On November 2, 2015, Mayor of Seattle Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness. The purpose of the declaration is to draw attention to the increase of unhoused people sleeping outside, in often unsafe conditions. The declaration also sought to bring forward new emergency funding to serve those experiencing homelessness, request additional assistance from state and federal partners, and to broaden public engagement and build greater awareness of the issue. With homelessness on the rise it does raise the question, by how much? And what is the city doing about it? Some people even question if homelessness is really a crisis. I hope this article sheds some light on the issue, through my perspective.
One of the first questions that needs to be asked is, how much has homelessness increased? And what have the City and King County done to fix the issue? According to the 2016 Annual One Night Count, 2,942 people were recorded as living unsheltered in Seattle, which is a 5% increase since 2015 and a 46% increase since 2012. Since the declaration, the City and County have spent flexible funds (money the city has accrued for cases of emergency) as well as new federal dollars on numerous services to benefit the unsheltered homeless. This includes $2.2 million on additional shelter beds and services, $1.5 million on enhanced outreach efforts and clean-ups, and $800,000 on investments in rapid rehousing and diversion assistance programs. As a result of the funding given to combat homelessness, money was allocated to continue funding the Peace for the Streets by Kids for the Streets (PSKS) shelter and developing a new shelter in Columbia City.
When I first heard about the state of emergency, I was excited. After all, this is just the amount of attention I feel is needed if we are to truly end homelessness. As with all things, there are skeptics and critics who don’t see homelessness as a crisis. As someone who has experienced homelessness and continues to see it daily, it is almost mind boggling that it could be said with a straight face “homelessness is not a crisis!” I see homelessness every day — when I catch the bus to work, when I’m shopping for groceries I am greeted by homeless people in front of store entryways, and when I’m in the U-District I see the faces of those I spent time with in shelters. Everywhere you go, you can see someone cursed with the struggles of homelessness.
All this is to say, I personally believe that yes, homelessness is a crisis. But it is a crisis we can tackle together, as a community. Getting involved is as simple as getting to know efforts going on in your community, calling your legislators and senators in support of bills that address homelessness or housing issues, volunteering your time for service providing organizations, or most importantly, just staying informed.