Politics delay contract with homeless shelter

Mary’s Place declines controversial grant money from Federal Way

The Federal Way City Council has tabled a controversial vote to enter into a contract with Mary’s Place Seattle to house homeless families from the city.

This decision comes after legislators made it known they were concerned about providing $100,000 to the city for emergency homeless shelters, only to find out later the money could be going to a shelter in Burien, which is outside of the 30th Legislative District.

District 30 State Rep. Kristine Reeves and Sen.-elect Claire Wilson, both Democrats, were in attendance at the council meeting due to the controversial nature of the issue.

Toward the end of the four-and-a-half hour council meeting Jan. 2, the council discussed the contract and other questions to determine if entering into the contract was the best decision for the city.

A majority of the council voted to table the contract vote until the Jan. 15 meeting so they could have more time to look at the issue from all angles and possibly pursue alternative recommendations. The only council member against tabling the vote was Dini Duclos.

One of the reasons Councilmember Martin Moore wanted to table to vote for two weeks was because of the concern voiced by the 30th District state legislators in the Mirror’s previous article about the $100,000 grant money.

“Our relationship with our legislators is so important,” he said.

Mayor Jim Ferrell brought up Reeves and Wilson toward the end of the constract discussion and asked them to explain their viewpoint on the issue.

Previously during the meeting, it had been said that city staff had believed they were following legislative intent with the money.

Wilson excused herself from the discussions, as Mark Miloscia was the senator at the time and worked directly with the city and the representatives for this grant money.

Reeves stood by her previous statement to the Mirror, voicing her concern with the city using the money in the 33rd District instead of the 30th District where Federal Way is located. Reeves also voiced her willingness to advocate for Federal Way for future legislative priorities.

“It was our understanding you were talking to Mary’s Place as a council about how to provide services within the city limits of Federal Way.”

She did say there is nothing necessarily constricting the use of these funds outside the city, though she did advocate for it to be spent within city limits in Olympia.

“Legislative intent is still legilsative intent,” Reeves said.

Federal Way’s State Reps. Reeves and Mike Pellicciotti work to allocate money from the state budget for the city to be used for various projects or needs that the city outlines in its legislative priorities at the start of every year.

Ferrell asked Reeves if she believed they should return the money rather than use it outside this district, but Reeves said that was a decision only the city council could make.

Reeves understood the council’s concerns about wanting to serve families now because at 16 years old, she herself was homeless.

“But, the question I think you are asking of me… is the plan of action you are putting forward meeting the legislative intent that I advocated for in Olympia, my answer would be no,” she said.

The Mirror reached out to Community Services Manager Jeff Watson for followup questions, but was told that the city would not answer any more questions about this matter until after the Jan. 15 council meeting.

In an email from communications coordinator Tyler Hemstreet, he explained that the city had been more than willing to get its side out in the open, with another community services staff person, Sarah Bridgeford, and the mayor participating in two sit-down interviews.

He also mentioned the Letter to the Editor Watson wrote as detailing the process of how they chose Mary’s Place and stating they and the Mayor stood by the recommendation.

“Jeff made a presentation on the matter at the Jan. 2 City Council meeting, and he and Sarah both answered several questions at the podium on the subject from Council members. This was all after a detailed staff report written by Jeff was provided in the agenda packet that was distributed prior to the first Council meeting,” Hemstreet wrote, “We would be happy to comment on any decision or action the Council wants to take after the Jan. 15 meeting. Thank you.”

Reeves reached out to several members of the community, including those who were on the city’s Homelessness Task Force, to bring together a work session to detail the issue and ask community members how they would spend the money.

However she did make it clear that she did not have the authority to recovene the task force — only the mayor is able to do that.

During the Parks, Recreation, Community Services and Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday night, Reeves brought forward the recommendation agreed upon during the previous night’s work session for consideration.

The recommendation was a 60/40 plan, with $60,000 going toward funding, planning and develpment costs to bring an emergency shelter to the city and the remaining $40,000 to go toward hiring a staff person to help work on a comprehensive solution.

The committee did not vote on the recommendation, but Councilmember Jesse Johnson said it could be one of the final recommendations the council votes on at the next meeting.

“Most likely, though, it will be a hybrid of all the different recommendations,” he said.

At the committee meeting, Reeves gave a brief explanation of how the legislative process works once Federal Way provides its legislative priorities.

The committee meeting also brought another surprising bit of information to the issue.

Marty Hartman, the executive director of Mary’s Place, said the shelter decided to pull its application for the $100,000 grant money from Federal Way because the increased politics surrounding it has been counterproductive to their mission.

Hartman said not receiving a contract with the city would not stop them from serving families from Federal Way in any of their shelters.

The Mary’s Place shelter in Burien has started serving families from nearby cities since opening in November 2018.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said he was disappointed that Mary’s Place was pulling its application, but now it was up to a collaborative city council effort to find a solution.

The final decision regarding what to do with the grant money was not available at press time.

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