Monica Liang-Aguirre named Seattle’s Early Learning Director

Monica Liang-Aguirre has been named the Early Learning Director for the City of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning. Liang-Aguirre will oversee the City’s investments in early childhood education, including the launch of the Seattle Preschool Program.

“As an experienced educator and leader, Monica is ready to spur our effort to close the opportunity gap that impacts too many of Seattle’s youngest students,” said Mayor Murray. “She joins the City at a pivotal time, as she will be instrumental in opening the doors to preschool for hundreds of children.”

Liang-Aguirre currently serves as Deputy Chief of the Early Childhood Education Division for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversees 58 preschools located within Title I schools serving at-risk and low-income students. The district’s early learning program includes many elements similar to the newly formed Seattle Preschool Program, including rigorous teacher education requirements and mixed-income classrooms.

“I am excited to join the City’s early education team, and feel honored to be taking part in laying the groundwork for the City’s newest preschool initiative,” Liang-Aguirre said. “I look forward to learning more about the great work going on to improve the quality of early learning in Seattle, and I am excited to do my part to further those efforts.”

Liang-Aguirre has extensive experience in school leadership, partnering with community based organizations, implementing dual-language education, and working to close the achievement gap. Liang-Aguirre started her professional career in the classroom as a Spanish teacher, and is fluent in both German and Spanish.

Liang-Aguirre will join the City on July 13. Her annual salary will be $130,000.

Liang-Aguirre’s husband, Jesús Aguirre, was nominated by Mayor Murray for the Parks Department superintendent role in February and is currently undergoing the Seattle City Council’s confirmation process.

Mayor Murray announces 100-bed homeless shelter to open in a City-owned property

Today, Mayor Murray announced plans to partner with the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) to fund operations of a new 100 bed shelter in a City of Seattle-owned property.

“Homelessness is a crisis that we must address in a strategic and systematic way. Building off of the already strong relationship the City has with DESC, today’s announcement will help provide a safe, secure shelter for 100 people who would otherwise be on the streets,” said Mayor Murray. “What’s more, we are doing it by leveraging existing City resources and working with DESC to ensure that those in need are receiving the services and support they need to move on a path towards permanent housing.”

“With overwhelming need for shelter capacity for Seattle’s homeless, I am pleased that this collaboration will provide 100 people safe and secure temporary housing as opposed to sleeping unsheltered on Seattle streets,” said Daniel Malone, Deputy Director, Downtown Emergency Service Center. “I am proud of DESC’s long-standing relationship with the City of Seattle and I am excited about this new endeavor.”

The City has allocated a total of $350,000 to fund this project and is working with the Human Services Department and Finance and Administrative Services Department to identify a City-owned property that is appropriate for temporary housing. This new facility is expected to open its doors in late summer 2015.

This announcement aligns with the Homeless Investment Analysis, which highlighted the need to work with service providers in a new, collaborative manner to ensure Seattle’s unsheltered homeless residents can quickly access shelter, be matched with a housing resource, and receive assistance in finding permanent, affordable housing.

The City will work with DESC to test a portfolio of services for shelter residents with the goal of getting them on the path to permanent housing within the federal goal of 20 days.

Today’s announcement is also in response to the recommendation by the Mayor’s Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness to consider the use of City-owned facilities and shelters. This task force was created in October 2014 to develop recommendations addressing the growing number of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle.

Mayor Murray is looking for the 2015 Civic Poet

Mayor Murray announced today that the City is launching a Civic Poet program to celebrate Seattle’s rich literary community, while investing in the future of literary arts through community engagement. Applications to be the 2015 Civic Poet will be accepted April 16 – May 28.

“Seattle is one of the most well-read cities in the country. From libraries to book stores, from universities to literary organizations, Seattle is passionate about language,” said Mayor Murray. “The Civic Poet program celebrates our history and commitment to the written and spoken word, and the people who have given it such a place of honor in our city.”

The new two-year Civic Poet post will serve as a cultural ambassador for Seattle’s rich, multi-hued literary landscape and will represent Seattle’s diverse cultural community. In addition to five annual performances, the Civic Poet will also complete hands-on work with communities to engage constituents city-wide.

