Durkan, local leaders announce new 'unified entity' to combat regional homelessness

Durkan, local leaders announce 'new unified entity' to combat homelessness

It has no name, but the hope is it will change the way the region takes on homelessness. King County, the City of Seattle and their partners announced the formation of a new “entity." But the announcement on Wednesday offer very few details.

“Let’s be clear, we will standup, we will staff and fund a new entity,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said as he sat next to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The entity will have a director and work toward building a unified, region-wide approach to homelessness.

“We are laying the foundation for a new era and a new approach to homelessness,” Durkan said.

That foundation began 11 months ago with the announcement of One Table. The group of political, business and philanthropy leaders was convened to explore the root cause of homelessness.

After three formal meetings, the group produced a series of recommendations, but was criticized for not laying out a plan to pay for the recommendations.

Five months ago, Durkan and Constantine inked a Memorandum of Understanding that would become the foundation for the unnamed entity.

“We don't know the exact structure of it is, we are not going to focus on that up front,” Durkan said.

Durkan compared the entity to how King County Metro and the Seattle/King County Department of Health operates.

The pair would not say if an increase in taxes was needed to pay for the entity and potential solutions to homelessness.

“We must have a foundation that is data driven, transparent and is customer focused and it must have a single point of accountability for the region,” said Constantine.

That single point of accountability is a new element in the region’s approach to homelessness. Durkan called previous and current approaches “too fragmented”.

A big question going forward will be the buy-in from the county’s 39 cities, including the Seattle City Council as well as businesses and philanthropies that have embarked on their own approaches to helping the homeless.

“It will be new but I think it will be a stabilizing factor,” said Jason Johnson, the Interim Humans Service Director for the City of Seattle. “Too often some of the policies and decisions get caught in the cross hairs of politics”.

Mayor Durkan nominated Johnson on Wednesday to become the permanent director of Seattle’s department that oversees homeless services.

“We have to try a different way and I am hopeful that this is the right different way,” said Leslie Smith, Director of Public Policy for Vulcan, the late Paul Allen’s company.

Vulcan and Allen have donated tens of millions of dollars to affordable housing projects in efforts to find homes for the homeless.

“The difference with this is leadership," said David Bley, Pacific Northwest Director for the Gates Foundation. “The mayor and the county executive have been willing to talk and act in ways than any other elected officials have not so far.”

Other than the entity’s focus on homeless, logistical details on how the entity will operate and a time table going forward were not provided.

“We are going to be building this plane as we fly it,” Constantine said.

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