Seattle Mayor Harrell unveils homeless plan, dashboard to combat crisis

May 31, 2022, 4:23 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2022, 10:33 am
In an aerial view, a homeless encampment, known informally as "Dope Slope" stands covered in garbag...
In an aerial view, a homeless encampment, known informally as "Dope Slope" stands covered in garbage near downtown Seattle on March 12, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. The city government is currently working to remove such encampments from shared spaces throughout Seattle. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Creating more places to live, bringing more people inside and finding new ways to help. Those are the three key objectives of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s just announced homeless plan.

Harrell says his One Seattle Homelessness Action Plan is data-driven and identifies priorities and actions to make progress on the city‘s objectives, including:

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  • Driving a regional approach by providing $118 million to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) this year, representing approximately 70% of their total budget, as they develop, communicate, and execute a regional strategy to end homelessness in Seattle.
  • Surveying, inspecting, and verifying encampment sites and providing a publicly accessible map of encampment concentration by neighborhood citywide.
  • Providing outreach to help move people indoors, and tracking offers of shelter by displaying a transparent count over time.
  • Keeping public spaces open and accessible, using objective criteria to determine which encampments to address, and restoring sites after encampments are closed.
  • Identifying 2000 units of shelter and permanent housing by year’s end; 1300 units have been identified so far this year.
  • Building more affordable housing faster by setting a one-year deadline for approval of all permits related to affordable housing projects to increase housing production.
  • Forming a Housing Sub-Cabinet to share data, coordinate actions, and reduce barriers to swift construction of all types of housing.
  • Diversifying public safety responses to help connect those in crisis to needed resources and better address health emergencies, fires, and other public safety issues arising disproportionately at and around encampments.
  • Creating new ways for Seattle businesses, organizations, philanthropies, and communities to help address this crisis, including the development of public-private-philanthropic partnerships, funding efforts, and volunteer opportunities.

The announcement included the unveiling of the dashboard on homelessness Harrell promised when he first took office back in January. The site includes detailed information on the city’s homeless investments, available shelter, shelter referrals, encampments, RVs, housing, and more. It will be updated quarterly, according to the Mayor’s office, so all of us can keep tabs on the progress.

“We still believe that our city’s existing response to homelessness just wasn’t where we wanted it to be when I took office in January. It was my personal experience, having served 12 years on the city council, that our departments continued to work in silos. There were different methods of data collection. And in my mind, there was an unclear vision on how we were going to attack this problem,” said Harrell.

“Even if we run the risk of looking at the soft underbelly of the city, we have to look at the data such that we can track our progress. So today, you can see the data [online], which is unprecedented,” he added.

The Mayor stressed this plan was about collaboration in support of a regional response, and just a first step with more to come down the line as his team continues work on building public-private partnerships and tying his upcoming public safety plan with the issue of homelessness.

“I’ve heard people describe our approach as leading with sweeps and nothing could be further from the truth. We lead with compassion. And I think that we’ve made it clear in our actions,” noted Harrell.

Part of his plan of addressing homelessness as a regional issue is turning over the bulk of the city’s homeless spending to the Regional Homelessness Authority (RHA).

“We will continue to fund about 70% of the King County Regional Homelessness authority’s budget around the tune of $118 million.”

Harrell also wanted to make clear exactly what that means.

“What this actually means is that the issues of diversion, shelter, Rapid Rehousing, transitional housing services, permanent supportive housing services, and the deployment of outreach service providers reside in that organization,” the Mayor explained.

Part of his plan also focuses on addressing the urgent need of creating more affordable housing.

“At the end of the day, we have to bring people indoors. We know that affordable housing is both a symptom and a solution to the homelessness crisis and long-term progress. We must create more housing more quickly, easier said than done. And that’s why, under my administration, you’ll see that we’ve committed to having our affordable housing project permits approved within 12 months of submission to help ensure development matches are done,” he said.

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Harrell also established a new Housing Sub-Cabinet focused solely on bringing together all the departments involved in that work so they can share data and collaborate.

The dashboard will include metrics for housing production across departments for the first time, including permit approval timelines, utility connection waitlists, and home purchase and rental prices.

“Our One Seattle approach, we’re not fighting for turf, we’re not working in silos, we realize that we are part of one city government. And as an employee for the city of Seattle, this is refreshing, because everyone realizes we’re heading down the same path,” said Harrell.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Seattle Mayor Harrell unveils homeless plan, dashboard to combat crisis