May 09, 2017

The Homeless Crisis in Seattle: Time for a New Approach

I bicycle to work each day along the Burke Gilman Trail, and during the past few years there have been noticeable changes in the "sights" along the path.

Today it is not unusual to see someone sleeping next to the trail in a sleeping bag, with a number of "regulars" living in the adjacent wooded areas.  Last week I had an excellent view of one of them relieving themselves in the open.  A few weeks ago, someone even put up a tent next to the trail behind U. Village and another inhabited tent went up in Mathews Beach Park.   And when I get to my building, a homeless person is frequently sleeping on a grating adjacent to the structure, shielded by a few bushes.  Many of these homeless folks are suffering from some kind of mental affliction, talking to themselves or acting strangely.

When I drive on I5 or 520, I view encampments of homeless at many locations (including the intersection of 520 and Montlake), and a trip to the International District reveals huge numbers of homeless folks sleeping in clusters under and near I5 (see pics).

I can give a dozen other examples, but many of you have experienced the same thing:  the past few years has seen an explosion of homeless in parks, green areas, under highways and overpass, and even some in doorways of downtown buildings.  According to several surveys, there are  now 3000-4000 homeless living outside in pubic spaces.

Many of these individuals are clearly mentally ill or on drugs---disheveled, incoherent, dirty, and talking to themselves in unusual ways.  Dozens have died during the past year, passing away in the cold and wet.

It is profoundly unethical and immoral to allow this situation to continue. How can any civilized city accept a status quo in which a homeless individuals, roughly half mentally ill or addicted, must live on the street like animals, many mired in filth and violence.   Some have served our country, living with the demons of PTSD. Others are folks whose luck has run out or have experienced some tragic situation.  It is wrong.

This deteriorating situation is disgraceful for a rich and vibrant city.  It is a sign of failure of our current city leadership and in ourselves for letting the situation fester so long.  When I show out-of-town visitors our city, they shake their heads in disbelieve that Seattle has allowed things to get so bad.

The City of Seattle and the various agencies/groups dealing with the problem are clearly losing the battle.  They are not effective as noted in several reports.  Stop-gap measures like roving "tent cities" not only don't work but they leave the homeless in the cold, wet Seattle winter.  Homeless encampment sweeps, a signature approach of the current mayor, move the homeless from one location to another rather than provide a long-term solution

Recently, Paul Allen generously offered 30 million dollars to help house some homeless, with Seattle offering a match of 5 million. But supposedly this $35 million dollars was only enough to shelter a few dozen people (if we assume 3 dozen, that would be nearly a million dollars per person). Something is very wrong with the way money for homeless is spent.  Every year, Seattle spends around $50 million dollars on homeless services, but the situation continues to degrade.

The homeless crisis is, of course, not limited to Seattle, with nearby Portland and San Francisco having major problems.   And we should not forgot some of the major drivers of homelessness, such as the misguided reduction of live-in mental health facilities around the nation during the Reagan administration, without restoration by subsequent governments.

Another Approach

After reading quite a bit about this topic, I have concluded there is only one viable approach to dealing with Seattle's homeless crisis, one that encompasses two steps:

1.  Build large amounts of very low cost housing so that every individual has a bed in a warm place with complete protection from the elements, bathroom and washing facilities, access to basic food, the availability of medical and mental heath clinics, and on-site workforce counseling.  We are talking about thousands of units.

2.   Make it unlawful for any individual to sleep in public places such as under roadways or bridges, on sidewalks, parks, or other outdoor spaces.   And enforce this ban with sufficient resources to make it effective, once sufficient housing is available.

This is not pie in the sky.   The City of Seattle spent 100K on an evaluation of it expenditures and organization regarding homeless services.   The findings were clear:  the city's approach is disorganized and wasteful, and that a more logical approach (Housing First) could rapidly take homeless off the street.

Having scattered facilities around the city is very ineffective and costly; centralization will cut costs.  As shown in several cities around the country, it is far cheaper to get homeless off the streets and properly cared for than having them end up taking expensive police time or in hospital emergency rooms.

Most importantly, providing basic housing and a stabilizing environment has shown to be effective at the ultimate goal: rehabilitating the homeless back into society.

