Upthegrove lowers expectations in Kent for new regional homelessness authority

County Council member opposed new group’s formation

King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove. Reporter file photo

King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove. Reporter file photo

King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove claims the new regional homelessness authority between the county and city of Seattle won’t do much to help the problem in Kent and the rest of South King County.

The county council approved the ordinance 8-1 last week, with Upthegrove, whose District 5 includes a part of Kent, the lone vote against it. The Seattle City Council voted 5-1 on Monday to approve the measure.

“There’s concern we have a fragmented system of addressing this systemic problem and I think that’s true, but I think we can address all of those concerns without creating a new government,” said Upthegrove, the guest speaker Dec. 12 at the Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the Kent Station campus of Auburn-based Green River College. “We can improve communications through forums and ways for the cities to work better together.

“I don’t think the reason we have homeless encampments in Kent is due to governance. I don’t think that’s what’s causing the problem.”

Upthegrove doubts the regional authority will do much good in Kent.

“I have not had anyone say, ‘Dave, you know what will help us in Kent is if we get the city of Seattle more involved in what we are doing with homelessness,’ ” Upthegrove said. “That’s not what I am hearing.

“This teams the city of Seattle up with King County in one joint effort, and I don’t think that’s in the interest of South King County. I think there are legitimate concerns about how we can better coordinate our care, but I think we can address those without creating a new government.”

The homelessness authority will consolidate emergency response resources, budgets, planning and staff into a single entity, overseen by a 12-member board. The board will have representatives of the county council and executive, Seattle’s council and mayor, suburban cities and people who have experienced homelessness. An implementation board will hash out the details and be comprised of 13 members with a similar makeup.

The agreement stipulates that Seattle will kick in around $73 million annually and King County will pay $55 million.

Suburban cities, which are not required to contribute any funds, would have as many as three members on the board from the Sound Cities Association, which represents 38 cities, including Kent, in the county.

“The city of Kent hasn’t taken a position on the regional homelessness authority,” said Derek Matheson, city chief administrative officer, in a Dec. 13 email.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph is vice president of Sound Cities and Council President Bill Boyce represents Kent on the group’s Public Issues Committee.

“They have been actively involved in developing the Sound Cities Association’s position,” Matheson said about a Sound Cities letter sent in November to County Council Chair Rod Dembowski. “I believe most if not all of SCA’s requests have been incorporated into the Seattle-King County (measure).”

Upthegrove also raised concerns at the chamber gathering about a regional homelessness authority composed of appointed members rather than elected officials.

“I have never been a fan of handing over budgetary policy decisions to appointed bodies,” he said. “It’s not that I have a great solution and want the power as an elected official. I lean a lot on our advisory committees and our experts. But take the elected officials out, we’ve taken you (the voters) out. You can throw me out of office. You can’t throw an appointed person out of office.”

Upthegrove said some people argue it will take the politics out of it.

“But if we take your elected officials out of the process … it lessens the voice of the people,” he said.

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