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Focusing on Homelessness Solutions that Work

It’s no secret that I oppose wasting taxpayer money on sweeps. “Sweeping” people, without a place for people to go, is an ineffective and wasteful way to address our homelessness crisis. The successes we’ve seen in transitioning people into housing have been due to additional low-barrier shelter options and permanent housing.

And, to be clear, we have experienced some success. Over 7,000 people in King County exited homelessness last year. Still, to this day, the problems around housing and homelessness have continued to grow at a pace faster than what we can address due to rising rents, the opioid crisis, an underfunded mental health system and defunding from the federal government.

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of our City’s mayor having declared a “civil emergency” around homelessness, Seattle’s housing crisis is still very visible across the city.  It’s obvious that we need more money for immediate fixes – like funding emergency shelters and diversion programs to keep people off the streets and out of jail – as well as long-term solutions like building additional housing units.

While the current Mayor’s budget includes some marginal investments, I’m afraid it sets us up for failure, because it doubles down on sweeps as a solution to the homeless crisis, literally almost doubling the amount we are spending this year to $2 million.

How about we invest in what works instead?

Earlier this month Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley <LINK> and I formally introduced an amendment to the Mayor’s 2018 budget which would effectively tax the top 10% grossing businesses in Seattle to fund more 24-hour homeless shelters, affordable housing, safe lots for people living in their vehicles, and an expansion of the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

Our Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal creates immediate shelter and long-term housing options to address this crisis. The proposal asks that businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee). The proposal will exempt the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle (those that gross less than $5 million a year) and is expected to generate $24 million annually. Most of that money will be directed to affordable housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and could help hundreds of people a year find shelter and housing.

We know that HOMES won’t fix every factor of homelessness in the city, but it’s a significant investment that supports successful strategies, and will make a difference.

We’ve created a lot of wealth in this City over the past few years, but that wealth has been concentrated at the top, and has exacerbated inequality.  That’s why we invite the businesses that are creating, and benefiting from, this City’s boom to alleviate the unintended consequences of their success, and to contribute to systemic changes in the city that can help all our residents thrive.

The proposal will be discussed over the course of the City’s budget process, with a final vote on the legislation anticipated on Monday, November 20th.

For more information about the HOMES proposal, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/mike-obrien/homes-proposal-(aka-business-tax-on-large-employers)

 

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