UPDATE: The proposed charter amendment discussed in this blog post was subsequently blocked from appearing on the ballot by a superior court judge. We are relieved that this harmful proposal will not be implemented, but we still have much work to do. Please read Solid Ground’s vision for a true solution to homelessness.
If, like us, you worry about the wellbeing of thousands of our neighbors living in parks, on street corners, and in emergency shelters across Seattle, you may have been intrigued by a proposal called Compassion Seattle. “Finally,” you might think, “Somebody has a plan to address homelessness in Seattle.”
But don’t be fooled.
Compassion Seattle is a vaguely worded proposal that would do far more harm than good for one of Seattle’s most vulnerable populations. While this charter amendment isn’t at all clear about how it would help people experiencing homelessness, it is quite clear how it would harm them: by forcing the city to remove vulnerable, marginalized people from the only home they know.
We understand why it might be tempting to support this measure. Seattle’s parks and public spaces are special, and they should be safe and open for all our communities to share together. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking that for too many of our Seattle neighbors, these public places have become a last-resort place to live. As our region’s housing market struggles to provide affordable options and more people are forced onto the streets, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We all want a plan. We all want a solution.
But this amendment is not that solution.
Here’s what you need to know about Measure 29, the charter amendment that organizers have cynically named Compassion Seattle.
It will do little to help people who are homeless.
The business interests behind Measure 29 claim it would help people experiencing homelessness by forcing the city to build additional housing and provide better mental health and substance abuse services. But here’s what’s really happening.
Measure 29 would require Seattle to build 2,000 new housing units within one year, but it says nothing about how the city would pay for it. With no new revenue to pay for this mandate (more on that later) and the incredibly short timeline it requires, it’s almost guaranteed that these units would be quick fixes – not the permanent supportive housing that we know is necessary to help people along their journey out of the trauma of homelessness.
What’s more, those 2,000 units would cover only a little more than half of the more than 3,700 people living unsheltered in Seattle, according to the 2020 Seattle/King County Point-in-Time Count of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness. Measure 29 says nothing about building additional housing after the first year.
The groups behind Measure 29 claim their amendment would provide “low-barrier, rapid-access” mental health and substance abuse services and a “rapid response team” that would serve as an alternative to police – which all sounds great. But the amendment doesn’t actually identify any new revenue source to pay for those services.
And while it’s true that the amendment would require the city to spend 12 percent of its budget on homelessness and human services, the reality is the city already spends 11 percent of its budget on those programs. In the end, the amendment would only result in an increase of about $15 million in spending, and much of that would go toward building and maintaining the 2,000 housing units mandated by the amendment.
To pay for the unfunded mandates of Measure 29, the city would have to cut funding for other programs, likely those that have already proven successful in keeping people out of homelessness in the first place.
It would prioritize the cleanliness of city parks over the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors.
The people who are forced to make a home in our parks are exposed every day to the Seattle weather, and are left with little hope of privacy, safety, or basic comforts. But with the cost of housing in our region now far beyond what many people can afford, our parks have become the last refuge of people who have no more options, no place to go, and no means to get there.
But people living with homelessness are resilient, and they find ways to build stability into their lives against the odds. They create communities and support networks to get by, and they collect what they can to make life more bearable. Many of them – far more than most people realize – work at least one job.
All of that is lost when a park is cleared. People lose their tents – their only means of shelter – and all of their belongings. They lose what community they’ve managed to build, and they’re left to start over somewhere else. They’re made to feel unwanted, rejected, and lost.
At Solid Ground, we know from experience that the key to helping people out of poverty is creating stability in their lives. Sweeps do the opposite of that.
There are real solutions.
Homelessness is complicated, but the solution is simple: housing. And not the cheap, frantically constructed housing that would be the result of Measure 29. If Seattle is serious about ending homelessness, we need a comprehensive, regional plan to create more new units of permanent, supportive housing every year until no one is left unhoused.
We would welcome the opportunity to work with the organizers of Measure 29 to develop a plan to truly solve homelessness in Seattle while recognizing the humanity of the people most affected by it.
This is an incredibly well-written and thoughtful take on this. Thank you for the helpful information!
Keven Ruf says
Thank you. I wholeheartedly agree, and I wish we could formulate a truly compassionate response with the resources necessary to begin solving the staggering injustice of homelessness in our wealthy city.
