The following report and analysis comes from the General Defense Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It discusses that despite the fact that the city is flush with money from a recent wave of gentrification and is operating with over a 6 billion dollar budget, it is cutting access to housing, shelters, and programs for the homeless. As the new Republican Tax Bill is rolled through and the rich are pushing for massive cuts, what is happening in Seattle and how we respond is worth analyzing.
At the end of November just as his short term came to an end, interim mayor Tim Burgess passed the 2018 City of Seattle Budget. With it came the allocation of all Seattle’s grant funds for homelessness and housing services. With it also came the City deciding to focus its funding on Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) and the Coordinated Entry for All (CEA) program. CEA has had a shaky implementation in King County since Federal HUD regulations came down hard on counties that were not centralizing the State. There are cuts, both partial and full, to several large permanent supportive housing projects, transitional housing for adults, voucher programs for chronically homeless adults, emergency shelters and services, and eviction prevention programs. Even with what did get funded, there is a huge bottoming out for the most vulnerable neighbors’ services.
The current plan is going to mean that thousands of people will be without resources if they are already unsheltered, and hundreds back on the street after years or decades of being housed. There were already 87 confirmed deaths of unhoused individuals in this city in this year alone. Many of them from exposure. The number of folks sleeping rough has been climbing in direct relation to the exorbitant rents downtown and across the region. We will see more deaths and more people outside, overloading the already overwhelmed services. The last ditch effort is to move on this and work towards defending all of our community however we can.
Before getting into what’s possible, it’s important to note where the cuts are. As mentioned, permanent supportive housing (PSH) and PSH vouchers such as those run by Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), are getting defunded. Even though the 2017 Funding Recommendations awarded DESC with a nearly $7 million budget, the funding is wholly inadequate. In some cases very small buildings such as The Union Hotel, who had a very modest budget request, saw their awarded funding tripled while DESC’s largest PSH complex, The Morrison Hotel which has nearly 200 units for the most vulnerable of the population, received no funding at all. Even The Estelle, a 96-unit building set to open in the upcoming months, got defunded. Yes, the City of Seattle defunded permanent housing prior to it even being open.
The Keys to Home Program and Scattered Sites Program, voucher programs run by DESC in tandem with Plymouth Housing and the county which have successfully placed and housed clients in market rate housing are unfunded at this time. This is not even getting into the cuts to Compass Center Pioneer Square Men’s Housing, LIHI’s Martin Court and Columbia Court, PSH through the Somali Youth and Family Club, the YWCA’s Windemere and East Union transitional housing, and more. Even preventative housing loss programs, such as the Housing Justice Project, a pro-bono legal defense and prevention against eviction clinic, Ingersoll Gender Center’s Housing Protection for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People’s program, assistance programs tailored to the Jewish and Latinx communities, and many programs serving people outside of the core of Seattle – were not funded.
The Women’s Referral Center, which is one of the only entry points for adult women’s services accessible to trans women, has been defunded. Angeline’s, the only other exclusively single women’s shelter and referral space did get funding. However, it’s largely inaccessible to Transwomen. The Bailey Boushay House was defunded, which has served those who are living with HIV/AIDS and are in need of extra support systems to manage their seropositive status.
Some hygiene centers lost all funding, such as the Urban Rest Stop in the U District while others got a significant cut like the Downtown and Ballard Urban Rest Stops. There were already long waits to access these services. The hours that will be cut are the ones most accessible to unhoused people who are employed. It’s hard to get or keep a job if you can’t bathe or do laundry.
The list goes on of large cuts to programs across the spectrum of services. In current 2018 budget, 15% of the funding is going to emergency services. It’s a sharp dip from the 56% funding previously allotted, but you wouldn’t know that from the mainstream press. Unless you are a social worker, currently or formerly houseless, these numbers are touted as a generous allotment . Are these programs ultimately stop-gaps in a cruel non-profit industrial complex? Well, yes; however, many will die without them. We need to use the tools we have to keep our community alive.
So, where is the money going if it’s actively taking housing away from already housed people and gutting emergency services? Well, it’s going to this thing called Rapid Re-Housing. Rapid Re-Housing sounds nice on paper and out of the mouths of people who have never feared being homeless. The program is a subsidy where 3 months of rent are covered, along with move-in fees and deposits. But after the 3 month window, good luck affording market rate housing on your own. The system has shown that “higher functioning” people who are capable at working full time or longer jobs, and have less barriers to employment, do better in these types of programs. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and the ideal model of a down-on-their-luck, hard-working, boot-strapper who if only they had housing would blend into capitalist society- is not the reality for the vast majority of those who are chronically houseless. In practice, RRH has led to people simply getting off the books as “chronically homeless” so the funders and the politicians can pat themselves on the back for “reducing chronic homelessness”. In reality it leads to those people going quick into eviction proceedings or abandoning housing after the 3 month grace period is gone. Market rate is staggering for those who are disabled or who cannot work enough to keep a roof over their head. Even big wigs like LIHI’s Sharon Lee agree that RRH is over-hyped and does not work in Seattle.
After people are evicted, they can go into the CEA system but they automatically lose points on the vulnerability assessment if they are younger than 62 and don’t have chronic homeless status anymore. If they lack any of the other areas of vulnerability, they are left to wait in the diversion programs- which the County has not even addressed yet. Of those that do exist, many diversion programs have also lost their funding. So, the encampments will grow because there are not enough completely funded shelters remaining that are not already bursting at the seams. All the while the city continues to sweep encampments leaving many incarcerated, hospitalized, or killed.
On that bleak note, the one person that holds the veto power on this budget as 2018 begins, is Jenny fucking Durkan. Since City Council proved to be the lapdogs of private interests, and Burgess already signed off, only the mayor can attempt change it. Durkan has a history of using social justice jargon while pulling for the wealthy. Her and King County Executive Dow Constantine recently revealed a plan to yet again implement a tax increase that disproportionately impacts the poor and working class.
While LIHI, DESC and other agencies are now putting the pressure on and trying to save budgets the respectable way with meetings and groups, there are other ways to assist and to work on preparing our community to care for our own more autonomously:
* Put all the pressure you can on Mayor Durkan (and city council). Do whatever lights the fire in you! They need to know that people besides NIMBY dumpster fires and service providers know what these cuts mean to people’s services, housing, and lives.
* Start to support campers and houseless folks by asking them what they need. If you have issues with strangers or don’t feel comfortable talking with someone who is a drug user, or multiply disabled, you can learn by taking a buddy with you who is experienced. Plus you can help bring supplies in. More hands means we can carry more and build more!
* Keep an eye out for squat locations, and keep them in mind if you know someone doesn’t feel safe camping out or lost their supplies in a sweep and can’t or doesn’t want to stay in the shelters. Seattle and the surrounding areas are still ripe with unused spots.
* Get connected with people already on the ground who have community connections and cred because there’s no time to reinvent the wheel.
* Help people navigate systems and support people materially and socially as much as possible in the general community. Strong community support is a big factor in preventing housing loss and resisting evictions.
There are fronts to fight this battle on, but a huge factor is getting people to know what the current crisis is and how it is getting worse. If they think our city doesn’t have the money, show them the 6 billion dollar budget. Tell them about the funds we’ve put into hostile architecture that deters camping.
In a city this wealthy, nobody should be without basic shelter. Let them know that we see their bigotry and will not allow it.