King County Executive Dow Constantine with his cabinet on Nov. 15, 2016. Photo by Casey Jaywork.

County Braces for Less Funding and More Homelessness Under President Trump

On undocumented immigrants, Constantine says King County won’t ‘ask for people’s papers.’

Under the Trump administration, King County can expect less federal funding for public health, homelessness, and housing, as well as a sharp increase in the demand for those very same services. We might get some more funding for car infrastructure, though.

That’s the condensed version of what King County Executive Dow Constantine and his cabinet said this morning in response to last week’s surprise election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. “Nobody knows exactly what will happen,” said Constantine, “but we are going to prepare for what [Trump and Republicans] said would happen during the campaign.”

Constantine and his cabinet members described several areas where federal funding cuts or policy changes threaten King County:

  • Trump promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. According to Public Health Seattle/King County director Patty Hayes, 200,000 King Countians risk losing their insurance if that happens. As a consequence, more people will likely seek subsidized healthcare at public clinics and emergency rooms.
  • The county Department of Transportation is counting on more than $500 million in federal funding over the next six years, according to county transportation manager Rob Gannon. The vast majority of that goes to Metro, which is counting on $251 million over the next three three years from the federal Highway and Transit administrations. “All of this funding is subject to an annual appropriation by the Congress,” said Gannon. Historically, the Republican party has been antagonistic to urban transit funding.
  • Funding for services addressing mental health, substance abuse, housing and homelessness could be cut, according to a press release from Constantine’s office.
  • Reduced safety and environmental regulations could mean the number of dirty and/or explosive coal and oil trains passing through King County could dramatically increase, Constantine said.
  • Because King County doesn’t actively search for undocumented immigrants, it risks losing “all” federal funding, in the words of candidate Trump. Asked whether he would definitively promise that King County won’t start hunting for immigrants in order to protect federal funding, Constantine replied, “I cannot foresee a time in this county when we will begin demanding to see people’s papers before we give them…critical services that all human beings need. It’s not just a problem for them if they aren’t able to receive services. It’s a problem for all of us.”

On the bright side, funding for airplane, car and bridge infrastructure could increase under Trump, said Gannon.

But then back on the dark side: “We will also see an increase in homelessness,” said Department of Community and Human Services director Adrienne Quinn, “because untreated mental health and substance use disorder are one of the primary reasons for homelessness. We will especially see a decrease in the amount of money available for substance use disorder treatment,” because it can’t be paid for with other federal funding sources. “HUD dollars are often the first to be cut” from the federal budget by Congress, said Quinn, before noting sardonically: “One silver lining, though, is we may see an increase in low income housing tax credits, because…it is a tax credit that goes to banks, big business and high net worth individuals.”

As you know, Seattle and King County are in the midst of a compounding homelessness crisis, with 4,505 people counted sleeping outside as of January 2016. In response, the city council and mayor plan to create more regulated homeless encampments as a stopgap measure to keep people alive until we solve homelessness. Asked whether the county should also host more authorized homeless encampments—or, if not, what is to be done with the thousands of people sleeping on our streets—Constantine and Quinn replied that the county is counting on shelters and case management to evaporate homelessness, as recommended by the Poppe Report.

OK. But until all the homeless people evaporate into housing—until the Poppe recommendations deliver on their bold promise to end homelessness—do we also need more authorized, supported camps to keep them alive and stable and absent from my front lawn?

“We need more facilities to have people inside, safe, warm at night, and we need programs to get to the challenges that have brought them to homelessness to get them back onto their feet,” replied Constantine. Quinn said the county is setting “enhanced shelters” open 24/7 with case managers, including a new one in White Center and a possible future site in Bellevue. She added that their newly adopted budget includes an extra $6 million for homelessness.

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