The ROOTS young adult shelter in the University District serves more than 500 young people every year. It’s a place where youth between 18 and 25 can get a meal, feel secure and get connected to services with the help of a case manager who works directly with the clients.
The future of that position is in jeopardy in January following a competitive bidding process for money for homeless services. ROOTS won funding for its emergency shelter, but lost money that currently pays for the case manager. It was the first competitive funding process of this scale in 10 years by the Human Services Department (HSD).
That struck ROOTS Executive Director Kristine Scott as odd. HSD stated in its Request For Proposals (RFP) that it would judge contract holders based on how many clients transition to permanent housing and four other criteria as it shifts money away from typical shelter and ramps up a short-term rental subsidy program called rapid rehousing.
“With the anti-shelter rhetoric that’s going on in the city right now, our concern that funding the shelter without funding the case management that helps people get into housing is kind of dooming us to failure.”
“With the anti-shelter rhetoric that’s going on in the city right now, our concern that funding the shelter without funding the case management that helps people get into housing is kind of dooming us to failure,” Scott said.
Scott’s not alone in her worries.
Forty-five organizations had at least one application denied during this process by HSD. At least five are considering an appeal of asks totaling $25.5 million. If successful in part or in full, the HSD would reallocate funds from announced awards.
While people knew that there would be winners and losers in the process, several who spoke to Real Change felt that the decision to deny their applications was contrary to the spirit of the RFP, and that the process itself put small organizations working with niche populations at a disadvantage.
An HSD spokesperson said the department could not discuss appeals while the process was still open.
HSD opened the RFP on June 28. Applications were due by Sept. 5 and were reviewed by a team who had been trained in racial equity. Applicants participated in 45-minute interviews with people who have been homeless, HSD staff and All Home, the organization that coordinates the regional response to homelessness. Rating committees then met and created lists recommending full, partial or no funding.
Organizations unhappy with the outcome had 10 days to appeal. However, there wasn’t a lot of confidence that HSD’s decision would be overturned.
“I’m not entirely sure what an appeal would do for us,” said Kimberly Meck, executive director of the Alliance of People With disAbilities. “I’m one of those cynics that says they’ve already announced the awards, already published the awards. What is [an appeal] going to do?”
The Alliance is a small organization that caters directly to people with disabilities. Count Us In, a survey of homeless people, showed that 24 percent of the homeless population is “chronically homeless.” That means they must have at least one disability, and most of the Alliance’s staff has a disability as well.
In Meck’s view, that was their strength, but in its denial, the review panel decided that the Alliance’s application was weak in several areas, including an incomplete application, an unrealistic budget to support exits to permanent housing and an inadequate response to questions about racial equity.
The Alliance had United Way funding at one point, but lost that when the organization’s priorities changed.
“By appearances it seems like those three funders don’t necessarily look at disability-related issues,” Meck said.
The narrow focus doomed other organizations with longstanding relationships with the city.
The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) currently runs Home from School with funding from Seattle. The pilot program offers assistance to unstably housed and homeless families that attend Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, which is in the same neighborhood as SHA’s Yesler Terrace development. Bouncing around from school to school hurts educational outcomes, and the project was meant to keep kids at Bailey Gatzert through the school year.
That program was too specific, covering Bailey Gatzert students only, to get support under the RFP. There’s enough funding to continue the program through the current school year, but SHA will have to find a new source to help more families the following year, said Kerry Coughlin, director of communications with SHA.
“We think it’s such an important project,” Coughlin said. “It’s such a focus of ours to break cycles of poverty, and there’s no better way than assuring academic achievement among youth.”
Although the city emphasized rapid rehousing, one of its flagship programs failed to secure funding through the RFP. Solid Ground, a nonprofit housing provider, operates the JourneyHome Rapid Rehousing project, which serves 90 households. It’s one of the longest operating rapid rehousing projects in the city, and the organization wanted to expand it this year to serve 125 households, said Mike Buchman, communications director with Solid Ground.
City money made up 20 percent of the program’s budget, Buchman said, so losing the money was disappointing.
"If we’re not able to make that money up, there will be impacts.”
“Both of those programs have other funding streams and have some degree of risk at whether they would be able to meet objectives for the community they would like to meet,” Buchman said. “Clearly without the city funding which was core funding for both of them, if we’re not able to make that money up, there will be impacts.”
Solid Ground intends to appeal the decision.
Abundance of Hope, a nonprofit run by a family of Black women, also plans to appeal. Abundance of Hope had, by far, the largest ask — more than $24 million used to support services and startup costs for transitional housing, rapid rehousing, emergency services, permanent supportive housing, homelessness prevention and diversion.
When Salenna Green, director of programs at the nonprofit, read the RFP, she was excited. Racial equity wove through every aspect of the funding documents and Pathways Home, the city’s plan to combat homelessness, centered racial equity as well.
“I was very enthusiastic when we got the opportunity to apply for this funding. They hit the nail on the head with everything. They were very aware of the problem,” Green said.
Despite what Green felt were encouraging signs during the application process, Abundance of Hope did not get any of their proposals funded. It’s a sign that the city isn’t truly committed to helping homeless African Americans, Green said.
“What I’ve seen is the agencies that were funded and with our agency is that HSD has made a practice and continues that practice only funding agencies predominately demonstrated bias in their distribution of services and housing outcomes for African Americans and other marginalized groups,” Green said.
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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