We’re just about to end our work adopting a City budget for 2015. Each year we go through hours of review and discussion about available revenue, efficiency, effectiveness and values. This year’s review, wrapping with a Full Council vote Monday, Nov. 24, like most others I’ve had the privilege to be part of, has focused greatly on how our spending can improve the safety and well-being of those around us who are homeless, food-less and, too often, feeling hopeless.
As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency, I put forward and gained support for a number of additions to Mayor Murray’s proposed 2015 spending plan:
$200,000 to address recommendations from the Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness– We’ll set this money aside because the task force won’t wrap up until the middle of December. For a variety of reasons we have more people living outside in Seattle than ever before. I hope to see new ideas from the task force on ways to keep homeless people safe now and better ways to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.
$175,000 to incentivize regional partners to develop homeless shelters. The Committee to End Homelessness advocates a regional approach to ending homelessness and I serve with Mayor Murray on the Governing Board. At this point, the City of Seattle shelters constitute 91% of the cot and mat space in King County. That means that when someone becomes homeless outside the city they may have to travel to Seattle for help, making it harder to maintain contact with services and jobs in their home community. I put forward this first-ever fund as a way to have Seattle more fully support regional help for people experiencing homelessness. The fund will match funding put forward by regional partners to create shelter beds in their communities.
$150,000 for homeless youth street outreach. Organizations like YouthCare reach out to young people living on the streets to connect to case management, health care, education and employment training, and move them toward housing. You might see these outreach and case management staff at Westlake Park. YouthCare told me a few weeks ago that federal funding for this outreach is being cut. So, we’ll backfill this funding. I had hoped to propose new funding for outreach to places like Cal Anderson Park, but I’ll have to look for that money next year.
A Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) to Investigate City Owned Property for Shelter Space. At the same time we help regional partners open up more shelter beds we need to explore what City-owned buildings might be used for more shelter. Already City Hall shelters 40-50 men and women every night. When the thermometer goes down below 36 degrees, Seattle center opens up emergency shelter in the Northwest Rooms. This SLI asks the City’s Human Services Department to look at other City properties (for instance, community centers) to identify possible locations for shelter.
$250,000 for the soon to be new and improved University District Food Bank. The University District Food Bank serves hundreds of individuals and families living in the greater U-District and North Seattle in need of help to get them through the month. They’ve been doing all of this out of a small, cramped space. This funding will help complete fundraising for a new, larger space on the ground floor of a low-income housing project. I proposed this because, having worked at Chicken Soup Brigade and seeing CSB move into its new home earlier this year, I know that better space can make a huge difference for agency efficiency and client access.
This is a small subset of the changes the Council made for 2015. I haven’t touched on the other adds in human services (domestic violence case management and support, covering minimum wage changes for providers with City contracts, support for encampments and more low-barrier women’s shelter), economic development (support for small manufacturing), and pedestrian safety (more sidewalks and crosswalks).
Unfortunately, these additions still aren’t sufficient when you look at the level of need in our city and region. We’re still working to meet basic survival needs when no one should become homeless in the first place.