We Must Act Now, Offer Shelter, Human Services and Affordable Housing

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I am deeply saddened to learn about the terrible shooting that took place at a homelessness encampment in south Seattle. My condolences go to the families and friends of the victims.

We don’t yet know everything about the circumstances around the shooting. What we do know is that this tragedy happened under conditions of homelessness, poverty, insecurity and inequality.

Seattle is a very wealthy city, and is experiencing an economic boom. But this is a boom that is primarily benefiting a small wealthy elite. Economic inequality has expanded, with the city’s middle class shrinking rapidly. Funding for mental health and social services has been cut dramatically at the state and federal levels over the last decade.

Compounding those realities, working people in the city face an acute shortage of affordable housing. Big developers and commercial rental management companies are making massive profits through the skyrocketing rents in the city, as tenants increasingly get economically evicted. Research shows that for every $100 hike in average rents, homelessness rises by 15%.

It is no surprise that Seattle is experiencing a homelessness crisis.

Just last year, the Mayor declared this crisis a Civil State of Emergency, and allocated $7 million. I support any and all such funding. And I join the Mayor’s call for national and state funding to act decisively on funding to address homelessness and social services.

However, the failures at the state and federal level cannot be an excuse for city-elected officials to not do everything in our power in the here and now. The $7 million allocated by the Mayor’s declaration is a welcome small step forward, but it is far from enough.

Just last November, the City Council rejected my amendment to the 2016 city budget to fund the $10 million recommendation of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness to create immediate shelter for an additional 1,000 people and provide them with human services.

City officials have been carrying out homeless sweeps. We cannot solve homelessness by sweeping it out of sight. Forcing people to abandon their tents with nowhere to go, particularly during winter when it is cold and wet, is inhumane and cruel (see my statement from the council discussion posted on January 21).

Contrary to what the corporate politicians in the city will have us believe, there are real solutions to the crisis. As an immediate measure, I urge all members of the City Council and the Mayor to allocate $10 million for additional shelter beds. More fundamentally, the city needs to use its bonding capacity to begin building thousands of units of high-quality, affordable city-owned housing. And we need to fight for rent control to defend affordable housing.

The Mayor has said that the only way we can generate additional funds for the homeless is by taking resources away from other social needs. This is not accurate. We have to demand that City officials enact new progressive revenue sources, such as by taxing big business and the rich.

This latest tragedy illustrates why I will continue to work closely with housing activists to make sure that homelessness and housing justice remains a central focus in Seattle. I invite everybody to be part of the People’s Assembly on February 27, 11am at City Hall, to come together, discuss solutions to homelessness and develop a joint plan to mobilize from below to overcome the dominance of big developers, slum lords and speculators in this city.

Let’s continue building our movement, uniting housing justice advocates, homeless advocates, the labor movement, and social justice activists to unite and fight to make this city affordable and safe for all.