Post navigation

Prev: (07/28/15) | Next: (07/28/15)

District 3 candidates differ on ways to reduce homelessness

When asked about the most important issues facing Council District 3, CHS readers have twice put homelessness near the top the list. Focus on the issue is well deserved: There has been a 21% increase in King County’s reported homeless population this year. The number of people camping along I-5 is also believed to be on the rise.

One comment in response to the CHS Council District 3 candidate forum earlier this month drew considerable attention for laying out solutions for addressing homelessness, specifically in Cal Anderson Park. But as many who work day-to-day on the issue will say, simple answers are few and far between.

“Causes for rise in homelessness in Seattle and in the nation at large are complicated and difficult to pinpoint,” said Katherine Jolly, spokesperson for the city’s Human Services Department. “In Seattle, the cost of housing has not kept pace with wages, this combined the with effects of the dismantling of mental health and substance abuse systems over the past 30 years contribute to the increases in homelessness. Any solution to the homelessness crisis in Seattle must take these issues into account.”

off broadway
In this month’s online candidate forum, we asked District 3 contenders how each would distinguish themselves from their predecessors in addressing homelessness. Here’s what they said:

  • As the former director of the Urban League, Pamela Banks said she would put to work her experience implementing jobs programs to cut back on the city’s homeless population.
  • Morgan Beach put forward a linty of ideas, including integrating tent cities into residential areas, building a LGBTQ youth shelter, and creating a system to better track available shelter beds.
  • Rod Hearne said he supported increased funding for housing-first programs “so it’s easier to provide the mental health, education and addiction recovery services.”
  • Incumbent City Council member Kshama Sawant said she supports a major increase to the city’s human services budget, as laid out by the Seattle Human Services Coalition. She’s also backing an affordable housing proposal from at-large City Council candidate Jon Grant, who released his plan as a response to the report from the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee.

Grant’s plan calls for 9,000 units of housing at 0-30% of AMI — 5,000 more than the HALA proposal — with 5,000 of those units reserved for homeless housing. He would pay for it through a fee on all new commercial and residential development. The HALA committee recommended a fee on commercial development, but was concerned that a fee on new residential development would be shot down in court.

Meanwhile, a national study from 2012 recently presented by the Committee to End Homelessness in King County showed that an increase of $100 in median rent corresponded to a 15% increase in the homeless population:

The study, published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, also named high population growth and low vacancy rates as factors for homelessness. The researchers looked at more than 300 cities and used federal data to arrive at their results.

“The problem is, I don’t think any of us know who to talk to about homeless issues in the park.”

Whatever plans move forward, its clear there’s plenty of room for improvement. As it enters its final year, the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County will fall short of meeting its ultimate goal. On the upside, the “housing first” strategy has created thousands of units of homeless housing and the Committee to End Homelessness recently ratified a four-year plan to continue those efforts. In the meantime, a complex array of city agencies are left to deal with complaints, warranted or not, about homeless individuals.

On Capitol Hill, those complaints are often directed towards Cal Anderson Park. “The problem is, I don’t think any of us know who to talk to about homeless issues in the park,” said Michael Wells, director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

Illegal encampments are one of the most noticeable manifestations of the city’s homeless crisis, but still don’t lend themselves to easy solutions. Drafted in 2008, the city’s Unauthorized Encampments Procedural Manual (PDF) details how various agencies should address homeless encampments, including encampments in city parks. When illegal camping is identified, the city’s human services department dispatches outreach workers to connect people with social services. Parks staff, including parks rangers, are there to remind campers that it is illegal to sleep in parks overnight and post 72-hour notices before camps are dismantled. Ultimately, police are responsible for enforcing the no encampment law — that is, if a minimum three-tent camp even exists. Police can also issue park exclusion notices, but the law was amended in 2012 after it was discovered that people of color were being disproportionately cited.

A heat map of parks exclusions. (Image: City of Seattle)

A heat map of Seattle parks exclusions. (Image: City of Seattle)

One solution is to expand the number of authorized tent sites, as Mayor Ed Murray has proposed. Murray’s office also announced in April that the Capitol Hill’s Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets would receive an additional $130,000 needed to operate as a year-long shelter.

