If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times: Budget documents are statements of policy and priorities in a system where allocating resources is one of the few ways to demonstrate tangible government support.
In that, the details of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal on homelessness spending translates to “hold the line.”
Since Durkan transmitted her budget to the City Council in early October, expert city staff have spent hours briefing electeds and answering their questions about where Durkan suggests the money should be allocated and why.
Regarding homelessness services, there are few surprises.
Overall spending on homelessness services in the city is anticipated to increase by 3.6 percent, while other departments have been asked to find reductions and cost savings to batten down the hatches against a potential downturn.
Most of that 3.6 percent will likely be eaten away by normal inflation — 3.3 percent between August 2017 and August 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — leaving spending more or less flat.
That means that money will be moved around within the existing system. According to a briefing on Oct. 23, services such as basic shelter will decrease 21.4 percent, or $600,000, while 24/7 shelters that allow possessions, partners and pets will get a $4.5 million boost.
An expanded group of police and outreach workers called the Navigation Team to help those folks will cost $4.3 million in 2019 compared to $2.5 million in 2018. To what effect, no one knows, given the extreme lack of shelter beds in Seattle on an average night.
The mayor has announced plans to open 516 new shelter beds, although the city will also lose nearly 270 between the proposed closure of share shelters and the loss of Licton Springs, the only low-barrier tiny-house village in the city.
While permanent supportive housing sees a minor bump, the city continues to double down on rapid rehousing, a program that offers short-term rental assistance and case management to folks in market-rate housing. Existing literature suggests that this approach isn’t any more effective than basic shelter, although it might be roughly 10 percent cheaper. How true that holds in expensive areas like Seattle has not received deep study.
As of Oct. 10, councilmembers had asked for an additional $5.3 million for other programs, including a mass shelter tent (Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda), continued funding for share (Councilmember Kshama Sawant), $615,000 for eviction prevention services (Councilmember Lisa Herbold) and $400,000 for homelessness prevention programming (Councilmember Debora Juarez).
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. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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