Questions face Seattle, King County as they move to combine homelessness services | KNKX

Questions face Seattle, King County as they move to combine homelessness services

Dec 24, 2018

Local leaders working to solve homelessness plan to spend 2019 on the administrative puzzle of joining Seattle and King County's service systems.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and County Executive Dow Constantine agreed last week to combine their offices on homelessness into a new entity. They said the consolidation will allow them to have a unified, regional strategy for the first time. 

But questions remain, including how the new agency will be governed, who will staff it, and how the different parties will divvy up the responsibility of funding it. 

"The 'Which funding streams?' and the 'Which staff?' will all have to be determined as we carry through into the implementation phase of things," said Kira Zylstra, who leads All Home, a task force that works with both the city and county on homelessness.

"There's a lot of the 'How?' left to come," she added. "There's a lot really hard work ahead." 

All Home, which channels federal dollars and collects data on homelessness for both the city and county, will be rolled into the new authority, she said. 

While much about the new entity needs to be determined, it likely will have an ombudsman's office where people using the service system can give feedback and lodge complains, Zylstra said. 

The consolidation effort comes after a report found at least six local offices claim responsibility for solving homelessness, resulting in a confusing and inefficient system. The offices include All Home as well as units within Seattle and King County.

"Six agencies cannot hold primary responsibility for the same thing," states the report by the organization Future Laboratories. 

The report recommended creating a new authority overseen by an executive director and a board consisting of representatives from government offices, service providers, and people who use the homeless-service system, or "customers."

"In their role on the board, customers should not be tokenized," Future Laboratories recommended. "At a minimum, one-quarter of the board seats should be reserved for customers."

But the board should be "as small as possible," the report said, so it can be nimble. 

"In our work across the region, we found processes regarding homelessness consistently lacked agility and responsiveness to rapidly changing conditions due to cumbersome multi-stakeholder approval processes," Future Laboratories said.

Marc Dones, the lead researcher on the report, spent five months studying the region's response to homelessness and said much of the slowness is a natural result of a fragmented system. 

"Coming together in one place and making decisions as a community is not what this community has been able to do before," Dones said. 

Dones spoke with government officials and service providers who are "very committed" to making the consolidation work. The largest hurdle for them, Dones added, will be "working together differently." 

"People who are used to being in a little bit of a circuitous dynamic are going to need to come to the table in a different way," Dones said. "The working style shift is going to be, I think the biggest difference and some of the toughest stuff to navigate."