Seattle’s Civic Poet will serve a term of two years, from July 2015 to July 2017, and will receive a $10,000 stipend distributed over the two year term. Applicants must be Seattle-based and eligible to work in the U.S. and have a demonstrated interest in civic engagement and the power of the written and spoken word.

The Civic Poet program is inspired by the previous Poet Populist program instituted in 1999 by Seattle City Council member Nick Licata. The goal of the Poet Populist program was to support the practice of literary arts democracy, and promote local literary arts organizations to a general audience city-wide. The Poet Populist program was discontinued in 2008. The Civic Poet program will continue the legacy of the Poet Populist program by fostering community dialogue and engagement between the public and artists, while celebrating the literary arts.

“I thank the Mayor, Office of Arts & Culture director Randy Engstrom, and leaders of our literary community for picking up where our previous Poet Populist program left off. By combining that program’s community engagement elements with the rigor of a traditional poet laureate model, Seattle’s Civic Poet program can inspire both diverse audiences and diverse ideas,” added Councilmember Licata.

A selection panel composed of writing and literary professionals and community representatives will review materials from all applicants. Those who are selected as finalists will be invited a panel to interview for final selection.

The Civic Poet program is administered by the city’s Office of Arts & Culture. For more information, visit http://www.seattle.gov/arts/funding/civic_poet.asp.

Mayor Murray announces $620,000 in homeless diversion funding

City of Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) announced today a total of $620,000 in funding for rapid rehousing services for non-chronically homeless single adults to ensure that these instances of homelessness are rare, brief and occur only one time.

“The evidence is clear: homeless diversion programs work,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “We look forward to working with service providers to scale this and other best-practices in reducing and preventing homelessness. This funding will leverage the investments we have already made to reduce disparities and create better outcomes.”

Funding will be awarded to the YWCA of Seattle, King County and Snohomish County ($310,000) and Catholic Community Services ($310,000).

“The City continues its effort to institute performance-based investments and uses data to steer the department’s resources to nonprofits who demonstrate their ability to serve the community’s most in need,” said Catherine Lester, Director, Seattle Human Services Department.

This funding is intended to assist single, homeless adults without accompanied children, with a focus on individuals who have served in the US Armed Forces. The funds will provide for a variety of assistance, such as: short-term or medium-term rental assistance and housing relocation and stabilization services that include activities like mediation, security or utility deposits, utility payments, moving cost assistance and employment navigation. Clients will also receive referrals for credit counseling from the Financial Empowerment Center and to the City Utility Discount Program.

Last year, Mayor Murray joined First Lady Michelle Obama and 432 U.S. Mayors in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness to ensure there are no veterans sleeping on our streets and every veteran has access to permanent housing. This funding announcement brings the City one step closer to fulfilling this goal.

Find more information about HSD’s investments in ending homelessness here.

Mayor Murray’s statement on Task Force on New Americans policy recommendations

immigration-task-force-recommendationsFollowing the publication of policy recommendations from the Task Force on New Americans earlier this week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued the following statement:

“We stand with President Obama for a common sense national immigrant integration policy that is supported by a majority of Americans and look forward to working closely with the White House and other federal agencies to develop plans for the implementation of the innovative policies proposed. Our country was built through the hard work of generations of immigrants. In Seattle, we welcome all immigrants in our community who want to work hard, contribute to our city and be part of the fabric of American life.”

On November 21, 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Washington is the tenth largest state impacted by the President’s DACA/DAPA program. As part of these actions, he created an interagency White House Task Force on New Americans. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in the City of Seattle was invited to submit policy recommendations for the report.

Several recommendations from the City’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, like the City’s inclusive neighborhood revitalization approach to language access and community engagement, are included. Among the City’s comprehensive work to achieve Mayor Murray’s vision of Seattle becoming a leading city on immigrant integration, the City highlighted what it considers the three rails of immigrant integration:

• Providing ESL programs to help unemployed and underemployed immigrants get jobs and gain economic self-sufficiency;
• Increasing citizenship rates; and
• Improving language access policies and protocols to better serve the large numbers of Limited English Proficient residents.

Mayor Murray proposes joint resolution with City Council to find solutions to Somali remittance issue

Today, Mayor Ed Murray transmitted a proposed joint resolution to Seattle’s City Council affirming the City’s support of Somali communities who seek to care for their families still living in Somalia and the Horn of Africa by way of remittances.