Meanwhile, the Capitol Hill Community Council has launched a fundraiser to purchase goods for homeless in the neighborhood. Care packages will be distributed through Capitol Hill Community Lunch and YouthCare. The community council has already purchased items like socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Chapstick, and band aids. Donations are still needed by July 30th to buy underwear, tampons/pads, first aid supplies, foot powder, and more.

“As the seasons change, our community council will continue responding to homelessness and finding ways to support and address it’s impact in our neighborhood and the lives of our neighbors,” said community council president Zachary Pullin. His Collection

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

36 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
RWK
RWK
5 years ago

Pamela Banks suggests a jobs program. Yes, this is important, but it’s putting the cart before the horse. Most homeless people are incapable of holding down a job until/unless their addictions and mental illnesses are dealt with. And, let’s face it, some homeless people just don’t want a job.

I think the “housing first” approach makes the most sense, along with specific help in treating the root causes of homelessness. But this would be very expensive…where is the money going to come from?

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

We already know that. Another property tax levy, of course.

Steve
Steve
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim98122x

This is what the mayor’s HALA committee has recommended as part of the equation.

Cat
Cat
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Is it a commercial property tax? Developers making money hand over fist off this boom should be required to foot the lions share of the cost. The current height bonus trade for affordable housing payments is insufficient.

Steve
Steve
5 years ago
Reply to  Cat

The HALA report (mayor’s committee) has suggested using an expanded property tax levy, commercial linkage fees, and the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning system to fund more units (among others sources). I agree with you that this isn’t going to sufficiently address the urgency of the crisis.

John
John
5 years ago
Reply to  Cat

Ok…how about the people whose home values have risen because of this boom. They owe nothing?…how about all of the store owners with new clients due to this boom? How about you in whatever capacity you might fit into this?

No, lets just have others pay our taxes for us. That is fair. Tax the rich and the entrepreneurs because I want to benefit from the fruits of their labor.

Great progressive viewpoint. You will make a lot of friends that way.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  Cat

John, people whose home values have risen foot the bill for almost every new issue. When was the last time you saw anything on the ballot (in Seattle) that wasn’t funded by a property tax levy? Every election, sometimes both primary election AND general election, has another levy that hits property owners by a couple of hundred a pop. Homeowners have been footing the bills plenty, it’s not like they’ve been getting off easy.

Homeowner
Homeowner
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Yeah, John, and if I as a homeowner am not a rich person but am established in this neighborhood and want to go old here, what good is my higher house value? The rising property tax rates may well drive me out of here, but I don’t see how this is any better than driving renters out.

RWK
RWK
5 years ago
Reply to  Homeowner

Homeowner, I’ve never understood why people claim that rising property taxes can drive anyone out of a neighborhood. “Reverse mortgages” are available for anyone 62 and older, and the money can be used to pay property taxes as well as any other expenses.

Steve
Steve
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

I agree with a lot of what you have to say here. Banks isn’t offering any real solutions and just regurgitating stale rhetoric—please understand that this is a major weakness of nearly every aspect of her platform, and the basis of her campaign (consultant-driven rhetoric with no viable policy offerings).

I agree with you that many homeless are physically, mentally, emotionally incapable of immediately holding a job (the psychological impact of being homeless increases over time and compounds existing issues). But I think the notion that some “don’t want to work,” needs to be qualified a bit. Some don’t want to work because they don’t understand the value of their work—marginalized through changing labor markets, or underrealized potential.

Sawant, Licata and Grant are putting forward a housing first solution that sources the money necessary to construct the units. Citywide linkage fees and leveraging the city’s excellent bonding authority can help drum up the cash.

Morgan Beach is also putting forward a clear, empathetic understanding of what the city needs: and LGBTQ center (something Sawant has also called for), better shelter bed tracking (the lotteries are tough sometimes), and integrated tent cities (something Sawant also calls for).

rissa
rissa
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I have to agree. I was initially intrigued by Banks as a candidate, but it seems like she just panders to what people want to hear or want to believe will work. She doesn’t seem up to speed on policy studies of what actually works, or offer details on how she might implement any of her proposals. It’s a shame she’s in the race and leeching support that might have otherwise gone to Beach.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  rissa

“….I was initially intrigued by Banks as a candidate, but it seems like she just panders to what people want to hear.”

Did did you say “pander”?
Kind of like Sawant, for example?
I guess “pandering” is in the ears of the beholder.

