I work in Seattle and was homeless in Seattle so when I tell you that there is a Homeless Industrial Complex problem in Seattle, I'm speaking from experience. Those of us who have been homeless here or are still homeless get to experience the direct impact of program failures and if Tuesday's shooting in Seattle's notorious "Jungle" isn't proof enough for you, what about the fact that we have more homeless people than affordable housing?
As a homeless person, you have to navigate through a myriad of hoops just to get basic help and that help isn't immediate. There are waiting lists and run outs (running out of funds so that by the time you get there or find out about a specific program, you're too late). For any homeless folks reading this, how many times have you seen notices from agencies that clearly say FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE? Then there's places that tell you they have no idea when they'll have housing available because all their units are full. If you live in a city just outside of Seattle, where it's already overcrowded, you're told by agencies in your town that the only services available that they know of are in Seattle. Even if you get a housing voucher from Section 8 (and that is contingent upon whether or not your state's section 8 is open to apply for), you will run into landlords who post signs on the front lawns of their property saying "For Rent, No Section 8."
You can't just go to one agency to have all your needs met and because homeless services here are often fractured, you have to hop from one place to the next to apply for help. For instance, you might find a day shelter in the city of Kent for women but if you're a man and the men's shelter is full, you'll have to go to Seattle. If you're a family living in your car, good luck. There are no family shelters in Kent or Auburn. There are transitional housing units that in order to get into, you must first be in a shelter and in my experience, there was always a ridiculous waiting list just to get into a shelter. Even if you find a program that somebody referred to you, when you call them you may discover that they are funded only for substance abuse or mental health clients.
If that isn't enough, keep in mind that while you're struggling to make it day to day, you have to figure out how you're going to afford to eat, stay clean, get a job without an address, not give in to despair or sink into escapism through drug abuse. If you have kids, how do you have a job without childcare? Even subsidized child care has income minimums and maximums before you can even be considered for an application. Been there, done that!
Mayor Murray, you have one hell of a job ahead of you as far as Seattle's homeless situation goes and it is unfair and unrealistic for people to think that one person can solve the crisis. My experience is that I didn't get out of homelessness via so-called homeless programs funded by government money. I was helped through direct community intervention by local groups and by working as many hours as I can but even then, it still isn't enough to keep me housed indefinitely. If I lose my job due to downsizing or a health condition, I will be homeless again and I have yet to see enough homeless prevention programs available to halt the numbers of people entering homelessness. It's one thing to talk about ending homelessness but it seems to me we should also be talking about stopping it from happening in the first place.
For those of us living...and dying in Seattle, time is not on our side.