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Less talk, more action: Homeless consultant critiques Seattle council

The City of Seattle needs to stop talking about cleaning up its most notorious homeless encampment and just do it, a consultant told the city council. (AP)
LISTEN: Consultant gives Seattle council advice on homelessness

The City of Seattle needs to stop talking about cleaning up its most notorious homeless encampment and just do it, a consultant told the city council Wednesday.

Barbara Poppe told the council Wednesday that, at least in this case, planning is less essential than taking action.

“Leadership is oriented toward action,” she said. “This is about getting results.”

Related: Jungle 2.0? Seattle neighbors worry about impact of cleanup

On Thursday Poppe further emphasized that Seattle need to start acting.

“I love all of you in Seattle. You’re great folks — smart strategic providers,” Poppe said. “But it is not a community that … you’re much more inclined toward discussion and planning and process that goes on and on  and on.”

Poppe, who is being paid $80,000 for nine months of work, told the council it needs to stay focused and not confuse the homeless crises with issues such as income inequality and affordable housing. Those, she said, are topics that should be dealt with on their own. As for recommendations, Poppe notes that she was not hired by Seattle to advise or make recommendations, rather to help the city with a long-term plan. But she has offered Seattle one piece of advice.

“My number one recommendation as I have talked with funders and providers is the importance of acting strategically even as you have to deal with the crisis of today,” Poppe said. “Have a long-term lens.”

Poppe noted that the region has hundreds of smaller homeless programs spread across a wide range of providers. That can lead to inconsistency and housing programs that are not highly individualized, which Seattle needs.

Poppe finally noted that Seattle should receive more federal dollars than other cities given that housing costs in the area are far greater than elsewhere — it will be more expensive to deal with homelessness in Seattle than in many other cities.

Though it looked like the city was ready to tackle the “Jungle” encampment head-on, leadership changed its tone. In May, a deadline was given for people living in the camp to move out; Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission was given about two weeks to go in and offer assistance to anyone who would accept help. Not long after, Mayor Ed Murray announced there would be no “sweeps” of the Jungle and that it will take “an extensive amount of time” for the city to clear it out.

Without any kind of deadline, people realized they didn’t feel the need to vacate the greenbelt along I-5 in the south end of Seattle.

“We had people ready to move; they were there,” Jeff Lilley, president of the Union Gospel Mission, told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “And now they have backed off and there is a question of if they even have to move.”

And that’s too bad, according to Lilley, because people were accepting the Mission’s help.

Poppe says the city needs to “adjust” and come up with a solution, possibly with the resources the city has now.

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