Executive and mayor announce regional structure for homelessness services

VIDEO: King County, Seattle leaders announce they'll create a more coordinated response to homelessness

SEATTLE — King County and Seattle leaders today announced they'll create a more coordinated response to homelessness in the new year.

It includes some kind a new governmental agency to bring all the services under the same umbrella.

People working to dig their way out of homelessness face difficulty connecting with the services they need to get off the streets.

Azia Ruff knows. She's been homeless three times.

"When I say that I was a disconnected customer, it was that I was experiencing my housing instability and I lacked connection to resources," she said.

Now Ruff is advising Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine how to build a new, regional approach to homelessness.

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​"We will stand up, we will staff, and we will fund a new entity," Constantine said at the news conference announcing the plan.

The idea is to establish a new joint homelessness authority for King County and the 39 cities within.

It will unify prevention and emergency services now scattered among many levels of government, coordinate housing and establish systemwide customer accountability.

"A regional crisis has to have a regional response," said Durkan.

Seattle alone now spends about $90 million a year fighting homelessness. The city expects to get 7,400 people off the streets this year-- but the encampments that dot the city persist.

"This city needs a reality check of what's really going on," said Cindy Pierce of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance in the Magnolia neighborhood.

After she watched the news conference streaming live on kiro7.comm Pierce met us at an encampment near her Magnolia neighborhood. She told us she agrees with creating a coordinated regional solution but worries about higher taxes.

"I would hope that they could do this and see progress without having to tap taxpayers more. Today they didn't have an answer for us whether those taxes would go up or not," Pierce said.

The mayor and county executive want to get the regional governance system working first, before being specific about the need for higher taxes.

"Nothing about that is on the table, what we're focused on is getting this work done," Durkan said.

Executive Constantine added, "Our goal should be to get to the point where we are not having to invest so much in emergency response and that can be shifted to the root causes and get people back on track."

Constantine said the work of coordinating the programs will begin early next year. He said it will take until the end of 2019 to negotiate with the county's 39 cities and create the regional homelessness governing body.