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00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2b910000KUOW is joining forces with other Seattle media outlets to highlight the homeless crisis in the city and region on Wednesday, June 29, 2017.The effort was modeled after a collaboration by more than 70 San Francisco outlets to focus a day of news attention on the issue and possible solutions.Read more about the Seattle project and check out our coverage below. Follow the city's coverage by using #SeaHomeless.HighlightsThe Jungle: an ongoing coverage project going into the notorious homeless encampment under Interstate 5.Ask Seattle's Homeless Community: KUOW is launching a Facebook group where anyone may ask a question about homelessness, but only people who have experienced it may answer. This was inspired by a recent event KUOW co-presented with Seattle Public Library and Real Change, where residents of the Jungle answered audience questions. No End In Sight: an award-winning investigative project from KUOW about King County's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Seattle mayor's plan would add 500 homeless shelter beds

The entrance to a homeless shelter on Third Avenue in Seattle.
KUOW File Photo/John Ryan
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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.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Switching to a performance-based system does not mean sacrificing human beings and throwing them onto the street, Durkan said.", "style": "wide"}]]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.

[asset-images[{"caption": "A new 24 hour homeless shelter accommodates people with pets, partners, belongings and addiction issues.", "fid": "137738", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201707/IMG_20170711_104606.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Kate Walters"}]]

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.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "The city currently operates more than 2,000 shelter beds, including several authorized homeless encampments.", "style": "wide"}]]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.

Year started with KUOW: 2015