King County homeless organization lays off one-third of its staff as pilot project expires

Sep 20, 2023, 7:00 PM

KCRHA partnership for zero...

The removal of a homeless camp outside Seattle City Hall. (Photo: MyNorthwest file)

(Photo: MyNorthwest file)

A pilot project from the King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) aimed at getting homeless people off the streets of downtown Seattle is winding down due to a loss of funding.

Known as Partnership for Zero, the goal of the initiative was to get nearly everyone who was homeless in downtown Seattle off of the streets within a year. Since the initiative started a year and a half ago, KCRHA claimed it has housed more than 230 people within downtown and the Chinatown International District through the program.

But initial funding for the then-pilot program has expired and KCRHA decided to wind down Partnership for Zero altogether. With this decision, KCRHA will lay off nearly 40 members of the team — approximately one-third of its total staff.

More on KCRHA: King County Homeless Authority has salaries released after Dones departs

“The pilot was designed to develop knowledge and learning that will be applied to the homeless response system in King County, and it achieved several accomplishments towards that goal,” KCRHA wrote in its announcement that the program is ending. “Lessons learned through Partnership for Zero will be integrated into KCRHA’s work across the homeless response system as a whole. To apply the learnings of Partnership for Zero across the system, KCRHA is developing new limited-time positions that will be posted internally, with current staff encouraged to apply.”

KCRHA stated the departure of its leadership in CEO Marc Dones as another reason for the program to be sunsetted.

“Since the departure of KCRHA’s first CEO, the agency has been conducting a full assessment of operations,” KCRHA wrote in its update on Partnership for Zero. “This work includes a review of our governance structure and a close look at our operations and programs, including Partnership for Zero.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement that it was a “disappointing end result” for the Partnership for Zero program. Constantine said in the coming weeks, county leaders will be meeting with program leaders and financial supporters to “understand lessons learned and how best to move forward.”

More on Partnership for Zero

KCRHA stated the work toward Partnership for Zero was able to develop important infrastructure that can be integrated into other work the organization does, including an encampment resolution process that resolved six encampments so far.

KCRHA background: Marc Dones steps down as head of King County Regional Homeless Authority

The entire approximate 18-month venture with Partnership for Zero has been riddled with bureaucratic friction since its launch, as KCRHA routinely objected to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s approach to encampment sweeps. Harrell’s office pointed out there is “no requirement for offers of shelter when an encampment is creating an obstruction” back at the beginning of his tenure as mayor, leading to many removals being conducted with little to no prior outreach. In instances where the city’s HOPE Team has been on hand to provide referrals, only half have actually led to shelter placements over the last three months.

These swift encampment removals early in Harrell’s term led KCRHA to voice explicit opposition against the mayor’s strategy.

“The authority has a stance, and that stance is very straightforward — it is articulated and not moving, and that is: we don’t support displacement-based strategy, full stop,” Dones said in 2022 as KCRHA’s CEO. “It’s not data based, and it doesn’t produce the results that folks are after.”

More on KCRHA: KCRHA approves 5-year plan to address homelessness

According to KING 5, the Downtown Seattle Association called Partnership for Zero “the right approach executed in all the wrong ways.”

The KCRHA has estimated there are more than 53,000 people who have experienced homelessness in 2022, and are projecting that that number will be closer to 62,000 people by 2028.

MyNorthwest News

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King County homeless organization lays off one-third of its staff as pilot project expires