Week in Review: April 5, 2024 - with Erica Barnett

SPOG contract huge increase in pay but not accountability. Hiring of former officer Christopher Burbank raises questions about police accountability. Burien countersues King County over encampment sweeps. Asylum seekers camp near Garfield while seeking shelter.

Week in Review: April 5, 2024 - with Erica Barnett

Seattle Police Contract Raises Budget Concerns, Accountability Questions

The City of Seattle has reached a tentative contract agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) union that includes a significant 23% pay raise for officers over the past three years.

According to Erica Barnett, a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, this pay increase will bring the starting salary for police officers to over $103,000, even before overtime, bonuses, and other compensation.

The hefty raise comes as the city faces a $250 million budget deficit. Barnett noted the stark contrast between the 23% increase for police and the 9.7% raise secured by other city unions after difficult negotiations.

"It's a reflection of values," Barnett said, expressing concern that the police contract may have compromised important accountability measures. She explained that past contract negotiations have allowed the police union to "chip away" at baseline accountability standards.

Former Officer Christopher Burbank's Hiring Controversy Illuminates Broader Accountability Issues

Christopher Burbank, one of three police officers involved in the killing of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma in March 2020, resigned two days after being hired by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

Barnett called the situation "outrageous," highlighting the ease with which problem officers can move between jurisdictions with limited consequences. She argued this shows the need for stronger police accountability measures and a shift in departmental culture.

"Cases like this going forward hopefully will serve as a reminder to sheriff's departments, to police departments - that when you hire people who have a mark on their record as significant as killing somebody and going to trial and becoming sort of a pariah in their communities, that that is not somebody that you want to hire in your own community," Barnett said.

Burien Countersues King County Over Encampment Sweeps

Fincher and Barnett covered the ongoing saga in Burien, where the city has countersued King County in response to the county's lawsuit challenging Burien's ability to conduct encampment sweeps.

Barnett explained that Burien passed a broad ban on nighttime homeless in Burien, prompting the King County Sheriff’s office to sue, calling the law a violation of the rights affirmed in a consequential 2019 case, Martin v. Boise, which prevents cities in the Western US from banning homeless people from public spaces unless adequate shelter is available. In response, Burien cut off funding to the Sheriff's Office and filed its own lawsuit.

Fincher described the situation as a "clown show," noting that Burien's actions appear to be a "frivolous waste of resources" as the city faces a $2 million budget deficit. She questioned the transparency and competence of Burien's city management during this process.

"Even if you want the city to be removing people who live there, this is a weird legal side battle that they're unlikely to win," Barnett said. "I don't see a scenario where Chief Boe and the King County Sheriff's Office starts going out and arresting people for being homeless."

The countersuit has drawn widespread criticism, with the Seattle Times Editorial Board and others arguing that Burien is going in the wrong direction. Barnett also noted that Burien is losing staff due to the lack of stable leadership and clear direction.

Unhoused Asylum Seekers at Garfield

Over 200 asylum seekers, including families and children, set up tents near Seattle’s Garfield Community Center due to insufficient shelter availability. They relocated to a hotel in Kent after an anonymous donor offered 11 days of accommodation.

Barnett emphasized the complexity of the issue, noting that the region has "tens of thousands of people already living unsheltered" and insufficient resources to provide housing or shelter. She argued that short-term solutions or encampment sweeps are ineffective and destabilizing for those experiencing homelessness.

Both hosts agreed that the focus needs to shift towards building more permanent supportive housing rather than relying on temporary measures. Fincher concluded, "We've got to get serious about this solution. We've got to figure out what resources there are to bridge because the alternative of just letting people languish on the streets" is not acceptable.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, and co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, and co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, Erica Barnett.

[00:01:09] Erica Barnett: It's great to be here, Crystal.

