Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan wants to significantly increase shelter capacity for people experiencing homelessness in the city over the next three months.
Using money from the sale of a city-owned property in South Lake Union, Durkan is proposing increasing the number of shelter spots available by 25 percent by the end of August.
With approval from the City Council, Durkan’s plan would use $6.3 million from the property sale to create about 500 new spots for people living in tents and RVs on the city’s streets. That figure would include expanding capacity in enhanced shelters, which offer services and case management, adding more tiny house villages, and adding basic mat-on-the-floor type shelter beds to the system.
Durkan’s proposal would see a tiny house village at Eighth Avenue and Roy Street, and another at 18th Avenue and Yesler Street, pending outreach to those communities.
The plan would expand family shelter space at a Mary’s Place facility. It would also have the city take on a master lease at Haddon Hall, a vacant building, to create 100 enhanced shelter beds.
In addition, the mayor’s plan would restore funding for more than 160 basic shelter beds that were slated to close at the end of this month.
Durkan said the city needs more affordable housing to help solve the homelessness crisis. But in the short-term, she said, the city needs to move as many people as possible off the streets.
“We have to have a multi-front approach if we are going to address the crisis of homelessness,” Durkan told reporters at a Tuesday briefing.
Durkan's proposal arrives as the city grapples with how to spend money raised by the controversial head tax on businesses to raise money for homeless services and housing.
The mayor favors using the majority of the $45 million that would be raised by the controversial tax for immediate shelter solutions. A group of city council members favor using the majority of the money for long-term housing solutions.
City officials say more people were served through Seattle’s shelter programs in the first three months of 2018 compared to the same period last year. But the city has not yet provided data to show how many of those served obtained permanent housing.
According to the mayor’s office, the city currently operates more than 2,000 shelter beds, including several authorized homeless encampments. However, Durkan said those shelters are at least 93 percent full every night.
Seattle shifted its funding focus away from basic mat-on-the-floor type shelter beds last year, emphasizing the need to fund more enhanced shelter beds.
Durkan said enhanced shelters are more effective at moving people into housing, but she also defended the decision to add 120 extra basic shelter beds and continue funding other basic beds that were slated for closure.
“Moving a whole system to a performance-based system doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice human beings and throw them in the street,” Durkan said.
Durkan's plan also includes $2 million for a rental assistance program to prevent people from falling into homelessness. It includes $3.2 million for affordable housing.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he thinks Durkan’s plan is a good step and he’s excited that she’s moving to act swiftly.
But, O'Brien added, expanding shelter capacity is only one piece of the solution. He stressed that the city also needs to significantly increase its stock of affordable housing so that people have somewhere to go after they’ve moved through the shelter system.
Durkan’s plan would be funded in 2018 by one-time funds from the sale of city property. On Tuesday, Durkan said she intends to keep the extra shelter beds open beyond the end of the year, but did not lay out a plan to fund them over the long-term.