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Olympia’s approach to Seattle’s homelessness crisis is focus on land and the longterm

In the U District, YouthCare manages University Commons in The Marion West, 20 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless young adults. The future of Broadway and Pine could eventually be home to a similar project.

By Iman Mohamed, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

It has been years since Seattle declared homelessness a state of emergency. A state of emergency should cause a sense of urgency. That was the theme last week at the April Capitol Hill Community Council meeting with Speaker Frank Chopp at 12th Avenue Arts.

Community members on the night suggested many solutions for the city’s crisis. Chopp said that his focus is on creating long-term resources. The main resource for housing developments is from the state, he said, which is why Chopp works on acquiring these lands so the development of housing projects and services can begin.

“The state level focuses on generating funding rather than focusing on temporary solutions like mobile vans,” Chopp said. “The biggest landowner in Seattle is the State of Washington and we are going right after them with these state-level legislations.”

Chopp was invited to the meeting to discuss the projects in place to create shelters for homeless youth. Chopp’s district covers the neighborhoods of Fremont, University District, Wallingford, and Madison Park, and he said he is specifically focused on acquiring funding for the next three years to support homeless youth housing.

Housing in Olympia’s Budget

  • $108 million for the Housing Trust Fund, including (not limited to):
      • $24 million for supportive housing
      • $10 million for preservation of existing affordable units
      • $2 million for Broadway Home for Youth
    • $80 million for community behavioral health facilities
    • $3 million for predevelopment and feasibility work on innovative housing projects that use alternative materials, structures, or parcels.

The majority of the meeting was spent explaining state-level programs and how budgets work to support finding land to build youth homes.

One of Chopp’s targets already has a plan in motion to redevelop Seattle Central’s property at the at the southeast corner of Broadway and Pine as a new youth homelessness services center and affordable housing projectYouthCare, the Seattle nonprofit dedicated to providing services and emergency shelter to young homeless people and operator of the Orion Center at the base of Denny below Capitol Hill, has been selected by the state to begin feasibility planning for operating a center focused on employment and education as part of the project. Capitol Hill Housing is pursuing the opportunity to create affordable housing as part of the development. 

Chopp said his goal to address homelessness is to create 5,000 units over three years that are affordable for low income people, specifically youth.

Natalie Curtis, president of the Capitol Hill Community Council asked Chopp about other temporary measures like mobile sites for youth experiencing homelessness that could be supported while the hard process of acquiring land takes place. If it happens, it will have to be boosted locally.

Devin Silvernail, vice president of CHCC and the founder and executive director of Be:Seattle said that while building affordable housing units are great long-term goals, focusing on allowing the homeless population to camp on open land without being removed should be the city’s temporary solution.

Providing shelter for those experiencing homelessness was not the only topic on the agenda. Members of the council brought up re-introducing public bathrooms, and providing services for mental health within the homeless population.

The Capitol Hill Community Council is a nonprofit organization that was created to serve the community’s interest and needs. It has different committees such as race and social justice, homelessness and housing, and public arts.

Reps from Be:Seattle, an organization focused on creating partnerships to provide items such as socks, underwear and menstrual products to the homeless populations in need, were in attendance. They create partnerships with organizations to provide basic needs such as supplying water to people living on the streets.

Eloise Lombard, a political science student interning at Be:Seattle, chose to work with a nonprofit organization as part of her international experience. She said she chose Be:Seattle so she could focus on economic and urban issues and create tangible change. She came to the U.S. from France to get work experience and learn about American volunteer systems.

Be:Seattle works in collaboration with the CHCC to address the needs of the homeless population within their reach while the state legislature works on creating long-term housing projects.

“It is important,” Curtis said, “that we are constantly engaging for people that are not at the table and advocating for those that can’t.”

The University of Washington News Lab gives advanced journalism students an opportunity to build a dynamic clip portfolio by reporting for any of 70 client news outlets in the greater Seattle area. CHS is proud to work with young journalists and feature their work. You can learn more here.


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