City of Seattle officials are now using a race-equity analysis tool to examine the rules governing sweeps of homeless encampments.
A committee examining those rules learned that the city was using the process — known as the Racial Equity Toolkit — at an Oct. 12 meeting. The admission was counter to a point raised at the September meeting of the committee assigned to evaluate the Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDARs). At the September meeting, Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) staff told the committee that the toolkit hadn’t been applied to the MDARs and that instead they would develop a sweep-specific framework to analyze the rules.
The Racial Equity Toolkit was established in 2012 as a method for examining all city policies and practices.
In a presentation at the October meeting, however, FAS Director Chris Potter talked committee members through the application of the Racial Equity Toolkit, a process used to evaluate whether a policy could have unintended consequences on marginalized communities.
Sweeps certainly affect people of color more than White people.
The city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and outreach specialists who conduct the sweeps and offer homeless people services, is disproportionately likely to make contact with people of color, said Jackie St. Louis, outreach coordinator with the Navigation Team.
People of color make up roughly 30.5 percent of the population of Seattle, according to the latest estimates from the United States Census Bureau. But the Navigation Team reported that 41.7 percent of the people its members contact are people of color.
That tracks with figures previously collected by the city of Seattle in an evaluation of authorized tent encampments. In that research, city staff found that people of color were underrepresented in authorized encampments.
The realization that the rules had never been examined through a racial-equity lens disturbed Colleen Echohawk, committee co-chair and executive director of the Chief Seattle Club.
“It’s about human lives and people of color who continue to get screwed in this country,” Echohawk said.
The MDARs were first proposed under Mayor Greg Nickels in 2008. Although the Racial Equity Toolkit was adopted by the city in 2012, the rules were never run through the process. Mayor Ed Murray announced a state of emergency surrounding homelessness in 2015, which further delayed the application of the toolkit to the MDARs in the name of rapidity of response.
Murray convened a committee to reevaluate the rules in 2016, and altered rules went into effect in April 2017. The toolkit will now be applied to those altered rules.
The Racial Equity Toolkit is meant mostly for areas of concern and new initiatives, wrote Julie Moore, spokesperson for FAS in an email. Many areas of city policy have not been through the toolkit.
“Now that the new rules have been implemented, [a Racial Equity Toolkit] is appropriate to tune them further to address burdens and opportunities,” Moore wrote.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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