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45 dead in 2015 — mayor declares Seattle homelessness in a state of emergency

These Seattle Times


Council member Mike O’Brien discussed the $5.3 million package on Monday (Image: City of Seattle)

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.

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26 thoughts on “45 dead in 2015 — mayor declares Seattle homelessness in a state of emergency

  1. Not sure what anyone expected after reducing funding for things like rehab and recovery centers. We’re a rich city in a rich country, and despite the recession we should at this point in history be able to care for the unfortunates around us – and don’t get all social darwinist on me, it’s a complicated process to be sure, but our first impulse should be to help, THEN to assess.

  2. All of a sudden Seattle is worried about the homeless, in those spent figures I didn’t see mentioned the concrete they used to make it uncomfortable to lay down or sit around business. Now they want to spend more money on the homeless? Why the change of heart? Another way to get more money from taxpayers?

  3. obviously a sticky problem, homelessness. so many reasons we have a large population on the streets: mental illness, drug addiction, financial problems. as a city, i think it will be impossible to fix; it;s a cultural sickness in the usa that must have a meta-cure nationwide. and obviously there is no policital will, so we can create patches and temporarly fixes, but the problem will persist and likely get worse. i commend hizzonor for calling more attention to the issue.

  4. Heroin epidemic ranks highly in all this, and the fact that the region spends $40 million (MILLION) annually on the homeless has made it a destination for the homeless nationwide and Seattle wonders why they keep increasing, and cost of housing, mental illness etc. The heroin lie has been sold to rural and suburban middle income youth by the cartels, no one wants to address that. Seattle wants to solve the world’s entire homeless situation and it can’t because Seattle wants to help everyone. It can’t. Without emphasis on rehab and the keep building it and they will keep coming aspect of this we are in increasing trouble in this region.

    • I have been pondering the same question. If we build it, will they come? It is entirely possible that pouring more money into the issue will only make things worse. It’s a tough call.

    • I agree. Throwing more and more money at this issue has not helped, and is unlikely to help in the future. The basic problem is that many of the homeless are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, and therefore refuse shelters or transitional housing where there are rules against using their favorite substances. Why spend more and more money for shelters, etc when many of the homeless will continue to spurn such efforts?

      If there was a legal way to force addicted homeless into inpatient treatment programs, that might have an impact…..but, even then, many will relapse after treatment.

  5. 5.3 mill divided by the last nightely count was 12,500 homeless? Let’s say now their 15,000 a night .. That’s
    Over 300,000 per person ? Why 5.3 mil

  6. If the man pictured in the photo accompanying this article is appropriately dressed (i.e., he was a veteran), this is very, very upsetting. I read recently where it has become quite an unscrupulous business to get veterans to sell their pensions when they fall on hard times. So wrong. Just so wrong.

  7. As a case manager at a large mental health agency, I regularly see people with heroin, crack or alcohol addiction. However, these conditions are present in the general population, and sobriety is also present in the homeless population. The more profound reason why people are homeless is because they are marginalized within society as poor, disabled and without sufficient family support. They often grow up within abusive families, or age out of foster care. If they’ve been living on the streets for any length of time, they are not likely to be employable because of the stress, fatigue and insecurity of being homeless. If they don’t have SSI, they usually get a pitiful $120 or so per month in income from DSHS, for several years as the Social Security Administration repeatedly denies claims for SSI. There is no housing they can afford, and wait lists for the Seattle Housing Authority and other low income housing agencies are years long or closed. Consider what you would do if you had no one who you could call a friend, and family members who you had lost contact with years ago. You would not be able to call them up and ask them for a place to stay. You would probably have to develop some street skills, maybe even carry a weapon to defend yourself. In the process of becoming homeless, you may have used a little, or a lot. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter if you are sober, because with no money you don’t have any options of renting anywhere except if you’re lucky enough to get awarded a Section 8 voucher or are diligent enough to apply and go through the waiting list for a low income apartment.

    Besides the obvious fact that we don’t have enough low income housing, our society is falling apart — people have fewer friends and social connections than in past generations; people like this don’t know how to access jobs and families are falling apart. That more than “drugs and alcohol” is the reason for homelessness.

    • Yes!! Right on the dot there. I couldn’t afford section 8 housing while waiting for yet another hearing for ss disability…got evicted and have been living in a falling apart.breaking down rv. Getting tickets for parking on the streets. Can’t get any other help but 197 food stamps and 160 dshs. Hen was helping until I was deemed disabled more than a year by dshs.still waiting for ssdi.sigh

    • I wonder, given that there are so many in need and that there are limited resources to be spent, so many were against the proposal by the Seattle Housing Authority last year (“Stepping Forward”), to impose time limits and yearly rent increases on those in our public housing.

