Mayor Ed Murray, flanked by HSD director Catherine Lester and All Home KC director Mark Putnam, announces the city’s new RFP for $30 million in homelessness services. Photo by Casey Jaywork

Seattle to Award $30 Million in Homeless Services Contracts

Amid a larger shift toward performance metrics, the city will engage in a competitive bidding process for the first time in a decade.

Wednesday, Seattle’s mayor announced that the city has $30 million in homeless services contracts up for grabs. Those contracts, which have not been opened up to competitive bidding in some time, make up much of the $50 million the city spends each year in homeless response.

“Today, for the first time in a decade, the city is re-bidding $30 million in homeless service contracts,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Wednesday morning at the Emergency Operations Center in Pioneer Square. The location in Pioneer Square was chosen in part because the EOC is where much of the city’s current work to deliver services to homeless people occurs.

The move follows a recommendation made last year by consultant Barbara Poppe and others that the city should shift from its current portfolio of homeless services, which has gradually grown into place over the years, to a competitive, metrics-based model. As we reported earlier, some of the specific recommendations are controversial.

Homelessness is an ever-worsening crisis in Seattle and King County, with thousands of people sleeping outside every night and even more in unstable living situations, such as couchsurfing. The crisis is largely caused by the drought of affordable housing in Seattle’s red-hot rental housing market.

From the Poppe report, said Murray, “we learned that our priorites were not aligned with the best practices. We had over the decades disproportionately spent more money on temporary remedies, rather than on permenant hosuing or on diverting people from becoming homeless in the first place.” After years of reacting to the crisis, the mayor hopes to transform Seattle’s homelessness response system to a well-oiled, data-driven, forward-thinking machine.

“Our paramount mission,” he said, “is helping people get off the streets, out of the shelter system and into permanent housing.”

In addition to the shift toward competitive metrics, the city’s new contracts add “new explictness and intention around racial equity targets,” said Lester. Murray added that black King County residents are five times more likely to become homeless than whites. “The programs we fund must prioritize ending the racial disparities in this system.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This story has been updated.

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