Head of King County Regional Homelessness Authority steps down
Marc Dones suddenly stepped down as CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority Tuesday morning, stating in a resignation letter that the "time has come for me to pass the baton."
In the letter to King County and Seattle leaders, Dones pointed to a comment by a colleague about the work being "less of a marathon and more of a relay race." Dones added that after being involved in the authority from its inception, they were tired.
"As a queer Black person, I have watched many members of my community burn out trying to hold too much for too many and I have watched them become unable to contribute the full breadth of their talent or vision to the work," Dones said. "I have watched them become bitter and destructive and what I know is that I don’t want that for myself."
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority was created two years ago. The goal is to have a coordinated, regional response to homelessness. The organization directs homelessness planning across King County, and works with various service providers. Dones helped design the agency and served as CEO since 2021.
Dones included two recommendations for their successor — to revisit the structure of the board that oversees the homelessness authority and to focus less on blame and more on the underlying policies that led to the national homelessness crisis.
"It is not that the work is not good, it’s that there is not enough of it — the need far outweighs the current resources," Dones said. "And the path to growing our resources is to look to larger policy decisions that have consistently undermined our ability to move forward."
Deputy CEO Helen Howell will step in as interim CEO of the regional authority in Dones' absence.
In a joint statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell thanked Dones for their service, noting their accomplishments over the past couple years, such as creating an emergency housing voucher program, and changing how the county counts people experiencing homelessness.
Following Dones' resignation, We Are In Executive Director Felicia Salcedo thanked Drones a statement.
“I am deeply grateful to Marc Dones for the energy, vision, and heart that they brought to the movement to prevent and end homelessness in our region. Under Marc’s leadership, the KCRHA moved from a concept established by King County and the City of Seattle with the strong support of We Are In, to a tremendously impactful organization leading coordinating, funding, and policy for homeless response services in King County. Marc leaves KCRHA in a strong position to continue its critical work. We look forward to working with interim CEO Helen Howell as KCRHA moves to hire a new permanent CEO worthy of the community it serves. We Are In is committed to supporting that effort in any way we can.”
In March, Dones was listed among the city's "most influential" people by Seattle Magazine.
Dones' tenure has also been marked by controversy. For example, their proposal this year to spend nearly $12 billion on housing received pushback. As did their opposition to building tiny homes as part of the region's plans.
Recently, the authority has come under scrutiny by service providers who allege it has been slow to fund their services. The Seattle Times reported in early May that many providers were not receiving funding for services they had been providing since the start of 2023.
RELATED: King County gave millions to ‘No New Youth Jail’ activists to help kids — and then looked away
Rumors of Dones' stepping down were first reported by journalist Erica C. Barnett Tuesday. The agency's communications director confirmed the news with KUOW.
Below is the full resignation letter from Dones to Constantine, Harrell, members of the governing committee and members of the implementation board.
Chair Constantine, Chair Harrell, Chair McQuarter, Chair Prince & members of the Governing
Committee; Chair Reddy & members of the Implementation Board, Please accept this letter as formal notification of my resignation from the role of Chief Executive Officer of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. My last day will be 30 days from the date of this letter, June 16, 2023. In a recent conversation with a longtime colleague he said, “I’ve come to think of this work as less of a marathon and more of a relay race. We’re sprinting our segments and trying to pass the baton. It’s a different kind of pacing.” It both deeply resonated with me and prompted me to think about whether or not my leg of this particular race was over. Certainly, my time at the Authority has been more of a sprint than a marathon. In two years, we have gone from an agency of one person to an agency of over 100, clearly outlined a core focus on unsheltered homelessness, resolved 14 major encampments, deployed the most successful emergency housing voucher strategy in the country, and created pathways inside for over 200 people living unsheltered in the downtown core. We completely rethought the point in time count, created better data strategies, and finally landed on a comprehensive and stable estimate of the number of people who experience homelessness in the county each year. And most importantly we brought thousands of people inside, boosting the numbers of exits to housing to over what they had been in the previous two years before the Authority began operations.
I am immensely proud of the work we have accomplished, and of the team that I have had the pleasure of serving alongside and leading. My colleagues at the RHA are some of the hardest
working, dedicated people I have had the privilege to collaborate with. Every day, they show up with dedication, heart, and a fierce loyalty to justice for our communities. However, I have had the unique privilege of having dedicated my life to this effort since 2018, from the initial design of this concept to today—and after 5 years I am tired. I believe the time has come for me to pass the baton.
As a queer Black person, I have watched many members of my community burn out trying to hold too much for too many and I have watched them become unable to contribute the full breadth of their talent or vision to the work. I have watched them become bitter and destructive and what I know is that I don’t want that for myself.
In making this decision, and reflecting on the nature of the metaphor of the relay race, I couldn’t help but note that in addition to a sprint this is also something of an obstacle course. And my team and I have faced many obstacles. Reflecting back on those obstacles, I would offer two observations for those who will carry the baton for the next stretch:
1) We need to revisit the structures of the boards and their capacity to partner with the CEO to effectively get work done. The Implementation Board was charged with a critical oversight and partnership role, however over the last two years that has not been possible. I continue to believe that regionalism is the correct path, but we must create the appropriate governing structure to the agency to be successful and effective. During my transition I am hopeful we can have discussions with the Governing Committee about how to ensure the Implementation Board is as strong as possible for an incoming CEO.
2) Our local environment is focused on who in our community is to blame for a national homelessness crisis rather discussing the underlying hundred-year failure of the country’s housing policy. It’s ok, and important, to point out things that are not going well but we have to be able to name the underlying causes and focus our energy appropriately. In order to do better, we must all commit to telling the whole truth, not just about the work now but also how generations of systemic racism and oppression, decisions made by people in positions of power, brought us here.
It is not that the work is not good, it’s that there is not enough of it—the need far outweighs the current resources. And the path to growing our resources is to look to larger policy decisions that have consistently undermined our ability to move forward. To have the hard conversations that no one wants to have—because it requires us to really analyze the truth about how we got here, even the truth about how we got to this point in our regional solution. Learning from history, the real history—even the uncomfortable truths and failures—
is the only way we will do better. I believe the Authority is on the right path and that it can hold the space for the real and vital conversations and day to day work that will support the region in ending homelessness. As a new leader is selected, I know they will have the support of an incredible staff who understand the importance of centering the voices of people with lived experience and racial justice.
I remain dedicated to supporting the advancement of this work and look forward to supporting key policy initiatives focused in this space as I move on. I am deeply grateful for the time I have spent in service to this community, and for my own personal growth during this time. I look forward to continuing to grow, together.
KUOW's Stephen Howie and Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.