Seattle City Auditor criticizes homelessness response in Navigation Team report

Seattle City Auditors criticized the homeless response in Seattle in an hourlong report to a Seattle City Council Committee on Tuesday morning.

Auditors were giving a quarterly report commissioned in part by Councilmember Lisa Herbold meant to give oversight to the city’s Navigation Team.

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“Are we clear about the problem we're trying to solve? Are we using proven strategies to solve the problem?” said City Auditor Claudia Gross-Shader. “Another one of our findings is that the city does not have a central system for receiving requests for receiving outreach and dispatching staff.”

Seattle’s homeless response currently is budgeted at over $70 million, and the Navigation Team, just one part of that response, was recently budgeted to have a staff of about 30 people.

The Navigation Team -- made up of individuals including Seattle Police Officers who make contact with homeless individuals -- is meant to help steer unsheltered people into homeless services to get them off city streets.

The auditor’s office criticized the unwieldy amount of city agencies that are dedicated to the issue, and the lack of a central communication between all of that staff.

It also said with the lack of such a system and oversight, it’s clear why they saw hygienic issues crop up, that other cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles were doing a better job of handling.

“Without adequate access to bathrooms, it's understandable to see the things that we saw on our site observations: human waste on the sidewalk, human waste in buckets,” testified Gross-Shader.

Staff with the city’s Navigation Team said the audit went outside the scope of what they were meant to audit, and said over the first quarter of 2019, that they made contact with 1,800 unsheltered people on city streets, with 300 of them accepting shelter.

“That is exactly why the executive is working on regional governance. Because Seattle is just a piece and we need a system-wide response,” staff members said.

In a city where a federal report listed some 12,000 people as homeless, answers to the homeless issue are hard to come by, and how to implement oversight on that effort is still waiting to be seen.