City council approves $1.2 million to aid homeless over next two years

Sam Hylas December 5, 2014 0
Tent City 3, located along Ravenna Boulevard underneath I-5, is one of the encampments that will benefit from extra aid for transitional encampments. • Photo by Sam Hylas

Tent City 3, located along Ravenna Boulevard underneath I-5, is one of the encampments that will benefit from extra aid for transitional encampments. • Photo by Sam Hylas

Seattle City Council finalized the budget on November 24, adding $1.2 million over the next two years to fund a wide range of homelessness services. The decision was spurred by Councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s original plan to add $5 million to the budget to help nonprofits and faith-based institutions shelter homeless people.

Mayor Ed Murray’s original budget already included $35 million for the issue over the next two years, but the council concluded additional funds were needed.

Bagshaw called the decision a good start, but said she believes her original budget proposition addresses the true scope of the issue. She also emphasized the importance of finding funds for homeless people living with mental-health issues.

“We’ve got 3,123 people on the streets,” Bagshaw said at the meeting, referencing a recent one-night count. She stressed that assistance with mental-health issues and addiction problems are major factors in getting people off the streets. “We want to be able to focus some significant money on the mental-health area.”

The 2014 Street Count was a three-hour survey of people living without shelter in King County conducted on January 24. The results showed a 14 percent increase from the previous year’s tally.

The council allocated $175,000 in 2015 to “incentivize regional partners,” phrasing that Bagshaw would like to see clarified to include mental-health services specifically.

Other allocations include:

  1. $250,000 in 2015 for the University Food Bank
  2. $200,000 in 2015 and 2016 for hygiene services like the Urban Rest Stop
  3. $120,000 in 2015 and 2016 for a year-round women’s shelter with few barriers for entry
  4. $100,000 in 2015 and 2016 for contracts with nonprofits and faith institutions to aid those in transitional encampments like tent cities or those living in their vehicles
The Urban Rest Stop, with locations in the U-District and Downtown, would not have been able to continue operating without the additional $200,000 approved by the Seattle City Council. • Photo by Joe Mabel

The Urban Rest Stop, with locations in the U-District and Downtown, would not have been able to continue operating without the additional $200,000 approved by the Seattle City Council. • Photo by Joe Mabel

Councilmember Sally Clark suggested that the $100,000 for transitional encampments be set aside until Murray’s Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness delivers its final report by December 15. However, Councilmember Kshama Sawant and several other councilmembers decided they would rather not wait.

“The task of the mayor’s committee is to find much bigger solutions for housing, not small things like $100,000 for transitional encampments,” Sawant said. She went on to break down the expenses this money would cover,  including fire and health safety, access to toilets, running water, electricity, garbage collection, and internet.

Her proposal to provide internet to homeless camps has sparked conversations about how the city could implement and maintain internet resources. It’s also raising questions of whether or not this would be a responsible way to spend public funds. But Sawant believes internet access is crucial for those who need to research jobs or shelters.

“Imagine that day you didn’t have internet access at all,” Sawant told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “You wouldn’t be able to communicate with a lot of people and you wouldn’t be able to know what’s going on.”

President Barack Obama called for the internet to be reclassified as a utility service, perhaps signifying a shift in how the American public perceives internet access. The United Nations has declared that high-speed internet access is a basic human right.

The council separately set aside $200,000 to help carry out recommendations from Murray’s task force, but task force members think more money will be required.

“One of the ideas on the table is to get more local community centers involved with providing shelter at night” said Quynh Pham, a member of the task force and the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.

Another point of focus for the task force has been to provide shelters with additional support from the city. With more funding, some shelters could switch from being exclusively overnight to operating 24 hours a day, and others could secure larger, more secure locations.

Task force member Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, wants the city council to approve additional funding of least $500,000 toward expanding shelter capacity.

“All shelters that receive public funds also have to do a lot of private fundraising and also manage finding locations,” Eisinger said. “I want that additional $500,000 to be dedicated to stabilizing and expanding those shelters.”

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