Mayor Ed Murray has hired Seattle’s first-ever cabinet-level director of homelessness, he said Tuesday.
George Scarola will lead the city’s fight against homelessness across multiple departments, the mayor said.
“Homelessness is a national epidemic, leaving cities like Seattle stepping in to fill the large gaps left behind by state and federal agencies,” the mayor said in a news release.
“Because of the growing scope of work around homelessness, Seattle needs a proven manager to ensure we are achieving our desired outcomes,” Murray said, noting he has known Scarola for many years.
Scarola will oversee how the city spends money to reduce homelessness and will lead community-engagement efforts, the mayor said.
While he may be Seattle’s first-ever cabinet-level homelessness czar, Scarola isn’t Murray’s first point-person on homelessness.
In July 2015, the mayor appointed longtime Mockingbird Society executive director Jim Theofelis as his special adviser on homelessness, a new position in the Seattle Department of Human Services.
But Theofelis stayed in the job only a few months, leaving in December.
Tim Harris, executive director of the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project, said Scarola’s task won’t be an easy one.
“This has been a really hard position for the mayor’s office to fill,” said Harris, who sometimes tangles with Murray.
“It’s a tough job. There’s a lot of conflict. The mayor is often at odds with the advocacy community because he likes to go his own way.”
According to Tuesday’s news release, Scarola is an “experienced public-affairs and community-relations manager.”
From 1992 to 1998, he was executive director of the Sand Point Community Housing Project, converting barracks at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station into homes for people without shelter.
Scarola later led campaigns for Seattle school-funding and affordable-housing measures.
In the early 2000s, he served as an aide to state Rep. Frank Chopp, D- Seattle, and was executive director of the Washington House Democratic Campaign Committee.
From 2003 to 2012, he was legislative director for the League of Education Voters, and he returned this year from a stint as a lecturer at the University of Science and Technology of China.
He’ll be paid $137,500 per year and will start Wednesday.
Harris described Scarola as “a known quantity who old-guard advocates know and have good relationships with.”
He noted Scarola hasn’t worked on homelessness issues for a number of years.
Murray, who took office in 2014, proclaimed a homelessness state of emergency in Seattle last November. In January, the annual One Night Count found more than 4,500 people without shelter in Seattle and across King County.
Seattle is spending a record $50 million this year to combat homelessness, but encampments have continued to sprout along roads and in greenbelts, and disorganized attempts to clean up the sites have often undermined the city’s goals.