The coalition backing a referendum to repeal a new Seattle business tax publicly reported its contributors for the first time this week. Dozens of companies and individuals have pledged amounts ranging from $100 to $30,000 to fight the tax, and petitioners are out around the city collecting signatures. In total so far, donors including Amazon and Starbucks have pledged a total of about $353,000. Surely, this is only the beginning.
I asked the people doing the work of serving people experiencing homelessness what they could do with that money instead. Here's what they said:
Below is what a few service providers said they could buy with the money that's funding the anti-head tax effort so far. Some of these are ongoing costs; others are one-time needs.
SHOWERS AND LAUNDRY
Urban Rest Stops offer three locations for people experiencing homelessness to use the restroom, take a shower, and do laundry. Manager Ronni Gilboa says $350,000 could fund the location in the University District, which is open 40 hours a week, for two years. That would serve 3,500 people over the course of two years or 5,668 showers and 1,160 loads of laundry, according to Gilboa. (The facility is also in need of a renovation.)
Gilboa says more than 60 percent of people who use the Urban Rest Stop have a job, a hard thing to hold onto without access to a shower. “What we’re talking about is thousands of people and thousands of showers and laundry loads and restroom uses,” Gilboa says. “Keeping people healthy and alive—that’s what $350,000 can buy.”
The Low Income Housing Institute, which also runs the Urban Rest Stop program, operates subsidized housing and city-sanctioned tent encampments. Executive Director Sharon Lee says $350,000 could pay for a new tiny house village with 50 heated tiny houses plus a kitchen and showers. That could serve 65 adults and children who would otherwise sleep unsheltered.
HOUSING FOR "THE MOST VULNERABLE"
The Downtown Emergency Service Center provides shelter, healthcare, and other services to some of the most marginalized people experiencing homelessness, including those with disabilities, substance abuse disorders, and mental illness. DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone said $350,000 could pay the total cost to house (“in decent, permanent housing”) and provide services for about 20 people for a year. In particular, that could serve “the most vulnerable individuals who have the highest service needs and have been homeless on the streets for many years,” Malone said.
A NEW YOUTH SHELTER
Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets provides shelter and services for homeless and at-risk youth. With $350,000, “we could make a down payment and/or renovation on a more permanent location,” says Interim Executive Director Sylvia Fuerstenberg. “Our building has been bought by a developer and will be knocked down in about a year and a half for more high end residences, probably. We are being priced out of the city.” The location would serve youth and young adults as a shelter and for drop-in services.
A FOSTER HOME
Friends of Youth, a church-affiliated program that provides group living and foster care for youth, would use $350,000 to “buy a foster home in Kent to provide housing for a new foster family, addressing the dearth of foster homes in our community and supporting housing within the community for families who wish to support our children and youth,” says President Terry Pottmeyer.
FRUITS, VEGETABLES, NEW WINDOWS
Solid Ground operates affordable housing and shelters as well as assistance with food, transportation, and legal help. The organization sent me a long list of things they could do with $350,000 in one time funding:
• Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars “would buy a lot of fruits and vegetables,” says Solid Ground Communications Director Mike Buchman. Solid Ground’s Food System Support program helps Seattle food banks. The program could also use $350,000 to improve its infrastructure, work with local farms to increase the amount of fresh produce at food banks, or purchase refrigerated trucks to replace the cost of leasing those trucks, as the organization does now.
• Replace aging windows and heating units at the Broadview Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing program, which includes 32 apartments for women and children exiting domestic violence.
• Fund its homelessness prevention program and associated administrative costs for one year. The program offers clients case management as well as help paying rent and utilities or help moving into a more affordable unit. It was defunded through the city’s recent rebidding process, according to Buchman.
• Launch a “foundations for intergenerational success” program at its affordable housing complex in Sand Point. The program would provide counseling and other services for parents and high school students as well as help the organization coordinate with Seattle Public Schools so staff at the Sand Point complex have access to information about students’ performance at school.
Unlike the organizations above, The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness is not a direct service provider. But Executive Director Alison Eisinger has years of experience advocating for homelessness funding in the region. She was also a vocal proponent of Seattle’s 2016 Housing Levy and King County’s 2017 Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy, both funded by property taxes.
Here’s what $350,000 translates to under those levies, according to Eisinger: “$350,000 means that 19 people who have survived trauma, or are coping with serious diseases or disabilities, have stable, permanent homes with on site health and human services, for a whole year. For $350,000 we cover a month's rent subsidy for 350 households to help them stabilize. $350,000 covers salary and benefits for five skilled outreach workers or case managers - which says something about the insufficient wages we're paying to people who do this important front-line work.”