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Seattle Continues to Struggle With Answers to Homelessness Crisis

Encampments and safe lots are growing but others think that number should shrink. Meanwhile the issue isn't going away.

As luxury apartments keep rising higher and higher to the sky all around Seattle, the homeless population that lives on the streets below grows all the same. The recent count of 4,500 people across King County sleeping without shelter is up 19 percent from a year ago. Since then it seems as though the discussion about how to help the region's homeless has only gotten louder and less efficient.

A recent murder at The Jungle, an area underneath Interstate 5 that has acted as an impromptu encampment for years, escalated concerns and fears that the issue is getting out control. Those concerns have also been felt in Ballard where one business owner took to spraying areas with a hose in order to get rid of homeless people as well as other parts of the city where claims of NIMBYism are on the rise.

Since then there's been no shortage of solutions bandied about. Safe lots were created for people living in RVs. A tiny house village in Central District was completed and considered a model from which more could be built. After the creation of two homeless encampments, Mayor Ed Murray introduced plans for a third one in Rainier Valley. Murray also proposed doubling Seattle's housing levy to help escalate the construction of affordable housing and renovations for existing housing.

There are some, however, who think Seattle is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to the crisis. Seattle Democratic State Senator Reuven Carlyle recently proposed spending $1 million to clear out The Jungle and put up barbed wire fencing to ensure no one can be there. And even the Ed Murray's homelessness expert believes that the solution is not more encampments, but less.

"Encampments are a real distraction from investing in solutions," [Barbara] Poppe said. "You can see it takes a lot of energy to get them running and they don’t solve the problem. You still have people who are visibly homeless, living outdoors."

"I find it horrifying you have children living in encampments and that is somehow acceptable to this community," [Poppe] said. "It’s just unconscionable to me this is a choice that’s been made here. That said, I understand there’s great pressure to have a short-term solution. But I don’t happen to think these encampments are the best solution." Mark Putnam, who runs homeless advocacy group All Home, disagrees to the extent that he feels like encampments are still safer than the other short-term alternative.

"We’re very much aligned with what Barb is saying — this is the exception," he said, of the Columbus, Ohio-based expert. "We know (authorized encampments) are safer (than the street). People aren’t getting murdered in (authorized) tent cities."

No matter where you are on the issues, one of the key problems in trying to help is that it seems as though all of the government agencies have different ideas about what to do and how to spend their money. As Seattlish points out, while the mayor is asking for money from the state to help, the state is only proposing to spend money of taking away places for homeless people to sleep without providing any alternatives. More than that, the adults seem to be stuck in a responsibility loop instead of actually taking any for themselves.

Whose job is it to make a concerted effort to help the hundreds of people who live under the freeway and in the greenbelts and on the sides of the road and around your neighborhood? The Mayor says it’s the City and the State. The State says it’s the City. The neighbors say it’s the police. The police say it’s mental health professionals. The experts say….do something, but not this.

Obviously, the solution is going to require more than the creation of a few encampments. It's a problem that begins long before someone ends up sleeping on the streets of Seattle. Focusing on those problems instead of focusing on whose responsibility is it to fix them might be a good start. Until then, the city remains divided of what to do.
· Stop opening tent cities, homelessness expert tells Seattle leaders [ST]
· State Senators Want to Spend $1 Million to "Clean Up" and Build a Fence Around the Jungle [SLOG]
· Whose Responsibility Is It To House The Homeless [ish]
Photo Credit: David Lee