[00:01:10] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here again. No shortage of news items to talk about this week. One of the biggest, earlier this week, was news that a tentative SPOG contract has been reached. The city has come to a tentative agreement with the police union for Seattle that delivers a pretty hefty raise to them. What actually is going to happen if they approve this contract?

[00:01:37] Erica Barnett: Well, we haven't seen the contract yet, but as I reported a couple days ago, the contract includes a 23% raise retroactively over the last three years - so it's a certain amount every year that adds up to 23%. And so that will increase the starting salary for police officers to a little over $103,000. And that's before any kind of overtime, or secondary employment, or bonuses, or bonuses for doing special events - so the real number is potentially much, much higher. And we don't know yet what the contract will include in terms of accountability for police - basically, what will the public get for giving the police these significant pay increases? But early word is that accountability advocates are going to be disappointed in what's included. This is just a retroactive contract. So going forward, there's going to have to be more discussions about what happens in terms of accountability, compliance with the consent decree - which the city is still partially under, the federal consent decree with the Department of Justice - and what pay increases happen going forward. But with $103,000 the baseline now, that means that pay increases will be on top of that in the future.

[00:02:51] Crystal Fincher: This is happening while the City is facing a budget deficit that's about $250 million as-is. What impact is this going to have on the budget if this goes through?

[00:03:03] Erica Barnett: Well, I think we can say, first of all, that it will go through - the city council is going to approve whatever contract comes out. And we don't know what the exact number is going to be, but it's going to be very significant. We're talking about a thousand or so police officers getting these significant raises of 23%. In contrast, the regular City workers - sort of everybody else who works for the City - got a 9.7, I believe, percent retroactive wage increase for a couple years. And that was just a cost of living adjustment. And that is going to add about $10 million to the deficit - that's kind of a squishy number because the City did put aside some money to pay for those contract increases. And same deal with SPD, but it's going to add potentially tens of millions of dollars to that already yawning deficit. So it's something that the city council and the mayor are going to have to deal with as they are already asking for budget cuts from departments.

[00:03:57] Crystal Fincher: Well, and it seems like they're asking for budget cuts from all of the departments, except perhaps SPD. And are also floating some potential measures - helping to subsidize housing for police, provide cars for police - whether that materializes, we won't know, but certainly they have talked like they are open to considering that to try and address the staffing problems that SPD says it has. Any word on how it may impact that?

[00:04:29] Erica Barnett: Well, I think that these are ideas - everything comes around again. These are ideas that were floated many years ago. I want to say maybe even in the 90s, early 2000s - let's subsidize their housing. And in this case, I think they're talking about a rent subsidy or a mortgage subsidy. And let's give them take-home cars. And I'm sure that those are goodies that police officers would love - I mean, I would love a housing subsidy too, as I'm sure a lot of City employees would. But there are reasons that the City has not approved these things in the past. Housing subsidies are incredibly expensive. Police don't tend to live in the city of Seattle - most of them don't live here. They live often in very far-flung areas and commute in. And so the idea of take-home cars then raises questions about accountability, about liability. What happens when somebody who has a take-home car is driving and decides to pull somebody over when they're off-duty? Who is liable if something goes wrong? Is that an SPD problem or is it the officer's problem because he was in his take-home car? And just having cops with cars in neighborhood streets and in their driveways does create a sense, in an area, that it is being policed and surveilled. So there are lots and lots of reasons that this has not been something that Seattle has done in the past, but it's something the city council was talking about quite seriously - as if throwing more money and bennies at the problem of police hiring was going to solve it. And maybe it will get more people to apply to the department, but I think the question is - what is the culture like at SPD? And is it a place that people really want to work long-term? And that's something that nobody has really talked about addressing in any meaningful way in all these discussions.

[00:06:10] Crystal Fincher: And that's a big question. We saw the Community Police Commission express some reservations about whether this includes enough accountability tools, whether some of those have been bargained away, there have been concerns from the federal judge overseeing the consent decree. What impact does the police union contract have on accountability overall to address some of the problems that we've seen - that have been high-profile, that everyone agrees is a problem, but that the contract has been cited as a barrier to addressing?

