Homelessness in Seattle

Article by Kaylee

Edited by Jasmine and Audrey

By now, the vast majority of people have long been exposed to the political viewpoints surrounding homelessness in Seattle. The debate over the primary causes of homelessness and the ideal solutions towards it has gone on for many years. This debate not only happens at City Hall--many news outlets or social justice groups circle back to the topic of homelessness.

The subject’s complexity might be why some individuals harbor falsehoods towards the reality of being homeless in Seattle.

Homelessness is not just the tent camps you see around the Waterfront or elsewhere. It can be couchsurfing, sleeping in your car, or seeking refuge in a homeless shelter. More than 12,000 individuals experience homelessness in Seattle (Here’s). And for those with a home, it may be commonplace to drive past these individuals without a second thought due to a widespread misconception that those who are homeless are drug addicts and/or criminals.

Taken from Seattle/King County Point-In-Time Count of Persons Experiencing Homelessness, 2019

Most politicians agree on the long term solutions towards homelessness such as increased amounts of housing and mental health and substance abuse treatments. Seattle’s political viewpoints range from the opposition of the removal of homeless camps to the contrary, supporting camp removals (also known as sweeps), claiming camps “are not only ineffective, they’re inhumane” (Walters). Conversely, the supporters argue that illegal homeless encampments decrease housing prices due to the accumulation of trash and stereotyped homeless individuals. These politicians’ lack of significant compromises creates a stalemate in reducing the homeless crisis.

Data shows that 79% of homeless individuals are not drug addicts, alcoholics, nor criminals (Seattle/King). Instead, they are ordinary people. The primary cause of homelessness is inadequate wages and lack of affordable housing. The cost of living in Seattle is about 80% higher than the national average, further adding to the crisis. However, the politics of homeless policies often overshadow its harsh reality. At times, politicians allow their political leanings to influence their action against homelessness: socialist politicians have done so regarding Amazon. Amazon’s rapid growth partly catalyzed rising rental costs and house prices due to the demand created by their employees' high paying jobs (Sawant). Thus, the frequency of homeless individuals has transformed from being a rarity to becoming a commonality.

Taken from Seattle Times, 2018

Despite being in the minority, drug addicts make up the most commonly known group of homeless individuals due to their prevalence in public places throughout Seattle. Drug overdoses are the second leading cause of death among homeless individuals, behind only natural death (Wang). Seattle and the surrounding cities lack the drug addiction treatment capacity to adequately solve the problem. This is displayed by Washington’s lack of psychiatric facilities; it ranks 47th in the nation for psychiatric beds per capita--per person. Drug abuse often starts as means towards “self-medicating the symptoms of mental health disorders” (How). But without the appropriate amount of mental health resources, drug abuse continues to cause homelessness due to the neglect of financial duties caused by the addictive nature of drugs.

Individuals with mental health concerns are not the only group at a higher risk of homelessness. People of color disproportionately experience homelessness compared to other ethnicities. Recently, a “study of [money] lender data shows that Black applicants were rejected at more than double the rate of white applicants on all types of loans” (Racism). If these rejected applicants are unable to find housing due to their finances, they become part of Seattle’s homeless population. Part of the solution towards the homeless crisis in Seattle should go beyond merely acknowledging the racial disparities in homelessness, as the city of Seattle has already done, but understanding the racial inequality in education, healthcare, affordable housing, and more - ultimately seeking the means to end it.

Taken from Seattle.gov, 2020

The city of Seattle has blamed the decentralized response towards homelessness as one of the leading factors to why the homeless population in King County is the third largest in the country (Homelessness). Homelessness is a regional problem so state, county, and city governments must coordinate with each other to prevent the over one billion dollars spent on homelessness in the Seattle-Metro area from being ineffective (Rufo). The city and county have recently created a regional homeless agency designed to improve the effectiveness of dollars spent on homelessness called the Regional Homelessness Authority (Regonal). Most likely, their plan will include the investment “in programs that effectively connect people to housing” and programs that help prevent homelessness (Addressing).

It remains to be seen whether or not this approach towards ending homelessness will work. Has Seattle’s vastly diverse population put aside their political differences and come together to reach a compromise that mitigates homelessness rather than enabling it? Time will tell, but change will not happen overnight. It may not happen fast enough for the over 12,000 individuals who experience homelessness. But our perspectives on homelessness can change faster. We do not have to think of the vast amount of homelessness in Seattle being the new normal, the status quo. By educating ourselves about homelessness, we can play a small role in ending it.


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