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.