez – 206-684-8805
District 6 Mike O’Brien – 206-684-8800
District 7 Sally Bagshaw – 206-684-8801
Citywide Position 8 Kirsten Harris-Talley- 206-684-8806
Citywide Position 9 Lorena González – 206-684-8802
- Email your council members using this template. You can find talking points here.
- Sign and circulate this petition generated by the Transit Riders Union
- Stand in solidarity with our unhoused brothers and sisters on the 2 year anniversary of the declaration of the homelessness civil emergency at City Hall November 1 – 2 for a the budget hearing, campout rally, and supply drive. Facebook event here.