As volunteers and officials prepare for this year’s One Night Count of homeless people living on the streets of Seattle and King County overnight Thursday, Seattle leaders are calling for increased funding to help create more housing and shelter in the region and calling for more to be done across the state.
Tuesday night, Mayor Ed Murray said he will ask Seattle voters to approve a doubling of the housing levy last approved in 2009. “Beginning tonight at City Hall, we are holding community meetings across Seattle to share our city’s vision for how we bring affordable housing to every neighborhood,” Murray said. “And in just a few weeks, I will lay out my vision for the renewal of Seattle’s Housing Levy. I am proposing that we double the levy so that we can do much more — including permanent housing for those who are homeless.”
“Perhaps as a city, there is nothing more important that we can do this year than pass this levy,” Murray added.
The around $190 million proposal will undoubtedly face opposition from property owners who have complained about the steadily increasing number of levies stacked on Seattle land. In February, for example, Seattle voters will be faced with two school levies to replace expiring funding. According to the Seattle Times, there will be a record $228.5 million in voter-approved levy taxes collected in the city in 2016. But the paper’s analysis concludes that Seattle ranks extremely low in the nation when it comes to its effective tax rate. “Seattle property taxes are high because our homes are worth so much, not because we’re being gouged by an excessively high rate,” the Times reports.
And, landlords, it could be worse.
“The Mayor has said that the only way we can generate additional funds for the homeless is by taking resources away from other social needs,” District 3 rep Kshama Sawant said in a statement on homelessness released Thursday morning.
“We have to demand that City officials enact new progressive revenue sources, such as by taxing big business and the rich.” — Council member Sawant
“This is not accurate. We have to demand that City officials enact new progressive revenue sources, such as by taxing big business and the rich.”
Sawant called on City Hall “to allocate $10 million for additional shelter beds” immediately. Sawant also repeated her calls for Seattle to move forward with rent control and using the city’s “bonding capacity” to build affordable housing.
The Council member announced a People’s Assembly on February 27, 11 AM at City Hall, “to come together, discuss solutions to homelessness and develop a joint plan to mobilize from below to overcome the dominance of big developers, slum lords and speculators in this city.”
Video of Mayor Murray’s speech is below.
The mayor’s Tuesday night speech was overshadowed by a violent explosion of violence in The Jungle greenbelt along I-5 through Seattle where two people were killed and three wounded in a shooting below Beacon Hill. The greenbelt area and state property around I-5 is heavily used by campers throughout the city — including below Capitol Hill and the downtown convention center and on the south end of the East Precinct around Yesler Terrace. The persistent use of these areas has lead some to call for more resources to make the camps safer and better deal with the trash and human waste. In September, CHS reported that SPD was ready to begin enforcing no trespassing on state land along I-5 without the presence of a state official under a new agreement with WSDOT.
Thursday night’s One Night Count, in the meantime, is expected to reveal similar trends as last year. In 2015, the canvas found 3,772 individuals living outside and unsheltered in King County, a 21% increase from 2014. The surveys have also shown 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.
There are other small advances to help improve conditions for homeless people in Seattle. Last week, the City Council approved the creation of parking lots to allow RV and vehicle camping plus the addition of a third tent encampment in Seattle. Another example is the newly opened Tiny House Village on church property on E Union in the Central District.
Seattle is slated to spend more than $47 million on homelessness in 2016 after Murray called for a “state of emergency” for homelessness in Seattle last year when more than 45 people died on the streets of the city. So far, Governor Jay Inslee has not joined in with a similar initiative across the state — though cities around the region are increasingly calling for assistance.
UPDATE 1/29/2016 9:40 AM: The 2016 One Night Count found 4,505 people living unsheltered in the streets of King County overnight. That’s a 19% increase over last year’s survey. In Seattle, the count found 2,942 outside, up from 2,813 in 2015, a 4.5% jump.
With a great deal of attention on people living in their vehicles, the 2016 One Night Count showed 31% of unsheltered tallied in Seattle were in vehicles. The number was even higher outside the city limits where more than 40% of those counted were in a motor vehicle.
This morning, under the guidance of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, over 1,000 volunteers spread out all over King County to witness and count the number of individuals living unsheltered for the annual One Night Count. All Home contracts with the Coalition to conduct this count. Volunteers estimate that 4,505 of our neighbors in King County were without shelter last night, a 19% increase over 2015.
From King County Executive Dow Constantine: “The One Night Count reveals the scope of the human tragedy of homelessness in our region. The results confirm the state of emergency and underscore the urgent need to work together – at every level of government and with our community partners – to create the housing, treatment, employment and other services that thousands of adults, children and families in King County need right now. We continue to call on our legislature and Congress to act. “
“We are committed to finding solutions to the crisis of homelessness. Though the need is great, homelessness is solvable, and by coming together as a community we can ensure that all people have a home” said Mark Putnam, Director of All Home.
The One Night Count is an important measure of need, and an opportunity to raise awareness and engagement among community members. This information is reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a requirement of our application for more than $30 million in federal funds for homeless housing and services each year.
“This is surely what an emergency looks like,” said Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We’re grateful for the significant attention and increased resources Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine have put toward addressing recent rapid increases in homelessness. It is clear that this crisis affects our whole region and demands an unprecedented response.”
In the coming months, building on what we learned this morning about individuals living unsheltered, we will also estimate the number of veterans, chronically homeless individuals and people living in shelter and transitional housing to form a more comprehensive picture of homelessness in King County.
“It was important to me to participate in the Seattle/King County One Night Count this morning alongside many dedicated community members,” said Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Because of their efforts, we will have more information about the challenges Seattle/King County faces in its work to prevent and end homelessness. We look forward to working together to ensure that everyone in King County, and across the country, has a safe, stable place to call home.”
To learn more, see “Homeless in King County: Who, Why and What Can I Do?” To find out more about our plan to make homelessness rare, brief and one time in King County and to see how you can get involved, please visit our website, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.