RWK
RWK
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Steve agrees with me? It’s a miracle! (lol).

Steve
Steve
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

I’m sure sometimes we want very similar outcomes Bob.

Reality
Reality
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

I support housing first coupled with mental health and addiction treatment to address the crisis. In addition we need to strictly enforce no camping policies in and around City parks and in business districts and support the police in doing this. Contrary to the false characterization of homelessness provided by advocates concerned about stigma, the face of homelessness on Capitol hill is primarily traveling drug addicts (a.k.a gutter punks), alcoholics, and the mentally ill not families, the unemployed, those that can’t afford rents and queer youth. it is a serious public health and safety issue that needs to be addressed with both compassion AND a healthy dose of reality.

DG
DG
5 years ago
Reply to  Reality

This morning I saw a 40-something white woman with a haggard face and a limp selling herroin to the homeless drug addicts in the park. Where do you think they get the money for herroin? Call the police if you see her or any other sketchy behavior in Cal Anderson. We need to take back the park. The police and politicians aren’t going to do a damn thing unless they get an earful from the community.

Steve
Steve
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

I don’t know who you’re pointing your comment at, but I’ll tell you what’s progressive: a progressive tax system, which Seattle does not have. Property taxes and sales taxes are the opposite of that.

Cat
Cat
5 years ago

I’m tired of hearing it’s complicated and hard to fix, because it isn’t. All that’s required is the will to create the housing, and most city governments lack the will to prioritize doing that.

harvey
harvey
5 years ago

Rainbow crosswalks and useless, expensive trolleys are steering $$ from real problems.

che guava
che guava
5 years ago
Reply to  harvey

Yes, the few thousand bucks spent on the rainbow crosswalks would totally solve the homeless problem.

harvey
harvey
5 years ago
Reply to  che guava

Well, about $70,000.00 for rainbow crosswalks and almost $150 million for a 2.5 mile choo choo train is a lot of money and would provide a lot of housing for a lot of people, right? How much are the units in Utah everyone loves?

hmm
hmm
5 years ago
Reply to  harvey

Where would $70K provide a lot of housing? Presumably you have to build or purchase said housing, unless you think the city will take over existing buildings. Pretty sure neither comes out to $70K, but you’re the financial math wiz here.

As for the train, yep. It’s a bit of a waste, though homeless (and lower-income) people use public transportation too.

AbleDanger12
AbleDanger12
5 years ago
Reply to  harvey

The money for crosswalks didn’t come from tax money. RTFA if you’re that curious about it, but at least be somewhat informed before you make baseless statements.

Housing First
Housing First
5 years ago

Housing first is key! As it has been said, Banks is incorrect in thinking that jobs are the best solution. The Nation had an excellent article about how Salt Lake City reduced homelessness by over 70% with a good housing first program (source: http://www.thenation.com/article/city-came-simple-solution-homelessness-housing/). Our homeless people are costing us millions of dollars every year. They need housing and we need that money to go toward schools and public infrastructure. Housing first programs save a ton of money. Additionally, we could instate an income tax and/or millionaire’s tax…

Cat
Cat
5 years ago
Reply to  Housing First

Yes! And I believe they showed the annual cost to house people was significantly lower than leaving them on the streets.

jseattle
Admin
5 years ago

For anybody interested, we decided to lop off the “no quick fixes” qualifier from the headline —
Old: With no quick fixes, District 3 candidates differ on ways to reduce homelessness
New: District 3 candidates differ on ways to reduce homelessness

Who’s to say there aren’t near-term solutions? Not us!

bb
bb
5 years ago

I would also like to see the general attitude of tolerance and indifference toward homelessness change. It has become a bigger problem than can be fixed with campaign promises IMO. The people who work and live in this city deserve better.

Zachary DeWolf
5 years ago
Reply to  bb

Us too (at the Capitol Hill Community Council)! That’s why we’re holding an event on Thursday – please join us :)

https://www.facebook.com/events/865540060168428/

Mango
Mango
5 years ago

I’d like to see people STOP handing out money to the bums.
It just encourages them.

Cal Anderson Park is a disgrace to Cal Anderson himself.

Seattle is a free theme park for partiers and junkies who have no money.
If you want to come to Seattle to party, that’s fine… but bring some cash and pay for your own vacations.
Don’t make the people of Seattle pay for your vacations (because they will if you let them).

