THE ISSUES

Walking down the streets of Seattle, tents, tarps and sleeping bags become a familiar sight. The state of homelessness in Seattle can only be described as a human services emergency. To solve this dilemma, we must look at from where it stems. The primary cause of homelessness can be boiled down to two things: cost of living and the income gap that plagues Seattle.

In recent years, 77,300 Seattleites (5,000 more than the seating capacity at Century Link Field) reside below the poverty rate. Of these people, more than 11,000 of them are homeless, and half of those are unsheltered. But this statistic is not representative of the number of people not having their needs met due to low/unstable incomes. The national poverty line is set much lower than is what considered livable in Seattle. For one person to live comfortably in Seattle, you must make around $72,092, which is over five times the national poverty line.

Over the past six years, rents in Seattle have increased 57 percent while the average salary has not scaled to compensate for that increase. Thus, the income gap is only getting larger, leaving the people of Seattle in the dust.

THE BUDGET

Education and human services are bundled together when looking at the city's general fund, and they collectively receive around $187 million of the general funds. That equates to about 12 percent of the $1.6 billion that makes up the general fund.

Most of the budget that is allocated to human services only maintains last year’s efforts, accounting for some inflation, as well as an increase in the homelessness population. What the budget does not address is preventing homelessness in the first place. To prevent homelessness, more funds would need to be allocated to affordable housing, shrinking the income gap and reducing poverty rates.

To make changes to this proposed budget, City Council members must vote on amendments that would alter the funding allocation for certain services. Most of these amendments seem minor in the grand scheme of things but have huge effect in practice.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

To effectively address pressing topics such as homelessness and the income gap that leads to poverty, the city budget must be amended to allocate more funds to these growing issues. Within the human services department, there are three amendments that would do the most to redistribute funds to preventing these problems. HSD-002-A-001, HSD-013-A-001 and HSD-023-A-001 are the most beneficial amendments for addressing these issues. For ease, we will refer to these as HSD-2, HSD-13 and HSD-23.

The first listed amendment, HSD-2, proposes the allocation of $750,000 to the Humans Services Department to analyze the relative value of HSD jobs. This means that human service workers will be able to make more livable wages, which will in turn attract more people to go into those fields. More livable wages will also improve worker retention.

HSD-13, if passed, will provide $2 million in funding for youth job readiness. This includes pre-employment options that include stipend-based programs, as well as internships. Job-readiness programs will also be funded. All of this means that our future generations will be more prepared for the workforce and hopefully are able to obtain more competitive wages.

The final amendment, HSD-23, would set aside $1 million from the general fund to housing funds for court cases. These housing funds would enable people with unstable housing/income to be able to attend their court dates. By providing these accommodations, there would be a lower jailing and criminalization rate of lower-income individuals. As it stands, by missing court dates, you can be jailed and fined, something that not everyone can spare the time and money to endure.

While all these amendments might not directly address homelessness, the growing income gap and poverty rates, they are small steps that we, as a community, can take to solve these problems. If you want to encourage the passing of these amendments, contact our City Council members at council@seattle.gov or individually. Seattleites, with a little effort, time and the ingenuity that all of us possess, we can end homelessness and close the income gap in our city.

— Sygiel, Litwak and Hanners are students at Center School in lower Queen Anne.