John Okamoto Named New Acting HSD Director

HSD acting director John Okamoto spoke with ADS planning and contracts staff at a recent meeting.

In late July, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced John Okamoto as the new acting director of the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD). HSD funds and operates programs and services that meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people in our community—elders, individuals with disabilities, low-income residents, children, domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and homeless people.

Okamoto served as executive director of the Washington Education Association (WEA) from 2008 to 2012. Previously he held leadership positions with the Port of Seattle and the Washington State Department of Transportation, and the City of Seattle's Personnel Department and former Department of Engineering.

"I started my 'calling' in public service in the Human Services Department many decades ago when I was a summer youth worker job developer and counselor. Coming back to HSD is a full circle for me," said Okamoto.

HSD's new acting director John Okamoto appointed Maureen Linehan as ADS director. See related story in this issue.

Aging and Disability Services (ADS)—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County—is housed at HSD. In a recent meeting with ADS planning and contracts units, Okamoto described growing up in a family that "experienced the paranoia and hysteria following Pearl Harbor." His passion for social justice, equity, and inclusion was rooted in a family that felt a strong obligation to help the community around them, and a community typical of HSD clients today.   

"My family has deep history in elder care programs, with the creation of Keiro nursing home, the Midori senior housing and Nikkei Manor assisted living facility," Okamoto said. When he stopped work at WEA, it was to put more energy into caring for his parents and inlaws as well as grandchildren.

Okamoto has also volunteered with homeless meal and housing programs at Operation Nightwatch and Lord's Table.

"The opportunity to work at HSD felt right," he said. "This where I started my career, this is where there's need and struggle, and this is where there’s essential service work."

In appointing Okamoto to this interim role, Murray has tasked him to identify where the department can refine its focus, to strengthen partnerships and alignment with other funders, service providers, and stakeholders, and to lay the foundation for transformational change for the next permanent director.

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