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Seattle, County homeless response paralyzed by bureaucracy

Seattle and King County leaders announcing legislation back in September for a new unified authority to tackle homelessness. (Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

“You’re much more inclined toward discussion and planning and process that goes on and on and on.”

Those were words spoken by Barbara Poppe, an expert hired by the city of Seattle to assess its approach to homelessness. Poppe said that in 2016. This came after Poppe said Seattle had the resources to solve the homelessness crisis. But officials took no action and that window of opportunity passed.

Roughly a year later, King County and Seattle announced their intention to “create a set of recommendations and action steps,” hinting at a “one table” approach that would bring leaders together to address the crisis.

Third Door Coalition plans to end chronic homelessness in King County in 5 years

Another year after that, in December 2018, a more fleshed-out plan for the “one table” strategy was unveiled at a press conference, promising more details to come in the next few months.

More than eight months later, this week, King County and Seattle officials organized a third dog and pony show, this time to announce they had drafted legislation to establish an 11-person governing body to tackle homelessness — with three members appointed by a separate yet-to-be established committee.

All told, it’s taken three-plus years to announce the intention to “create a set of recommendations,” come forth with another announcement to establish the outline of a plan, and then draft legislation to make more committees and governing bodies, all of which still need approval from both King County and Seattle councils.

“All of the processes seem to take so long because multiple committees have to weigh in; we want to get to a consensus,” Poppe presciently said in 2017. “Those things really act against the speed of the transformation.”

While the prophetic words of Barbara Poppe came to pass, almost 500 homeless deaths were recorded by the King County Medical Examiner between 2016 and 2018 (as reported by The Seattle Times). In each of those years, the total number of homeless deaths has increased.

When Seattle City Council and King County Council finally do come to terms on an acceptable version of the “one table” legislation; and after one committee is established to form another so they can all talk about more ways to address the problem, the homeless state of emergency will continue to be just that: An emergency.

The house is burning down, and we’re busy forming governing bodies to come up with methods for calling the fire department.

But hey, at least we have more committees to discuss it.

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