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caption: People gather Wednesday, March 8, to remember the homeless men and women who have died on Seattle's streets in the past year.
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People gather Wednesday, March 8, to remember the homeless men and women who have died on Seattle's streets in the past year.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Kate Walters

Seattle wants $275M more to help homeless people. Here’s how it would be spent

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled details Wednesday for how money from a proposed homelessness levy would be spent.

The proposed property tax increase would raise $275 million over five years. The goals, as laid out by the city, are to get 5,000 people into stable housing, open up 5,000 new addiction treatment slots, increase mental health treatment, and increase outreach to get people off the streets and into services.

Roughly 70 percent of the money would go towards getting people into permanent housing. That's about $195 million over five years.

The city will utilize about half of these funds for short-, medium- and long-term rental vouchers to get people directly into private market rentals. The idea is to provide rental subsidies for a time period that can be anywhere between six months and several years — depending on the case — in order to help people get back on their feet and eventually take over full payment.

This is a model known as rapid re-housing. It's been very successful on the national level, but there are concerns about the efficacy of such a program in a market like Seattle, where rents continue to rise.

The other half would go towards creating more permanent supportive housing, which is permanently subsidized and includes wrap-around services. This is widely seen as an effective, but expensive, approach.

"We're not going to fund something that feels good, we're going to fund those things that work. You'll see that we do a lot less on the shelter side and a significant [amount] more on the housing side," Murray said.

Apart from housing, the levy would also fund ramping up outreach. This includes the addition of new mental, behavioral and physical health experts on outreach teams. Roughly $55 million is set aside for outreach and the creation of 24/7 shelters.

The mayor's plan also sets aside $25 million to increasing mental health and addiction treatment in the city. This includes mental health treatment for 1,200 young adults.

The city has acknowledged that the homelessness services system has been running inefficiently for years. They've recently begun a process to overhaul the way funds are distributed.

In order to ensure money from the proposed levy would be spent effectively, the mayor said an independent accountability body would be established.

If enough signatures are collected, the levy will appear on the August ballot, at the same time Murray is seeking re-election.

He said Wednesday that no politician would choose to put a tax hike measure on the ballot alongside their bid for re-election, but, "I don't think we have any other choice. And I would rather lose this election and save the lives of people who are dying on the streets of this city," Murray said.

At last count, about 4,500 people were unsheltered on Seattle streets. As Murray unveiled his spending plan at the Downtown Emergency Services Center, people gathered just blocks away to remember the homeless men and women who died on Seattle streets in the past year.

At least 15 people have died on the city's streets so far in 2017.

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