Saturday, March 25, 2006

Housing and homelessness red hot in Seattle

The homeless and housing front in Seattle is red hot!

A showdown between local tent cities, and shelter provider, SHARE/WHEEL, and the City of Seattle may have implications for future organizing efforts around the country concerning a data collection system called Safe Harbors – otherwise known as the Homeless Management Information Strategies (HMIS). The computerized database collects individual information about people obtaining services: name, date of birth, race, and gender.

According to the Department of Housing of Urban Development (HUD), “Unsheltered homeless people are an important subpopulation of homeless persons and their characteristics and needs must be accommodated within any strategy to reduce homelessness and help eliminate chronic homelessness. Collecting good baseline data about this subpopulation is essential to understanding the causes of homelessness and to designing effective responses, and can be used as a basis for comparison in future years.”

HMIS is a means to collect data on this “subpopulation.” The question has become what if homeless people don’t want data collected on them? Some organizations, including SHARE/WHEEL cry civil liberties. Some providers, and cities around the country say this argument is overblown. Unfortunately, due to domestic spying scandals, and a rash of civil liberty violations at a Federal level cities don't have much of a leg to stand on - especially considering this is a HUD requirement being doled out by so-called experts in Washington DC.

Regardless, the message being sent to human-service providers is clear - don’t implement HMIS, than get your funding cut.
Many grassroots non-profits around the country have bellyached about implementing HMIS, but very few have resisted.

SHARE/WHEEL operates 250 low-cost shelter beds, and two tent cities throughout the Seattle Metropolitan Area. The organization has refused to take part in Safe Harbors (HMIS), prompting the city to cut $270,000 worth of funding. The funding cut was due to take place April 1.

This week, the city extended that deadline another month, hoping to find answers to the political storm developing in the city.

A bitter battle has been brewing for months, after the Raging Grannies hosted a die-in at City Hall protesting the cuts, and SHARE/WHEEL has promised to erect three new tent cities in public parks if the cuts take place.

Other shelter providers are facing cuts as well. You can read more in an editorial this week from Real Change, and the Seattle Weekly’s coverage at

  • Seattle Weekly article

  • Real Change editorial

  • Meanwhile, homeless and housing advocates are pushing hard on the city, and it’s developers to step up to the plate and offer $20 a square ft. to go towards affordable housing in the new downtown density plan.

    Over the last couple of months organizing efforts have made some amazing strides towards reaching this goal. After a successful t-shirt (Developers stole my city and all I got was this lousy t-shirt) drive gaining lots of media attention, thousands of e-mails, rallies, public events, and meetings with city officials spearheaded by housing advocates, the battle is finally coming to closure on April 3.

    Word on the street is, housing advocates are going to get $17-19 a square foot going towards affordable housing – an amazing feat when you consider the power brokers advocating against this are the business and realtor associations.

  • Seattle Times

  • Seattle PI article

  • Real Change article

  • The fight is far from over. Contact Seattle City Council members, and the Mayor today and ask for $20 a square foot to go towards affordable housing, and ask that the city reconsider it’s funding cuts for SHARE/WHEEL.

    Sally Clark, (206) 684-8802,
    Richard Conlin 684-8805,
    David Della 684-8806,
    Jan Drago 684-8801,
    Jean Godden 684-8807,
    Nick Licata 684-8803,
    Richard McIver 684-8800,
    Tom Rasmussen 684-8808,
    Peter Steinbrueck 684-8804, peter.steinbrueck@seattle.go
    Mayor Greg Nickels, (206) 684-4000


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