In February, the Merchants Bank of California closed down all accounts of Somali-American Money Transfer Operators due to the increasing difficulty of complying with federal money laundering and terrorism financing regulations.

“Shutting down these accounts has had a devastating effect on thousands of Somali-American families in this country and their loved ones back home,” Murray said. “I am committed to supporting Seattle’s Somali residents, the vast majority of whom are refugees providing critical financial assistance to family members in their home countries. It is my hope that the federal government will do the right thing and find a solution to this very serious problem.”

More than 730,000 people in Somalia are dependent on financial assistance overseas. Funding from these accounts had provided basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and education. The effects of these account closures have been exacerbated due to Somali’s lack of a functioning commercial banking system.

The joint resolution calls for staff from the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA), the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, the City Attorney’s Office, and the Finance and Administrative Services Department to review options for state, city, or other local banks to continue transferring remittances.

“This is, first and foremost, a humanitarian issue we must resolve with urgency. I know many friends and families who send money back home and this is a lifeline. Our local political and regional leaders are collectively united on this issue and we stand with our strong community of East Africans and immigrants,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee. “We need to think creatively and work with our credit unions on local options, and jointly pressure the federal government to act and make things normal again for these families.”

Mayor Murray, Councilmember Harrell and Councilmember Mike O’Brien sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in February urging the U.S. Department of State to devise a strategy that would help local banks meet regulatory standards and allow financial aid to keep making its way to Somalia. So far, the federal government has taken no action to address the issue.

“Hard-working members of the local Somali community are supporting their families here in Seattle as well as loved ones back in Somalia by sending money back home,” Councilmember O’Brien said. “We must find solutions to ensure there are safe, secure ways for these remittances to continue to flow from Seattle.”

Nearly 4,000 Somalis live in the city of Seattle and thousands more are estimated to live throughout King County. Seattle is home to one of the largest Somali communities in the United States.

The full text of the resolution is below:

A RESOLUTION reaffirming the City of Seattle’s support of Somali communities to continue remittances to Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

WHEREAS, Merchants Bank of California closed down the accounts of all Somali-American Money Transfer Operators (MTOs) on February 6, 2015 and this has devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of Somalis in our country; and,

WHEREAS, Somalia’s dependence on remittances is exacerbated because it does not have a functioning commercial banking system and the Central Bank of Somalia has limited relationships with foreign banks and little commercial banking services; and,

WHEREAS, over the past few years, MTOs have found it increasingly difficult to comply with Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations; and,

WHEREAS, every year Somalia receives approximately $1.3 billion in remittances and more than 730,000 people in Somalia are dependent on financial assistance for survival. Funding from remittances accounts for basic needs including food, water, shelter and education. One in every five children in Somalia dies before their fifth birthday, and only 30 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water; and,

WHEREAS, remittances are crucial in the empowerment of women entrepreneurship in Somalia, as many banks will not provide loans to women entrepreneurs who have no savings of their own because they are considered riskier loan recipients than men; and,

WHEREAS, Seattle has one of the biggest Somali communities in the United States – nearly 4,000 Somalis are residents to this City and thousands more are estimated to be in King County; and,

WHEREAS, the vast majority of our Somali residents are refugees and our new residents need effective systems that will support them in staying connected to their loved ones back home; and,

WHEREAS, Somalis are critical to Seattle’s economic vitality because they purchase goods and services and run small businesses, which in turn create jobs and generate revenue for the region.

WHEREAS, the City of Seattle recognizes that over the past few years the U.S. government has taken small and crucial steps to help Somalia gain financial stability, including collaboration with the Central Bank of Somalia to help it improve its public financial management system and the passage of the Money Remittances Improvement Act.

NOW, THEREFORE,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE, THE MAYOR CONCURRING, THAT:

Section 1. The City of Seattle reaffirms its support of our Somali community in their desire to support their loved ones in the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, the City of Seattle strongly urges concerned parties to find an amicable solution that facilitates the normal flow of remittances without compromising the safety and security of the United States.

Section 2. The City Council and Mayor request that staff from the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, Office of Intergovernmental Relations, City Attorney’s Office, and Finance Department review options for the State, City or local banks to continue servicing remittances.

