Seattle city council approves navigation team expansion, increases funding for homeless agencies

SEATTLE - Seattle City Council on Monday approved 2019’s budget of $5.9 billion which is $300 million more than last year.

Before the final vote there was some discussion about homelessness.

Last week there was an idea floating around to reduce the expansion of the navigation team, the group charged with reaching out to the homeless.

Spearheaded by Council Member Teresa Mosqueda many on the council wanted to redirect some of the proposed dollars to homeless agencies instead of expanding the navigation team to the capacity the Mayor’s Office wanted. But on Monday, Mosqueda telling Q13 News that there would be no reduction to the navigation team after some last minute changes to the budget.

Mosqueda says she and council members Lorena Gonzalez and Sally Bagshaw were able to come up with an alternative funding source to not only fully expand the navigation team but also to provide the 2% increase to all homeless agencies the city contracts with.

“I work about 100 hours on a pay period per average as well as a second job,” social worker Willow Maloney said.

“Nobody that worked in the shelter when I started is still there not a single person because the turnover is high they are not paid enough,” social worker David Helde said.

Maloney and Helde both work for the Downtown Emergency Service Center and Mosqueda says stories like theirs motivated her to increase funding for homeless agencies.

“Our city council budget now includes a modest 2% inflationary adjustment for all contracted homeless service agencies and fully funds the navigation team,” Mosqueda said.

The navigation team is a group of SPD officers and social workers who go out to homeless encampments to provide services and perform sweeps. The plan to reduce the expansion of the navigation team received some pushback specifically from the Mayor’s Office.

Now Mosqueda says her plan expands the navigation team by adding 10 more workers in 2019 while also providing the 2% funding boost to homeless organizations.

“Many homeless service agencies have reported a 30 to 40% turnover and vacancy rate they are on the verge of having to shut some of their shelters,” Mosqueda said.

But in order to do all that the council had to come up with nearly half a million more for 2019.

City leaders say they are coming up with the money by not extending a tax credit for companies in the biotech industry.

“If you are considered a life sciences organization doing business in Seattle then the tax exemption that lapses will continue to be lapsed,” Council Member Lorena Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says the tax credit had lapsed at the end of 2016. The mayor’s proposed budget was aimed to restore the tax credit in 2019 for many companies.

Life sciences in this case includes small pharmaceutical research companies some of them that are trying to find cures for diseases. Mosqueda’s plan however gives homeless agencies precedence.

The 2% boost to homeless agencies may only mean a small salary increase for workers like Helde and Morison but they say it is still encouraging to hear.

“Part of which that has kept me in Seattle is the liberal approach to facing this crisis,” Morrison said.

There is no mandate that the 2% boost in funding has to go to worker pay but city council passed the measure with language that says agencies have to prioritize low wages and positions with high turnovers.

With the expansion of the navigation team, the city will have 27 workers by 2019 which includes an extra mental health counselor.