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King County Councilmember: Regional Homelessness Authority a political cover

A homeless encampment on public and private property near Northwest 46th Street in Seattle. (City of Seattle)

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday announced the establishment of a Regional Homelessness Authority throughout the county to “oversee policy, funding, and services for people experiencing homelessness countywide,” according to a county press release.

But King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn finds that the new regional body, which will be run by an 11-member board, is simply “designed to give politicians in Seattle political cover because they’re failing at this.”

The Regional Homelessness Authority will, among other functions, coordinate different levels of housing for those in need, unify funding and services for shelters, outreach programs, and diversion, and fund “Continuum of Care” treatment to keep track of patients over time.

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The 11 board members will be appointed by Constantine, Durkan, the county council, city council, and a Steering Committee, which will be made up of local politicians and two people who have been homeless.

“Seattle arguably has the highest per capita percent of homelessness of any city in the United States of America,” Dunn told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “And the reason why it’s so bad is because of catastrophic policies that are promulgated largely by the City of Seattle.”

It is these failed policies that would be continued in the new program, Dunn said — along with additional funds. The City of Seattle will put $75 million toward the Regional Homelessness Authority, while the county will contribute $56.8 million.

“More money is not the answer here — it’s real simple, we’ve got policies that don’t work,” Dunn said.

He said that this will funnel money away from other social services in the county, such as the Sexual Assault Resources Center.

“What it’s going to do is empower these 11 members … to raid these funds and further destroy the existing social network that actually does work in our community,” he said.

Dunn pointed out that nearly half of the people on the local streets have lived in Washington for under four years.

“We are doing an enormous amount to draw in people from out of the state, whether they’re homeless when they come here, or whether they get homeless immediately, shortly after they arrive,” he said.

Dunn’s ideas for solutions

Dunn highlighted a program called Homeward Bound as an example of the kind of action that can make a difference in the homelessness crisis. Homeward Bound provides a homeless person with a one-way bus ticket to the city of any relative or friend who is willing to take them in and provide care. The program is currently used by the City of San Francisco.

“That’s the kind of thing we should be doing, but we’d be criticized for busing out our homeless population — no, it’s what we need to start doing to help people on the streets and to ease the burden on our taxpayers,” Dunn said.

Seattle homelessness: Dissecting the great bus ticket conspiracy

He wants to see the prosecution of drug violations, as well as more treatment and rehabilitation options for people who need these services.

“If you want to spend this huge amount of money, why don’t we put some more treatment beds in place … I don’t understand why people are so reticent to wanting to put drug treatment and mental health facilities in place so we can get folks off the street,” he said.

On Thursday, Dunn will announce his own proposals to fight homelessness. For one, he wants to bring the elected leaders of King County and all 39 of the cities in it into one room to discuss homelessness — something that he said has never happened before.

“Take some leadership, hear from suburban cities, hear what’s happening in Bellevue and Enumclaw and Redmond — that’s leadership,” he said. “We’ve got to have that conversation long before we ever get these 11 ‘experts’ in a room together.”

Dunn tours many nonprofits that help the homeless and said that Seattle could take a page from these nonprofits by providing “a little compassion and a little bit of tough love.”

“How many people are living on the streets? Drive downtown, take a look — we’re failing at what we’re doing, and so we’ve got to stop with just nothing but compassion,” he said. “Tough love — we’ve got to get folks into mental health, we’ve got to get folks into treatment facilities, we’ve got to get folks housing, we’ve got to help them out, we’ve got to get them across the country if they need to go see a relative, whatever it takes.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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