Op-Ed: We can end homelessness

Monday, July 25, 2016

By John Wilson, King County Assessor

As I’ve talked to all kinds of folks about affordable housing, I’ve recognized there are many stories to our affordability crisis. I got to hear more of them this week.

For the past couple months, we’ve had a homeless encampment on the second floor plaza of the King County Administration Building. Rather than hand out money, I decided to buy sandwiches and soup. With the help of Catering by Edwin, we handed out sandwiches and a cup of chili to about 60 folks who had been calling the plaza home.

As they got their food, I chatted with them. I wanted to know their stories. Each one was a little different. A tall man with a full backpack on told me how he came from Denver to join a fishing crew headed for Alaska only for the ship to have a mechanical breakdown, never leaving the dock. That left him stranded in Seattle, homeless and without a job.

There was the young couple, trying to find stable housing and employment, so they could get their four-month-old son back from child services. They readily admitted their drug use was a mistake, had cost them their child, and they were determined to get on track so they could be reunited as a family.

There was another couple who lost their apartment and were now living in a tent. She was battling cancer. He was looking for a job.

No one story. No stereotypes. Just too many people and too little housing. Too many people living perilously close to the edge.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, some choose to live in tents as a lifestyle. But there are better, safer, and more effective ways to house people and help reintegrate them into mainstream society.

That’s why I’ve been working with Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and we’ve identified around 300 publicly-owned locations within the Seattle city limits for possible housing. And I’ve been working with Executive Dow Constantine, his team, County Councilmembers Rod Dembowski and Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Councilmember Bagshaw on a truly innovative approach to short-term housing that could be a model to add thousands of units to our housing stock over the next few years.

We can solve our housing crisis. It can start with something as easy as a sandwich, but it should end with a safe, secure place everyone can call home. It’s just a question of do we have a willingness to do it. I think we do.


Anonymous,  July 26, 2016 at 9:06 AM  

Thank you! If people aren't mentally ill when they hit the street, living that way would make you crazy really quickly.

Anyone who thinks people willingly choose this life should try it for a day - just leave your house in the morning with only $2 on your person and no cell phone. Figure out where to go, how to get there, where to use a toilet, what to eat. You can't go home until late in the evening. It's a real eye-opener for everyone I know that's tried it. Everyone needs a home, even if its only a secure plywood storage unit.

Anonymous,  July 27, 2016 at 11:38 PM  

When housing stock is low and the landlords have their puck of tenants, those with low credit scores can't find a home to move to, EVEN if they have the cash to move in. And there is another barrier. Hoe many people, if told their lease won't be renewed for whatever reason can come up with the $5000 or more necessary to secure a new place to live even if they can pass the credit check.

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