A major provider of shelter beds in Seattle is still holding out hope that a public or private entity will step in with financial relief so that it can reopen the 15 shelters that closed their doors last week, displacing hundreds of people.
On March 29, Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) announced that the shelters would close the following day, citing $75,000 in outstanding debt and asking the city of Seattle, King County and nonprofit United Way for enough cash to keep its clients in place and pay its staff.
Residents, board members and supporters of the organization rallied outside the King County Courthouse on March 31, staging a “sleep out” near the county administration building in an attempt to pressure public officials into action.
“They [the city] declared a state of emergency,” said Robert Bowen, a resident at Tent City 5, a SHARE encampment in the Ballard Interbay area. “They see the wound, it bleeding out, that people are dying, but they don’t want to stanch the blood flow.”
City officials say that Seattle already has an existing contract with SHARE to operate the shelters, and that they will not increase funds to the organization. King County currently gives no funding to SHARE outside of an 80 percent discount on Metro bus tickets that the organization uses to get clients to and from its shelters and encampments.
Both organizations say that the nonprofit didn’t give them any notice that its financial situation was so dire.
“[The Human Services Department] had not received any communication from SHARE/wheel until today requesting additional funding nor indicating an inability to continue to provide city services at the level agreed to in your 2016 contracts,” Jason Johnson, deputy director of the city’s Human Services Department, wrote in an e-mail.
The city contracts with SHARE for up to $610,932, which is enough to provide beds for up to 249 people every night for a year, according to city officials. SHARE serves roughly 450 people between its shelters and encampments.
SHARE boardmember Jarvis Capucion rejects the city’s position. SHARE has been telling public funding agencies that its finances were poor for more than a year, he said.
According to tax documents, SHARE has run a deficit over each of the past two years, ballooning from a $2,244 shortfall in 2013 to $56,557 the next year.
There’s no single cause, Capucion said, pointing to decreased fundraising, increases in the minimum wage and employee hours, uncertain federal funding and being cut altogether from King County funding in the last budget cycle.
The overall effect is that the group can no longer afford to buy Metro tickets needed to get its clients to and from tent encampments and overnight shelters located on religious properties spread throughout the community, even at the discounted rate.
It also can’t pay its eight staff members, who are currently holding onto their paychecks.
County Councilwoman Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who represents District 4 and Belltown, said that she wants to find money to support SHARE, but that the county budget was determined in 2014 before she took office and the next budget cycle won’t start again until 2016.
King County plans its budgets two years at a time. When the previous budget was determined, the county held a competitive bidding process to give out $4.4 million to social service agencies. There were $11 million in requests, said Adrienne Quinn, director of the King County Community and Human Services Department.
SHARE’s application was one of those rejected.
That bidding process scored applications based on their track record of moving people out of temporary housing, geographic spread of resources throughout the county and participation in the Homeless Information Management System, a database that tracks contacts between homeless and social services.
SHARE unsuccessfully appealed the 2014 decision and tried to apply for supplemental funding at the beginning of the year, but were denied because the money was targeted to shelters outside of Seattle.
The closures have a real human cost, however.
Kris, who stays in a SHARE shelter and didn’t want to give her last name, didn’t know where she’d be sleeping now that the shelter bed was gone. Other shelters made her uncomfortable — she’d found community at SHARE.
“SHAREshelters are clean, safe and I’m treated with respect,” she said.
Kamu Jones, who works with wheel, another nonprofit that has office space with SHARE, came to the protest last week with her young daughter Sally to support SHARE. The lack of funding, despite the declared state of emergency, further echoed a growing sense that Seattle cares more for the haves than the have nots, she said.
“The mayor has the money,” she said. “He’s just not using it.”