Will Seattle head tax money go toward funding safe injection sites? One council member says no

SEATTLE -- It's no secret that many Seattle city leaders support the idea of a safe injection site or what the city is now calling Community Health Engagement Location.

But some are questioning the funding moving forward, saying there is a lack of transparency whether Seattle head tax dollars will be used to fund the site.

Three days after the head tax passed, City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in a meeting promoted the use of mobile health vans to reach those living on the streets.

“I would encourage all of our staff and community to take a look at the medical mobile van as we look at possibility for getting those who are on the streets,” Mosqueda said.

When Seattle resident Jennifer Aspelund heard that, she wondered if that was code for a mobile van serving as a safe injection site and whether head tax dollars would go to pay for it.

“Quit word-smithing it. If that’s what you are going to use it for, tell the public that’s what you are going to use it for, it’s tax dollars,” Aspelund said.

So Q13 News went looking for answers on Tuesday.

The Department of Human Services confirmed that they are looking into the idea of obtaining an additional mobile health van to be used as a safe injection site. And that Mosqueda on May 17 did ask for more information on the idea.

The city says it's one of several ideas to bring a fixed safe consumption site to Seattle. Supporters say by supervising people shooting up heroin, it could save lives and allow for more outreach for those addicted.

“They are having the discussion,” Aspelund said.

But Aspelund says this is another example of the city having a discussion with little transparency.

“The public is going to be hoodwinked because there is no transparency,” Aspelund said.

We did get in touch with Mosqueda over the phone on Tuesday who provided details and clarification on the issue. Mosqueda does support the safe consumption model but she says she and others are not formally committed to the mobile van idea. She also emphasized that the mobile medical van was one of several options on the table.

We also inquired about a spending proposal provided by council prior to the head tax that mentioned an extra medical van as one of the items under intersecting needs. That spending proposal is what had some assuming that the council was trying to fund safe injection sites.

But Mosqueda clarified that the final spending proposal did not have that language in it.

She also says the medical van was not for safe injections.

Department of Human Services says the council already allocated $1.3 million for this year for safe injection sites.

When we reached out to the Mayor’s Office to confirm the head tax spending issue, they said because the 2019 budget has not been drafted they could not say for sure that head tax dollars would never go toward a safe injection model.

But Mosqueda’s position is that it won’t. Any budget proposal would have to by approved by council.

Many who oppose the head tax say there is a lot of distrust because when the city passed the head tax they also passed a non-binding spending proposal. Council members said they would have to have further discussions to iron out where all the money is going.

Council has promised to use two-thirds of the $50 million a year to build affordable housing to fight homelessness.

But some say it’s the other third of the funding that still brings up a lot of questions.