At its Oct. 21 meeting, the Kenmore City Council was updated on the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), a proposed jurisdiction aimed to centralize homelessness mitigation countywide.
Progress on KCRHA began in May 2018 when Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an agreement pledging to increase and invest in regional homeless service coordination throughout King County. In the summer and fall of 2018, All Home, the city of Seattle and King County hired the National Innovation Service (NIS) to analyze the homeless response system in place and used the subsequent findings to further guide the prospective authority.
The report from NIS, whose representatives were then chosen as project managers, was officially accepted by Durkan and Constantine in December 2018. Durkan and Constantine, with the assistance of several regional leaders and groups, including Sound Cities Association, concluded that four priorities needed to be met in order to effectively start work on the authority: institute a system-wide theory of change; consolidate homelessness response systems under one regional authority; become accountable to customers; and create a defined/public private partnership utilizing a funder collaborative model.
Seven months ago, briefings on the proposal came to the King County and Seattle councils, with the proposal itself transmitted to the councils on Sept. 4.
As the councils continue to deliberate on the proposed authority, cities within King County are eligible to join an interlocal agreement that, with the assistance of a charter, will form a regional public development authority (PDA) that, according to the King County website, describes the regional role, purpose and scope of the proposed jurisdiction.
Fragmentation and disparity in the system
At the Oct. 21 Kenmore City Council meeting, presenter Leo Flor, director of King County’s department of community and human services, cited fragmentation and disparity as two factors motivating the potential implementation of KCRHA. Flor said currently, the way homelessness is being assisted in the greater Seattle area is too splintered to improve, which is why a more centralized authority like KCRHA would be beneficial. While he noted that it’s important to recognize that all cities are in some way working to mitigate homelessness, the breadth of services can be difficult to navigate for providers, clients and sub-regions, which in turn makes it harder to enact systematic change and hold entities accountable.
Flor also invoked the disparity in who is affected by homelessness.
“We have a system right now where it is a persistent, long-standing function that if you are a black or African American member of our community, you are five times overrepresented among people who are experiencing homelessness,” he said, adding that, Native Amerians, for instance, are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness.
The KCRHA is seeking to unify regional homelessness assistance and, according to Flor, reduce an inequality in the system that has been collectively tolerated for a long time.
The authority, as it’s currently proposed, will be funded by King County ($55 million for service and administrative funding, $1.8 million for its start-up) and the city of Seattle ($73 million for service and administrative funding, $2 million for start-up costs.) These amounts include about $42 million from continuum of care funds, which have been awarded on a federal level.
According to the King County website, “actual funding will be subject to appropriations through the normal budget process of the respective councils and through a pending decision of the All Home Coordinating Board.”
According to Flor’s presentation, there will be three components constituting the authority’s board: a steering committee, a governing board and an advisory committee.
The steering committee would be made up of five to six elected officials and two representatives elected by the public who have experienced homelessness. This committee would have the ability to confirm or reject members, and approve or reject the implementation plan as well as annual budgets. Flor said that the idea to include those who have experienced homelessness in the authority hasn’t been met with unanimous support during outreach.
“This feels really controversial to some folks and it feels completely uncontroversial to other folks to acknowledge the range of opinion,” he said.
The governing board, who would assist with the ongoing direction of the KCRHA and be confirmed by the steering committee, would be made up of 11 people who have applicable expertise to drive the work and be accountable for affected populations.
The advisory committee would be appointed by the governing board, integrating a continuum of care presence in the authority.
At the Oct. 21 meeting, Kenmore councilmembers were given the option to not only provide their thoughts on the authority to KCRHA representatives but also potentially support the KCRHA and/or decide if they would like to be part of the interlocal agreement. The council ultimately didn’t make any firm decision on whether to support or oppose the authority, or join the agreement, as there was a lack of consensus around the principles driving the authority and its planned board structure.
A final decision on whether to approve the proposed authority on the part of King County Council and the Seattle City Council is slated for mid December, according to the county website.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated the title of the proposed entity. The organization is the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.