KCRHA’s tragic incompetence in addressing homelessness
May 4, 2023
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) shocked nearly everyone earlier this year when its leaders demanded $11.8 billion to address the county’s homelessness crisis and budgeted very little of the funds to help those suffering from addiction or mental illness. This outlandish request has been criticized by people across the political spectrum, has led many people to doubt the competency of KCRHA’s current leadership, and has brought calls to entirely scrap the current proposal and make the homeless authority redo its entire process.
MORE HOMELESS PEOPLE DIE THAN FIND PERMANENT HOUSING
There is one chilling fact that highlights the complete failure of the rapidly expanding government homeless bureaucracy that KCRHA and local governments have built. After spending billions in taxpayer funds on the issue, more homeless individuals continue to die on the streets and in temporary housing than have found permanent housing. It is unfathomable to believe that anyone can defend the policies which have resulted in these disturbing figures and refuse to reevaluate current methods. Yet this is exactly what KCRHA and the region’s liberal politicians are currently doing.
According to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, 310 homeless individuals in the county tragically died during 2022. This is a 65% increase over 2021 when 188 homeless people passed away. It is also an unbelievable 150% increase since 2015 when 124 homeless individuals died. It was in November of that year when King County Executive Dow Constantine and then Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stood before the media to declare “a state of emergency” over the region’s homelessness problem and pledged to spend more public resources to combat the crisis.
Today drug overdoses continue to skyrocket among those who are homeless. 179 people died from overdoses (mostly fentanyl) last year who were living in permanent supportive housing, income-restricted units, transitional housing and recovery housing.
While the deaths of those experiencing homelessness continue to climb, we must ask how many people have found permanent housing under current policies. According to KCRHAs Partnership for Zero, just 56 people signed leases for permanent housing and only “152 individuals, couples and families have been moved inside, including permanent housing and interim options awaiting housing.” So according to KCRHA, less than 200 people (there is some overlap between these two figures) are off the streets and into stable housing.
Thus, there are more people who are no longer suffering on our streets and in encampments due to death than the number of people who have moved into permanent housing. It is not exactly a ringing endorsement of KCRHA’s methods and policies when death is taking more people off of the homeless rolls than the billions in taxpayer funds being spent by the region’s homelessness bureaucracy.
KCRHA’S $11.8 BILLION PROPOSAL
In January KCRHA CEO Marc Dones released a draft proposal which called for a one-time expense of $8.4 billion and an additional five years of annual expenses totaling $3.4 billion. To put this nearly $12 billion request into perspective, King County’s 2022 “Point In Time” count of “individuals experiencing homelessness” (both on the street or already in shelter) is 13,368. Thus the KCRHA’s $11.8 billion proposal would spend $882,704 per homeless person.
By comparison, the City of Seattle’s entire bloated FY 2023 budget to provide police, parks, transportation, subsidized housing, fire protection, and all other government services for its 750,000 inhabitants is $7.4 billion (or approximately $9,866 per resident).
KCRHA’s proposal’s lack of focus and sufficient funding for mental illness and drug addiction is irresponsible. Nearly all who are chronically homeless suffer from either mental health problems or substance abuse, or both. The 2020 King County “Point in Time” survey found that 73% of those unsheltered reported they had a serious psychiatric problem and 64% said they had a drug/alcohol addiction. (These percentages are likely low since often people with these inflictions fail to admit they have them.)
KCRHA’s proposal states it has seven goals as it “moves forward.” These objectives include such goals as “Restructure the service system to improve capacity, supports, and efficiency” and “Reduce the Impact of Racism on People Experiencing Homelessness.” While addiction and mental health treatment are briefly mentioned in the goals, helping homeless individuals be stable enough to function in society is not listed as a measured priority of the authority.
The failure to prioritize addiction and mental health treatment is even more troublesome due to the growing negative impact of fentanyl and its newest even more deadly concoctions. The potent synthetic opioid is tragically impacting the lives of Americans across all spectrums, yet it is hurting those who are homeless the hardest.
While budgetary concerns and lack of proper focus are the primary reasons why so many want to scrap KCRHA’s proposal, there are others who raise additional credible arguments against forcing taxpayers to spend nearly $900,000 per homeless individual.
Critics point to the failed “Housing First” philosophy (explained below) which has been a disaster in Seattle and across the country, no matter how much money has been spent. Evidence has repeatedly shown that the Housing First philosophy has not only failed to decrease the number of people who are suffering on the streets, but as we have seen in King County, the number of homeless individuals has actually increased – growing by more than 1,600 (13.8%) in the county since 2020.
Other detractors of the KCRHA proposal are also worried that thus far the KCRHA has not outlined a clear plan for how this tremendous amount of money will be spent and how it will provide treatment to the mentally ill or help those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
Some community leaders were surprised by KCRHA’s budget proposal since the two-year-old authority has no record of accomplishments and in fact has received strong criticism by many neighborhood groups for failing to remove illegal encampments that are in residential parks or adjacent to elementary schools.
There are many who are extremely skeptical about why KCRHA leadership made such an over-the-top request for funds. Knowing the authority would never receive such an incredible sum of public funds, CEO Dones has built a future excuse for when the authority inevitably fails to make a significant reduction of homeless individuals. KCRHA will escape accountability by asserting it was not fully funded to perform its mission.
Each of these “red flags” is enough to make any logical person reject the KCRHA request. Combined, these warnings should force the homelessness authority to scrap its current proposal and come back to community leaders and the taxpayers with a reasonable and realistic plan that can end the suffering of those without shelter.