The kind of housing I am talking about would not be luxurious:  high-density housing or very inexpensive modular units.  Perhaps in industrial south Seattle not far from a light rail line or bus service.  But it would be humane and responsive to the substantial needs of this population.

With the money already available, many hundreds or thousands of units could be acquired or constructed.

A New Mayor, A New Start

Seattle will soon have a new mayor.

Can you imagine the joy of Seattle citizens if the new leader would say enough is enough and end Seattle's homeless crisis, following the approach outlined above?

Of if our new mayor would stop wasting time and money on meaningless PR efforts (like the disastrous Pronto bikes) and work on improving Seattle's potholed streets?   Or fix the rough bike trails and create a safe, protected way to bike into and out of the city?

Or if the new mayor would apply creative ways (and non-creative ones) to lessen the crippling traffic of our city?  Yes, even put park and rides where needed and reject "road diets" where they would create massive traffic?

A mayor that would make education a city priority, with close cooperation with the Seattle School District and other groups to improve math and science eductation?

A new mayor that would accommodate the economic boom while ensuring appropriate housing developments to main affordability.

A more moderate mayor that would not be playing groups against each other, but try to bring the city together to deal with the acute infrastructure and other challenges we face?

Seattle has so much potential.  We just need better leadership.


  1. 1. Make it unlawful for any individual to sleep in public places such as under roadways or bridges, on sidewalks, parks, or other outdoor spaces. And enforce this ban with sufficient resources to make it effective.

    so you could criminalize poverty or homelessness? That's what that amounts to. These actions are already illegal, I expect, but what does enforcing them do?

    2. Build large amounts of very low cost housing so that every individual has a bed in a warm place with complete protection from the elements, bathroom and washing facilities, access to basic food, the availability of medical and mental heath clinics, and on-site workforce counseling. We are talking about thousands of units.

    Where? Not in existing Seattle neighborhoods.

    Having scattered facilities around the city is very ineffective and costly; centralization will cut costs. As shown in several cities around the country, it is far cheaper to get homeless off the streets and properly cared for than having them end up taking expensive police time or in hospital emergency rooms.

    So a ghetto, in other words?

    As a former member of middle class who is losing ground to the newly minted techo-rich, I wonder what we are supposed to do in a city where median housing costs are $700k?

  2. I see no reason to make public camping and sleeping illegal unless public housing is insufficient and/or substandard. If we fine and jail homeless people for being homeless, we are no better than Bellevue.

  3. Progressive crank? Where? Probably in industrial areas south of downtown. As housing prices increases we either make commuting from cheaper areas better or we build low/mid range housing...such as big apartment building. Like in Vancouver Canada..cliff

  4. Where to put extremely low-cost ultra-high-density dwellings is a problem which starts with being able to answer of why the downtown areas of cities collect all the homeless. Do downtowns have better panhandling opportunities and more places to shelter than suburbia? Or are they just more tolerant.

    To the point about this complex becoming a ghetto -- that's a tougher one. Depending on your definition, it might be one by design. But while ghetto tends to be pejorative, that's not always accurate. In any case, this kind of place would be far healthier and safer than living on the street. The cheapest way is to give everyone a secure, warm and dry place to sleep, along with shared facilities, cooking, laundry, etc.

    What we're doing now doesn't end in a good place. I've been in third-world countries where the streets are full of homeless and beggars, unhealthy people at the edge of survival. We've got a ways to go to get there, but that's the direction we're heading if we do nothing more effective than now.

  5. > Build large amounts of very low cost housing so that every individual has a bed in a warm place with complete protection from the elements, bathroom and washing facilities, access to basic food, the availability of medical and mental heath clinics, and on-site workforce counseling. We are talking about thousands of units.

    It has to also offer security, which implies some sort onside policing or very quick response force.

    But a rough botec suggests this would take up far less space than the new Amazon offices will be providing. So it should be doable. Perhaps we can seize a few hangers from Boeing or Everett field to help Boeing repay their debts to Seattle and Washington.


  6. This is a start but I think there is a this leaves out several questions.

    Why are they living on the street? Why do people choose this over other options?

