New to Town
Welcome to Seattle. If you have a roof over your head, congratulations! As of a year ago, 3,000 people were sleeping on Seattle streets in the dead of winter. Like other West Coast cities, the homelessness crisis here has become so acute that Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency in late 2015.
There are a number of things that various activist groups—as well as public officials—are trying to do to address the deeply intertwined homelessness and housing crises. Some of these things are really good ideas. Some of them are really bad ideas. If you live here, you now have a responsibility to pay attention to them.
Renter Protections: Some cities, including Seattle, have passed laws that now protect renters from discrimination based on how they pay their rent. But outside of Seattle, landlords can still reject tenants who pay with a government voucher, social security, or child support. Income discrimination is often used as a proxy for other forms of race or gender-based bigotry, and some lawmakers are attempting to pass a ban on income discrimination at the state level. E-mail your state legislators and tell them that's a good idea.
A 24-Hour Homelessness Shelter: This was proposed by Mayor Ed Murray last summer. "The site would be open 24 hours a day, modeled off a shelter in San Francisco, and would offer case management, showers, laundry, meals, and storage," Heidi Groover reported. "It would accept couples and groups—all efforts to address the well-documented shortcomings of the city's current shelter system."
As Groover wrote, the idea received support from city council members and advocates. One problem: It's been delayed because the city can't find a location. There are lots of complicated political reasons for that, likely reasons that start with "N" and end with "IMBYs." E-mail your local neighborhood council and ask what it's doing to encourage proposed shelter sites, as well as tent encampments, in your neighborhood.
Tent Encampment Sweeps: One of the biggest controversies about homelessness in Seattle is what the city should do about people camping illegally under overpasses, in parks, beside the freeway, etc. While the city and state sometimes force people to move along (and promise they offer services in the process), some advocates and city council members say the city's process for those so-called "encampment sweeps" is unpredictable and can result in homeless people losing their belongings and being forced from one place to another without real meaningful help.
A few city council members tried to address this last year but faced loud pushback from angry neighborhood advocates who claimed it would allow unfettered camping all over "their" parks (fact check: it wouldn't have) and basically gave up. Now the mayor is promising to change the rules that govern the sweeps to make them more "compassionate," but his office has yet to release the specifics of what they'll change. When that finally happens, expect a renewed debate on this issue and be ready to call your city council members and remind them that homeless people have to sleep somewhere.