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Durkan admits Seattle hasn’t been tracking homelessness as well as it should

SEATTLE -- Mayor Jenny Durkan says it will take agility to house more than 500 homeless people over the next 90 days.

“We are going to do master leases, repurpose buildings,” Durkan said Wednesday in announcing her initiative.

Her plan will cost roughly $16 million over the next two years to rapidly house homeless people in different ways.

The mayor says the city needs to look into faster ways to make a difference.

The backdrop to her big announcement was the new tiny home village in Whittier Heights.

The city has plans to expand existing shelters and build new ones across Seattle.

That means a number of new low-barrier tiny home villages are in the works, possibly one in the 800 block of Aloha Street in South Lake Union.

The proposal is to build more than 50 tiny homes in a vacant lot next to some businesses, a Courtyard Marriott and apartments.

“We are committed to real engagement,” Durkan said.

The mayor said she wants to hear from the public but Seattle residents who say their inputs have been ignored so far showed up asking tough questions.

Seattle resident Erika Nagy questioned the mayor, saying the data she has seen shows that tiny homes are not effective. She brought up Barbara Poppe, a consultant Seattle hired in the past who said tiny homes do not work.

The mayor says the results she has seen shows the opposite, that tiny home villages are a good transition to permanent housing. But concerned residents say the data is not readily available and that Seattle is yet again launching a costly strategy with not enough evidence showing its effectiveness.

Nagy said people living close to the Licton Springs tiny home village, for example, have been overwhelmed with concerns. Nagy said the encampment attracts crime and it’s been spilling into neighborhoods.

“The crime is horrendous,” Nagy said.

On Wednesday, Q13 News asked Durkan why numbers and results have been hard to come by and confusing to understand.

“This crisis was of such a proportion, people were so busy doing the work that no one was taking the time, or having the right data, to analyze the work,” Durkan said.

"That's terrifying for it doesn't make me feel like we are making the right decisions that we are asking the right questions and working with the right people," Nagy said.

Durkan admitted that it was even hard for her to come across the data she was seeking on homelessness.

She says the city only recently started tracking some of those accountability requirements.

“We are just five months in," Durkan said, alluding to her time as mayor.  "Five months in, (for) the first time we have had contracts that require certain accountability and metrics for performance. We are going to look at that on a quarterly basis, we are going to work with the providers."

Providers like the Low Income Housing Institute, run by Sharon Lee.

Q13 News asked Lee why her organization has not been tracking results after contracting with the city for years.

Lee said the question was disrespectful and that her organization has been tracking results.

She said that at one of the encampments she operates, where there are 14 tiny houses, 17 of those people moved into long-term housing last year.

Overall, the mayor said, the city needs to do a better job of being transparent with taxpayers. The city launched a new website hoping to streamline answers and information.

As for the proposal to open up a homeless camp area in South Lake Union, the mayor said she will weigh what the public has to say before moving forward.  Some residents are already pushing back on the idea, saying it appears as though the city has made up its mind before public input.

There is a public meeting on Thursday at 415 Westlake Avenue from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.