Six months ago, two consultants told the city of Seattle it could shelter most of the homeless without any additional money. So why are we being asked to pony up $275 million?
Last fall, two consultants appeared before the Seattle City Council with a surprising message: After nearly a year of study, they had concluded Seattle could make a serious dent in the homelessness problem without spending any additional money.
“We believe homelessness in King County can be dramatically reduced using existing resources,” said a key finding from Focus Strategies, a Sacramento firm paid $75,000 to audit local homelessness programs.
The other consultant, Ohio-based Barbara Poppe, said the big issue wasn’t money so much as the well-meaning but wasteful ways it’s being spent.
“The current level of public funding investment is strong,” she wrote in a $102,000 report to the council. “Homelessness has been increasing despite increasing investment in programs. This trend is expected to continue unless a new approach is adopted.”
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Cut to six months later. Seattle, to its credit, has begun revamping its homelessness services as advised by the reports — but it has by no means ventured very far. Yet the city is asking voters for more money already anyway, in the form of a $275 million property-tax levy that would double what the city spends each year.
What happened to using existing resources?
The short answer is that gazillionaire Nick Hanauer decided to “throw down” a tax-levy initiative, and the city is running with it.
The longer answer is city officials believe they can do two tricky things — change and expand — at the same time.
“I do think it would be better timing to put in more changes first and then ask for additional funding,” says City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “But I think even those consultants now agree that the emergency is greater than…