[00:06:45] Erica Barnett: Well, there was a piece of legislation, as listeners probably know, in 2017 that included a lot of new accountability measures. And that was supposed to be a baseline for police accountability going forward. And the next contract that was adopted the next year essentially stripped out a lot of those measures. And so since then, it's been sort of a piecemeal struggle in this contract negotiation - any accountability measure is going to be battled over individually as if it wasn't part of this overall package of let's-get-accountability-to-a-baseline-level and then start improving on that. So what that means is that we are probably going to see little bits and pieces of this accountability legislation potentially added back into the contract - but that's a seven-year-old baseline, and a lot has happened since then. We've had a lot of very high-profile problems, I'll just say, with SPD - including the fact that the head and the vice-president of the police union were caught partly on camera joking and laughing about the death of a pedestrian at the hands of another police officer. So we're - at best - struggling to get these tiny little bits and pieces of accountability back in. The problem overall is that accountability is in the bargaining contract in the first place. The fact that just baseline - will police be accountable for their actions - is something that the police union is able to bargain and chip away at. And that is a problem with state law. And so the state law would have to change in order to take accountability out of the contract entirely.

[00:08:20] Crystal Fincher: We will certainly follow this as more details are released, the actual contract is released, and it stands before the city council for approval. There was news that you alluded to that the Coalition of City Unions finally had their contract ratified with the City of Seattle, which does implement a 9.7% raise for City unions. This has been in negotiation a long time. What were the results of this negotiation and what does this mean for the City?

[00:08:53] Erica Barnett: What it means is that these City workers who have been, like the police, working without a pay increase, but unlike the police, are just getting a cost of living adjustment - it means that they'll get that COLA, which I think is really, really critical. There's going to be retroactive checks coming in, and then going forward, they'll have that cost of living adjustment. That does not mean that all City workers are at parity with the private sector, it does not mean that they are at parity with other cities. It just means that they have gotten a baseline level of cost of living adjustment that reflects the inflation that has already happened. And I think that the mayor's office, which started out by proposing a 1% increase, really had to move on this one because the unions were very adamant that they would go on strike. There was a real possibility of that at one point over the mayor's proposed wage increase, which was just pitiful and subinflationary and inadequate. So it's great news, but I do think that you compare that 9.7% to 23% and it shows what the City's values are. The City unions had to struggle and threaten to strike and fight to get that 9.7%. But the 23% seems to be what everybody is willing to provide to the police because they're so desperate to hire more police officers. So I think it's a reflection of values.

[00:10:12] Crystal Fincher: It does seem to be a reflection of values. It is good to see that they were able to reach this agreement without having to go on strike, which would have been a major challenge for the City. Does this include all of the employees in the city? Who is included in the Coalition of City Unions? And does it impact people who aren't covered?

[00:10:32] Erica Barnett: It's not all the employees in the city - it's most of them - that's the biggest group of City unions. There are other unions that actually got, in some cases, higher increases through separate negotiations, but it's most of the city. And then unrepresented employees - this was a concern at one point - that the city council was going to approve the represented employees and not the unrepresented. But that actually also went forward. So unrepresented employees - those that don't have a union - will also get this pay increase.

[00:10:59] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. Well, good to see that that appears to be resolved. Now, we also got news this week that was challenging for a lot of people, where Christopher Burbank - one of Manny Ellis's killers in Tacoma that ultimately stood trial and was acquitted on charges related to that, but is currently under federal investigation and there were other findings related to that that weren't criminal - was hired by the Thurston County Sheriff's Department. And then soon after, asked to resign - which he did - after an uproar from community. What happened here?