PROBLEMS WITH “HOUSING FIRST” POLICIES AND SUCCESS WITH OTHER METHODS
There have been multiple national studies and reports which have outlined the very obvious difficulties with the Housing First approach to reducing homelessness. A 2022 Discovery Institute report provides a good recap of how this methodology failed to live up to its promises
In 2013 the Obama Administration and the Democrat controlled Congress passed a controversial federal law applying Housing First method to “eradicate homelessness.” It was the liberals’ belief that if government (taxpayers) provide unsheltered individuals with free or subsidized housing, then answers would be found for the remainder of their problems. At that time Democrat politicians promised that Housing First would end homelessness among veterans by 2015, chronic homelessness by 2016, family homelessness by 2020, and all forms of homelessness by 2023.
Yet now that we have reached 2023, not only hasn’t homelessness been completely eradicated as promised, but it has become much worse in Seattle and other U.S. cities (especially in liberal West Coast urban areas).
When Executive Constantine and then Mayor Murray declared a state of emergency over the homeless issue in 2015 there were an estimated 3,800 people living without shelter, 3,000 in transitional housing, and 3,300 in homeless shelters. This totals 10,100 individuals experiencing homelessness when the emergency was declared seven and a half years ago. Today the total has grown to more than 13,300.
Despite the region’s governments, non-profits, and businesses spending much more than a billion dollars every year on the homelessness issue since the emergency was declared, the implementation of the failed Housing First strategy has resulted in a 33% increase in homelessness.
Recently ChangeWA posted an article from Ginny Burton — formerly homeless and suffering from addiction herself — who had substantial experience working in the housing first bureaucracy. Burton states that the Housing First philosophy does not work and strongly asserts that “We must first focus on the underlying causes of an individual’s circumstances and equip people with the skills to take control of their lives.”
Pierce County’s approach has differed from the tact being tried in King County. Steven O’Ban is a former state senator and is currently a senior counselor to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier. O’Ban has reviewed and toured homeless programs across the country and nearly all had disappointing results. Yet a program in Austin, Texas obtained O’Ban’s attention.
The Community First! Village just outside Texas’ capital city has had significant positive results with those who faced chronic homelessness. It is an all inclusive community of tiny homes, mental health and addiction services, job training facilities, and medical assistance. The residents must pay rent and illegal behavior is not allowed. While other types of housing programs have a success rate (i.e. stay off of the streets for five years) of just 35%, Austin’s Community First! Village is 88%. In mid-March the Pierce County Council approved (by a 6 to 1 vote) funding ($21.55 million) to buy 86 acres of land near Spanaway and begin construction on the project which will contain 285 micro-homes. Private investments will also be sought.
Pierce County Executive Dammeier said, “It is about community. Bringing people who are trapped in chronic homelessness, bringing them into community, getting them the services and support they need. It is also about working and paying rent and being part of that community. That is what makes it transformational.”
The difference between KCRHA and what is occurring in Pierce County are strikingly different. King County wants taxpayers to pay $11.8 billion on a methodology which has repeatedly failed, while Pierce County wants taxpayers to spend less than five percent of that on a program that has found significant success elsewhere.
LACK OF A TRACK RECORD IN SOLVING HOMELESSNESS
Marc Dones was hired as CEO of KCRHA starting in April 2021 after preferred candidates turned down the position. In that time, the agency has not had any success in reducing the number of homeless individuals as the number of people suffering on the streets continues to increase. Neighborhoods and parents have become increasingly frustrated by KCRHA’s non-responsiveness and long delays as they seek removal of large and dangerous encampments in parks, state property near freeways, and next to elementary schools.
As open drug use, prostitution, assaults, and explosive fires have threatened the security of those who live and work near the encampments, it has taken KCRHA multiple months before they adequately respond to the problem.
At a recent public hearing on KCRHA’s $11.8 billion request, one Wallingford parent, Don Mackenzie, summed up the frustration of many community leaders who have dealt with the authority. “You (KCRHA) are failing in your jobs. You are failing my neighborhood. You have shown disregard and contempt about our concerns for kids being exposed [to] needles and being chased out of their after-school programs. Why would anyone support further spending on homelessness when you can’t do anything useful with the money you already receive?”
There is growing concern among the region’s elected officials on whether KCRHA is currently capable of being entrusted with such a large amount of public dollars. King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn said, “Sadly, looking at the current state of homelessness in our region, it is hard to say that our region’s approach is working.”
There are many anti-big government critics who fear the primary aim of KCRHA is to build a large and well-paid homeless bureaucracy and not to provide much needed assistance to those who are truly suffering on our streets. KCRHA’s recent actions added credibility to this belief when it advertised the hiring of several positions. Along with the 96 hours (12 days) of paid sick leave, 12 official holidays, two “personal” holidays, medical, dental, and vision health plans, and a gold plated pension plan, KCRHA employees will receive “unlimited vacations.” to go along with the 26 days taxpayers are already paying for them not to work. Does this seem like an effort that is doing all it can to help homeless individuals become productive members of our community?
Homelessness is the social issue of our time. Billions and billions of dollars are being wasted on programs that simply do not work while thousands of our neighbors continue to suffer through cruel and heartbreaking lives. We need to do better than build a huge government homeless bureaucracy. We must do what is being done in other communities (including Pierce County) by funding homeless projects which bring positive results.
Mike Sotelo, the Chairman of the Ethnic Chamber of Commerce and someone who once experienced homelessness himself, recently stated his views on the proposal put forth by the KCRHA. He wrote, “there is not one shred of evidence to suggest that the continuation of the same failed ideas will work in the future.” He called for the proposal to be scrapped. The $11.8 billion proposal put forth by KCRHA continues to waste money by pouring it down the same drain holes of previous failed efforts. We must tell those on the KCRHA to scrap their unrealistic plan and come back with one that has a proven track record to bring necessary changes.