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SOS forum review & homelessness

I recently attended a candidate forum for District 3, and I urge all voters to do the same even if you think you know who will vote for and vote against. You may hear something that really affirms your position, or you may come away shaking your head and vowing to find out more about each candidate. This forum was put on by SOS (Speak Out Seattle) and I was pleased at the format even though this is a more conservative group than I would normally support. I think they did a fair job of identifying the concerns that most Seattleites have and I applaud their choice of Essex Porter as moderator. He did an excellent job.

What wasn’t discussed was anything about climate change and what can be done but really, most citizens are more concerned about getting their Amazon package stolen off the porch than they are about the worsening signs of climate change.

Of the 7 candidates that evening, the men seemed more aligned in ideas for solutions than the women. On the lightning round where, the candidates hold up signs indicating a yes or no on important issues, the vote for a property tax, “Yes” was 5 out of the 7. The 2 “No” candidates were Sarah Brereton and Pat Murakami. These same two were against rent control.

I didn’t hear a satisfying answer to the problem of not being able to replace police officers who are retiring—it was as if most of the candidates did not hear the word “retiring.” According to KUOW news, this is a problem affecting most big cities and is unlikely to be related to any Seattle policies.

The other question which I did not feel was answered was what to do about the frequent turnover of social workers working in services for the homeless population. I wanted to jump out of my seat and say, “I will answer that question!” As a retired social worker, I know that job satisfaction is far more important than money and that means having the necessary resources to do one’s job. What a thankless situation to be a “navigator” for homeless persons. What do you have to offer? Not housing; it isn’t there; not a bed in a rehab clinic…that’s probably a 10 month wait and not a bed where there is help for the mentally ill….those have been scarce since Nixon opened the door of the facilities that used to do this work and turned the residents out on the street.

And I hate it when people demonize the victims; do you really think that a person wants to be addicted? Seeks a mental illness to deal with? Wants to live under a bridge instead of having a roof over one’s head? Why not blame Perdue Pharma, if you’re into blame? Or The Sackler family? Or just maybe landlords?

The Huffington Post had a recent article on the problem of being homeless and it is everywhere. They saw it as a problem of prosperity rather than the opposite. Even Salt Lake City which was once lauded for housing everyone is now dealing with a growing homeless population. From the Huffington Post’s look at this issue: “Homelessness is no longer a symbol of decline. It is a product of prosperity. Most people being pushed out onto the streets by America’s growing urban economies do not need dedicated social workers or intensive medication regimes. They simply need higher incomes and lower housing costs.”

“The people with the highest risk of homelessness are the ones living on a Social Security check or working a minimum-wage job,” said Margot Kushel, the director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations. In 2015, she led a team of researchers who interviewed 350 people living on the streets in Oakland. Nearly half of their older interviewees were experiencing homelessness for the first time.

“If they make it to 50 and they’ve never been homeless, there’s a good chance they don’t have severe mental illness or substance abuse issues,” Kushel said. “Once they become homeless, they start to spiral downward really quickly. They’re sleeping three to four hours a night, they get beat up, they lose their medications. If you walk past them in a tent, they seem like they need all these services. But what they really needed was cheaper rent a year ago.”

“Other research has found the same connection between housing costs and homelessness. In 2012, researchers found that a $100 increase in monthly rent in big cities was associated with a 15 percent rise in homelessness. The effect was even stronger in smaller cities.”

“Once you’re homeless, it’s a steep hill to climb back up. When an eviction is on your record, it’s even steeper. And even if you do get back into housing, you’re still one illness or one car problem away from becoming homeless again.”

“And rising affluence isn’t just transforming the economic factors that cause homelessness. It is also changing the politics of the cities tasked with solving it. Across the country, as formerly poor neighborhoods have gentrified, politicians are facing increasingly strident calls to criminalize panhandling and bulldoze tent encampments. While city residents consistently tell pollsters that they support homeless services in principle, specific proposals to build shelters or expand services face vociferous local opposition.”

“The biggest hindrance to solving homelessness is that city residents keep demanding the least effective policies,” said Sara Rankin, the director of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University School of Law. The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that punishing homeless people makes it harder for them to find housing and get work. Nonetheless, the most common demands from urban voters are for politicians to increase arrests, close down soup kitchens and impose entry requirements and drug tests in shelters.

Does this sound familiar? Throw them in jail? We will all be paying for bigger jails instead of throwing housing and beds for mental illness and addiction rehab into the resource mix. And we already incarcerate more people than any other first world nation? Or maybe we have slipped into third world status while I wasn’t looking.

I still think of my one great success: getting a disabled woman on disability moved from a slum landlord basement apartment (with a bathroom outside and strange looking wiring looping over the walls; at my house, the wiring is inside the walls!) She was able to move into a Seattle Housing building with older disabled tenants and an elevator. I visited her in the new place, and she was ecstatic not only with her surroundings (and indoor bathroom) but with her neighbors: she had found Scrabble partners and started a book club. Under Medicare rules, I could no longer keep visiting but enjoyed her annual Christmas card for years.

~Diane Snell

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