Photo by Joe Mabel/Wikipedia Commons.

Photo by Joe Mabel/Wikipedia Commons.

Critics say draft plan from county task force on homelessness underwhelms

One Table’s first stab at recommendations leaves some members calling for a bolder, clearly financed plan.

When created last December, King County’s “One Table” task force had a clear goal: address homelessness on a regional level. But after releasing a first draft set of recommendations last week, some members of the task force say they feel the proposals are coming up short.

The draft recommendations—which were first reported on by independent journalist Erica C. Barnett—were based on input from a group of 75 individuals ranging from state-level elected officials to business owners to those from the nonprofit sector, all brought to the proverbial table by King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. They name six “priority actions”: building 5,000 affordable homes over the next three years, creating a housing stabilization fund to prevent people from becoming homeless, providing on-demand behavioral health treatment, training and hiring 1,300 people at-risk of homelessness over two years by the county, reducing jail bookings and charges against individuals facing housing instability, and expanding foster care services.

Notably, the draft doesn’t include new revenue sources to pay for any of the priority actions, nor do they list cost estimates for the new investments.

According the draft, the task force believes that these actions “can put a stop to the flow of our friends and neighbors into homelessness.” Yet, some members of the task force say the working recommendations fall short.

One Table member and Executive Director of the Seattle/King Coalition on Homelessness Alison Eisinger said that the draft “does not reflect an accurate response to the scale of the crisis.” Eisinger, who is a member of the affordable housing “workgroup” within the task force, said that the draft’s call for 5,000 additional affordable homes is woefully inadequate.

“When I think about being bold, when I think about being strategic, when I think about being realistic about what this region needs, 5,000 falls short,” Eisinger said. “Good thing that it is only a draft.”

Recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development put the countywide homeless population at over 11,000. The 2018 tally from the annual One Night Count of people living outside and in emergency shelters reported similar numbers.

King County Councilmember and One Table member Jeanne Kohl-Welles said that while the 5,000 homes figure is “inadequate,” it is an ambitious and achievable target for a three-year timeframe. “I don’t believe that it is large enough of a scale,” said Kohl-Welles, “yet to realistically reach that goal over a three year period is very aggressive.”

According to officials in Executive Constantine’s office, all of the ideas listed in the draft recommendations were generated by the taskforce members, while the actual report itself was prepared by staff in the County’s Department of Community and Human Services.

Gordon McHenry, a task force member who serves on the affordable housing work group and president of the anti-poverty non-profit Solid Ground, said that the plan isn’t bold enough and hasn’t laid out a clear implementation strategy in terms of how local governments will carry out the recommendations and finance them.

“We don’t have a clear understanding of the next steps,” McHenry said. “For me implementation is a concern.”

“We have not yet identified what the funding will be or what the resource will be, which is a critical part of it,” Kohl-Welles added.

The draft recommendations will be discussed at the next One Table meeting in mid-April, before being finalized at the group’s last meeting on May 3.

County officials say that while potential revenue sources and the financial costs of the draft recommendations may be discussed at that mid-April meeting, the taskforce wasn’t chartered to identify revenue sources for its recommendations.

“Dow and both mayors didn’t put a requirement that the workgroup identify revenue streams on this,” said Chad Lewis, deputy director of communications in the executive’s office.“You don’t want to stifle it by saying, ‘We don’t exactly have a funding sources.’ ”

Lewis and other County staff stressed that the draft recommendations could still be altered at the mid-April meeting, if the task force members choose to push that through.

McHenry stressed that both the final recommendations and the implementation of them will have to be aggressive and bold to effectively address the regional homelessness crisis. “Our community is in such a hole … anything we come up with is going to have to be incredibly bold because we’ve had years if not decades of inadequacy.”

One Table is the latest iteration of countywide plans to address the homelessness crisis. In 2005, King County rolled out a 10-year plan to end homelessness. It failed.

jkelety@soundpublishing.com

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