Rantz: No plans to investigate massive Seattle homeless scandal, ensuring it happens again
Dec 21, 2021, 6:56 AM | Updated: 10:48 am
The man tasked with clearing the homeless encampment at a Seattle school asked an addict to “slam” him with meth. His organization was barely vetted. And there are no plans for an investigation, the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has learned. Both agencies that worked with the group are placing the onus to investigate on each other.
Mike Mathias of the homeless advocacy nonprofit Anything Helps was contracted by Seattle Public Schools (SPS) to work with the approximately 70 homeless people living at the controversial Bitter Lake encampment neighboring Broadview-Thomson K-8. He was given coveted housing vouchers by the King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) to get people into homes.
But about a month into the work, Mathias admitted to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that he asked a homeless addict to inject him with meth. Now, he faces a number of serious allegations by volunteers within his own organization. They include the use of nonprofit funds — some of which came from tax dollars — to purchase drugs to feed his own habit and pressuring homeless women into staying quiet. He denies these allegations.
Rather than take this situation seriously, neither SPS nor KCRHA are committing to an investigation. In fact, both organizations are deflecting blame, insisting they’re not the ones to investigate. This ensures a similar situation will again occur in the sometimes complex work of getting people off the streets.
Vetting? What vetting?
There doesn’t appear to be any vetting that went into Anything Helps ahead of its selection for volunteers to clear the encampment.
In fact, at the time of the announcement that it would head the Herculean task of clearing out chronically homeless from the longstanding encampment, many local activists had never even heard of the group. They didn’t know much about the group or Mathias because he had just founded the group in March 2021, four months before being contracted for the work.
At the time, he was the only person running the group and didn’t have any full-time case workers to help connect the homeless with housing or services.
SPS, which owns the property where the encampment was located, hasn’t been clear on how or why Anything Helps was contracted for this task. Nevertheless, Mathias got to work and was given 14 housing vouchers by the KCRHA. But an email reveals KCRHA leadership did little vetting beyond checking to see if Anything Helps was registered as a nonprofit.
KCRHA Program Performance Manager Alex Ebrahimi emailed Mathias on Dec. 7 to inform him that they halted housing application referrals from his organization. But he also posed a series of questions revealing KCRHA knew little about the group. Ebrahimi even admits that “we do not have information about your organization’s structure.”
“Please identify your board of directors or other organizational oversight with contact information, and your staffing, with names and an organization chart,” Ebrahimi requested. “How is your board made aware of complaints against yourself or your organization? How are such complaints handled? What steps are taken to investigate and address complaints or allegations of impropriety by members of your organization or yourself?”
Investigation? What investigation?
When the allegations against Mathias came to light, initial reports said KCRHA “is investigating.” But that wasn’t true.
“Seattle Public Schools is the property owner and the holder of the contract with Anything Helps, so they will be leading the investigation,” a KCRHA spokesperson told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH via email on Dec. 8.
But SPS isn’t leading the investigation. That day, a spokesperson from SPS said, “This is the first I’ve heard of any investigation.”
Weeks later and nothing has changed. Neither SPS nor KCRHA are investigating the claims made by Mathias’ colleagues.
A spokesperson for SPS said “we’re not doing an investigation,” though “that could change” without committing to a date. But it isn’t going to change.
“Deputy Superintendent Rob Gannon is working with SPS legal counsel to assess the situation and will communicate with the Anything Helps Board this month. It is the district’s position that, as a nonprofit organization registered with the state, Anything Helps is responsible for investigating the allegations made against its executive director,” the spokesperson said this week to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
Internal reflection? What internal reflection?
Will there been any review of the selection process either organization uses before entrusting tax dollars and other resources to a nonprofit? It doesn’t appear so.
The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH asked the KCRHA spokesperson if there will be an internal review to ensure that properly vetted organizations get institutional support moving forward.
“Again, Anything Helps had a relationship with Seattle Public Schools to work at the Bitter Lake encampment, and the RHA’s goal was to support them in helping those people get housed,” the spokesperson responded. “As the lead organization at that encampment, they were provided an opportunity to make referrals so that the people living there could apply for vouchers and move from homeless to housed.”
It happened again? Yes, it will happen again.
It’s obviously rare that the person contracted to help the homeless will see a personal failure in this way. It obviously can happen. It’s unclear how much vetting for this particular issue can realistically be done.
But vetting can be done to ensure an organization has a track record of addressing major encampment cleanups before given the task. SPS leadership botched the selection of the nonprofit and, given that it subsequently refused to clear the encampment until free housing was available, it makes sense. The school district was only in it for the housing vouchers and cared little about how the cleanup would unfold.
You can also vet an organization’s structure so that if allegations come up, you’re confident they’ll be handled appropriately. KCRHA did no meaningful vetting. They handed out housing vouchers to an organization that couldn’t effectively handle internal mismanagement. KCRHA did not act as responsible stewards of our tax dollars.
That neither SPS nor KCRHA seem interested in even an internal review of what happened and why suggests they hope this controversy merely goes away. But without addressing the ways in which both organizations dropped the ball, it’s almost certainly going to happen again.
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