Human services, particularly homelessness, were on the top of activists’ minds Thursday, October 23, at the final public hearing for Seattle’s proposed budget.
About half the City Council members listened to more than 100 speakers over three and a half hours. Speakers affiliated with the Seattle Human Services Coalition, wearing orange scarves, called for funding for homeless groups, as well as programs related to mental health, street violence, and other human services. Other people asked for financial support for art programs, neighborhood improvement and zoo elephant protection.
“If you don’t end homelessness the numbers are going to grow. We are facing a huge crisis in this city,” said Susan Russell, a vendor of Real Change News. “We need the funds put into place to supply shelter and affordable housing.”
Attendees wanting more funding for homeless services held up photocopied “Notice and Order to Remove” notices issued by the city for the makeshift homeless encampment in Ravenna. “Without shelter, people die” was written on the back of the notices displayed at the hearing.
A collection of 3,123 pairs of shoes outside city hall represented the number of homeless men and women tallied in King County one night last January. Real Change News representatives brought a paper coffin to their presentation.
The City Council is currently in the process of changing Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget. The council has received community input via mail, phone, and letters along with two public hearings. They have also heard testimony from departments since October 7. The council will adopt the final budget in late November.
Mayor Murray’s proposed budget allocates $2.75 million to human services. This includes $600,000 for employment programs and rapid housing placement for 150 homeless adults, and $410,000 for housing subsidies for long-term shelter residents.
These funds, however, are not enough for all current homeless assistance programs, including the Urban Rest Stop, which provides free restrooms, laundry, and hygienic services to the homeless in two Seattle locations.
Shiraz Mohammed, a participant of the homeless program Share, said the biggest problem facing homeless people in Seattle was a lack of funding for housing, employment, and mental-health programs.
“A lot of these groups have come together to put up a united front,” Mohammed said.
An estimated 9,000 people are homeless in King County, according to Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness. They found a 14 percent increase in unsheltered homeless people from the previous year during their “One Night Count” in January.
According to the mayor’s proposed budget, the general fund will grow by 3.5 percent in 2015 and 3.9 percent in 2016 because of steady economic growth.
The first public hearing was held October 7 and activists sought financial support for the $15 minimum wage and worker wage protection, in addition to other human services support.
Labor activists approve of the new Office of Labor Standards proposed by Mayor Murray, but question the funding provided to the office. The new office will enforce the $15 minimum wage law as well as current wage theft laws in addition to educating workers about their rights.
Mayor Murray wants $510,698 for the office for 2015, and an additional $150,000 in 2016.
According to Investigate Northwest, San Francisco, the only American city with a comparable city office, provides $3.7 million for the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which serves about 100,000 more people than Seattle’s office will serve.
Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Jean Godden, Mike O’Brien, and Nick Licata stayed for the entire public hearing. Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Tom Rasmussen, and Kshama Sawant left the hearing early. Councilmember Bruce Harrell was absent due to a family death and councilmember Sally Clark had a prior engagement.
Public comments for the budget can be submitted to the council before November 24, when the council adopts the budget.
More information about the city budget and public comment submission can be found at: http://www.seattle.gov/council/budget/.