Sleeping(bag less) in Seattle
Drive into or through downtown Seattle currently and your line of site is bombarded with a menagerie of color, displayed on the canvas of….well…canvas, in the form of tents and tarps gracing the landscape of this fair city. Nearly every semi-inhabitable greenspace larger than 4x4 feet is occupied by one of these make shift shelters, more fitting for an overnight in the woods than a permanent shelter on the side of I-5, one of our nation’s busiest highways.
Unfortunately many in this thriving city, boasting double digit housing price increases in consecutive years, and burgeoning white collar jobs at the hands of Amazon and other flourishing tech companies, aren’t experiencing the benefits of the economic boom.
According to Union Gospel Mission (UGM) statistics 8,800 men, women and children live on the streets of King County every night, 1,000 of those children.
The inhabitants story in each of these nylon coverings, unique in its scope and breadth are at the same time unfortunately all too similar. Many struggling with drug and alcohol dependency. The most common, the various opioids that plague our nations cities, suburbs and a growing number of rural areas. These include the over the counter ones we all know the brand names of, the sinister heroin and more recently, the highly addictive and even stronger carfentanil (10,000 times stronger than morphine).
Other contributors vary, but not very widely. Residents of the many tent encampments we see around Seattle may have mental challenges that are unmet by our state which ranks relatively low in funding for mental health. Others, unable to afford the skyrocketing cost of housing in Seattle, may choose to live in one of the sanctioned tent cities to live in close proximity to their current employment and not risk the stable pay check, however, I do assume this is much less than the city leadership would have us believe. They blame homelessness on the unaffordability of housing, which is definitely a contributor, but dwarfed by other, more insidious contributors.
Few have just made a choice that they prefer to live with minimal financial obligations, the freedom they perceive comes from this lifestyle, while living in an area with good social services and a compassionate citizenry. Again, likely a very small percentage.
Whatever the cause, as President of UGM recently stated in an interview, “it doesn’t much matter how they got there, its that they are there”.
In recent years we have seen the number of homeless in our region skyrocket. I propose that this issue is much less due to macro-economic factors and rising rents than it is a result of our ineffectual city government’s ability to adequately manage the crisis and in many ways even perpetuate it!
Just like not every person with a home is in the same life and financial situation, neither are the homeless. To design a relatively one size fits all solution is mostly pointless. A single mother with two kids living in shelters is going to require a different solution and path back than a war veteran battling with the ravages of PTSD. The help needed by a middle aged woman battling mental health issues that can no longer get adequate care from the state is different than the 21 year-old drug addict that recently moved to Seattle because of its permissive stance on drugs.
I am very compassionate to the plight of all in these various scenarios. I am hard pressed to believe that anyone living in the various encampments “The Jungle”, “The Triangle” and many others, would choose that living situation if given other alternatives and a healthy state of mind.
The cities tolerance of the criminality that takes place on these encampments (including more recently discovered sex trafficking) under the guise of compassion is disheartening. The filth and unspeakable living conditions in these encampments should only compound the outrage of what the establishment considers a sympathetic and humane stance. That this is the mindset of those in charge of saving our cities most vulnerable is overwhelmingly scary.
The cities policy of requiring an adequate housing solution and 30-day notice prior to requiring anyone to move from their camping location on public lands means, in a city that already lacks enough housing solutions, that these numbers will only continue to grow.
Unlike our local leadership, I believe common sense solutions that have worked effectively in other large cities to assist our neighbors in these positions, should be adopted rather than a permissive, passive, anything goes strategy. More of a carrot and stick strategy, one that provides resources, help, solutions, paths to recovery, with some accountability.
Funding should be used to improve shelter availability and infrastructure in the short term, giving those in need the safety and resources necessary to start the journey to permanency, employment, shelter. It should also be earmarked to institutions with a successful track record of employing it, with adequate oversight and metrics to ensure they are getting results.
Individualized plans can be developed by the various organizations that provide services, counseling, and opportunities to our homeless neighbors to help guide them on a path to sobriety, permanent housing, employment and stability.
I understand this is much easier said than done, but there are plenty of successful blueprints out there to start making a dent in the growing problem and the time to act is now.
Seattle leadership has even dismissed the advice of their own highly paid outside consultants, instead opting to open RV lots that cost more to operate per RV, per month than giving the inhabitants a non-subsidized apartment in the downtown corridor. In other words, it would be cheaper to rent them each an apartment in Seattle than pay for the parking lot space they park their RV on (this disastrous plan has since been eliminated).
You know what else isn’t a good solution? Spending millions of tax dollars to open safe use injection sites for the opioid addicts caught in the throws of a life-sucking disease, dedicated to their demise. The proponents of these types of plans claim compassion and boast the successes of those in Vancouver, BC, which are dubious at best. I would argue that this “progressiveness” may be the opposite of compassionate and be extremely harmful to those they claim compassion on.
If someone has their leg caught in a bear trap, unable on their own power to escape, slowly dying, do you give them a clean place to continue suffering or do you try to free them from the trap?
For those in the grip of drug addiction, a predominance of those we see living in the tents throughout our city, I think a little less tolerance and permissiveness and a little more compassionate help, enforcement and tough love, may be a better solution.
There are lots of paths to help that don’t include incarceration, something we do way too much of as a country. Continuing to allow those struggling with these issues to plant a tent in any space not currently occupied (which until recently included any open public space, including sidewalks) and openly use, deal, distribute and dispose of the used syringes where ever their toss lands, is not humane. Not to those struggling and not to the rest of the Seattle citizenry.
There are common sense solutions to many of these problems. Do not be deceived by our local leadership crying that they don’t have adequate funding to help. I believe additional funding would be helpful but only if used in a productive, constructive way. If they continue to waste it in programs benefiting the homeless industrial complex more than the individuals in need we will only see the problem worsen.
At a minimum, we can love our marginalized neighbors, pursuing service, compassion, a friendly smile. We can pay attention to what our city leadership is, or isn’t, doing to resolve the issues. Through an organization I help lead, Pop-up Produce, we are working to serve, feed and provide for other needs of our homeless neighbors. There are many other organizations locally and throughout the U.S. in need of resources and volunteers to serve the marginalized, if you desire to get involved.
There is no one magic pill to help resolve the variety of factors that are currently influencing the homeless epidemic and the frustration city wide is palpable. If each of us takes a small portion of the burden, despite our politicians failures, we can make an individual and collective difference in the state of homelessness in our community.
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