Ayaha Tyler says
Why build more housing? Make housing that already exists more affordable.
Eric Jorgenson says
The housing that exists already is affordable because there is not enough of it.
Building more housing helps make existing housing affordable. The population is growing – the housing supply needs to grow as well. If we had been building new units each year as people moved here, then the ones built in 2000 would be looking outdated and costing less. But we haven’t, so even a crappy old place in Seattle costs more than you should spend on rent when making minimum wage.
Where did they get that preposterous figure of 3,700 unsheltered people in Seattle. The homeless number is more like 12, 000. They must be counting tents and cardboard boxes as shelters. Until we start using real numbers everyone will think the tiny house projects, housing 30 people at a time, are progress. But they are not. They are only window dressing to make it appear something is happening. Think of how long it would take you to accumulate $12,000 if you saved $30 or $60 every year and you have a good idea of what’s actually happening here.
Dia F Cote says
Thank you very much for your very well written and informative àrticle. I appreciate it a great deal.
The people I see in the street are incapable of functioning in society. They won’t be able to afford housing at any cost.
Michelle P says
My husband fed homeless for 3 yrs out of a fire station. First there should be laws not allowing living in parks and sidewalks. People come from all over for the ability to live like that. Weather is a big one but being allowed to with no consequences is another. Next many homeless do not want to be indoors. Mental illness needs housing with medical help and oversight. The criminals need jail and not just overnight. Low income housing should be temporary. I lived in that kind of housing at one time. Many who lived there have no desire to change lifestyle.
Catherine Robson says
Totally agree! I have lived in Seattle for over 25 years. I use to love this city. I have recently put my house on the market and plan to move out of the state. The homeless issue is a big contributor. Seattle has become a dirty, trashy, crime-ridden city. I no longer feel safe on the streets or the parks. It’s so sad.
Because Seattle did such a great job with it ten year plan to end homelessness. What year are we on now?
Eric Jorgenson says
The housing that exists already is not affordable because there is not enough of it.
Jay potter says
Shalimar Gonzalez sounds like he has a solution to what he says is a bad problem and we need to pay him to fix it..
I will be voting “ yes” on this common sense measure. This author is part of the local homeless industry, and obviously feels threatened by something which would disrupt their situation
Bad idea, Mike. Unfunded mandates are bullshit. Jingoistic slogans and feelgood nonsense abound, but grass roots folks doing the work could save this, and Pearl Jam and a host of other grass root, boots on the ground activists tried. They got shutout and red taped and fucked over by desk jockeys miles from the streets. A true political commitment with actual follow thru and accountability that works
with the folks closest to the problems, and it ain’t one size fits all, supported by us, with no nimby shit, will work. Compassion Seattle is a sick fucking joke. douglas hiatt
Marty Fisher says
Compassion needs to be accompanied by common sense and a deeper, more thoughtful commitment to providing real solutions. I applaud Shalimar’s leadership and Solid Ground’s commitment to making real change through collaboration.
You’ve had years to come up with a plan. I suggest you propose a legitimate alternate plan instead of criticizing the current plan with no alternate solution.
Alex C says
They did provide an alternate plan: build real, permanent housing.
The reason nothing has worked is our “bootstrap” mentality in this country (physically pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is literally an impossible task, people forget that). No one wants to just give people housing, they want to feel like they “deserve” it first. So we spend millions and millions on piecemeal programs when we could just give unhoused people a home for cheaper.
Lori Washington says
I agree with you if someone was to add up all the millions (maybe billions) of dollars that have been donated to help with homelessness each homeless person could have had been purchased an inexpensive condo south of Seattle or they could have bought a piece of land and put manufactured homes on it and had several of these south of seattle. Part of the problem is that they want to remain located in the most expensive part of the city. I cannot even afford to live there so I live where I can afford. It is where many of the services are but there are also busses if they can take busses everyday to get to methadone they can get to other services too. Now they want to raise taxes for a problem that has had millions of dollars thrown at it with no solution, how could anyone be confident that now all of a sudden this is the golden solution. The problem is from decriminalization of what was criminal behavior (being homeless is not criminal) but when they stopped prosecuting drugs, theft and other crime this went from bad to unbearable. The fear of going to jail or prison is many times what causes a person to change and get help. Now if you are homeless you can use drugs openly and steal without fear of anything happening to you. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for a person is to have them held accountable for their behavior.
