Tackling the Homelessness Crisis & Public Safety

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One Night Count 2016

I never expected this job to be easy, I don’t think anyone does. This week has proven especially challenging as an elected official, as an advocate for the underrepresented and, frankly, as a fellow resident. Last night, I joined 1,000 volunteers in the Seattle-King County One Night Count organized by the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness.

From 2 am to 5 am, we spread out across Seattle to count our neighbors who are sleeping outside.  My staff and I were assigned to the Duwamish Greenbelt near South Park.  My experience in last night’s One Night Count further underscored what our city has known for some time: we are in a state of human emergency.

Listen to my real-time reaction to last night’s count here.

What I saw last night as I weaved through overgrown briar bushes and marshland wasn’t drug paraphernalia, lawlessness or wanton behavior. I saw children’s clothes, food containers, feminine hygiene products, clotheslines, gardens, makeshift recycling, people sleeping in their cars, and a shirt laid out to wear but hastily abandoned. I saw occupied and recently abandoned campsites and structures.  I saw the face of struggle but I also saw profound human resilience and strength.

Last year we saw a 20% increase in the number of unsheltered people and I am saddened to learn that last night’s count revealed an additional 19% increase. In spite of investing nearly $50 million towards homeless programs and resources, we are facing the harsh reality of a 39% increase in the number of unsheltered people living in greenbelts and in plain view in just two years. These faces and numbers paint a deeper picture of the human story behind the crisis:

2016 One Night Count Infographic

These numbers tell us, in no uncertain terms, that what we are collectively doing isn’t working. The City and County’s declaration of a state of emergency presents a unique opportunity for all of us to rethink our approach.

The homelessness crisis we are facing is dynamic, with different underlying root causes unique to each person who is experiencing homelessness.  I am ready to ask the tough questions and find answers to ensure that no Seattle resident is abandoned by the leadership of this city in their time of greatest need.  I hope you will join me in this conversation and that you will do so not only with compassion but with a sincere interest in being my partner in advocating for evidence-based strategies that have a meaningful impact in making homelessness a one-time brief experience.

Our First Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans Committee Meeting
Safe Communities (formerly known as Public Safety)

Wednesday morning at 9:30 am was my first committee meeting as the Chair of GESCNA. As most of you are aware, Tuesday evening 5 people were shot at an unsanctioned homeless encampment. As the chair of Safe Communities, the incident weighed heavy on my mind and heart. Gun violence remains prevalent in much of our city, regardless of circumstance. Seattle Police Department Chief Kathleen O’Toole attended my committee meeting to give us a special update on the investigation, which is active and ongoing. You can view her update as well as the full meeting here.

In addition to the Chief’s update regarding the shooting, she was attending the meeting along with Brian Maxey (SPD Chief Operating Officer) and Ben Noble (Director, City of Seattle Budget Office) to present finding regarding SPD’s emergency 911 response times. While the data was not positive and indicated a significant gap between actual response times and reported response time, I am grateful to the Chief and her department for their transparency and commitment to solving this issue. Data indicates that under Chief O’Toole’s tenure, response times are improving and will continue to improve as the department innovates new ways to create officer and public safety resources around the city. Materials from that presentation can be found here.

New Americans

We also heard from Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Director Cuc Vu. Ms. Vu briefed the committee about the challenges faced by immigrant and refugee communities in our city as well as the legislative and budgetary priorities of that department for 2016. That presentation can also be found here.

Our Proposed Work Plan for 2016

Lastly, our central staff committee coordinator, Amy Tsai, presented the 2016 proposed GESCNA work plan. This was a “30,000 foot view” of what our committee responsibilities are and what we hope to achieve this year. If you’d like to tell us what you think we should be working on, email us! If you would like to know what falls into GESCNA and what we will be tackling in 2016, Ms. Tsai’s presentation is a great resource. Find it, along with the other presentations, here.

This is not the most cheery of updates, I know. However, this is our challenge as law makers and city leaders. As a city-wide elected official it is my duty to tackle these largest and most pervasive of issues and I remain optimistic about our ability to do so.

Yours in Service,


Lorena signature

*Data provided by WA State Dept. of Commerce.