      Isn’t it better to use our public housing money to 1) permanently help those who are unable to ever care for themselves and 2) temporarily help those who have fallen on hard times, rather than 3) permanently subsidize a bunch of perfectly healthy, young people who were lucky enough to get into public housing ahead of others?

      And obviously, the folks who are already in the housing, if they are selfish jerks unable to look at problems from the point of society as a whole, can use their copious free time to protest any changes to a system that unfairly benefits them. But why are we so ready to forget all the people who would benefit from this housing if we could get some of these able-bodied campers out?

      We can’t house everyone in the world who wants to show up here for as long as they want by raising property taxes on Seattle homeowners.

  8. I absolutely don’t mind putting up the resources it would take to get people off the streets (but for the grace of god go I, with a string of bad luck, bad decisions, or whatever). The lack of empathy some people show is discouraging, to say the least. However, I also think compassion should be balanced with zero tolerance for much of the extreme anti-social behavior exhibited by some of the homeless population.

    In Stockholm, for example, they have a very humane approach to addiction, mental illness, and homelessness (to the extent it exists in modern Sweden). But, they also have zero tolerance for many of the things we witness in Seattle every day – I saw the police routinely remove seemingly well behaved inebriated guys from laying/sleeping on streets in Stockholm’s central districts. They were professional about it, but I got the impression that Sweden’s generous coffers are not opened without common sense expectations. When I told a Swedish friend of mine that I saw a (presumably homeless) dude take a crap out in the open in Cal Anderson, his reaction was like I told him I witnessed a murder. I want a generous but disciplined society like the Scandinavians have. Actually, their generosity is probably more pragmatism than anything, but whatever.

    • The homeless population is marginalized, dehumanized. It’s asking a lot from them to stop this anti-social behavior when society has been trained to ignore them.

      I could also have been one bad apple spoiling the batch…

  9. Gerald, you write: “Isn’t it better to use our public housing money to 1) permanently help those who are unable to ever care for themselves and 2) temporarily help those who have fallen on hard times, rather than 3) permanently subsidize a bunch of perfectly healthy, young people who were lucky enough to get into public housing ahead of others?”

    These are often not healthy young people… in fact homelessness is often precipitated by developmental trauma including child abuse, sexual/physical/emotional and so on, and neglect. In most cases, child abuse itself is intergenerational, so that the parents/perpetrators themselves are themselves also victims of abuse, and so are unable to provide or even imagine healthy conditions for children to grow up in. Foster care often leads to adult homelessness as children become adults and age out of the foster care system. A home with domestic violence between parents teaches kids that domestic violence is natural and normal, and thus kids repeat a cycle which includes abuse. Under circumstances like these it is hard for anyone to rise out of a constant feeling of being under attack and having a “fight or flight” response (i.e. the conditions that lead to post traumatic stress disorder).

    In my graduate work, I read somewhere some statistics about trauma in the homeless population, and roughly 98% has had severe, ongoing trauma which has happened during if not before the events causing homelessness. The prevalence of trauma is highly correlated with other factors such as mental illness and drug use. In other words, all the factors you may think are volitional are connected with a history of trauma.

    A person who seems like a healthy young adult to you may not feel healthy, or as capable as you.

    If someone has gone through the system of temporary assistance and now has SSI, he or she was evaluated by a mental health professional or a physician and is disabled.

    This doesn’t let people off the hook to take responsibility for their behavior, of course, which is one of the points of engaging in mental health services. We help people to see how they can have some self-determination in their lives and are not totally without control, even if they have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia.

    The likelihood that someone is gaming the system by acting ill when they are really well enough to work is very low. Mental health workers understand people well enough that those who are “malingering” are identified immediately.

  10. Of course, I’m mainly responding about the people in public housing who had been homeless prior to their getting public housing.

    But, I also highly resent the limited supply of public housing and the seemingly arbitrary way it is distributed. Why shouldn’t anyone who is low income have public housing available to them? Why isn’t our tax system and our government able to provide such a necessary good? Isn’t housing as necessary as food and electricity, which receive subsidies? Why should we blame people for not “moving on” when they are low income? (Why do we base our sense of the worth of life on how much money we make anyway?) Why doesn’t our city accept that homeless people need places to live, including private and secure physical space, in order to fulfill their human needs? (It costs much more to create jails, pay for emergency room visits and shelter beds than to allow someone to live inside of a room of their own).