    One perspective is that these people are making the best choices they can given the range of choices they believe they have and the values they are trying to achieve. For many if not most of these people, they believe they need access to food, alcohol, and harder drugs. They want to have this without having to work for it in the conventional sense. They don't want to have to live by other people's rules. These are all things you can get by skimming off the flow of a dense downtown area if you are not concerned with following the law too closely.

    If you build shelters but don't allow access to the things the people clearly are acting toward it's not clear that it would work.

    1. Yes. I'm glad you make this point. Existing shelters often have empty beds because they don't allow use of drugs or alcohol on the premises.

  7. Hey Cliff,

    There are a few metrics for homelessness. The King County Committee to End Homelessness define three: They want to make homelessness brief, one-time, and rare. When you see a lot of people living on the streets, that only tells you about the third one. We are clearly failing to make homelessness rare, and the data shows that. But the data also shows that we are making strides on the other two metrics: reducing the duration of homelessness and making it a one-time thing.

    As for solutions: To ethically justify the criminalization of sleeping outdoors, you would have to be able to prove that your new affordable housing can immediately accommodate every person who would sleep outdoors (otherwise, you’re just creating a new way to instantly balloon an already unsustainable prison system). The housing will likely not be able to do that, and even if you have established such a hypothetical pipeline from street corner-to-housing complex, it sounds like it could be perceived as the ghettoization of a community who are economically disadvantaged and/or mentally unstable.

    Of course Seattle can do better, but let’s not diminish the work that’s being done by organizations like the Gates Foundation, United Way of King County, the King County Committee to End Homelessness, and so on. Recently I heard Gates Foundation Director David Wertheimer say that homelessness is a symptom of other problems. I think you would agree. Yet your post doesn’t mention economic inequality, structural racism, job training, unemployment, etc. I would wager that David Wertheimer would be willing to talk with you more on the issue, given your platform and your interest.

    1. Cliff

      Thanks for this bringing up this important subject. Here's a few thoughts:

      - it's not just Seattle. Portland is also in the midst of a homeless crisis.

      We should not make generalizations about why people end up on the street. There are many different causes.

      - for whatever reason, society doesn't do enough to help....and that's unacceptable.

      I have an idea for a solution but will run it by you later (need to get back to 😴)

  8. Robert Sperry's comments make too much sense and truth and is contrary to Seattle's zeitgeist.

  9. Cliff,

    This is more of a message than a post.
    I have followed you for years and found you to be intelligent, reasonable and positive.
    The deadline to file to run for Seattle mayor position ends next week. I urge you
    to consider running. The current candidates I have read about appear angry and polarizing.
    This city does not need any more of that.


  10. The author of the following blog claims that the money contracted by the city of Seattle to manage aid to homeless people is being not being properly overseen by the city. Totally shocking if so, especially given Cliff's comments about Paul Allen's offer and the proposal for new taxes to aid the homeless. .

  11. There is a related article this morning on about federally-funded low-income housing ... how developers are benefiting from lack of federal oversight.
    "Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer"

  12. There aren't any jobs for these people anymore. They have all been given to 21-year-old kids from India. Sorry folks, you're Tech Messiahs have sold you're homeland and its own American people down the river for a song.

  13. My mother had dementia at an earlier than normal age. As I watched it progress I began to totally understand where street people come from. Legally she could have walked straight out of the assisted living and roamed the streets. To prevent this you have to have a medical evaluation and court involvement. This takes cooperation from a variety of people including the legal community and the family. In other words, it is complicated. It will take money in order to legally remove the mental ill from their constitutional rights to live wherever they want. But further to the point, unless they receive adequate medical care/medications they will require constant supervision if placed in a shared habitat, in order to prevent acting out their anger/frustrations/confusion. Their paranoia can be dangerous to everyone around them. Their paranoia keeps them away from people resulting in living on the streets. And without the court involvement they do not have to take any medication. In other words, it is complicated.

    1. A homeless vet was recently asked why he was living in a tent instead of a shelter, even though there was space available. His answer, "the shelters are full of crazy people."

