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Head of King County Regional Homelessness Authority steps down

A tall person in glasses with a short beard, holding what appears to be a laptop, purses their lips and holds their fingers together in a chef-hand gesture as they look blankly at a woman.
King County Regional Homelessness Authority
Marc Dones (center), the first CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, is stepping down.

The head of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is resigning after two years in the job, according to a statement from the agency. Marc Dones is the first CEO of the new government body, which oversees federal and local funds for homelessness.

Dones helped design the authority as a consultant, advising on structure such as putting people with experience of homelessness on the governing committee, alongside mayors and county leaders. While they'd never led a major government agency before, many advocates felt Dones brought an important perspective to the role as a nonbinary Black person who had personally experienced the behavioral health system.

In the last two years, Dones went from the first and only employee of an infant authority to head of the 100-person organization. During that time the authority "resolved 13 long-standing encampments, deployed the most successful Emergency Housing Voucher strategy in the nation, and developed a more accurate count of the number of people experiencing homelessness so that we can match the scale of the solution to the scale of the problem,” spokesperson Anne Martens said in an email.

Dones has encountered controversy in the last few years. Earlier this year, the authority released cost projections to fix homelessness in the region that are far higher than what local leaders felt was possible. For two years in a row, the authority failed to pay nonprofit shelter and housing providers on time.

Dones' resignation letter said that when it comes to the homelessness system, "the need far outweighs the current resources."

"I have had the unique privilege of having dedicated my life to this effort since 2018, from the initial design of this concept to today—and after 5 years I am tired. I believe the time has come for me to pass the baton," Dones wrote in their resignation letter.

"As a queer Black person, I have watched many members of my community burn out trying to hold too much for too many and I have watched them become unable to contribute the full breadth of their talent or vision to the work. I have watched them become bitter and destructive and what I know is that I don’t want that for myself."

Regional Homelessness Authority governing committee member Johnathan Hemphill said Dones made decisions without consulting representatives who, like Hemphill, have experienced homelessness.

"The personality Marc has is like a go getter. 'Oh, I can go here, I can execute, and then I can just double back because we have that relationship," Hemphill said.

He said Dones didn't seem to understand that "every step of the way, you need to have lived experience" of homelessness leading.

In a joint statement, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine said Dones was committed to solving homelessness.

"From leading the design of the KCRHA to taking the reins as its first CEO, Marc has played an indispensable role in transforming ‘regional solutions to homelessness’ from an idea to tangible action," the statement said.

Dones will stay on for 30 more days, and then the position will be filled in the interim by Deputy CEO Helen Howell.

Updated: May 16, 2023 at 6:39 PM PDT
Add statements from Hemphill, Harrell and Constantine.
Updated: May 16, 2023 at 12:10 PM PDT
Added image, quotes from resignation letter.
Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.