[00:11:38] Erica Barnett: Well, this is just absolutely outrageous. This is one of the officers that was recently acquitted in the death of Manny Ellis. Very, very controversial case - and I would say acquittal does not mean that he did not kill him necessarily. So incredibly toxic person to be hiring. And I think it just shows how easy it is for police, and bad cops, and cops that even kill people to hop from jurisdiction to jurisdiction without any real penalties. If you're a teacher and you got fired for giving test results to your students to help them pass, you would be toxic. You would not be able to then go and jump over to the next school district down the road and do the same job - at least I would hope not. But when it comes to police, there's nothing stigmatizing enough, I think, that will prevent them from being hired. It is good that they recanted this decision once there was a public outcry. But the fact that it was made in the first place shows that we have a really long way to go when it comes to accountability, when it comes to just thinking rationally about what kind of police officers we want, what kind of police culture we want. It gets back to this issue that I keep harping on about the Seattle Police Department - if you don't fix the culture and if you're hiring people that seem to have very little respect for the lives of the people that they are supposedly protecting and serving, then you're not going to get the kind of officers that you say you want.

[00:13:04] Crystal Fincher: It really does not appear that they're going to get the kind of officers - at least that they outwardly advertise - that they want. So this reintroduces the conversation that a lot of people at the state level had a few years ago in terms of decertifying officers to ensure that officers with a problematic history wouldn't be hired in other departments. It did seem like this department was aware of the officer's background, which has been a challenge with some other departments saying that they weren't aware. This one - they were aware and said that they thought it was a priority to address the staffing shortage that they say they have. And that took precedence in their mind over any concerns about what this means for community, although the sheriff did a 180 on that and basically said he missed the mark on not understanding how much trust this would break with the community and subsequently asked that officer to resign. Can decertification address this? Is there anything that could statutorily prevent an officer from being hired in these circumstances?

[00:14:19] Erica Barnett: I think it would be really hard in this particular circumstance because he was acquitted in this case that was controversial - surprising to a lot of people given the circumstances of the case. And yet officers frequently are acquitted when they kill people. So decertification, which is when an officer can no longer be an officer in the state - they lose their law enforcement certification - is one way to prevent people from becoming officers again. But I honestly think one thing that is maybe more important is stigmatization of these - I'll say, bad cops. Obviously, there was a huge public outcry - but maybe not enough because the Thurston County Sheriff's clearly saw no issue with this. I think that cases like this going forward hopefully will serve as a reminder to sheriff's departments, to police departments - that when you hire people who have a mark on their record as significant as killing somebody and going to trial and becoming sort of a pariah in their communities, that that is not somebody that you want to hire in your own community. I'm not a lawyer. Perhaps there is some way to decertify or some justification for decertifying officers like Mr. Burbank, but it seems more that there has to just be a public outcry and pushback against hires like this so that cops can't just skip from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and go on to potentially wreak havoc in new departments. It was shocking. I think people were definitely shocked.

[00:15:46] Crystal Fincher: Taken aback. And the sheriff said that there was very strong community pushback from Thurston County. Sometimes we hear rhetoric - and it's off, but certainly in the politicized conversations, there is a suggestion that - Well, places outside of Seattle don't really have problems with this kind of stuff. And I think this was a clear indication that - yes, they do. Even in Thurston County, the sheriff definitely heard from many people from several different areas and walks of life in the community, and heard that this was going to create more problems than they felt it could solve. And so wound up here. But to your point, it was only because of the public outcry. Certainly there wasn't anything that administratively prevented this from happening, and those gaps are hard to close. A lot of times they require state legislation or other major action - that seems to be a challenge to enact right now. So really disappointing to see, really makes you question who else has been hired and what don't we know about them - not just in Thurston County, but elsewhere across the state. And that the decertification bill - some people were hoping it would catch things like this, and doesn't seem like this gets caught by that and a lot of these just wind up falling through the cracks. But I hope the region does take a lesson from this - that there will be an outcry and that it does matter who you hire and that does create the culture of the department and reinforce it. And even though, as we talked about earlier, Seattle doesn't seem like they want to face the issues of culture in that department, it would be great to see other departments being more proactive about this.

