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Seattle City Council may seek to defund homeless response team

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city would ‘be unable to clear encampments and obstructions’ without the Navigation Team.

The Seattle City Council is considering legislation which could eliminate funding or dramatically alter funding for the Navigation Team.

The Navigation Team is primarily responsible for cleaning up unsanctioned homeless encampments and relocating residents into other shelter alternatives. It is made up of police officers and social workers, who work in tandem.

Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold, who are both up for re-election, have filed line items seeking changes to the Navigation Team.

Sawant’s proposal would eliminate all funding, close to $8.4 million, for the response team and redirect the funds to other homeless services. Herbold’s provision would require the Human Services Department to hit certain performance metrics with the Navigation Team and require City Council action to release quarterly funding.

Also see | Mayor Durkan to increase Seattle homeless camp removal, Navigation Team staffing

The legislation comes after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed raising funding for homelessness services to over $100 million and praised the work of the Navigation Team. The homeless response team was credited by city employees with saving lives during last February’s snowstorms.

“Without the navigation teams, we're going to bring less people inside, less people have housing, and we’ll be unable to clear encampments and obstructions,” said Durkan, in an interview with KING 5. “If you eliminate the nav team, I think you really eliminate our city’s ability to deal with the homelessness issue… We can’t have a city that just has encampments everywhere and not have a strategy to have shelter and housing.”

There have been arguments that the money would be better-served building shelters or tiny homes. In this case, there will likely be a vocal outcry that the city would be neglecting public safety concerns surrounding certain encampments.

Herbold, nor Sawant, were immediately available for comment but are expected to address their legislation on Thursday. Herbold does have another piece of legislation that would expand encampment trash cleanup, through a partnership with a non-profit, but there was no line item cost associated with the proposal.

Also see | New low-income housing complex in Everett gives people a second chance

Penny Lane Pannek, who was rescued by a Navigation Team earlier this year from the South Park neighborhood, said she was grateful for their work.

“There is no way I could do another winter by myself,” she said.

Pannek said she was living in a tent with three dogs and trying to escape an abusive partner. She had spent more than eight years on-and-off the streets and is now in stable housing.

“It’s a win-win situation when you’re investing in people,” said Pannek.

The Seattle City Council will finalize a budget next month.

Also see | Modular homes for the homeless arrive in Seattle

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