Homelessness Outreach Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) model to progresses in City Council budget discussions on Friday during Committee meeting
Following weeks of budget discussions, this Friday City Council will discuss the proposal made by Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2 – Southeast Seattle and Chinatown/International District) to create a new 5-person team to replace the Mayor Durkan’s proposed 8-person Unsheltered Outreach & Response Team. The currently proposed Unsheltered Outreach & Response Team keeps in place much of the Navigation Team structure. In contrast, this new team, know as the Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem (HOPE), would represent a permanent shift from the failed Navigation Team model to one that provides support and oversight, based on a framework developed by service providers and the Mayor’s office, in a service provider-led ecosystem.
This new approach, which is co-sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, is the culmination of months of discussions with service providers, outreach workers, unhoused neighbors, and the broader community. It builds upon the work conducted by the Council during the summer exercise to rebalance the budget and to shift resources to outreach providers. Morales’ approach also aligns with ongoing discussions held between the Executive and service providers to create a collaborative outreach strategy.
“The HOPE team is an idea built with community, and not just presented to it,” said Morales. “We’ve heard from our neighbors that Seattle must keep moving forward with a new team, new roles, new structure — and to end the Navigation Team discussion once and for all. The HOPE team represents that desire by proposing a team that responds to concerns felt by providers, the unhoused community, and neighbors who want to see folks connected to help and services.”
“This is a shift in the approach to addressing homelessness which is very encouraging,” said Michael Ninburg, Executive Director at the Hepatitis Education Project, which administers the City’s Purple Bag encampment trash pickup program. “Working with those organizations that have capacity to build relationships with the homeless community is important in anything going forward.”
In addition to setting a new structure and solidifying the role for the City in homelessness outreach, the establishment of the HOPE team is meant to repair the harm done by years of an approach that relied heavily on encampment removals which led many in the homeless community to lose trust in City outreach.
“It all boils down to trust,” Dee Powers, a District 2 vehicle resident and advocate for the homeless said. “We used to believe in a system of rehabilitation, that in America you can get your second chance. Maybe we just stopped caring, but that doesn’t make the problem go away. The City’s current method isn’t working. If the City wants to see positive outcomes, they must choose to support groups that provide dignity and services without judgment to a population already traumatized and struggling to survive.”
In response to the issues of trust and trauma, this budget action would continue the Council’s decision to remove police from outreach or encampment relocation activities. Though it would allow police and other first-responders to investigate issues inside of encampments, such issues would be addressed without the threat of wholesale eviction to encampment residents. It will also continue to allow for encampment-related trash and litter pickup by Seattle Public Utilities. Additionally, it would prioritize shelter referral and allow for relocation or reconfiguration of encampments over removals, or “sweeps,” which would only be used as a last resort in particularly dangerous or hazardous situations.
“It’s troubling that the question has centered around when a sweep should take place, rather than if a sweep is absolutely necessary, “ said Brian Egger, member of the Human Rights Commission, “Through the approach proposed by Councilmember Morales, we can instead work together to make an encampment safer and to connect people living in an encampment to the services that will ultimately improve their circumstances.”
“Ultimately, this team is meant as a long-term solution to a situation that was unnecessarily politicized from the get-go,” said Councilmember Morales. “By changing the system and moving to a new structure, we’re saying to providers that we trust your expertise. By closing the chapter on the Navigation Team, we’re saying to unhoused neighbors that we’ve learned from our mistakes. By leading with HOPE, we are saying to our community that we are listening to you.”
The public will be afforded an opportunity Tuesday evening beginning at 5:30pm to participate in a City Council Budget Public Hearing, where they can give their thoughts on the HOPE team and other work undertaken by City Council during the 2021 budget process. Members of the public can sign up for public comment starting at 3:30pm.