      Cliff Alexander

  14. Cliff, why are you not running for Mayor or city council?

  15. And the more amenities you provide, the more homeless will move here to take advantage. And the security problem would be huge in a community of 3,000 homeless. Though perhaps it's the only plausible "solution".

  16. I'm curious what reading and/or historical examples led your favorable view of high density, clustered housing for the poor. Have you researched the failures of Igoe Pruitt or Cabrini Green?

  17. Dear Cliff Mass,
    You are very right in all your points and approach to deal with these issues. We have terrible leadership in the City of Seattle. Our great City if failing in so many areas. There are viable solutions to all our problems, but nobody to point the City in the right direction. Unfortunately there are no good candidates in the next mayoral race. That being said why don't you run for mayor? How long will we look for others to fix problems we are capable in fixing ourselves? Our leadership lacks scientist or engineers, instead we are stuck with glorified prom queens and kings that prefer to play politics instead of fixing problems. Maybe it is your time Dr. Mass to stand up and say enough is enough. Why shouldn't it be you who moves this great city in the right direction?

  18. Patrick raises a valid point -- I sometimes wonder if our generous programs (which stop short of housing but seem to facilitate ongoing drug addiction) and our mild winters are the reason that we have so many of them. What good is housing the ones we've got if twice as many hear about it and venture up here from San Francisco, which seems to have an even worse problem than we do?

    Arresting homeless people for sleeping rough will also cause such wailing and gnashing of teeth that the police will not only stop it after a week, they will make a public apology and swear to never do it again.

  19. For those who think (as commented above) that people are homeless because tech jobs went to India, I propose a test. Let's help the homeless to apply for tech jobs at Microsoft and Amazon. And when they win those jobs based on their superior education and experience and work ethic, then we partially subsidize their salary so the impact to the companies is no greater than a tech worker in India. That'll fix the problem.

    Come on... there are two reasons why jobs go offshore. One is cost for sure, but far more importantly, India and other countries provide a highly educated, skilled and extremely motivated workforce with an excellent work ethic for many tech jobs. And no issues with drugs or alcohol.

    Asian countries and their people have strategized and worked toward this for decades, primarily through education.

    1. Yep. Education is the answer. Free college and/or vocational education for everyone who really wants to work. Like desert pete, we need to be willing to prime the pump and trust that water will flow. Just Google desert pete and listen to the song, I mean really listen; there's more to that story than just a funky old folk song sung by the Kingston trio. And while we're at it, we need to find out why we have a huge drug/alcohol problem in this country. Where did we go wrong? I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count. (Hint: too many rich people with all the money)

  20. This is a crisis of leadership. Someone needs to stand up to the vocal minority who feel that we can't hurt a few people's feelings until we have a life path defined for those affected. We're really talking about the homeless that know there's assistance out there but don't want it because it means giving up drugs, taking their psychiatric medication, or otherwise encumbering them with responsibility. Lest not forget the other ills homelessness brings like petty crime. When neighborhoods leave their car doors unlocked so their windows don't get broken in, and homeowners don't report crimes because the police don't respond, those are bigger concerns than how a homeless person is going to feel about moving into fixed housing. I want to take my kid to a park and not have to keep an eye on the folks wandering the tents in the corner or having to pre-scan the area for needles. Just because you want to 'live' somewhere, and you're willing to do so in a sleeping bag or stolen tent, doesn't meet the city needs to locate services there. I'm sorry for those who feel they're being priced out of the city, but that isn't the primary reason for people sleeping outdoors slumped over a stolen bicycle. Let's not let progress on that issue hold up making the city a safer place for everyone.

  21. Others have already pointed out that criminalizing poverty by making it illegal to sleep outdoors is not an appropriate tactic.

    Unfortunately, a lot of organizations have requirements that people have to meet before they are offered a place to stay. Utah tried the method of "get them into housing first and then offer appropriate services". That seems to be the most sensible approach one can take.

    You can read about their "success" here:

    On a happier note, today's Seattle Times has a story about Amazon offering six floors in one of their buildings to house Mary's Place, for free.

