Last month, federal agencies rejected an application from a coalition of homeless advocates to convert the old Federal Reserve building at 1015 2nd Ave. in downtown Seattle into a comprehensive homeless services center. But homeless advocates like Tristia Bauman "believe that the application was denied…in contravention of federal law” and are calling on the agencies to reconsider the fast-track rejection.
The application, submitted by local homeless services provider Compass Housing Alliance in collaboration with other groups, was officially rejected because of concerns about Compass' ability to guarantee funding, according to a rejection letter from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. (Real Change, one of the center's potential tenants, previously convered the rejection here.) But homeless advocates question this rationale. Bauman, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) last month that the denial is part of "a long history of non-compliance with [relevant legislation] by the federal government.” We have a call out to Sen. Murray.
In its application to own the property, Compass was joined by two other "Key Participants": the Downtown Emergency Service Center and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. The three groups agreed to share responsibility for the property after converting it into a comprehensive homeless services center---a sort of central hub for the city's homeless services, which are currently scattered across Seattle. Consolidating services into one location—making them more accessible to the homeless—is a central rationale for coalition's desire to move into one spot.
According to a June 2nd rejection letter from the Department of Health and Human Services, the reason for the application's rejection was insufficient information about the center’s funding. From the letter: “The applicant’s proposal, while it appears well-thought-out and the key participants have experience obtaining such funds, too little information is presently provided by the applicant…”
A spokesperson for HHS declined to elaborate on the reasoning behind the decision: "HHS has no further comment on the issue."
HHS was responsible for reviewing Compass' application because the application involved homeless services. But the agency which actually owns the property and has authority over the larger process is the General Services Administration. When HHS asked the GSA for more time to ascertain Compass' funding sources, GSA said no. Asked why, a GSA spokesperson said, "GSA moved forward with the disposal process because [HHS] did not give any indication that it would reverse its decision after receipt of the additional information to be provided by Compass Housing Alliance."
I would think if Rep. McDermott (and possibly Senator Murray) support a further explanation of the quick turnaround of the homeless coalition's application, it should be done.
About the district's own resolution about exploring the idea of using the building as a downtown school:
The GSA Department of Education is currently fielding an application from Seattle Public Schools to use the property to establish a downtown school site. If it doesn’t pan out, the property will go to public auction. But Eisinger emphasized that homeless advocates “are absolutely not in a fight with the school district.”
“We are supportive of the idea of a school downtown,” she said. “But we still think that the federal law calls for the GSA and HHS to prioritize homeless use. And what we have in common with the school district is that we all need Title V [of the McKinney-Vento Act] to be upheld.”
I can ask the district but I think they would agree that the most important issue is for the McKinney-Vento Act (which they, too, are subject to) to be honored. This may hit the "pause" button for the district which might not be a bad thing.