A state of emergency in the Pacific Northwest is something we might more typically associate with natural disasters. Monday morning, Mayor Ed Murray declared a civil state of emergency on homelessness.
At least 45 people have died on the street this year, Murray said at a media conference to announce $5.3 million in spending to address the issue.
“We are in a moment in our history where decades of service cuts, growing inequality, and untreated mental health and drug addiction has finally resulted in a human crisis seldom seen in the history of out city — indeed, in the history of our nation,” Murray said.
Murray and City Council members are proposing nearly $2.7 million in spending on prevention and public health efforts, including Rapid Re-Housing, case management, and five public chemical toilets. With 90% of Seattle shelter beds full on average, the plan proposes $900,000 to create 100 new shelter beds. $1.8 million would be used to expand the Multi-disciplinary Team outreach program, which pairs police officer’s with social outreach workers. MDT will be expanding to Capitol Hill later this year. The plan also calls for a van to offer mental health services.
Constantine also proposed $2 million in spending to address homelessness, some of which are already pending before the King County Council.
Central Seattle has one of the highest concentrations of homeless youth and young adults in King County, a population that is a fifth LGBTQ and a third African American, according to results from King County’s 2015 One Night Count. The study found 3,772 individuals were living outside and unsheltered in King County, a 21% increase from 2014
Murray was joined at the downtown YWCA by King County Executive Dow Constantine, six City Council members, and the principal of Bailey Gatzert Elementary who said the 12th and Yesler school had 71 homeless students out of 350 total last year.
“We need to do more for our homeless children in the City of Seattle and in Seattle Schools,” said principal Greg Imel in a statement. “Homelessness has become an epidemic. And it is our moral imperative to address our children’s basic needs.”
Seattle and King County officials were not alone in their declaration. Officials in Portland and Los Angeles recently made similar proclamations.