Regional homeless authority taking shape in King County

    The framework that will eventually become a brand new regional authority on homelessness was debated by a committee of the Seattle City Council on Friday.

    That "entity" was announced last December by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Jenny Durkan along with stakeholders fighting homelessness and big philanthropy, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Foundation.

    “We will stand up, we will staff and will fund a new entity,” Constantine said during that announcement. No name was given to the entity and it was referred to as “it.”

    “What the exact structure of it we are not going to focus up front,” Durkan said at the time.

    That structure began to take shape when the Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability met to hear an update from a consultant that has been working with the City and King County.

    “I’d like to know if we are stealing good ideas from other entities or cobbling together some kind of Frankenstein structure,” said councilmember Rob Johnson.

    The council heard from Marc Dones from the National Innovation Service who has been meeting with both members of the City of Seattle and King County to present a road map to launch the new regional authority on homelessness.

    “You’re building the plane as you're flying it,” councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said.

    Council members informally set a tentative month of September to have a framework of governance that the committee could vote on.

    Dones said they are looking toward the cities of Los Angeles, Portland and Columbus, Ohio, as potential models to follow.

    While it not entirely the same, local examples could be Sound Transit or the Seattle/King County Board of Health. Both authorities cross city or county boundaries. Both have boards of directors that are elected officials within their territories of operation. Both have independent budgets and staff to run their regional authorities.

    The regional authority on homelessness will be limited to King County and its 39 cities for now. It’s too soon to contemplate budgets but it will be funded by King County taxpayers with other designated homeless money coming from the state and federal government.

    “We are going to be held accountable as we should be as the "electeds," to make sure that the systems truly do change and we haven't just shifted responsibility,” said Mosqueda.

    The idea for the entity evolved out of One Table, an ad hoc group of lawmakers, philanthropists and homeless service providers that met several times in 2018 to get to the root of homelessness. Many critics said the group ended up with not real solutions.

    City Council member recognized the existence of a leery public that has seen homeless initiatives come and go, yet that annual one night count of the homeless continues to increase.

    “The trust level may not be high,” said councilmember Bruce Harrell. “So I thing we have to just get stuff out there.”

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