Mayor Murray nominates Catherine Lester as Director of HSD

Mayor Murray today nominated Catherine Lester as Director of the Seattle Human Services Department.

Lester, who has a long career working in human and social services is currently HSD’s Deputy Director, and will take over for John Okamoto, who Mayor Murray appointed as acting director in 2014.

“Catherine is a committed leader and innovative thinker, and we are lucky to have her,” Murray said. “Her leadership will be effective in getting our resources to the people who need them most in our community – those who are homeless, youth looking for summer jobs and survivors of domestic violence.”

“I am excited to serve as the leader of the Human Services Department.  I am humbled by the commitment and passion demonstrated day in and day out by both the staff in this department, and the network of local service providers,” Lester said.

“The question is not whether or not we can afford to invest in our most vulnerable neighbors and communities; it is whether we can afford not to.  I look forward to continuing to partner with staff and providers to make sure that everyone in Seattle can enjoy the quality of life we all desire,” she said.

“Catherine is the perfect choice to lead this Department. She has been the architect and driver of the Department’s efforts to be results and data-driven – getting the most out of our public investments focused on disparities,” said acting director John Okamoto.

“Catherine understands and knows our robust network of service providers.   She is nationally recognized for her work, and she has the confidence of the employees of the Department.  I am very pleased to hand over leadership to her,” Okamoto said.

Okamoto will remain at HSD as a special projects consultant, assisting with the transition and providing strategic guidance over several projects, including the homeless investment analysis.

Lester previously served as Acting Director of HSD from 2013-2014 during the transition between the Mayoral administrations, and was also Deputy Director of HSD between 2011-2013. Prior to coming to Seattle, she was Director of Cuyahoga Tapestry System of Care at Cuyahoga County’s Office of Health and Human Services in Ohio. Through her leadership in this role, child welfare recidivism improved and a new Continuous Quality Improvement process was implemented to maximize performance-based contracting for the county. Lester has a Master’s of Science degree in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Ryerson University. She is also a 2013-2014 Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Families Fellow, a nationally-recognized leadership development program focused on systemic changes to improve the lives of children and families in the United States.

HSD’s mission is to provide assistance to some of the most vulnerable individuals living in the city so that children, youth, and families can thrive. HSD will invest nearly $37 million this year on services and programs to help prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless as well as to help people who are homeless find stability and permanent housing. This year’s One Night Count saw a 21% increase of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle compared to last year, and under Lester’s leadership, Mayor Murray has set expectations for HSD to focus on data-driven and outcomes-based efforts to better align the city’s homelessness investments with innovative principles such as housing first and rapid re-housing strategies.

“As Seattle continues its generous investment in our community, it is important that our dollars produce outcomes for the clients of our many government, religious and non-profit programs,” Murray said.

The Seattle Human Services Department is one of the largest contributors to Seattle’s safety net, and provides $99 million in funding through 522 contracts to nearly 200 agencies that support Seattle’s most vulnerable residents each year.

HSD has an annual budget of $129 million and 320 full-time employees. Catherine will start effective Feb. 18, and her salary will be $151,000 per year.