In response to what the Seattle mayor calls a growing homeless crisis in the city, Ed Murray signed a proclamation declaring a civil emergency. More than 2,800 men, women and children are without shelter on the streets of Seattle, which is a 21 percent increase from last year, according to the latest overnight count.
On Tuesday, Mayor Murray signed legislation approving $5 million in new emergency funding for homelessness services and shelters.
Why is Murray declaring a state of emergency?
"We are in a moment of our history where decades of service cuts, growing inequality, and untreated mental health and drug [addiction] has finally resulted in a human crisis seen in the history of our city -- indeed in the history of our nation," Murray said.
City of Seattle says many reasons factor into the crisis, and that it is an issue no local government can solve alone. Murray cited a decline in federal housing support that "burden of left crisis response" on municipalities. The city is now responsible for over 60 percent of homelessness investments.
What is the city doing about it?
Councilmembers today outlined a $5.3 million package to respond to the growing demand for services. Murray wants to use the sale of surplus city land to add $5 million to the $40 million the city already spends annually to assist people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.
The proposed investments covers homeless prevention efforts, outreach for those in need, and meeting current basic needs in shelters.
The following proposed investments total $5,300,000:
Homeless Prevention/Flexible Funds - $1,800,000
- flexible funds (i.e. diversion, rapid re-housing, prevention, youth case management, support for homeless school children)
- portfolio model
Targeted Vehicle Response - $350,000
- parking lot operation/navigation support
- parking lot security
- flexible funds (i.e. diversion, rapid re-housing, prevention, navigation services)
Additional data capacity - $250,000
- methodology design and training for data collectors
- data analysis
Public Health/Prevention and Precautions
- honey bucket
- public health/prevention measures
- trash dumpster and removal
Targeted Behavioral Health Services - $1,755,000
- 3 Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Teams (MDOT)
- Mobile van operations (includes staffing, supplies)
Meeting Current Basic Needs - $900,000
- additional shelter capacity (100 beds/night)
Seattle funds over 1,600 shelter beds that serve 13,000 individuals a year. Half of those who are served in shelters do not re-experience homelessness in Seattle. But with shelters at 90 percent occupancy, today the City announced a commitment for another 100 beds.
What have we done in the past?
Seattle and King County rank fourth in the United States homeless population for metro areas, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The January overnight count found 3,772 men, women and children without shelter in King County. Murray called for more homeless encampments in the same month.
Seattle has invested $241.3 million of capital funds in affordable housing over the last 30 years. Nearly, 3,540 permanent homes and 800 transitional homes for homeless people resulted from the efforts.
Who are the homeless?
There are 32,000 homeless children in Washington state.
Nearly 3,000 homeless children are currently attending Seattle Public Schools.
“Families who are homeless deal with many complex obstacles; finding stable housing is only one of them,” said Greg Imel, principal at Bailey Gatzert. “Like all other families, they want a consistent educational environment for their children to learn and to thrive. We need to do more for our homeless children in the city of Seattle and in Seattle Schools. Homelessness has become an epidemic. And it is our moral imperative to address our children’s basic needs.”
Last winter’s One Night Count found 3,772 men, women and children without shelter in King County, including more than 2,800 in Seattle – a 21 percent increase over 2014.
In 2015, 66 homeless people have died in King County, including 47 on the streets and in unpermitted encampments in Seattle. The state now reports that 35,000 people in King County become newly homeless at some point during the year.
How have Seattle residents responded?
Homelessness across the city continues to be subject of debate just not for city leaders but among Seattle residents as well.
Many Ballard residents say they were "blindsided" over summer plans to put that homeless camp in their neighborhood. It's located in a lot that sits near a bar, Sloop Tavern, and not far from a medical marijuana dispensary and a liquor store.
"This isn't just a Ballard issue. People in Queen Anne, people in West Seattle, people across the city should be worried that the city is actually imposing something like this on a neighborhood, without any public engagement," said Marty McOmber, who spearheaded a petition against the encampment in July. McOmber, who previously worked as a spokesman for former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, spoke to KIRO 7 for a story earlier this summer.
Camp organizers told KIRO 7 News earlier this year that they screen those who live there at the encampment set up by the city. They said they have a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol rules -- and the camps have their own security.
Several organizations in Seattle, government and grassroots, work to bring awareness to those living without basic needs.
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