More money for homeless? Seattle consultants said no last fall

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…

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