There are nearly 3,900 unsheltered people living on the streets, in tents, abandoned buildings and vehicles in Seattle. There are another 4,700 people in shelters and transitional housing who need to find permanent homes. That’s unacceptable. We are a generous and compassionate city but some of us are getting left behind. The homelessness crisis in Seattle continues to grow. As Mayor, I will make it a top priority to move more people off the streets and into permanent housing.
People experiencing homelessness are our neighbors and are disproportionately people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ (especially among the youth homeless population). Many have a history of domestic violence abuse or experience with foster care. Removing barriers to permanent housing requires not just shelter alternatives, but also requires addressing a variety of complex challenges, including employment, affordable housing, stable schooling for kids, and addiction and mental health services. This is a complicated problem with many causes and no one-size-fits-all solution. That means we have to look at a number of solutions.
We must have everyone in this fight: service providers, caring philanthropists, communities, individuals and businesses dedicated to finding innovative long-term housing solutions. We also must do more to ensure that the city resources are an investment in real, tangible benefits: compassionate and low barrier temporary shelters, better and quicker pathways to homes, meaningful mental health and addiction treatment, and holistic support services.
I will bring a special focus to homeless families living on the street, in cars and RVS, and in tents, partnering with schools and social services to get them into stable living and school environments. No child in Seattle should fall behind because they don’t have a permanent roof over their heads.
Above all else, homeless families and individuals need a safe and stable home and must be treated with compassion, respect and dignity. We must have more affordable housing in Seattle. This is not only needed for those who are unsheltered, we need to prevent people from falling into homelessness. Many are just one illness, job loss or personal challenge away from losing their home.
In addition to refocusing our efforts on the long term challenges of housing and treatment, as Mayor, I will initiate three immediate actions to address homelessness in Seattle:
1. Provide up to 700 additional beds in emergency shelters.
I will lead an effort to create 50 to 100 additional beds in each city council district. This might occur by opening community centers during non-operating hours to serve as shelters for homeless families. Community centers have already successfully effectively served as places for hygiene services for unsheltered people in their off-hours. Some council districts may have better or more immediate solutions such as partnering with faith and community group. But the important thing is to do it now – to provide respite and safe places for people living on our streets while we continue to reform and get shelters online that lead to better, long-term outcomes.
2. Expand and improve interventions with families living in cars and RVs
We are seeing a substantial rise in the number of people living in cars and RVs in Seattle, including many homeless families. These folks may have less severe barriers to permanent housing than those living on the streets or in unauthorized tent encampments. This would make them good candidates for intensive short-term interventions that are designed to minimize the amount of time families are homeless. Such options include diversion straight into stable housing options or rapid re-housing with a three- to six-month rent subsidy. This provides a period to address and stabilize problems such as unemployment, or eligibility for veteran, disability or other services.
To facilitate these rapid interventions, I will establish additional specially trained, interdisciplinary teams (known as Navigation Teams) of police officers and social workers targeted directly at doing outreach to those living in cars and RVs. The specialized Navigation Teams will work to mitigate quality of life, health and environmental issues, while identifying appropriate candidates for diversion, rapid re-housing or other specific services, including mental health and addiction treatment services.
3. Building Micro-Housing: Providing a Step Up for Those Stuck on Our Streets
One additional strategy is to expand the availability of micro-housing, defined as small, low-cost units that will have heat, insulation, and basic utilities.
Similar sorts of housing known as “tiny homes” have been piloted in several neighborhoods, constructed with the help of organizations like Compass Housing Alliance and the Low Income Housing Institute, the Building Trades Unions, and dedicated volunteers. Micro-housing is not a long-term solution. But experience has shown that this sort of approach will provide safer, healthier alternatives to unauthorized tent encampments, and they are most effective if developed through a process of meaningful community engagement. Unfortunately, the City has not embraced this alternative to unsanctioned encampments. If elected mayor, I will change that.
These micro-housing communities will be developed with strong community input. The City will initiate an open and transparent city-wide conversation about siting. We will convene a comprehensive advisory committee, including community groups, churches, mosques, synagogues, labor, neighborhood organizations, city agencies and business for a robust city-wide conversation to broaden understanding of the tiny house strategy and guide its implementation.
My goal is to create 1,000 new micro-houses in Seattle in my first year as Mayor to move people out of encampments and off our streets. Using a combination of volunteer power and contracts with companies to produce insulated micro-houses for an estimated $10,000 each, we could potentially construct several thousand units of such housing in a few years’ time at a reasonable cost.
4. Propose a Seattle-King County regional consolidation of homelessness services.
Homelessness is a regional problem that needs a regional solution. We must commit to exploring with King County a regional consolidation of homelessness services under one roof. This approach would reduce administrative overhead and better coordinate service delivery. The current fragmented system—with King County providing the bulk of mental health services and Seattle sheltering most single homeless adults, for example—must be streamlined if we are going to make headway on solving the crisis.
— Jenny Durkan