EDITORIAL | Homelessness spending plan deserves scrutiny

Seattle has a homelessness problem. 

But will an additional $275 million over five years effectively address the problem? Or is it merely a well-intentioned effort that won’t lead to results?

Last week, Mayor Ed Murray announced details of his plan to put a property-tax levy on the August ballot to provide services to the homeless, and get them into permanent housing, along with funding for drug addiction and mental health treatment. 

The aim is admirable. 

It’s the city’s track record in addressing the homelessness crisis that raises skepticism. 

One could ask, on a very broad scale, what the city’s spending on the issue has accomplished thus far. More of our neighbors are out on the street than ever before, and that’s after spending almost $50 million in 2016 (the city is on track to spend $60 million in 2017). 

A pair of consultants — Sacramento firm Focus Strategies, and former Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Barbara Poppe — both told the Seattle City Council last fall that significant resources were being channeled into programs and services that weren’t achieving results. 

Not that we needed a consultant to tell us as much, we can tell. 

Simply put, in the coming weeks, the city must be clear about how substantial additional funding will help get people off the streets, and what efforts they believe have been successful thus far. Certainly, providers receiving city funding have moved people into housing, and prevented others from losing the roof over their heads. We just haven’t heard much regarding how the city has been gauging success (and, unfortunately, failure).

One question: Will increased funding in turn ramp up the speed of the city’s efforts? You may remember that the first San Francisco-styled “navigation center” (a 24/7 shelter with access to case management and other services) was supposed to open in early January. 

It’s mid-March, and the center still isn’t open. 

None of the three sanctioned encampments announced by the city in December, totaling 150 tiny houses serving approximately 200 people, have yet to open either, despite plans to have the first one open by early January. 

The old adage is to under-promise and over-deliver. Complications arise with even the best-laid plans, but why roll out timelines that seem to serve as hopeful instead of realistic? It doesn’t inspire confidence for the city to miss self-announced milestones.

Murray’s proposal does include the creation of a review board to determine which programs are achieving results, and which aren’t. 

That’s a great start.

But more transparency over how effective the current efforts have been, and how the city is pivoting in relation to what’s working and what isn’t is desperately needed.