Mayor Murray announces expanded shelter beds for Seattle’s homeless youth

Today, Mayor Murray announced the increase and year round expansion of shelter beds available exclusively for homeless youth. This expansion is made available by an additional $130,000 investment with Peace for the Street by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) to extend its temporary cold weather shelter to a year round, five day a week operation. In addition, the bed capacity in this shelter will increase from 15 to 20 total by June 2015.

“In a region like ours where there is such tremendous wealth, it’s heartbreaking that any of our youth experience homelessness,” Mayor Ed Murray said. “That’s why it is vital that we provide a warm bed, a pillow, and some relief from the dangers of the street. While permanent, safe housing is the ultimate goal, securing these additional resources will mean a few more young people every night won’t have to sleep on the streets.”

“We are thrilled by the news that the City of Seattle will extend funding for PSKS and Mt. Zion Baptist Church to continue our collaboration to shelter homeless youth and young adults beyond the winter months,” said Susan Fox, Executive Director, PSKS. “This shelter is often the last resort for many of the youth we serve as many have pet companions, identify as LGBTQ, and are dealing with difficult life circumstances. I commend the mayor for recognizing this critical need and addressing this service gap.”

The added shelter beds announced today are consistent with the Mayor’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness recommendation to add new shelter beds to meet the needs of unsheltered homeless young people living in Seattle.

“I am pleased by Peace for the Street by Kids from the Streets and Mt. Zion Baptist Church for their commitment to providing safe and decent shelter for Seattle’s homeless youth,” said Catherine Lester, Director, Seattle Human Services Department. “Any viable solution to youth homelessness will require partnership and collaboration with services providers, community groups and the faith community as demonstrated in this important project.”

PSKS has been operating a 15 bed youth shelter, five nights per week at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District. This shelter was originally funded by the Mayor for the first quarter of 2015 as a temporary cold weather shelter and as overflow for other youth serving shelters in the city.

Seattle Mayor Murray’s statement on House Transportation Proposal

Mayor Murray issued the following statement on the House’s release of a transportation package yesterday:

“I continue to be encouraged by the state legislature’s recognition of our state’s dire need for transportation investments.

The package released yesterday by the House of Representatives under the leadership of House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn builds on what the Senate passed a few weeks ago. The inclusion of funding for the westside of 520 is good news for Seattle. The House proposal also invests $1.29 billion in multimodal funds, which is a nearly $500 million improvement over the Senate package. I will continue to tirelessly advocate for increasing the funding allocation for the Lander street overcrossing, because it is crucial to improving freight mobility in Seattle’s SODO industrial area.

The House package correctly acknowledges the critical importance of Sound Transit 3 funding authorization at the $15 billion level. Sound transit needs this full authority to continue to meet the tremendous public demand for expanding light rail to reach regional destinations including Everett, Tacoma, Downtown Redmond, while also providing additional capacity within the City of Seattle with connections to Ballard and West Seattle. Anything less than full authority would rule out voter consideration of some of those priorities.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the House removed the restrictions placed by the Senate on our collective efforts to address climate change.  I thank the House for recognizing this, and also for removing the sales tax exemption.

I remain eager to work with lawmakers and the Governor in a bipartisan, bicameral way to ensure that a transportation package reflective of our values is passed and signed into law this session.”

Mayor, City Attorney issue statement following passage state marijuana bill, Senate Bill 5052

Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes issued the following statements upon passage of the bipartisan Patient Protection Act, SB 5052.

“Passage of Senate Bill 5052 is a positive step forward. Seattle now has clear guidance from the State as the City of Seattle develops its own regulatory framework to maintain a safe and legal marijuana market in our city. It is important to note that more needs to be done in future legislation to protect the privacy and rights of medical marijuana patients. Over the coming weeks, I will be working with community stakeholders, City Attorney Holmes and the Seattle City Council on developing policies to implement this legislation.”
— Seattle Mayor Murray

“This legislation restructures the I-502 licensing system to accommodate medical marijuana providers, phases out unlicensed marijuana dispensaries, and gives medical marijuana patients access to legal, tested, regulated, and labeled marijuana products. I’m pleased to see the legislature strike a fair balance between strengthening I-502’s pioneering effort to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and protecting patients’ access to medicinal products and ability to home grow. I look forward to working with the Mayor, City Council, and other stakeholders to fully implement this legislation in Seattle.”
— Seattle City Attorney Holmes