Airstream Queen says
Well said, I couldn’t agree more.
I am so inline with Lori’s views. I have for many years seen the homeless “lifestyle” increase. I interact with the homeless daily and help out when I can. I live in down town Everett. So many of them don’t seek help as they don’t want to be under scrutiny for substance abuse which is a requirement for seeking help with showers, food and shelter. In my neighborhood we have so many “whack a doodles” that so need assistance. I don’t like to write this but a lot of homeless seek their community of like like-minded as a choice. They find comfort and common purpose together.
ah it has to be south of Seattle so you don’t see them, eh?
Did we have researches showing that giving houses/Apts for homeless will solve the issue? Where would you build the Apartments? Would the homeless people like the area where these Apts are built? Would they even live in these Apt? What about businesses in that area? How would this affect their business? With homelessness and mental issue I am not sure simply providing apartments will solve the issue.
Common sense says
And where were they all this years before asking people to say No to the proposed solution?
I suggest you propose a legitimate alternate plan instead of criticizing the current plan with no alternate solution.
Just common sense says
First off who are ‘We’? 🤔 and it would be better to give reference to your readers what you have accomplished to solve the homeless issue in Seattle. What you have accomplished and share your success stories briefly so that your readers would evaluate your accomplishment. The next step would be to write about your proposed solution than asking your readers to simply say No. What are your solutions? How would it solve the problem? How soon can it be implemented? How much would it cost? What are the pros and cons of your recommendations? Having recently moved from the East Coast it baffles me that the city, a home for Giant Corps couldn’t manage its homelessness issue. I honestly don’t know how the Seattle residents keep on electing their leaders and mayors year after year without holding them accountable for not addressing and solving this issue. And to your point I will vote Yes to this. 1. This is an effort to solve it
2. Even if it doesn’t work we will learn what works and won’t work.
Terry Glant says
No matter what plan you offer, viable or not, nothing changes until you change the law. Currently people, for any reason, are allowed to live on public land. After these people go through or refuse your current program, the street is still available to them. It’s this lack of common sense law and enforcement that got us where we are now. Reductions in laws and lack of judicial enforcement, while nice for the “feel goods” among us, are great until you have to pay for it. Lax drug policies and reduction of law enforcement presence add dangerous fuel to this already blazing inferno. If you really want to fix the homeless problem, you have to have laws that compel people to accept help and serve the businesses and property owners as well. The current money the city has spent has been wasted and now they are coming for the rest of us in the state. The appalling truth is liberal/socialist (ala Sawant and her ilk) policies have failed miserably and now everyone is being charged for their disaster.
Alex C says
You’re confusing your causes and symptoms here. For one, almost no one is living on the street willingly. You write “the street is still available to them” as if it’s some kind of luxury choice. What anyone wants is housing- not temporary shelter where your only few possessions get stolen – real housing like you and I enjoy.
Most of the country already does what you’re proposing. They lock up and ship off unhoused people. It doesn’t fix homelessness, it hides it away. Other cities literally ship their unhoused people to cities like Seattle because they don’t want to solve the problem.
It sounds to me like you want to throw people in jail, which would cost MUCH more in taxpayer dollars than simply providing them permanent housing, and would be absolutely inhumane. Imagine being locked up simply for existing.
Terry Glant says
No I don’t want to throw people in jail. I want laws for everyone. Property owners, business owners AND the actual people suffering. If your solution is to have living in a tent on the street as one of your options then you’re the one being cruel. I don’t want ANYONE living on the street. I want the jobless trained, the ill treated, and the addicted treated. Waiting for some pie in the sky “give everyone a house” is not only unrealistic but a pipe dream.
Without services, laws treatment and realistic solutions, you will never ever come close to solving this national problem.
Anyone would have to admit, what cities like Seattle have done with tax payer money is criminal. The problem has only gotten worse, I am not insensitive I just know a certain amount of tough love is necessary. There will always be those that won’t except help. Those people need to know that living in a tent next to a school or a business isn’t going to be allowed. Jail would be the offenders choice. Services offered and refused is just obstinate. You wouldn’t except that sort of behavior from anyone else why them?
I agree with your desire to train and treat all unhoused people so they can be healthy members of society. But if there’s nowhere they can legally sleep that’s gonna be tough to do, won’t it?
