Helping Seattle's homeless: Where things stand

City announces short term funding help & data on how services have been used so far in 2018

Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan is planning to use the sale of city property on Minor Avenue as a quick injection of cash into the city’s homeless crisis. She outlined her plan and how services have been used so far in 2018 during an off camera briefing with reporters on Tuesday. Durkan initially proposed her plan in January as “Building a Bridge to Housing for All.” If approved by the city council, $11.5 million of the building sale will be broken down like this:

  • $6.3 million to increase shelter capacity for 500 people
  • $2 million for a rental housing assistance pilot program serving 1,000 low-income households
  • $3.2 million for affordable housing

“It will be the single most, largest increase in shelter capacity in the city,” Durkan says, “We need to do better, so we really focused on what can we do short term to move more people off the streets to a safe place where they can get the support they need.”

According to city officials, on average, Seattle’s shelters are at 93 percent capacity.

More Beds

Some of the additional beds would come in the form of 3 new tiny house villages: Whittier Heights Women's Village, plus locations at 8th & Roy St and 18th & Yesler, all to be built by the end of the summer. While the women only village will be low barrier (including residents struggling through drug or alcohol abuse) a decision as not yet been made whether that will be the case for the other two villages. Questions have been raised about whether the city has performed enough outreach in the communities where these villages will be placed, especially with the safety issues at the Licton Springs tiny house village. Durkan insists they will do better to mitigate the impacts of the tiny villages on their community, admitting it's something they did not do well with Licton Springs.

Beds will also be added by expanding a shelter at city hall and by opening additional floors at the Mary’s Place family shelter on Aurora. In addition, the money will prevent 163 beds from going offline at the end of May.

The money from the building sale will only keep this expansion in place through the end of 2018, however there is no current funding source to maintain this expansion at an approximate cost of $8.75 million a year. The question of future funding comes as efforts continue to repeal a city council approved head tax to raise $40 million for homeless services. Opponents of the tax have until mid-June to gather 17,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. Durkan hopes the head tax stands: “Our plan is to get people inside safe places and I think it would be the wrong thing for the city of Seattle then to close shelters and put people back on the street, and I’m hopeful and confident we won’t have to make that decision.”

Finding Solutions using Vacant/Underused Properties

Mayor Durkan says the city is refocusing efforts on using assets already within the city limits to help expand shelter services, including public land, vacant buildings and under-utilized properties. One example is Haddon Hall in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, which is where 100 of the new shelter beds will be added. The building was recently purchased by Plymouth Housing, but it could be two years before the organization is ready to move forward with renovations.

“We have a building sitting there vacant that can be utilized for people to live in, so we are going to master lease that building, do what we need to do and move 100 people in there by the end of the summer,”Durkan says.

Mayor Durkan says the city has conferred with at least one expert in housing refugees throughout the world, asking the question “If you had to house 5,000 people, what are the approaches we’re not taking and we should be taking, cause what we’re are seeing are economic refugees, in a sense, on our city streets.”

Using vacant buildings or empty lots are part of a model that is already in use in Vancouver, BC. Mayor Durkan also pointed to the city's modular housing program as a way to cut down on the time and cost to build new housing units. The modular housing can cost as little as $80,000 a unit, compared to up to $300,000 a unit for permanent supportive housing in Seattle. Looking outside the city for solutions is something else the mayor says needs to continue, noting that San Diego has been more successful in helping people who are living in their cars or RVs find housing.

“I think we did a pretty good job as a city at the outset of looking at other cities, but we have not continued to make sure we stay in connection with those cities to see what is working,” Durkan says.

Not Just a Seattle Problem

During Tuesday's briefing, Mayor Durkan repeatedly emphasized that solving the homeless crisis requires a regional response. "If you look at the resources that the city of Seattle is spending to support the cities from around the state and this region, we've got to change that calculus, they've got to step up more." In May, the city and King County announced a memorandum of understanding to improve coordination on efforts to help the homeless, both in how services are contracted and how performance benchmarks are tracked. It came just days after the King County Auditor's Office released a report that pointed out the issues and recommendations on how to improve them.


A point made during Tuesday’s briefing is that certain service providers are not meeting the benchmarks set in their contracts with the city. When asked how the mayor would hold these service providers accountable, she said “People sign contracts to perform their services in a way that’s going to maximize the ability for the people they are serving to move into permanent housing. We will continue to partner with them as a city to make sure they have the tools they need to be successful, but in the end, they have to do their part and we will be assessing whether they do it or not.”

By the Numbers

This week the city is releasing data on how many homeless people have used services in the first three months of the year. So far 5,921 households have been served in encampments, basic or enhanced shelters. That’s compared to 4,793 people in the same time period last year. What isn’t clear is how many people refused services, one of the multiple data issues the city hopes to improve. Durkan told us “Our data isn’t perfect at best, both in terms of who is coming and utilizing using our shelter, what happens to them and when people exit the system where they go.”

Here’s the breakdown of how people are being served:







In 2018, the city plans to spend:

  • $30.9 million on shelter, hygiene and outreach
  • $22.4 million on permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing & diversion
  • $17.7 million on prevention, access and operations

The city’s Human Services Department released information on the garbage, waste and needles cleaned up when an encampment is cleared out.

In 2017, the city removed 3,205 tons of garbage from illegal encampments. So far in 2018, 260 tons of trash have been removed.

In May, Seattle began a citywide pilot to remove garbage from roads, sidewalks and public right of away adjacent to RVs. In the first month, the city has collected 29,000 pounds of trash.

In January 2017, Seattle Public Utilities began a pilot project to collect trash from illegal encampments and from areas where RVs frequently camp. So far, SPU has collected nearly 500,000 pounds of trash, which works out to about 27,800 pounds a month.

In 2016, SPU launched a pilot program to collect syringes through a combination of drop boxes and public complaints. So far, they’ve collected 70,934 syringes

Mayor Durkan will lay out the rest of her proposal during a news conference on Wednesday at noon. KIRO 7 will bring you complete coverage.