The Seattle City Council passed a $6.5 billion budget Monday that expands harm reduction programs meant to improve the lives of homeless people and aims to get more people in shelter.
The budget passed on an 8-to-1 vote, with Councilmember Kshama Sawant against.
The 2020 budget funds services to reach vehicle residents and sex workers, new mobile pit stops to provide hygiene services and a pilot program to keep some of Seattle’s most vulnerable people — older folks on disability — from falling into homelessness.
It also expands on the city’s commitment to tiny house villages and enhanced shelter, putting more than $2 million behind the tiny house model.
One of the most largest single additions was $3.5 million to support the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which mobilizes case managers, law enforcement and prosecutors to help low-level offenders avoid incarceration and connect to services.
Although the specter of transportation cuts resulting from Initiative 976 — a voter-passed, statewide measure that could slash Seattle’s transportation budget by as much as $32 million in future years — hung over the proceedings, Budget Chair Sally Bagshaw insisted that the council would not harm human services and the homelessness response.
“Our budget is not going to try to address the transportation issues,” Bagshaw said Nov. 11.
The budget process in the city of Seattle is a long, drawn-out affair that really only hit the public’s eye at the end of September when Mayor Jenny Durkan transmitted her budget proposal to the City Council. The council then spent the next two months tweaking it, moving money around for preferred projects.
There’s not much leeway.
Of the $1.5 billion in general fund money — the most flexible city government source — the original proposal marked half for public safety while targeting 10 percent for health and human services. Even in the latter category, much of the funding was already agreed upon, such as money dedicated to shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Still, councilmembers found room for unique programs for hard-to-reach populations.
Outreach for vehicle residents, currently done by volunteers at the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, will get $100,000 in support, and the council’s plan set aside another $158,000 for a safe parking program at the University Heights Center.
They also aim to make an impact in the lives of sex workers by funding an organization like the Green Light Project, which provides outreach and care packages that include things like snacks, safe sex supplies, safe injection supplies and fentanyl testing kits.
The council’s balancing package expands a trash collection program that serves unauthorized encampments by bringing purple trash bags and doing direct pickup.
It also puts nearly $1.3 million into mobile pit stops that include toilets, handwashing stations, needle exchanges and a place to dispose of pet waste.
Councilmembers did not add funds to maintain the tiny house village in Northlake, a controversial site that is set to close at the end of the year. The site has been occupied by participants of Nickelsville, a self-managed encampment organization that formed under the tenure of Mayor Greg Nickels, after relations between Nickelsville and the Low Income Housing Institute collapsed in the spring.
Some of the budgeted investments will help homeless and housed people alike.
Groups advocating for youth diversion programs succeeded in winning $300,000 to prevent young people in the city from entering the school-to-prison pipeline, but when they expanded their ask to $500,000, councilmembers initially balked.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who backed the proposal, suggested taking the extra cash from the police budget, pointing out money set aside for recruitment and retention initiatives.
The budget contains cash in the form of new recruit bonuses and lateral transfers to try to tempt officers into the department, which has been plagued by low morale.
“How can there be more money available for motivational speaking for police sergeants than for restorative justice, which is actually going to help our communities of color?” Sawant asked during a budget committee hearing Nov. 19.
However, as of the budget vote on Monday, councilmembers agreed to cut $222,600 from the police budget and add it to the restorative justice pot of money, a win for advocates.
The new funds top off money already in the budget for diversion and criminal justice reforms that hasn’t yet been allocated because there is still an extensive process before grants can be awarded, Councilmember Lisa Herbold said.
Sawant also proposed axing the $8.5 million that funds the Navigation Team, a mix of police officers and outreach workers tasked with clearing out homeless encampments and connecting the inhabitants with needed services.
The team has shifted its efforts in the past year to focus primarily on moving people out with little notice rather than giving people three days to get themselves ready to leave.
Instead, Sawant proposed the money go to open additional tiny house villages. The villages are considered transitional spaces that provide people with privacy and a safe place to store their belongings as they access case management and other services.
That measure did not pass.
Mayor Durkan released a statement Monday celebrating the passage of the budget.
“Investments like these are critical to building a city of the future,” Durkan said. “Our budget says what kind of city we want to be, and we’re delivering on programs to advance our shared priorities.”
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.
Read the full Nov. 27 - Dec. 3, 2019, issue.
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