City cuts funding for urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing: advocates say the move means more homelessness


Urban Rest Stops like this one in downtown and others in Ballard and U-District face funding cuts in favor of voucher system untested on city-wide scale

Millions in funding for homeless programs are being moved from shelter and tested services to ‘rapid rehousing’.  Advocates say only calls to electeds can stop a ‘colossal mistake’

Immediately following the budget process, outgoing ‘placeholder’ Mayor Tim Burgess held a press event, flanked by Catherine Lester, head of the City’s Human Services Department (HSD) to announce deep cuts in funding for the city’s homeless urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing programs.  

The move, according to housing and homeless advocates, virtually guarantees a dramatic rise in the number of homeless on our streets.  It grows out of a unilateral decision by Burgess, Lester, and other HSD officials to shift millions of dollars from these essential survival services to a system of rent vouchers, dubbed ‘rapid rehousing’.   

What’s especially troubling to both providers and homeless advocates, these officials intentionally waited until after the budget process to ensure there were no hearings, evaluations, or opportunity for dialogue between decision-makers and agencies running the affected programs or the homeless themselves.  They and their advocates had no opportunity to show how effective these programs have been and no opportunity to ask electeds to step in and prevent these cuts.

“Go ahead test the value of programs like rapid rehousing but on a small scale ” advocates argue.  When it’s done at the expense of existing proven and basic survival services, however, it’s “simply a case of moving the deck chairs around while tossing overboard those who made it into the life-rafts. “

Funding for SHARE and WHEEL’S shelter programs with 12 area Churches serving over 220 people each night:  ELIMINATED

According to Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI),

“SHARE and WHEEL’s Shelter Program in partnership with 12 area churches will be eliminated. The churches shelter over 220 men and women each night. In 2018, HSD will fund only 1,464 shelter beds, a reduction of 249 beds from this year (1,713 shelter beds). With close to 4,000 unsheltered homeless people sleeping out each night, more people will be at risk of exposure, death and violence. Since January, 88 women and men have died living on the streets.”

There were other deep cuts to existing programs:  the bulk of the city’s funding for homeless programs, $34 million is being put out to bid and much of it redirected to rapid rehousing,  This year’s cuts also include:

* Funding was totally eliminated for the U-District Urban Rest Stop.  City Council added funding in 2016-17 of $159,000 per year. The Rest Stop has 4,771 visits in 2016 from people accessing the restrooms, showers and laundry. One has to look clean and presentable to look for work, keep a job, attend school or apply for housing.  This program doesn’t just serve young adults, but also seniors, veterans, families, and homeless people who are employed.  It also aids businesses in the U-District because they can send homeless people and non-customers in need of restrooms over to the Center. If funding is not restored, the U District Urban Rest Stop may have to close January 1st, 2018.

* Funding was cut 38% from the Downtown Urban Rest Stop. $245,000 is the proposed cut. According to those running the program, this would eliminate the Rest Stop being opened on weekends and evenings. The Downtown Rest Stop had 62,923 visits and is the only stand alone hygiene facility open on Saturdays and Sundays, and on weekdays we stay open until 9:30pm so that homeless people who work can shower and do their laundry. The Rest Stop is already jammed packed as people wait for toilets, showers, washers and dryers to get freed up. We need more, not fewer, hours to be open.

* Only partial funding was added to the budget for the Ballard Urban Rest Stop. Providers requested $281,000 and received $143,000.  Advocates, say the Ballard Rest Stop must be adequately staffed to ensure a safe place for patrons and to offer housing referral services. The program also supports residents living at the new Interbay Tiny House Village.

* The Low Income Housing Institute’s Columbia Court, 13 apartments for homeless families, and Martin Court, 43 apartments for homeless families and singles were also not funded. Both provide transitional housing for up to two years with on-site supportive services for immigrant refugees, families with children, people with mental illness and victims of domestic violence.

Contrary to the mythology, these programs have excellent track records – helping many into immediate shelter and into transitional housing, and giving many access to services, jobs, and training they need.  And they do it in a way that ensures a significant portion do move into permanent housing for keeps to the extent that is possible in Seattle’s tight and unaffordable market.   

Suddenly city leaders, behind closed doors, are junking these programs in favor of a relatively untested model with limited results that’s never been ramped up to such a scale.  Critics say the only folks benefiting from this shift are for-profit landlords receiving these vouchers.    

So just what is the Rapid Re-housing model?  It boils down to handing a homeless person a voucher that pays their move-in costs and a limited amount of their rent for up to 12 months (although a much shorter period for those who boost their income even marginally).  That person may receive some ‘case management’ for a time, but essentially it amounts to tossing a person into Seattle’s tight and very expensive rental housing market and telling them “sink or swim”.

A person needs to earn over 2200 dollars a month in Seattle to afford the average rental in Seattle.  Rapid rehousing ignores this reality.  Just handing a voucher to a homeless person with little or no income, putting them into an expensive rental unit, when there simply aren’t enough livable wage jobs and not enough affordable rentals, virtually ensures most of these folks will wind up back on the street soon after their voucher expires.  Landlords effectively wind up with the voucher subsidy.   

According to Sharon Lee of LIHI, the per unit cost of her programs to the city is $3,226 annually compared with the much higher cost for Rapid Re-housing.  On paper, data for Rapid Rehousing will show a lot of folks moving into units, but “there will be no data showing the hundreds who later find themselves back on the streets no better off than before”


Mayor Jenny Durkan, 206-256-5400

Councilmembers:  Bruce Harrell, (206) 684-8804,  *  Lorena Gonzalez, (206) 684-8802,  *  Rob Johnson, (206) 684-8808, *  Debora Juarez, (206) 684-8805, * Sally Bagshaw, (206) 684-8801, * Lisa Herbold, 206-684-8803, * Kshama Sawant, 206-684-8016, *  Mike O’Brien, 206-684-8800, * Teresa Mosqueda, 206-684-8806,


About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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