posted Mar 11, 2019

When former West Pointer, Army officer and UW Law Gates Scholar Leo Flor was named to head the King County Department of Community and Human Services late last year, he noticed that many other leaders — the King County Executive, two County Council members, and the county prosecutor — were also UW School of Law grads.

“I got the sense at UW Law that everyone was there because they wanted to forge themselves to become more useful to their community,” Flor said. “I just really got a sense that there’s a culture in that shared purpose. The reason I went to UW Law in the first place was to be like my spouse, Caedmon Cahill, another UW Law graduate.”

Flor said UW Law also helped him develop tools to look at complex problems like homelessness, which his department is tasked with addressing, from many angles.

“We now acknowledge homelessness is the result of things like racism, patriarchy, poverty, inequitable access to opportunity — and once you understand how complex its causes are you understand that a single program, no matter how well funded or designed, could not solve it,” Flor said.

“In King County, we have the resources, we have the values, and we have the scale that makes me hopeful we can work together and find ways to combine and integrate programs that can get us to the scale we’re going to need to solve the problem,” he said.

Flor said measuring a solution’s chances for success requires asking several questions. Does the proposed solution serve people the way they want to be served? Does it respect the overall community and use community resources responsibly? Does it strengthen partnerships rather than fracturing the community?

“I draw a lot of inspiration from what other Gates Scholars are doing around the community,” Flor said. “Folks like Shelley Halstead, Meena Jagannath and Shon Hopwood, who are going out both locally and nationally, who have these completely unconventional careers, and yet they’re making real impacts and serving people in a way that people want to be served.

“As Gates Scholars, how can we take the gift that we were given and then use that to give other people the space to do what they feel is right rather than doing what they might think they’re supposed to do? The whole purpose isn’t to activate X number of scholars, it’s to activate community change. That’s something that I take really seriously. Just being good by yourself isn’t enough.”