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$34 million in city contracts overhaul Seattle’s funding for homeless services

The contracts prioritize permanent housing

A scattering of tents are visible under a curvy freeway bridge, leading to a dense urban center full of skyscrapers.

On Monday, Tim Burgess, in one of his last acts as mayor, announced the results of the city’s new $34 million homelessness spending plan. The contracts with the city’s Human Services Department (HSD) prioritize organizations that can drive unsheltered people into permanent housing—and leave some longtime providers out.

The biggest contract went to longtime service provider Downtown Emergency Services Center, which will receive just under $7 million. While some of that will go to those titular emergency services, most of its funded projects were supportive housing programs.

Other seven-figure contracts went to Catholic Community Services ($3.46 million), Compass ($2.6 million), Mary’s Place ($1.8 million), Seattle Indian Health Board ($2.43 million), Youthcare ($2.12 million), and YWCA ($3.36 million). All those contracts include either permanent or transitional housing, although some provide emergency services, as well.

Three new providers, the Seattle Indian Health Board, United Indians of All Tribes, and the Somali Youth & Family Club, speak to one of the city’s funding priorities for culturally relevant services.

The announcement came after a rebidding process, meaning existing service providers had to reapply for their funding. While many providers came out of the process with renewed funding, others are seeing less support from the city moving forward.

In a few notable cases, some lost their city funding for good—especially those that run emergency shelters.

“There are some homeless service providers who applied for certain projects that were not fully funded, but there are only a few who were previously funded who are not receiving any funding,” confirmed HSD external affairs director Meg Olberding over email.

SHARE/WHEEL, which runs a shelter network with around 200 beds, will be completely defunded. The organization “run[s] basic, mats-on-floor shelters, and has not exited anyone to permanent housing, which is a priority in this funding round,” said Olberding.

SHARE board president Anita Freeman told Crosscut that it plans to appeal the decision. “We’re dealing at the survival level,” she said.

While the organization didn’t receive any HSD funding, it did receive some money in the city budget to continue operating six city-sanctioned encampments.

Other organizations that lost funding completely include Immanuel Community Services, the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches, and YWCA Downtown Emerge. Olberding said the city will provide “bridge funding” for the next six months, and that “no shelter beds will be lost this winter.”

One organization that saw a reduction in funding was the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). Among other things, it runs the Urban Rest Stop (URS) program, which provides bathrooms, laundry facilities, and showers. It received just over $500,000 to operate two of its three URS locations: downtown and Ballard.

Speaking with the C is for Crank, LIHI director Sharon Lee questioned the effectiveness of the city’s emphasis on rapid rehousing. “I think there is a way to lie with statistics,” she said. “I think they say, ‘We put someone into market-rate housing, and if they don’t show up in the [Homeless Management Information System] later, then it is successful,’ but they haven’t checked.”

The $34 million doesn’t include funding from competitive bids outside the process. Programs like the Navigation Center, the city-sanctioned encampments, and the low-barrier Compass at First Hill shelter will be funded separately.

The city council budget process this year included multiple tactics to find more funding for homeless services, including an employee head tax proposal sponsored by Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley, a proposal to borrow from the city’s rainy day fund by Bruce Harrell, and a last-ditch effort to move funding from the mayor’s office. All those proposals ultimately failed, but the council passed a resolution promising to have a new business tax proposal by March.