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caption: Tents are blanketed in snow on S. Washington Street in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle on Monday, February 11, 2019.
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Tents are blanketed in snow on S. Washington Street in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle on Monday, February 11, 2019.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle and King County poised to merge homeless services

Seattle and King County are likely to have an agreement to merge their homelessness services before the end of the year.

The Seattle City Council took a step forward on Thursday to create a regional homelessness authority.

A deal to solidify regional collaboration was passed by the King County Council on Wednesday, and made it through the city’s select committee on homelessness and housing affordability Thursday.

It now faces one more vote in the full Seattle council next week.

The deal has been controversial in recent weeks.

Last-minute changes designed to ensure regional buy-in have created tension, and highlighted differences in the approaches to homelessness around the region.

The changes handed more power in the new authority to elected officials over subject matter experts. They also gave suburban cities outside Seattle an equal vote in approving and amending budgets, plans and policies for the authority.

Some Seattle City Council members have expressed concerns about these changes. Seattle will contribute nearly 60 percent of the budget for the new regional authority, and council members stressed that they have expectations that go along with that funding.

They solidified those expectations in an ordinance they passed out of committee alongside the legislation to create a regional homelessness authority Thursday.

The ordinance sets forth expectations that Seattle’s money will be used for programs that use evidence-based practices.

It also signaled that the council wants to raise the bar so that a supermajority of the authority’s governing board members (made up of people with lived experiences of homelessness, and elected officials from Seattle, King County and the Sound Cities Association) must approve any amendments to policies, plans or budgets for the authority.

The ordinance is not binding to any parties to the regional deal outside Seattle.

But it does allow the city to pull its funding if the expectations are not met. Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez described that as a “nuclear option.”

She said she's hopeful that King County would create a similar ordinance or document to signal they have the same expectations.