Seattle Spent Over $10 million on Homeless Sweeps in 2017

The new tax on Amazon could mean spending even more

by Dae Shik Kim Hawkins Jr. & Guy Oron (Op-Ed columnists)

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s anti-sweep amendment was voted down 8-1 at Monday’s full council meeting. The amendment would have prevented any of the recently passed head tax funds (an average of $47.4 million per year, $275 per employee) to be allocated towards sweeps of homeless encampments.

Sponsors of the head tax bill have suggested 66% of the head tax fund to go directly towards affordable housing and 33% to go towards homelessness services, but ultimately it will be Mayor Jenny Durkan’s discretion to decide on how exactly the head tax funds will be spent. Durkan has advocated for sweeps in the past, urging “we need to get people out of unsanctioned encampments.” Her first five months in office has made it pretty clear that the city plans to continue to destroy homeless encampments as a primary response to address this crisis.

At Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s town hall on May 2nd, Councilmember Lisa Herbold told the crowd that there have been over 100 homeless sweeps conducted so far in 2018, and about 4-6 encampments are forcibly removed weekly.

Recent records released by the City of Seattle have indicated the city spent over $10.2 million on removals of homeless encampments in 2017:

Sweeps Table
(PC: City of Seattle)

Of this total, over $1.3 million goes towards funding the salaries and overtime of nine police officers (roughly $150,000 each). By contrast, the city spends only about $700,000 towards contracting social workers on the navigation team, roughly half of what is spent on the police. In the recently passed head tax, social workers will only receive a 4% increase in salaries through the new head tax, despite advocating for a 50% increase. The underfunding of social workers is a significant threat towards worker retention and could undermine the effectiveness of crucial social services.

According to a study conducted by Mckinsey & Company, King County needs to double its spending to $410 million to adequately address the homelessness crisis. This means building 14,000 more affordable homes to close the gap. The version of the head tax passed today would only fund 591 homes over the next five years. This is just a fraction of what is needed.

The Mckinsey & Company study shows Seattle is in dire need of a lot more affordable homes than what the head tax can potentially offer. However, there is no guarantee how much of the $47.4 million the mayor will use directly for affordable housing. Because there is no proviso to prevent head tax money from funding sweeps, it is possible that a significant portion of the head tax fund to could be spent on sweeps. Seattle’s $10+ million dollar commitment towards the homeless sweeps could now likely see even more funding.

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