Tent City 3, a self-managed tent encampment currently perched on a small plot of state land under the Interstate 5, has often faced funding challenges.
Its parent organization, the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), doesn’t consistently meet benchmarks set by institutional funders to receive the money that it needs to keep going. The city of Seattle pulled its support in 2017, only to have the City Council reinstate the money in a last-minute change during budget season.
Challenges such as this are normal, said Christine Landrum, a SHARE participant who has lived with the community for about eight months. But this time it isn’t the city or state that’s cutting them off — it’s the federal government.
For the first time in decades, King County did not qualify for federal funds through the Federal (FEMA) Emergency Management Administration’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), one of the few programs through which organized tent encampments like Tent City 3 are funded.
The loss is material for King County — EFSP sent roughly $809,000 to the area in 2017. It is a significant blow to an organization like SHARE.
“That’s $30,000 they’re taking from our pockets,” Landrum said.
The reason for the change? King County is simply too wealthy, at least on paper.
Although the money has been steady for several years, King County had unemployment and poverty rates too low to qualify, said Lauren McGowan, senior director of ending homelessness and poverty at United Way of King County, the organization that acts as a receiver for the FEMA dollars.
Those statistics may have made sense at one point, but in the modern economy with huge stratification of incomes and employment increasingly concentrated in cities like Seattle, they may not reflect the overall need.
“It looks at this static number of unemployment and poverty,” McGowan said. “They don’t look at our point-in-time count number.”
Seattle and King County together have one of the highest numbers of homeless people in the United States after Los Angeles and New York.
The impact varies depending on the agency, McGowan said. For larger organizations, the lost money is less of an impact. For small ones, however, the lack of FEMA dollars could be damaging.
In an email sent Thursday, Women in Black, an organization that stands for homeless people who have died outside or by violence, wrote about the loss of funding. Women in Black is a project of wheel, a self-managed women’s shelter that is connected to SHARE, a network of self-managed shelters.
SHARE could lose as much as $30,000 because of the loss of funding, a blow to an organization with an operating budget of roughly $1 million.
That’s a lot of money for the controversial organization that has fallen in and out of favor with the city, King County and United Way, the three largest funders for organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness in the area.
But importantly, it’s also money that could be used to directly support Tent City 3 rather than share’s indoor shelter program.
It’s not only SHARE that will feel the pinch.
The current round of funding is called “phase 36,” McGowan said. The last round for which we have data is phase 34.
In that round, EFSP dollars paid for 368,328 meals, 27,442 shelter-bed nights and 1,046 motel-bed nights. It also helped out 160 times when households needed some assistance with rent, and five times when energy bills needed to be paid.
That’s a big impact on Seattle and King County’s poorest residents.
The thing is, the county does have a lot of resources — the median income in King County in 2017, the last year for which numbers are available, was $89,675. It just can’t tap them.
“This loss of funding is disappointing, but what is far more disheartening is that here — in one of the wealthiest regions in the wealthiest nation in the world — we have so many people struggling to make ends meet,” said County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles in a statement. “Our punitively regressive means of collecting taxes is a broken and unfair system causing the income gap to widen. We must do better.”
It’s unclear exactly how to accomplish that goal. The city of Seattle is currently fighting a court battle to impose an income tax on its wealthiest residents, but beyond that municipalities and counties are at the mercy of state legislators and the state constitution to implement a more equitable taxation system that allows it to tap into the massive economic surplus created by the local economy.
The loss of funds will have an impact on SHARE, Landrum said, but it will also put additional strain on the community at large.
“You already know what the impact is for the overuse for a public facility,” Landrum said. “Can you imagine putting even 100 more people in another area to another public facility that’s being flushed 100 more times?”
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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