Housing first alongside training and treatment services can help them better than either solution alone.
As long as there’s viable housing where they can legally stay then I’m right there with you on enforcing laws about public spaces. That enforcement should focus on moving people to that accessible housing too, not giving them a criminal record and taking them to jail.
I for one am thrilled to see a group of people taking action to reclaim our streets. Seattle was once a clean proud city, now is more like a favela. As a former business owner, I got sick of the constant break-ins, property destruction, vandalism and my personal least favorite, cleaning human feces off my business walkways in SODO. Seattle government has had 6 years as an “emergency” to deal with this, and frankly, I’ll I’ve seen is incessant talk & clueless suggestions. I’m happy to support anything that puts us off the track of turning Seattle into the Detroit of the West. Until then, keep pickin’ up those “Seattle Lawn Darts” and human poo and keep hoping for actual leadership some day to address humans living in worse conditions than abused animals.
Michael Armstrong says
Vote “YES” and help save our city! Enough is enough, we need actual leadership to address humans living in worse conditions than animals for slaughter. Six years of ineffectual leadership for this emergency is plenty to show that nothing else is working.
Robert Dixon says
Yes on 29. Clean up Seattle. Mandate the city to build housing and reassign resources as required. Homeless encampments are not our neighbors: they destroy neighborhoods with violence, crime, garbage and drugs. Our City Council members are not interested in helping “neighbors” who pay property tax to foot the bill for their salaries and ineffectual policies.
Glen Swangren says
There isn’t a easy answer. One person I know who was homeless in West Seattle he went to Spokane. Another person went to school with she found shelter in a camper up in Washington below Mt Baker. Both left the City. That’s what needs to happen. Seattle is just too expensive for anyone making less than 80k a year unless you have your house paid for.
What a joke.
The simple reason the Homeless Industrial Complex doesn’t like this proposal is because it threatens their funding.
How much is the Executive Director of Solid Ground paid? Wouldn’t want to risk that cushy gig by actually solving homelessness.
The HIC has benefitted from over a billion taxpayer dollars and still homelessness gets worse every year.
It’s well past time to say NO to the Homeless Industrial Complex and say YES to Compassion Seattle.
Lori Washington says
I agree completely too many agencies are making too much money on the homeless remaining homeless while the rest of us who work hard to pay taxes and try to maintain our homes and property sometimes “suffer” from the impacts of homelessness in our neighborhoods. It is not fair to both the homeless and the property owners of this city but when a property owner complains you are looked at as being insensitive. I am a property owner that was homeless for two years of my life I understand the homeless situation but my ideas are seen as not compassionate.
Jay potter says
Shalimar Gonzalez sounds like he has a solution to what he says is a bad problem and we need to pay him to fix it..
Solid ground is another non profit that needs to be investigated for corrupt salaries and half hearted efforts.they use homeless as a career while never held accountable for thier inept unqualified racist leadership that wants total control over homeless as if they are qualified to rule over poor with no.scrutiny.Solid ground uses mentally incompetent people to control thier money its another racist organization politically connected
The Solution: why spend millions of dollars in the city where it has proven to fail? Build two (or more) facilities East of the mountains. One for rehab and one for education. The mentally challenged can get help at Western State ( or build another large facility ). This is there “ONLY” choice!
Invest in them and the return will be worth it (back to a normal human being). They will be cleaned up mentally & physically with an opportunity to get a good job. They now can contribute to society, find there own place to live and feel good about themselves.
The community will benefit in many ways: clean streets, crime down, tax dollars well spent, parks open for children once again.
The City has spent millions over millions with no returns and failed policies.
The first of all issues is to restore law and order and re-activate the jails. The sentences have to be adhered to. The gangs have to be broken up and removed.
Summary: the city is not safe. Gangs are growing and crime is high. Homelessness is suffering and only getting worse. Drugs are rampant.
The above solution would be worth the effort with great returns.
I am homeless,and have been for 3 years off and on. I do not qualify for any “special funding” to pay $300 for rent. I am currently in staying in a shelter, a nice one, however, I get SOCIAL SECURITY disability in the amount of $1230. They say that is too much money to qualify for a subsidized unit. I’ve worked 38 years of my life and I know of no one in my position. Everyone I know gets Section 8, or has a voucher. I will have to pay $1000 for rent when and if I find something decent! All these Housing for Homeless ideas are non existent to me. I wish I could pay $400-$600 a month for rent but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Sure I have a case worker here but nothing less than $900. Crazy.