City lays out roadmap for re-vamping homeless investments

Today, Mayor Murray released the Seattle Human Services Department’s (HSD) Homeless Investment Analysis. The Homeless Investment Analysis provides an in depth look at the City’s current and historical investments to prevent and end homelessness as well as make recommendations to move to a more effective system of homeless services. The analysis is part of a broader strategy for investing in homeless services that included the Mayor’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness, formed last fall, which helped lead to last week’s successful passage of homeless encampment legislation.

Homelessness Investment Analysis“Seattle’s $40 million annual investment in homeless services is one of the highest commitments in the nation. However the number of our neighbors lacking access to safe, decent and affordable housing is unacceptably high. We must do better and we need more help from our partners. The City must leverage its limited resources thoughtfully and strategically,” said Mayor Murray. “The findings in the Homelessness Investment Analysis will set the roadmap to shift City investments and service models to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and one-time.”

“The continuous increase of individuals living on our streets tells us that we cannot build our way out of homelessness,” said Catherine Lester, Director, Human Services Department. “Coordinated investments with regional government partners, service providers and the faith community that are focused on a system of prevention and early intervention services are critical to end homelessness.”

The report released today provides an overview of the scope and impact of the City of Seattle’s nearly $40.8 million in investments in homeless services. These investments are part of a larger system providing homeless services and support to homeless and low-income individuals in Seattle and King County. City general fund support for direct homeless services has increased by 102% when adjusted for inflation, growing from $9 million in 2005 to more than $22 million in 2014. During this same time period, external funding for homeless services has declined by an inflation-adjusted 13%, resulting in an increased proportion of City general fund contributions from 38% in 2005 to nearly 60% in 2014. Despite this increased funding from the City of Seattle, the number of homeless in Seattle continues to grow. According to the One Night Count conducted in January 2015, the number of homeless grew by 21% over those found without shelter last year.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • In 2014, HSD invested $40.8 million across 183 contracts and 60 agencies for services.
  • The current system was built with a focus on intervention services and currently there is no strategic policy and investment framework for determining new investments. Additionally, the City has not used predictive modeling tools to assess current investments and future needs.
  • HSD has multiple service contracts with the same providers, which increases administrative burden. The current system is fractured, and funded and evaluated programmatically rather than systemically.
  • The majority of investments are for basic intervention services (i.e., shelters, feeding programs, day or hygiene centers) with less investments for prevention, diversion and rapid housing services.

Moving forward, HSD will design and implement a strategy which builds upon the 2012 Community Supporting Safe and Stable Housing (CSSSH) investment plan and other local and regional planning efforts. The future actions will focus on ensuring that investments made and services provided will make a measurable impact on reducing instances of homelessness. Actions that HSD will take are:

  • Shift investments and service provision to a progressive engagement model, to deliver a portfolio of services through a pilot with selected service providers. This progressive engagement model combines a portfolio of services aimed at making homelessness rare, brief, and one-time, including diversion, shelter, rapid rehousing, housing search and employment navigation. Administrative efficiencies will be created through a single contract for combined services.
  • Scale recent pilots with continual shift and focus on prevention and coordinated assessment/access. Scale and expand on several new investments and initiatives launched in 2014 and 2015, which are based on best practices and are expected to have a positive impact on housing placement and shelter throughput.
  • Prioritize system readiness within HSD and our provider network with advice from national experts on homelessness. Shifting from a program investment strategy to a system investment strategy will require increased capacity, strategic planning and support both internally and externally.
  • Improve investment alignment within HSD’s funding areas, as well as with other funders that support our shared goals in addressing homelessness. Currently, HSD funding is allocated and evaluated at the programmatic level as opposed to being conducted systemically and objectively as part of a seamless system of services.
  • Improve contract and service efficiencies to decrease the administrative burden placed on providers with multiple service contracts.
  • Invest in the data and evaluation capacity that is required for systemic transformation and to address known issues concerning the HMIS system’s ongoing support needs, data integrity issues and consistent provider participation.

A copy the Homeless Investment Analysis can be found here.