News Clips— Broken initiative

LOOKING JOVIAL, if a bit discombobulated, against the noisy backdrop of homeless men and women streaming in and out of the Morrison Hotel, a newly forged coalition of homeless advocates, City Council members, and housing providers stood in a circle Monday afternoon and declared the problem of homelessness one tiny step closer to resolution.

The occasion: A compromise between the city of Seattle and supporters of Initiative 71, the measure that would have provided 400 new shelter beds and a 20 percent increase in support services for the homeless by 2002. I-71 was scuttled after a long legal battle over whether petitioners had enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. Its successor, a unanimous City Council resolution, is more modest: It promises 170 new shelter beds, support services, and $1.75 million for transitional housing by 2002—plus 200 transitional and permanent housing units if the city’s housing levy passes in 2002. The total cost: $2.75 million, a reduction from I-71’s estimated price tag of $3 million to $5 million.

During their announcement of the compromise, everyone—from City Council member Peter Steinbrueck to Downtown Emergency Service Center director Bill Hobson—was wearing his or her sunniest face. Even council member Jan Drago, self-proclaimed opponent of “legislating by initiative,” sang the praises of the coalition forged by Steinbrueck and members of Citizens for Shelter with Dignity, the group that sued the city to force it to validate the signatures. But afterward, Hobson said he had reservations about the resolution, which is only funded for 17 months. “The painful part is we’ve got a minimum [according to a recent count] of 1,500 people sleeping in cars, on the streets, in places that are not intended for human habitation.” With both the city and county slashing social services wherever they can, Hobson said, homeless advocates may be looking at another battle 17 months down the line. “We’re back to ground zero,” he said.

And no matter what happens with the city’s housing levy, up for renewal next November, the ranks of the homeless will likely continue to swell. “We know that the need is not decreasing,” Drago said. “In fact, it is increasing, and we believe it will continue to increase.” The question is whether $2.75 million, along with matching funds from other governmental sources, will be enough to make a dent in Seattle’s growing homelessness problem. “We wanted 400 emergency shelter beds and a 20 percent increase in support services,” Hobson said. “This is a step back.”

Erica C. Barnett