Gene Degeberg says
I live on Beacon Hill and all around me, in my neighborhood are large for five and six bedroom homes with 10 or 15 people living in them and I think most of them share a bedroom. They all live together and pool their money and none of them pay $1000 a month I assure you! It’s probably closer to $300-400 a month. All around the world, people share living quarters they don’t expect to get their own free apartment handed to them. If you don’t have friends or family that you can partner up with or live with, perhaps you’ve made some poor decisions in your life. Perhaps it’s time to ask for forgiveness and move forward. Good luck!
Finally, a plan that addresses homelessness. I totally agree! If Shalimar were truly an advocate for the homeless (hint: she isn’t), she’d be asking the city to build even more than 2000 units. Just because it doesn’t provide 100 percent of the needed housing in the first year, doesn’t make it a bad plan. The fact is the SCC and all the homeless NGOs in this city are dedicated to keeping people living on the streets, and the people of Seattle are fed up with their inaction. If you think everyone in this country deserves a roof over their heads and access to running water and sanitation, then vote Yes on 29.
If we build more housing homeless people, we will attract more homeless people. Rinse, repeat.
More proof Homeless advocates don’t want to solve a homeless.crisis caused.by.their subhuman mistreating bankers.hours efforts.and modern 3rd.world.unqualified.wsrehouse.echo Charlene lyles.type of housing with abusive.staff.and misinterpretation of.housing on side of.road.low level.noisd polluted built.by.unskilled.shady non profit
Brenton Monroe says
These hotels and motels the county or city is buying are actually a good idea. All provided housing should be considered temporary. You have a potential resident, if they are indigent then give them free rent, but put them in a program aimed at getting them the things that they need to be self sustaining. Once they have an income, be it employment, SSI or whatever then put them in the next program category and charge them a percentage of that income for housing. After a certain chosen amount of time return a portion of the monies charged to them as move in assistance when they find a place they can afford on their income. And while they are in the first tier program place them in a joblike capacity to help them get used to going to work. Provide the training, clothing, etc that is needed, only during that first program. If they have addiction issues place them in another program to run concurrently to the main program. With the aim at getting to them of the drugs. Legalizing drugs or decriminalizing them helps NO ONE! Certain behavior calls for swift action but not long lasting jail time. There are soo many areas this city would benefit from community service sanctions it’s not even funny. No you don’t defund the police! No get better at hiring, vetting, and training them. Those with mental health issues that are in crisis should be hospitalized for 72 hour observation and med stabilization. The given the opportunity to enter the program. One more thing. Accepting this assistance should be a stipulation for receiving food stamps, welfare, whatever, free daycare, and bus passes should all be part of this program. These are ALL things that would have to be addressed if there were ever to be a SERIOUS conversation about this subject. I was homeless here for a year before the Mayor mandated that all veterans should be off the street. I thank the agencies involved in getting me off the streets, but after that it was another three years before I was anything more then just a homeless person with a roof. I finally got SSI. Upon receiving my first check I bought clothes, tools, and a 97 Ford ranger, and went to work. I still live in the same facility but I don’t ask for much, if at all, I work when I can get it and basically provide for myself, and when I have no work my rent cost is adjusted for that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to provide for myself 100%, but I do what I can and am not a burden on society like I thought I once was.
Did you ever notice that the people that started moving here in the 80s because of a magazine article. They don’t even look at you & smile. There’s no hellos there’s no friendliness there’s nothing that used to be Seattle! My family’s been here for a few hundred years. The rude rich people have more to do with the poor much more friendlier people then you realize. I wanted out of here because of all of the elite Seattle people who aren’t even from here. They had no respect for the state they tore down everything they possibly could that was historical or meant something the people who grew up here. It became an overcrowded unfriendly you can’t go to your neighbor for help neighborhood! Then of course the prices shot up like insanity. It’s just a sad place. They used to call it the Emerald City but the only thing green would be paint and right now it’s gray and blue because somehow kids think that’s mid-century. Okay I’m going off topic. But not really it all kind of joins together if we were in a big conversation. People have become incredibly selfish and Incredibly uncaring. Let alone judgemental.