HSD: Council leaves city without tools to address homeless encampments that pose health, safety risks

VIDEO: Business owners wondering what's next without the Navigation Team

SEATTLE — Seattle City Council’s vote this week to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget veto, and move forward with defunding the Navigation Team, leaves the city “without any” tools to address encampments that may pose health and safety risks, according to the Human Services Department.

“The City Council voted to completely eliminate the Navigation Team, including laying off Human Services Department employees who conduct outreach to people living unsheltered,” said a Human Services Department spokesperson by email to KIRO 7. “HSD is working with the Mayor’s Office to determine how to move forward in a way that minimizes harm and does not jeopardize public safety.”

The removal of homeless encampments has largely been paused because of the pandemic, according to HSD. The organization said Thursday the Navigation Team had removed seven encampments since April, compared to 451 during that same period last year.

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“I hear every day from people and community that the problem with homelessness is getting greater and encampments are getting larger,” said Mayor Durkan. “And city council decided to cut our best resource to do outreach to encampments to help bring people inside.”

Critics of the Navigation Team, which was made up of social workers and police officers, were among the speakers at Tuesday’s Seattle City Council special meeting. Last month, Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez said contractors could do a better job than city workers, calling the Navigation Team’s 6% success rate of placing people in housing “dismal.”

“(They) are being violently harassed by the Navigation Team who destroyed their belongings with disregard,” said one person who spoke during the public comment period.

The city said the Navigation Team had focused its efforts during the pandemic on outreach and litter removal. The team recently reported an increase in the number of referrals and shelter enrollments.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said this week that defunding the Navigation Team wouldn’t stop homeless outreach in the city.

“Overriding this veto will not stop outreach and engagement to people living unsheltered,” said Herbold during Tuesday’s meeting. “In fact, it will increase the amount of funds available to our external partners to do this by putting more funds into contracts with organizations that are currently doing outreach.”

Russ Meyer, sales manager at Ben’s Cleaner Sales in SODO, said he and his employees have already noticed the Navigation Team’s absence.

“Nonexistent. Before we used to at least have a liaison,” said Meyer. “What’s the plan? There’s no plan in place. There’s nothing to give me any hope.”