Seattle (October 26, 2020) – Following this summer’s City Council vote to defund the city employees addressing unmanaged encampments at the Human Services Department, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan issued the following statement upon the City Council’s 7-1 vote, restoring funding for the Human Services Department to coordinate homelessness outreach. Working together in recent weeks, Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the Mayor’s Office and service providers agreed on legislation – similar to previously proposed legislation negotiated in August as part of the 2020 rebalancing package and proposed outreach investments in Mayor Durkan’s 2021 budget.
In addition to this proposal on outreach, a key component of Mayor Durkan’s plan to address individuals living unsheltered is her proposal to move hundreds of people living unsheltered into safer spaces as part of her 2021 budget. By using COVID-related, one-time funds, Mayor Durkan is proposing to open 425 short-term shelter beds then surge investment in housing support programs like diversion and rapid-rehousing. This record investment means hundreds of people will come in from the street over the coming months, protecting them from COVID-19. This proposal is currently pending before City Council.
“This summer, the City Council and I had significant disagreements about how to address unmanaged encampments after their vote to defund the Navigation Team. Despite our disagreements, inaction is not an option for individuals experiencing homelessness and surrounding neighbors and businesses. This proposal is a first step to creating a more coordinated citywide response including city employees, but I hope City Council urgently and quickly acts to add the new shelter resources that I’ve proposed,” said Mayor Durkan. “This year, COVID-19 has brought new challenges to our homelessness crisis, especially to unmanaged encampments in our parks and public spaces. From deploying hygiene resources to adding new and safer shelters that accommodate public health guidelines to expanded testing, our actions have saved lives and limited the outbreak among people experiencing homelessness compared to other major cities. As the pandemic continues, we are creating a more coordinated approach to outreach services, and I appreciate the work of Councilmember Lewis on this important priority for our residents and community. In the coming weeks, I hope City Council takes decisive action on a series of my proposals to add resources for individuals living unsheltered and to significantly surge housing and shelter options as we also address the encampments that remain a public safety or public health hazards.”
The Legislation approved by Council today funds a modified continuation the City’s response to encampments through 2020 by funding an eight-person Unsheltered Outreach and Response Team. The Team’s focus will be on coordinating and supporting outreach and engagement through City-funded outreach providers. It also increases current funding by $2.07 million to those outreach providers with the goal of increasing access to behavioral health resources, flexible financial assistance, case management, housing navigation services and other technology and administrative needs.
The bill recognizes that there may be circumstances in which moving people is necessary, even in a pandemic, but in those limited cases such activity should be planned and implemented with great care and alternative workable living arrangements made available. The City will continue to operate under the Multi-Department Rules (MDARs) for the removal of encampments that balance providing services and alternatives to people living in encampments.
In the early days of the pandemic, the City took swift and significant measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including following CDC and PHSKC recommendations to limit its encampment removal to only the most dangerous public safety and public health situations and increased encampment outreach to addressing hygiene needs and helping people access shelter.
The City’s primary outreach team – the Navigation Team – shifted focus to outreach making 373 site visits, 624 waste, garbage, and debris mitigation operations, 408 referrals to shelter citywide, and held thousands of COVID-19 related conversations with people experiencing homelessness.
In August, the City Council voted to defund the Navigation Team. Mayor Durkan strongly opposed that action and issued a veto to maintain the City’s only coordinated response to unsheltered homelessness, and funding. In September, the City Council overrode Mayor Durkan’s veto moving forward with their intent to defund the Navigation Team and removing the City from its role coordinating outreach. On September 30, Mayor Durkan, announced plans to disband the Navigation Team, in alignment with Council’s clear intent.