[00:17:32] Erica Barnett: Yeah, it feels so counterproductive to me to say - Well, we have to hire officers, and this was an officer and he applied, and so we had to hire him because we need numbers. But then it becomes a very public thing, and it sends a message to other potential candidates who might want to be police officers that this is the culture of the department that you're signing up for. And so you hire somebody like this - how many people are you driving away by sending this message that this is the kind of person who works in your department? I don't know why it's so hard for police departments to absorb this lesson - that you can't just say you're diverse and you can't just say that you have a good set of values when you just keep hiring people, including in this incredibly public case, that don't reflect those values that you say you stand for. That sends such a louder message than just saying, like in Seattle - Oh, we have this Before the Badge program that teaches people to work with diverse communities, and we're trying to hire 30% women by 2030 - when you have a culture that drives away diverse candidates and drives away women because it's toxic. So I think hiring somebody who killed an unarmed Black man and saying it's because we had to hire somebody and this is who applied is just so short-sighted.

[00:18:45] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely is. Well, we will now turn to the continuing saga in Burien, which you have been relentlessly covering, thankfully. And news this week that Burien is countersuing King County in response to the existing lawsuit challenging Burien's ability to essentially use sheriff deputies to carry out encampment sweeps because they seem to be unconstitutional - certainly, that's the position of the King County Sheriff and seems to have Supreme Court decisions that back that up. But this has been a long saga. So can you back up a little bit and tell us how we got here and then go through what is happening now?

[00:19:32] Erica Barnett: Sure. So the City of Burien late last year passed a total ban on "camping." And what that means - it's sort of twofold. People are not allowed to "camp" - and I'm saying that with big air quotes because it means more than just sleeping - it's things like having a tent on your person, having a cook stove, having survival gear that indicates that you are going to sleep outside. Total ban on that, except when "shelter is available" because there is no overnight shelter for the general population in Burien. So Burien is saying basically that people who are homeless in Burien can go to Seattle to get shelter or can go to Bellevue. And therefore, if you are homeless in Burien, you can be swept - because you could have gone to Seattle, you could have gone to Bellevue. The second part of it is that people are absolutely banned, even if there is no shelter available, in a bunch of different areas - within 500 feet of parks, libraries, daycares, all kinds of public facilities that unsheltered people actually use, like the library - and cannot be camping in those areas at all. And those areas can be expanded by the city manager at any time, and for any reason, and without any kind of public notice. So the Sheriff's department said this is unconstitutional - they sued. And their argument is basically it violates the 8th and 14th amendments and it's cruel punishment. So that is where things stood when the City of Burien decided - this is before they even countersued - they said, We're not going to pay the Sheriff's department anymore. We're going to cut off all contracts. We're not going to fulfill their invoices because they're not providing the service of sweeping people. So-

[00:21:11] Crystal Fincher: I just have to interject. It's the most ironic thing. There has been no department, despite hyperbolic right-wing rhetoric about defunding the police. This actually makes Burien and their conservative majority on their council - the first council to actually defund police, and it's over this issue. So just the irony involved in that certainly did not fly past me. But anyway, go ahead.

