By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Homelessness is an emergency, Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed today. This excerpt from their announcement spells out why:
Last winter’s One Night Count found 3,772 men, women, and children without shelter in King County, including more than 2,800 in Seattle – a 21 percent increase over 2014. In 2015, 66 homeless people have died in King County, including 47 on the streets and in unpermitted encampments in Seattle. The state now reports that 35,000 people in King County become newly homeless at some point during the year.
Part of the declaration includes a city plan to spend $5 million more on getting people off the streets and, for those who are on the streets, covering some basic needs, like sanitation. The plan will be discussed at a special City Council meeting tomorrow, and is to be funded through the sale of city property in West Seattle, according to the city documents related to today’s announcement. From the Frequently Asked Questions document:
How is the City paying for this new investment?
The $5 million investment is funded from the proceeds of the sale of excess property located on Myers Way South.
We’ve reported in recent years about the city process of figuring out what to do with that land, the “Myers Parcels“ in southeast West Seattle, next to the Joint Training Facility. Some community advocates have lobbied for preserving some of it as greenspace, as reported here most recently back in February.
The city Finance and Administrative Services Department clarified, when we inquired, that the property hasn’t been sold yet. More on that later.
First, what today’s announcement means for helping homeless people:
Both Murray and Constantine signed emergency proclamations. Murray was quoted in the city announcement as saying, “The City is prepared to do more as the number of people in crisis continue to rise, but our federal and state partners must also do more. Cities cannot do this alone.” Constantine was quoted as saying, “Emergency declarations are associated with natural disasters, but the persistent and growing phenomenon of homelessness – here and nationwide – is a human-made crisis just as devastating to thousands as a flood or fire. We call on the federal and state governments to take action, including shouldering more responsibility for affordable housing, mental health treatment, and addiction services.”
Go here to see what the city is proposing, or read the details below:
On the county side, Constantine is proposing $2 million in spending, some of it “already pending before the King County Council, to address immediate human needs and the root causes of homelessness,” according to the news release, which adds that both entities already invest heavily: “The City of Seattle already invests more than $40 million annually to assist people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, including single adults, youth, families, domestic violence survivors, older adults, and veterans. King County invests $36 million a year to assist individuals and families at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.”
That represents a bigger share of those services than ever, says the city announcement: “A decade ago, City resources represented less than 40 percent of the total funding for homelessness services. The City is now responsible for over 60 percent of homelessness investments.”
Thousands of those who need help are children, the city says:
There are 32,000 homeless children in Washington state, with nearly 3,000 homeless children currently attending Seattle Public Schools. On average, that’s more than 1 student per Seattle classroom.
The city announcement says they’re trying to be strategic with the spending:
The City is currently analyzing all homelessness investments and expanding data collection to ensure resources are targeted at the most effective strategies. Seattle is also launching a new effort to reduce administrative burden on agencies by allowing non-profit partners to provide a range of services under portfolio contracts, rather than separate contracts for each type of service.
We don’t know yet what share of the new funding might be spent in this area. We checked with one local agency that offers emergency help to people in crisis, West Seattle Helpline, whose executive director Chris Langeler told us it’s good news in general:
We are excited by Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine’s announcements today declaring a “State of Emergency” and new resources dedicated to alleviating, preventing, and ending homelessness in Seattle and King County. The West Seattle Helpline has served hundreds of members of our community this year who are homeless or at-risk of experiencing homelessness by providing rent & utility assistance, transportation assistance, or clothing. With rents continuing to rise and utility costs increasing as winter approaches, we are seeing heightened demand for assistance and more of our neighbors facing the threat of eviction.
We have initiated a dialogue with the City of Seattle’s Department of Human Services and are exploring ways that we can work with the City to be a part of the solution to homelessness. We’re hopeful that the heightened focus and additional resources will help more of our West Seattle neighbors-in-need stay safe in their homes.
Now, back to the $5 million in city funding for extra services, described as coming from Myers Way sale proceeds. A document late in the day looking ahead to tomorrow’s meeting clarified that the $5 million will for starters come from an “interfund loan” out of the city’s “Cash Pool,” to be repaid from sale proceeds of some of the “Myers Parcels” land. That sale is still in the future, we found out from Cyndi Wilder in the city Finance and Administrative Services Department:
The Myers Way excess property has not yet been sold. The Myers Way property is still under active property review, meaning the City is working on strategies for the reuse and disposition of the property. We anticipate selling a portion of the site for commercial development, but a larger portion of the property, including certain wetlands and much of the tree canopy, would be retained for environmental protection. In 2016, the City Council will review legislation to authorize land to be retained and land to be sold. We understand that proceeds from the sale of any portion of the property not needed for identified future City purposes or retained for environmental protection would be directed toward the emergency response to homelessness. Information about the property is available here, and we’ll be updating that page with information about the property disposition as it becomes available.
Tomorrow’s meeting to finalize the emergency-response plan is at 2 pm at City Hall.