Katrina
Katrina
5 years ago

I wonder about many of the abandoned building in town. There really are several properties that look like they used to be businesses in Central District that could be turned into shelters. I imagine someone owns them. Can the city convert them if they have been abandoned officially? Can the city offer a deal to the owners that have not abandoned these properties? I always wonder about the rules on this kind of thing. Many look not at all up to code.

I would be down for some fun community days of painting and donating some man hours to fix up buildings. Maybe engage Habitat for Humanity for some volunteer supervision. One thing I love about Seattle is that I really believe people would show up for that.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  Katrina

Yes, because what we in the Central District need to go with all the drive-bys and gang activity, and being ignored by SPD, is for empty properties to be converted into Sheltersville. Yeah, no thanks.

And do you seriously believe empty buildings have been “abandoned”? CD property is worth millions. They may be empty and awaiting development, they may not be up to code, but I assure you the owners are keenly aware of the value of Central District property– developed or not.

Katrina
Katrina
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim98122x

I know it is naive and not exactly a solution, I was just wondering about whether or not some can be converted is all. There are homeless people already all over the place in CD laying in the middle of the sidewalk, I think housing them makes more sense. I also do not think SPD is ignoring anything.

I have seen buildings that are shuttered, not in great shape and devoid of change for several years. I am sure your right, someone is probably just sitting on them to one day sell them. On the off chance that is not the case, I was just curious about a better use of them then to sit around empty and useless.Of course, it would only help a few, I get that.

Katrina
Katrina
5 years ago

First house goes to the Real Change guys.

VET
VET
5 years ago

Cal Anderson Park and others like it: Those that were here before us had it all figured out. They made it illegal to: camp in the park, use or possess drugs and alcohol, have pets off leash, trespass after hours, destroy property, litter, harass others, public urination and many other nuisances that would inevitably get the attention of law enforcement officers. Those in violation would get tossed from the park or arrested for repeat offenses that lead to warrants for arrest. It was not perfect but it did keep the park somewhat clear of those that are being discussed in this article.

Under todays leadership we now want to stop prosecuting these punks because they fall under the umbrella of the title “Homeless”. Yes it’s complicated mental illness, drug addiction, employment and housing. We so want to help this crisis, so do I. Lets be smarter and come to terms with a few facts before we start throwing money around.

Not everyone deserves to hide under the umbrella of being homeless. Local and traveling street punks don’t want services or a job. They want to be free to do whatever they want and for you to give them money to do it. They already have a free pass from law enforcement and they sure will not go hungry around here.

Solutions: Look at what is working, NICKville is an eyesore for many and it has it’ problems but it is functioning and self governing. With some assistance and some positive changes this could point the needy in the right direction.

What’s NOT working: allowing our parks and freeways to be destroyed by those calling themselves homeless when in reality they are just criminals living on our dime and stolen property.

Time for a new city policy “need help, need a bed…we got you covered, services or a cell, take your pick”.

Food For Thought
Food For Thought
5 years ago
Reply to  VET

I absolutely agree.

Even the article linked earlier about how Salt Lake City reduced there homeless population states; “Kilee lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s one of hundreds of American cities that have criminalized homelessness. Sometimes the “crime” is loitering. Sometimes it’s panhandling. In 2014 alone, one hundred American cities have banned sitting or lying down in public places.”

Enforcing laws like this help eliminate the “Urban Camping” that we see here on a regular basis. Eliminate those who are just here because it’s “cool and easy” by discouraging them from coming and a lot of us will be glad to help raise the money for those truly in need. Most of this would only require enforcement of laws already on the books. Until then… not a dime.

WTF
WTF
5 years ago

District 3 needs a candidate that will take a much tougher stand against the sketch factor that has settled into the neighborhood to camp, shoot up heroin, panhandle and steal for months at a time in our parks. Our current council and parks board didn’t even have the spine to include a fine along with the smoking ban in public parks because it would disproportionately impact the homeless people that live in the parks. You have got to be fucking kidding me. People seem to be in serious denial about the public safety issue that this is creating. I noticed a box of papers (W2 forms, mail etc. from various people) and another box with bike parts sitting next to one of the camps adjacent to the park. Where are the police? Where is the community outrage? We need to pull our heads out of the sand and deal with the neighborhood’s most serious issue.