[00:21:39] Erica Barnett: Yeah, and I pointed that out in my coverage - it's kind of hilarious. And frankly, the Sheriff's Department, by continuing to provide services to the City of Burien, is going above and beyond. But nonetheless, the city sued them and said that the Sheriff's Office had breached their contract because they refused to enforce this law that they believe is unconstitutional. So that's where things are at right now, and the Sheriff's Department basically responded by saying this is a frivolous, beside-the-point lawsuit. They filed in Snohomish County instead of King County, which is also hilarious to me. They said that they have standing to do that because Snohomish is an adjacent county, which - okay, fine, but why are you filing it in Snohomish County? Could it be that you think that King County will throw this out because it's a frivolous lawsuit? So anyway, that's where things stand. I think that the lawsuit against Burien is going forward - have not checked in on what's happened, if anything, with this countersuit. But the mayor, Kevin Schilling, is doing sort of a publicity barrage. He had an op-ed in The Seattle Times this week just railing against King County. And they're definitely not winning the war of public perception, I don't think. Because it's starting to feel - at least to my mind - even if you believe that the county should be using its limited resources to sweep people, this countersuit feels very frivolous. They're not having the real debate. They're just sort of throwing a tantrum. At least that's how I perceive it - I don't live in Burien, so I could be wrong about this, I haven't done a poll. But even if you want the city to be removing people who live there, this is a weird legal side battle that they're unlikely to win. I don't see a scenario where Chief Boe and the King County Sheriff's Office starts going out and arresting people for being homeless. So this could come down to the City of Burien just trying to create its own police department and that has been unsuccessful in the past. So, more to come.

[00:23:33] Crystal Fincher: Has been unsuccessful. A couple of the city councilmembers in Burien have pointed out that they don't have the budget resources to do that, they already are spending a significant amount of their budget on policing with the Sheriff’s department as-is, and facing similar budget constraints and challenges as other cities in our region, dealing with deficits. This just appears to be an absolute clown show, really, about what’s happening. And just a frivolous waste of resources for the city - it's really expensive. Has anyone talked about that?

[00:24:08] Erica Barnett: Well, I talked to one of the councilmembers last week who said this is a situation where we're already facing a $2 million deficit, so standing up their own police department is not going to be cheaper than contracting with the King County Sheriff's Office - that's why they do it, and that's why a lot of cities do it. I will also point out you're talking about expense. The City of Burien has hired an outside law firm - a very large downtown Seattle law firm - to represent it in this case. And that's normal - they don't have a huge legal department, so it's normal for them to go to outside counsel. But if it does go forward, this could be a lengthy lawsuit that costs a lot of money - they're not hiring cheap lawyers or particularly affordable ones. So that, too, is going to add to their deficit, which, again, is about $2 million. They're a very small city - that's a significant amount of money for them.

[00:24:55] Crystal Fincher: It is. And really interesting - you note about that downtown Seattle law firm, because as you've covered, the city manager could only issue contracts of up to $50,000 without a public process or approval. I don't know if people are aware of big law firm fees, but that can accumulate very quickly. It's going to be really interesting to see how they deal with that - if and when this is brought to a public process, what that conversation is going to be. As you mentioned, it does appear that Mayor Kevin Schilling is certainly going on a publicity tour and almost being combative in addressing some of the challenges. Because he's been criticized - everyone from members who are not part of the majority of the council, people involved in homeless advocacy, but also just people who are standing for good governance. The Seattle Times Editorial Board came out saying - Hey, this is not the right approach. Burien is going in the wrong direction here. So it's not like it's just one small group making some noise. There's been kind of universal repudiation from people across the spectrum. And it also appears that they're losing a lot of staff in the city, according to reports from some city councilmembers - that their staff is thinning out in response to this and the lack of solid, stable leadership, clear direction, following of city statutes. And feedback on just the work environment and the desire to kind of be vindictive and short-sighted here - that's having consequences with doing the rest of the city's work. Just really, really something to see - how this has basically hijacked the city and the city's business. And it's such a turnaround from just a couple of years ago.

