Opinion: Burgess budget does enough for health, homeless

On September 25, (former) Mayor Burgess proposed his 2018 budget and it has faced numerous criticisms since. Many people are worried that it doesn’t allocate sufficient funds to help Seattle’s homeless population. The homelessness crisis in Seattle is worsening everyday but the city is already spending enough money on it. The City Council should not make any adjustments to the Health and Human Services budget because it already successfully address our community’s needs while allowing necessary funds for other departments.

Homelessness services being funded

Many critics of the Mayor’s budget say it won’t address homelessness in Seattle. In reality, there are a multitude of programs receiving funding that will support the unsheltered population. In fact, over the last four years, the City has increased spending to combat homelessness by 60 percent.

In 2017, the City created two additional 24-hour, low-barrier shelters and the three new authorized encampments and the proposed budget provides sustained funding for them. Combined, the new shelters add 175 beds and the encampments provide safe spaces for 210 people. These additions are making a significant difference in the effort to keep Seattle’s most vulnerable population safe. Along with temporary housing options, the mayor’s budget provides funding to help people find permanent housing. The Housing Resource Center – a program that connects unsheltered people with affordable housing – will increase incentives so property owners are more likely to accept risky tenants and will increase the budget so more staff can be hired.

Connecting people with needed services is an important part of the battle against homelessness and the city is proposing an increase in funding for their most successful outreach programs. Currently, a community resource specialist helps unsheltered individuals in the downtown library find useful services. The budget proposes expanding this program to other library branches so more people can take advantage of it. Also, the proposed budget funds new programs that will tract the effectiveness and efficiency of Seattle’s homeless response services. The mayor proposes implementing Homeless Management Information System scan cards that individuals can use to provide their information to the services they use. The City will also create two positions that will analyze the new data. These additions will allow the City to analyze how their services are helping Seattle residents.

Mayor Burgess also proposes increasing funding for the City’s successful Navigation Team program. From February to August 2017, the new interdisciplinary team helped 419 people move off the streets. While this program has caused some controversy, the numbers don’t lie: it’s helping Seattle’s homeless population. In 2018, Mayor Burgess proposes continuing funding for the original Navigation Team as well as adding another Navigation Team targeting individuals living in vehicles. Recent data – from the 2017 Count Us In survey – shows that 40 percent of homeless people live in vehicles and this new targeted approach will help those individuals.

Programs that can’t be cut

To fund a potential increase in the Health and Human Services budget, many funding cuts to other departments have been proposed. However, the budget is well balanced and cutting anything risks hurting crucial programs.

For example, the Mayor’s budget continues to fund programs to address public safety concerns. The Fire Department will receive funding to train a new firefighter recruit class, add another ambulance unit, increase the staff at the Fire Alarm Center, and expand paramedic training. Call volumes at the Fire Alarm Center have increased by 25 percent since 2003 making these additions absolutely necessary to keep our citizens safe. The Police Department will also receive more funding to expand the police force and increase staff at the 911 Communications Center. As Seattle grows, we must enlarge our police force if we want to stay safe. Some critics of the budget fear Seattle’s police department is already too big and worry officers aren’t behaving correctly. The budget actually addresses these concerns by expanding funding for police accountability departments and creating six new positions in police oversight programs.

Also, many transportation programs are slated to receive important funding. The proposed budget allocates nearly $17 million to cover basic street resurfacing costs. Both bicycle riders and pedestrians will get upgrades to their morning commutes as the City intends to invest significant funds into making improvements to existing infrastructure and creating new facilities. Millions of dollars will also be invested in large scale development programs over the next few years that hope to improve transportation in Seattle.

The budget, as proposed by Mayor Burgess, successfully addresses Health and Human Services – including the homelessness crisis in Seattle – and it doesn’t need to be adjusted. In fact, an attempt to find more funding by cutting other budgets will jeopardize essential programs that ensure the safety of Seattle citizens. The City Council should approve the budget exactly as it is because it efficiently and effectively supports the needs of Seattle residents.

-Katherine Draves, Madison Park