Squaring the Circle: Housing Seattle’s Homeless on the Dawn of the City’s Austerity Budget
JustCARE — a homeless outreach coordinator that, in large part, helps Seattle’s homeless population find accommodation in hotels — faces a fiscal cliff.
While the program draws some of its funds from the county and federal levels, the City of Seattle is sponsoring JustCARE through two multimillion-dollar contracts that will expire in June. On Wednesday, program directors justified their spending to the Seattle City Council as the city faces a potential austerity budget and seeks corresponding cuts.
A contract, through the King County Department of Community and Social Services (DCHS), operates 89 hotel shelter beds through June 30 at a cost of $5.5 million. The second operates 150 hotel refuge beds until the same date for 7.5 million dollars. As these contracts expire, the City is looking to transition these clients into permanent housing.
As a model for this expenditure, the city refers to hotels acquired under the Health through Housing initiative. By capital cost associated with this program, he estimates that each bed averages just over $200,000. To date, no source of funds has been identified to pay the debt service of the bonds potentially issued to finance the acquisition. No funding has been identified to keep JustCARE operational after the summer (JustCARE needs almost $49,000 per bed to provide the necessary hotel accommodation services and staff to keep the beds operational). In total, the City estimates that JustCARE needs $7.3 million per year to operate 150 beds.
When operating costs are added to the acquisition of hotels, JustCARE estimates an average annual operating cost of approximately $10 million. Council member Andrew Lewis noted during the council session that some of this cost could be covered by state-level housing subsidies, although relevant legislation is still pending.
Creation of JustCARE and services provided
JustCARE reports the resolution of 14 encampments in less than two years between the International District, Pioneer Square and downtown. Since November, the Outreach Coordinator has served 147 clients with very acute behavioral issues. A total of 67 people were helped to obtain housing assistance, 50 to permanent accommodation and 13 to a waiting list for permanent shelter.
The program is affiliated with the Public Defender Association (PDA’s dedicated homeless outreach service is branded Co-LEAD) and has helped 159 clients with the legal system.
JustCARE is also affiliated with REACH and the Workforce Development Council. It was created in the midst of the pandemic with advocacy help from King County Council, largely in an effort to reduce pressure on the city’s pandemic-fueled rise in homelessness.
“During the first months of the pandemic, not only did many people who had been in collective shelters … come out onto the streets, but also many people who had never been welcome in the accommodation system came out. found on the street,” Lisa, director of JustCARE told Daugaard.
“Many more people have not benefited from the official relief strategies that our country has used to support people during the COVID pandemic and economic shutdown and have been forced into the illicit economy, and, also , to face despair and a kind of uncertainty as to what the future held, … it was a miserable and very critical situation for many communities around the city. … The level of acuity was increasing to a degree that obviously required a response.
Services provided include integration into state-sponsored health care, COVID intake, emergency medical services reduction, medication management, overdose prevention, on-call assistance to reduce making calls to emergency services, coordinating with city and county attorneys for cases and issuing warrants, housing transportation and networking, and building relationships with the homeless for the integration necessary for these illicit services.
City seeks budget cuts
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s mid-year supplementary budget will be released this summer. Council reports that city expenditures exceed general revenues.
“The city’s budget office and the executive are reviewing the 2022 budget to consider making very, very significant reductions to the budget we passed last November,” Councilwoman Lisa Herbold said Wednesday.
“If we’re going to have a worsening decline in the city, a general sense of unease, frustration and unease around the intersecting issues of chronic homelessness, crime and all of the things that JustCARE is effectively responding to, we’re going to have a budget crisis that will continue to impact the city in perpetuity,” Lewis said.
“I hope, as we have this conversation as a city family about these difficult decisions, that we are also trying to prioritize investments designed to get our general fund back on track and rebuild the city coffers of a way that reduces having an austerity budget process due to the decline of the COVID era and some of the compounding impacts that we have seen around chronic homelessness and crime that have exacerbated that,” Lewis added.
Board member and budget chair Teresa Mosqueda clarified the numbers compromised by possible budget cuts over the summer.
‘Our city’s budget would have been in the red’: Mosqueda touts early JumpStart tax returns
“The Council rebuilt this program in the 2022 budget,” Mosqueda said. “One hundred and fifteen million dollars from the Council’s general fund goes to the regional homelessness authority, which represents nearly 70% of the regional homelessness authority’s budget. … We’re all gearing up for these conversations about short-term or time-limited funding to meet ongoing investment needs. There will be a budgetary crisis. »
“We’ve had a population that’s grown 21% over the last 10 years and we haven’t seen, in the absence of the Jumpstart program, the progressive payroll tax, the corresponding investments, and the profound changes in income. So I think that’s something that really needs to be considered here.
County-Wide Vision for Homelessness Response
JustCARE envisions their expenditure as one that not only provides ongoing relief for homeless people, but sets a model for expanding this service countywide.
“Our goal in starting on this path was to demonstrate that it can work, and after experiencing this, this model, this lesson is available for expansion and replication,” Daugaard said. “We could use these same rooms over and over again – 150 rooms can accommodate hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people over a period of years. And it’s starting to have a real impact on the population of the whole city which matches the range of services we provide here.
Lewis hinted that it was the Council’s wish to incorporate JustCARE into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, but that was not possible in November because funding for JustCARE did not exist beyond the summer. .
“We’ve all talked about the circle that needs to be squared,” Lewis continued. “If we want to continue this program…when the current contract supports this program with money passed through the Seattle Department of Social Services to the county…It’s something that we haven’t quite been able to migrate to the regional homeless authority in the fall, despite the Council… wanting to find a way to send it to the authority, but, at that time, it wasn’t quite practical because the existence beyond June was unclear.