Today, media outlets across our region are focusing on homelessness (explore #SeaHomeless). I wanted to highlight the significance of that coordination and add a bit about what our office is doing to help make homelessness rare, brief, and one time.
Recently, I attended a walking tour in the Central District; what began as a discussion with neighbors on the topic of gun violence, zoning changes, and business improvement areas turned into an unanticipated window into the lives of residents in our city experiencing homelessness. As the group walked past an encampment in the Central District, an encampment representative came out, alarmed that we had intentions of asking them to leave. Respecting this response, the walking tour group continued, but I stayed behind and ended up sitting for an hour with encampment residents talking about policies and solutions to ending homelessness.
During my visit, I met a couple who was 9 months and 1 day pregnant – not usually the image most people conjure when they think of homeless individuals. This couple embodied something I’ve seen keenly since stepping into my new role as a Councilmember: that the issue of homelessness so very quickly becomes humanized – every single person has a unique and important story to tell. This isn’t new of course: Real Change, SKCCH, Facing Homelessness, and dozens of other great organizations have been doing this work for a long time.
Personifying the 4,505 unsheltered people and families found in our 2016 One Night Count (and realizing that is a 19% increase from the previous year) should compel all of us to act. Recognizing that more than 35,000 students in Washington were homeless at some point last year – and nearly 3,000 of those students were from the Seattle School District – demands response. Everyone has the right to basic human decency in our city; whether or not they live in a sanctioned or unsanctioned encampment, people absolutely need to have access to clean water, a place to go to the bathroom, trash pickup, and shelter from the elements (ideally, a roof over their heads). Our homeless students need a place to live so they can be focused on school, not shelter. When faced with these statistics and personal stories one can’t help but feel motivated to take action to create change.
Just a few weeks ago, I joined Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle to convene a group of leaders from the faith organizations in my district (4) to talk about homelessness. Over the course of our conversation, we celebrated the wonderful efforts already happening to serve our community (such as the Elizabeth Gregory Home, Roots, and Teen Feed – just to name a few), and discussed the resources needed to increase efforts. Together, this group set a goal of finding 100 new beds or safe places to sleep in Northeast Seattle before winter of 2016 and have already started mobilizing city and non-profit resources to meet this goal. We believe we’re already 20% of the way toward that goal in only two weeks.
It’s not nearly enough, but we hope that by demonstrating small successes we can help build a larger public response. I’m urging all of us to take the state of emergency to heart. If you can help us in this effort to find additional shelter beds, safe car camping locations, or 24/7 shelter options, please email Geri Morris from my office so we can connect you with city resources and support.
Seattle can be a place where all families can thrive. We must continue our efforts to increase and preserve affordable housing in our communities. We must continue to diversify our shelter options to meet the needs of families, couples, people with pets, and more. We must continue our focus on outcomes, not processes. Seattle can be a place where all people can live with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes.
I hope you’ll join us in this effort.