[00:26:42] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think we should mention the city manager, Adolfo Bailon - and I apologize if I'm pronouncing his name wrong - I have been really astonished by the lack of transparency into his job performance. He had a performance review that the City refuses to release, including to me - I have requested it, and they said that it is categorically exempt from any kind of disclosure, which is - talked to the Attorney General's Office - they told me that's not true. But they won't release that. And it apparently was quite negative. The firm that did the performance review resigned because they said that the city was not taking their recommendations about how to address some of the issues seriously. And as I pointed out, the last city where the city manager worked - a small town in Vermont - lost its entire police department. All the police resigned. It was a very small police department, but they all left and the city was without a police department by the time he left and came to Burien. So I think there's a pattern here - you talked about all these staffers leaving. It's a problem when people can't work for you and the common denominator is not that all these people are just lazy workers, or can't hack it, or whatever - it was a fairly stable place before, and now all these employees are leaving for various reasons, but because they don't find it a place they want to work anymore.

[00:27:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, just seems to be a real challenge with competence and accountability from the city manager and a majority of that city council and mayor. Just a shame to see. The last issue I want to cover today is one that has been a challenge for the county and City of Seattle and City of Tukwila to deal with at various times and in various ways. And that is of the asylum seekers who are now near Garfield High School in tents, because there is nowhere else for them to go. How did we get here and what is the situation?

[00:28:36] Erica Barnett: Well, the situation is that we are waiting. We - City of Seattle, King County, everybody in the state - is waiting on funding that is going to be released in July from the state to actually try to shelter and provide some kind of transitional housing and plan for refugees and migrants that are in the Seattle area right now. But there's not enough local and King County funding and even state funding to pay to put all these folks up in hotels, which has been the interim solution. So there's a donation that came in that's going to keep folks in hotels, I believe, for 11 nights - so 10 more nights now. County Councilmember Sarah Perry came up with some private donations of about $60,000 a couple weeks ago to pay for hotel rooms. But these are all very temporary solutions. And so I think that we will continue to see a crisis every time the money runs out. And it's a big challenge. We have tens of thousands of people already living unsheltered in the region, and we're not providing anywhere for them to go. And so the question becomes - who gets priority and what services do each of these groups need? Because they're very distinct groups. That is more of a challenge than the rhetoric around this suggests, which is the city should just find money or the county should just find money. First of all, the city's ability to find money and the county's ability to just find money is limited. It's not that they couldn't probably come up with a million dollars if they really dug deep. But that becomes a question - okay, so who are we going to help with this money? And if we can find a million dollars, why have we not done that for all the people that are already living on the streets in desperate situations? So it's a really complicated problem. And I think some of the rhetoric around it has made it sound like it's a very easy problem to solve - just throw money at it. But it's long-term and complex.

[00:30:24] Crystal Fincher: It's long term. It is complex. It does seem like we're getting back to the fundamental problem that we've talked about for so long - where there is just not enough shelter, transitional housing, supportive housing available, period, for anyone. Which certainly from my perspective makes it ridiculous to talk about continuing as an overall strategy - not necessarily just with this group - but an overall strategy of sweeping people. And I think more people are recognizing that that is not a solution to the problem. People have nowhere else to go, so they're coming back. We spend a lot of money, a ton of money, on something that is ultimately having no effect and maybe having a negative effect because it is destabilizing to have to move, to have all your belongings - many critical things - destroyed or taken. So it just seems like we, once again, need to really get serious about a regional approach. This does impact the region. It's interesting - just recalling the Burien conversation - hearing them say stuff like, Oh, these are people from other cities. When their response basically displaces people to other cities. We need more housing, period. We have to get on building that. That is not something that we can do immediately, so obviously that is not an option right now for the people staying at Garfield, but we've got to get serious about this solution. We've got to figure out what resources there are to bridge because the alternative of just letting people languish on the streets, or are they going to be told they can't camp there and be forced to move around the city like so many other unhoused populations do. Just - we seem to be doubling down on the problem as long as we aren't focused on building more housing and identifying more transitional housing, going beyond shelter, and really trying to establish pathways that really permanently get people off of the street.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 5th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on basically every platform at this point in time. And you can find PubliCola wherever you need it - awesome, great coverage - breaking stories, even when it's unacknowledged that you're breaking stories and other people write them after you. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, please leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get the full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at OfficialHacksAndWonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.