New model empowers service providers to conduct encampment outreach while maintaining a team of City staff to coordinate efforts
SEATTLE – During Monday’s Seattle City Council Briefing, Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7, Magnolia to Pioneer Square) announced his intention to introduce legislation during the afternoon’s City Council meeting that will significantly change the way Seattle engages with people living unsheltered in unauthorized encampments.
“Until we stand up more enhanced shelter and permanent supportive housing, the City cannot make credible offers of shelter to everyone who needs it,” Councilmember Lewis said. “Therefore, it is imperative that campers are engaged by people equipped to build trust and help manage the encampment so that it can be safe and hygienic while residents work to exit homelessness. Our contracted service providers are the skilled liaisons best equipped to build that trust.”
This legislation would stand up the Unsheltered Outreach and Response Team, which would be the City’s central coordinating team to empower and collaborate with the outreach efforts of our contracted providers. The City’s outreach efforts have never exclusively been the purview of the old Navigation Team. Rather, the dedicated providers of REACH, Chief Seattle Club, Downtown Emergency Services Center, The Urban League, The Defenders Association have been the fundamental core of the City’s community-based outreach model and they remain that today.
“This new approach empowers the frontline workers with the skills and relationships to best serve unsheltered people in our city,” said Colleen Echohawk, Executive Director of the Chief Seattle Club. “I appreciate Councilmember Lewis for setting the table for a collaborative partnership between City government and the experts in compassionate outreach.”
This new team will not be authorized to conduct outreach, which will exclusively be the purview of community-based groups. Instead, this team is an acknowledgement that the city’s provider community is made up of capable outreach partners, and their service can be enhanced by partnering with the City to bring to bear resources only the City can get into the field to assist in their mission.
“It’s essential that everyone–those who work with people who are unsheltered, advocates and activists, the Council, the Mayor’s Office–try as hard as we can to find a common ground approach to respond to people living unsheltered in our city. This legislation recognizes that need to come together,” said Lisa Daugaard, Director of the Public Defender Association. “We all agree on important core principles: no one should be living on the street. Our sisters and brothers deserve more dignified conditions and much more support. Struggling businesses need to be able to open without people living on their doorsteps. This is not primarily a matter for law enforcement, and camp closure isn’t a real solution and violates COVID public health guidelines. People facing greatest barriers, disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, must be at the center of this work. We can do a lot to advance all of those points of agreement–but not if we remain at odds.”
“This team will be exclusively civilian. The City practice of using armed and uniformed police as agents of homelessness outreach and coordination is resolutely over. This new model will acknowledge the strength the City can bring as a partner by coordinating a variety of essential services to support the provider community This support includes garbage pickup, sharps disposal, hygiene facilities and many other services,” said Councilmember Lewis.
“This bill is the result of weeks of collaboration between Councilmembers, the Mayor’s office, and our frontline service providers who spend every day in the field helping our unsheltered neighbors,” Councilmember Lewis said. “I am deeply gratified that our City government worked in partnership to find solutions to Seattle’s urgent humanitarian crisis.”
The legislation will proviso, or conditionally approve, more than $2 million in the 2020 budget to maintain and expand contracts to non-profit organizations that will assume the roles of encampment outreach and engagement previously performed by employees of the City’s Human Services and Police departments. Not more than $245,000 will be spent to support the salary of an 8-member team of Human Services Department staff to coordinate and support the contracted service providers. The proviso would only last through the remainder of 2020 unless the Council adopts the changes as part of its larger changes to the 2021 proposed budget. Lewis expects the Council to vote on the legislation on Monday, October 26th.
About Andrew: Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis is a fifth generation Washingtonian and was born and raised in Seattle. He most recently worked as an assistant city attorney in the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. Andrew is the son of a heavy equipment operator for Seattle City Light and a nurse at Harborview. He graduated with a B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of Washington, and holds a Masters degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Frequent updates about Councilmember Lewis’ efforts are available on Facebook and Twitter.