Seattle's unprepared homeless czar | EDITORIAL

With little fanfare, Mayor Ed Murray announced his selection of George Scarola to serve as Seattle’s first director of homelessness late in August.

Honestly, would it kill Murray’s PR writers to include a photo of these top-level new hires? Then again, maybe we shouldn’t sweat these small complaints. Looming larger is Scarola’s level of experience — or seeming lack thereof, as the man’s resume paints a strange picture of what some media outlets are calling Seattle’s first ‘homeless czar.’

What the hell is that about?

According to the folks at Murray’s office, Scarola has spent nine years as legislative director for the League of Education Voters, an organization pushing for a better state education system via two nonprofits and a political action committee. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the horns being locked in the Legislature or the gavels being banged in the state Supreme Court knows that’s a fight with no end in sight.

Scarola just returned from Hefei, China, where he was lecturing at the University of Science and Technology — it probably paid better than teaching in the United States.

Not to say the man’s completely without relevant experience. Scarola did lead the Sand Point Community Housing Project, turning former base housing in Sand Point Naval Air Station into homes for unsheltered youth, adults and families. That was in the ‘90s.

This would appear to be the most Scarola has worked toward curbing homelessness, and that was 20 years ago. According to the, er,
thorough PR folks at the mayor’s office, Scarola “is an experienced public affairs and community relations manager having led advocacy organizations in Seattle and Olympia for over 25 years.” A suggestion, Mr. Scarola: update your LinkedIn profile, because no one else is terribly motivated to fill in the blanks on your behalf.

Yes, it would seem education is what’s really in Scarola’s wheellhouse. Perhaps luckily for him, Seattle has a huge population of children living in poverty, so he should find at least some crossover.

In the early 2000s, Scarola served as a top aide to Rep. Frank Chopp and was executive director of the Washington House Democratic Campaign committee. During the 2002 election cycle, the committee secured a Democratic majority in the House, the PR machine reports.

Today, Scarola has his work cut out for him. Not only will he need to address the state of emergency revolving around Seattle’s homeless crisis, he will have to undo much of the negativity the city has stirred up within the homeless community.

Since Murray declared a state of emergency in 2015, the mayor has faced on-and-off criticism for his handling of the crisis, such as his failed attempt to shut down the Jungle. He first claimed he could clear out the homeless camp in one fell swoop, before walking his fervor back and admitting it would take more time to accomplish the cleanup. We doubt the Jungle will ever fully disappear, but he’s welcome to keep trying.

Oh, and let’s not forget that third-party contractor the city continues to pay to throw homeless people’s belongings away as they clean up smaller encampments throughout the city.

What else? Oh yeah, there were those lots set up for people who live in campers, trailers and other vehicles. Another great success, if you never bother to drive around the industrial district.

We hope the $137,500 our new “czar” is getting annually to address the homeless crisis buys us more than the $80,000 the city was paying Barbara Poppe, who only led Obama’s homelessness work from 2009 to 2014.