Urban Politics #264: Saving City Council’s Public Safety Program


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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The Mayor proposes cutting all funding for Clean Dreams (now Communities Uniting Rainier Beach, or CURB) and Get Off the Streets (GOTS), and reduces support for Co-STAR (Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services (Co-STAR), despite their success and their strong community support.

As the result of the Council’s 2006 Public Safety Budget Initiative public safety pilot projects were launched in 3 neighborhoods, Rainier Beach, Madison-Miller, and Pioneer Square. The idea was an outgrowth of my 2005 proposal that at that time I called the “Civil Streets Initiative,” renamed by Council Member Jean Godden “Safe Streets Initiative.’ The foundation for this effort was an approach that funded both traditional law enforcement as well as treatment and prevention programs, but also the civic engagement efforts necessary so residents can be the glue to ensure that police and service providers focus on reducing the kinds of offenses that most impact the quality of life in these neighborhoods. This conceptual model was realized when Clean Dreams (later CURB), GOTS, and Co-STAR were funded. In each of these 3 programs, police officers and the Department of Corrections made agreements with outreach workers to help identify specific individuals needing an array of social services to stabilize their lives and keep them out of jail. Using different intervention models, the programs ultimately work to reduce use of the criminal justice system and provide needed services and stable housing.

A 2007 city staff report to the Mayor’s Health & Human Services Sub-cabinet and Criminal Justice Committee identified important lessons learned from the success of GOTS, Co-Stars, and Clean Dreams. Here are some highlights:
1) No waiting lists: ‘resources to pay for treatment and/or housing when clients are ready to make a commitment has made it possible for many people to enter treatment who have not had success in the past,
2) Clients who are most successful in recovery, maintaining a job, and/or retaining housing are those who have a support network,’ and
3) ‘The crucial factor of Clean Dreams’ success is that they have been able to reduce or eliminate client involvement in criminal activities (primarily drug sales and prostitution).’ This same report from the Executive said that both GOTS and Clean Dreams had ‘exceeded contract expectations with promising results. We look forward to learning more about the reasons for its success through the formal evaluation.’ The Council was also looking forward to this formal evaluation! So much so, that during the 2007-2008 budget process, the Council approved $100,000 to fund an evaluation to be completed in 2007. Then again in April this year, the Council passed Ordinance 122659, which authorized the City’s acceptance of Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funds from the U.S. Department of Justice. Of the grant funds in this ordinance, $60,000 was allocated to OPM to hire a consultant to complete an evaluation of the Co-STAR, GOTS, and Clean Dreams programs. This makes twice that the Council funded an evaluation of these three programs and twice that funds have not been used for the purpose that Council intended. A qualitative analysis of all three programs that Council funded and directed OPM to oversee was never initiated and it’s not known how the $160,000 funds were used.

Although am evaluation was not done by the Executive, we do know that these three programs have served about 425 people since beginning in 2006 and we know more still about their success. An independent evaluation of Clean Dreams (CURB) completed by a researcher at the University of Washington found it cost-effective and resulting in low jail recidivism rates. You may have read last year’s Times article.

Similarly, the good work of Co-Stars and GOTS tells us much about how these programs work. Take the story of Mr. Akol who came to the United States in the 1990’s after experiencing the horrors of the war and genocide in his native Sudan. After coming to the United States, Mr. Akol began to experience a multitude of challenges leading to a long string of arrests and incarcerations and homelessness. Through his efforts and the support of Co-Stars, Mr. Akol has been able to get into an inpatient chemical dependency program and permanent housing. He has maintained his sobriety, kept his housing, and not re-offended for close to one full year.

About GOTS, the East Precinct Crime Prevention Council writes: ‘The GOTS Program is imperative to the health of the neighborhood around the intersection of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, as well as to all communities of the East Precinct” Forty-one percent of GOTS participants placed in housing were still there 3 months later and complied with their ‘clean and sober’ requirements. These are incredible numbers for people who have been homeless, chemically dependant and/or mental ill for many years. “Sonny,” a GOTS client, was on the streets around 23rd and Union for years – 40 of them. Last Christmas he said he was ready for GOTS. He was in work release at the time. He has been an active GOTS client since then and has regularly attended POCAAN support groups. He has received housing and treatment services and testified at a Council budget public hearing. The same day he testified he was hired for his first job in decades. Last summer he made his first trip home to New York in forty years to visit his family.

I’ll be working with my colleagues on the Council in the upcoming months to restore funding for the programs as well as other critically important human services.

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