A “notice to vacate” sign was placed in the middle of a homeless encampment in Federal Way by FWPD officers before the encampment was cleaned in January 2019. Sound Publishing file photo

A “notice to vacate” sign was placed in the middle of a homeless encampment in Federal Way by FWPD officers before the encampment was cleaned in January 2019. Sound Publishing file photo

King County, Seattle could create joint homelessness response agency

It would be a unified agency and the overarching authority on addressing homelessness in the county.

Fragmentation of responsibilities, response and funding have hindered the region’s response to homelessness, but officials say headway could be made if King County and Seattle agree to create the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

The proposed partnership would allow the city and county to coordinate their responses and share the funding responsibilities. If approved, the partnership would include a steering committee with the county executive, Seattle mayor and a member from both the King County Council and Seattle City Council along with community stakeholders and representatives from other cities.

The authority would serve as a single point of contact for homelessness services and would take the lead on addressing the issue. It would also house all of the region’s data on the homelessness crisis. A regional action plan is being drawn up to coordinate the areas response.

As part of the ordinance, the county would agree to try and fund the authority to the tune of $55 million annually, with Seattle kicking in some $73 million. It could also accept funding from other public and private sources. If approved by the county council and Seattle City Council, the authority could be up and running by the end of 2020.

King County Council member Claudia Balducci said the current system for homelessness response was fragmented and hindered the ability of governments to respond to the homelessness crisis. Council member Rod Dembowski said, for example, it was a long process to set up the Kenmore shelter even though the building wasn’t being used by other public agencies.

Balducci and other council members expressed concerns that the council would not have greater oversight of the homelessness authority. Council member Dave Upthegrove said he worried voters could be cut out if the county council couldn’t directly affect the homelessness authority, and if the authority was comprised of non-elected members.

“From a democratic process, this is something I would have concerns about,” he said.

Balducci said she had similar concerns. She said the authority should have clear mission goals and outcomes to ensure accountability. She also floated the idea of requiring county council members who sit on the board to only vote in line with the council’s official position.

“We need to show that, what we’re going to do, and that it’s working,” she said.

While the county would not have direct oversight, it would have the ability to negotiate terms of contracts and the ability to allocate budget funds with provisions.

During the discussions, there was also much talk of having representatives on the governing board who have firsthand experience with homelessness. Three representatives on the 11-person board would be those with “lived experiences.”

“This is a big and complex county. It has different sub-regions and each of those sub-regions has different needs depending on the community we’re working with,” said Ann Oliva, with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, during a Nov. 19 county Health, Housing and Human Services committee meeting.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority stems from a prior agreement between King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. The agreement formed One Table with a mission to assess the current response to homelessness, find root causes, and work to increase community and government programs.

The effort found five main causes of homelessness in the region, including a lack of affordable housing, inadequate access to behavioral health treatment, negative impacts for youth in child-welfare systems, past criminal convictions hindering housing and job prospects, and education and employment gaps that make housing out of reach.

In spring 2018, the King County Auditor’s Office released a report saying separate funding and contracting processes burden homelessness housing providers and slow down programs.

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