In December, I was honored to be appointed director of the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD). I thank Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for her continued support of the department and for this tremendous opportunity.
HSD is one of the largest contributors to Seattle’s safety net—responsible for investing more than $120 million in contracts to more than 170 community-based human service providers that support the city’s most vulnerable each year. Through the lens of racial equity, HSD addresses six key platforms to:
- Prepare youth for success.
- Support affordability and livability.
- Address homelessness.
- Promote public health.
- Respond to gender-based violence.
- Promote healthy aging.
I have worked at HSD for five years, in several different roles, including eight months as interim director, which has been eye-opening and energizing. I have met with service providers to hear how we can improve partnerships. I have worked with a variety of funders to ensure stronger alignment and understanding. I have listened to staff—including some of the greatest minds and hearts in Seattle—as they’ve described racial and social inequities. I am redoubling my commitment to use the privilege of this office to address disparities and increase equity inside the department as well as in the neighborhoods we serve. Together, we must continue our work toward becoming a more equitable, affordable, thriving city.
HSD staff do amazing work, whether it’s tracking down the support someone needs, connecting them to the direct services we offer through the department, running a top-notch funding process, getting contracts out, or paying invoices on time. HSD staff are real stars, and I am so proud to work with them and optimistic about our work ahead.
Among 2018 highlights, Age Friendly Seattle submitted the Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan for 2018–2021 to AARP Livable Communities—the culmination of a two-year assessment and planning process that involved more than 2,000 Seattle residents. The Age Friendly team is a unit within the Human Services Department. The Action Plan focuses on strategies including, but not limited to, housing, transportation, community and health services, and social participation. Each strategy identifies current programs and legislation, in addition to significant gaps.
In 2018 and continuing this year, HSD’s Aging and Disability Services division (ADS) has participated in programs that provide expanded caregiver support services for lower-income older people who may not be Medicaid-eligible. ADS is also reaching out to their caregivers, including a range of in-home personal and care services, who help people age in their own home and community, rather than moving to an expensive care setting. These expanded services support hundreds of new clients every month. For caregiver support services, call Community Living Connections at 1-844-348-5464.
As a health home care coordination contractor in the Washington State Health Home Managed Fee-for-Service program, ADS works to integrate care for high-cost, high-risk, full-benefit Medicare-Medicaid beneficiaries. A recent report from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid Services shows this program has resulted in significant Medicare savings in Washington state—a total of $107.1 million over three years. For details, click here.
In other divisions, HSD helped more people enter housing and remain housed. City funds helped more individuals and families find housing in the first nine months of 2018 (5,716) than in all of 2017 (5,456). And Seattle is the first city in the country to open tiny house villages to people living unsheltered. These villages are outdoor, temporary accommodations for people who are living in conditions that threaten their health and safety. For more information, click here.
In November, the City Council and Mayor finalized the 2019–2020 budget, which includes additional funding for LGBTQ senior programs, food programs, mental health services for homeless individuals, homelessness prevention services, and basic shelter, day center and navigation services.
This will be a year of progress and increased opportunity. Our core values remain the same—racial equity, results, stewardship, positive employee experience, and innovation. Some key priorities in 2019 that will require intentional focus on these values are to:
- Ensure stronger alignment and collaboration regionally to address homelessness.
- Innovate how we support individualized health care access; increased safety for youth, families, and survivors of gender-based violence; and successful transition to more inclusive and longer-term services and supports for young people at home, work, and in school; and for older people who have chronic health conditions.
- Continue to improve departmental operations, including HSD funding and contract processes and our capacity to provide quality customer service internally and through partnerships with health and human service providers, clients, and community members.
Mayor Durkan and the public have great expectations of this department. The Seattle Human Services Department is instrumental in achieving the goals of making Seattle more affordable and age-friendly for people through our direct services and programs, looking to the promise of Seattle’s future in the work we’re doing with young people, and addressing the crisis of homelessness on our streets, and helping to support public health and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. We do all this, always, in partnership with our community.
Contributor Jason Johnson has directed the Seattle Human Services Department since March 2017. For more information, visit www.seattle.gov/humanservices. To sign up for LifeLines, HSD’s monthly e-newsletter, click here.
Photo at top: Jason Johnson, center, is joined by Ken Snipes of Seattle Public Utilities and Debra Smith of Seattle City Light at the 2018 Energy, Utility and Resource Summit coordinated by HSD’s Utility Discount Program staff at the Tukwila Community Center.