OP-ED | Conquering the homelessness crisis

Since the declaration by Mayor Ed Murray in November 2015, Seattle has been in a state of emergency due to the homelessness crisis. Despite this emergency, the majority of money in the proposed general fund is still dedicated to “Public Safety.” Seventy-two new police officers are being hired this year, and the money going towards the police department is three times that of the Health and Human Services (H&HS) budget. There is still a chance to alter the budget and to make a difference, we need to convince the City Council to make changes to benefit H & HS in our city.

Poverty and Public Safety

According to the Bureau of Justice, people living under the poverty line are more than twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime than those in high-income households. Thus, lowering the rate of poverty will cut violent crime in half, making reallocating funds from Public Safety to homeless services more effective than hiring more police officers. This is especially relevant considering the recent shooting of a homeless person in the encampment commonly referred to as “The Jungle” by a police officer in October. When an officer shoots a homeless man and we subsequently hire 72 more, what message does that send?

Crowded: Shelters and Streets

As reported by The Seattle Times, the 2015 One Night Count saw over 10,000 people unsheltered, in homeless shelters, or in transitional housing. Even after calling the State of Emergency, there has been no federal funding put towards this issue. The city allocated $7.3 million in 2015, yet Deputy Director Jeanette Blankenship confirms that only $5 million of that has continued this year, a $2.3 million cut. Many services have suffered from this, including New Beginnings, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence by providing transitional housing for abused women and outreach programs about DV. They are forced to turn away 16 women for every one opening they have. Without more funding, the increasing number of homeless Seattleites will overwhelm its services and force them to continue to turn away needy citizens.

What Do We Need?

Based on the budget, it is clear that there is enough money to fund the programs we need to end homelessness, but these steps aren’t being taken. The Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), one of the leading authorities on homelessness, drafted a budget that included $12 million in funding for many programs. They presented their plan to the Mayor, who ignored almost all of their recommendations. The city is currently funding only three programs, leaving some $8 million worth of beneficial programs excluded. Other H&HS organizations such as Southwest Youth and Family Services and Downtown Emergency Service Center, have also reported a lack of resources, support, and outreach programs.

Funding Change

In order to address the growing homelessness crisis, we must urge the council to reallocate 25 percent of admissions tax from Arts and Culture and take money from Public Safety to fund neglected programs focused on bringing people out of shelters and poverty. Doing so will lead to fewer homeless encampments in parks, expansion of helpful community institutions, and provide struggling Seattleites with more resources and support. Solving the issue of poverty and homelessness in our city will not happen overnight, but the fiscal decisions we make now will set us on a path for a safer, more prosperous community for everyone. We can make a difference! Call your City Council member today, speak up and advocate for those without a voice.

(206) 684-8888 City Council

(206) 684-8806 Tim Burgess, Budget Chair