  22. Hey Cliff,

    I appreciate your concern about this issue and using your platform to try and make people think carefully about issues facing the homeless and Seattle's growing homeless population. However, given that you have made a career publishing science in peer reviewed literature I am surprised you feel comfortable writing "I have concluded there is only one viable approach to dealing with Seattle's homeless crisis". This is very strong language from someone who has done "a bit of reading". As someone currently pursuing a PhD in your field, I would appreciate you using less strong language on something you are probably not a real expert on. Maybe we should save the strong language for when we really know what we are talking about, like climate change or numerical weather prediction.


  23. I've noticed that when it gets extremely cold, the homeless downtown seem to disappear (or at least dwindle). Then, when it's warm, the numbers surge. Where are they going?

    First, lets define the type of "homelessness" we are talking about. There are many people who classify as homeless who are temporarily going through rough times. These people sleep in their cars, stay with friends and family, sleep in shelters, etc. This is a temporary situation that usually resolves without much intervention. Most of the statistical homeless fall in this category.

    There is a second class of homeless that literally live on the sidewalks and under overpasses. This is a completely different situation. These people are either incapacitated by mental illness, or prefer the lifestyle of living on the streets (usually because it provides freedom to use substances unhindered).

    I bring up the weather issue because, the truth is, there is housing for homeless people. Either through public agencies, private charities, friends/family, etc. The issue is not housing. The issue is that most family/friends and service providers have conduct/behavior requirements that make living on the streets more attractive. When the costs start to outweigh the benefits, e.g. when it's cold outside, THEN they show up. But, as soon as the weather is tolerable, they're back to their old ways. Why do you think Hawaii has so many homeless?

    First, the mentally ill need to be hospitalized involuntarily. This requires a loosening of the involuntary commitment laws. I notice you blame Reagan for de-institutionalization, but the legal regime which maintains it is actually an odd alliance of libertarians and progressives. In their well-intended desire to promote individual liberty, they maintain a destructive belief that people who are incapacitated by mental illness have the "right" to destroy their lives and the lives of those around them right up until the point that they present an imminent danger. Then, as soon as they no longer present an imminent danger, they are released back to the public, usually still incapacitated.

    For the others, it's simple behaviorism. The costs of living on the streets need to consistently outweigh the benefits. This is easy in theory: Laws need to be enforced against sleeping in public spaces. These spaces are paid for and maintained by MY TAX MONEY. It should be illegal for drug addicts to invade, take over, and destroy them. Once the authorities take a hard stance, these people will find a place to go.

    Hospitalize the mentally ill, prosecute the rest. This would fix the problem. No additional housing needed. Will this ever happen? No. The political and litigious environment in this country makes it impossible. Therefore, I predict this problem will just keep getting worse, with more pandering, more demagoguery, more wasted money, and more homeless.

    That's my humble opinion at least. This is spoken as someone who works closely with homeless people as part of my profession.

    1. Well-said A Patt. Loosening involuntary commitment laws would re-empower families. Well-meaning progressives stand in the way. Thank you for serving the homeless.

  24. Cliff,


    Thinking further into your 2nd bullet point. The answer to your idea is Northgate Mall. The only anchor of the property itself is Nordstroms - no other retailer on the plot of land will need a physical location in 5 years. That plot of land is basically a zombie town of walking dead retailers already. What do you think?

    It can support thousands of units.
    Provide access to health care.
    Encompass very large and diverse workforce training facilities.
    Easy access to public transit.

  25. A Patt's comments are lucid and solid but, unfortunately, do not fit into the narrative of victimhood that Seattle promulgates.

  26. In the 19th century, state legislatures got it right: They dedicated significant funds to the construction of palatial estates, designed by the era’s best architects, for the sole purpose of caring for the mentally ill through a method known as “the moral treatment.”

    While there surely were some abuses, these institutions not only prevented the severely ill from harming others, they also provided them with a calming refuge — true “asylum” — from the gutters, jails and almshouses that were until then the default custodians of society’s “lunatics.”

    But over the last half-century, a combination of progressive groups, big-government bureaucrats and conservative naysayers rallied against these institutions and succeeded in seeing to their demise.

    At midcentury, when these institutions were overcrowded, such criticism might have been justified, but the results today are far worse.

    Since the 1960s, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, more than 90% of mental patients have been discharged from state care to live in ordinary society. In 1955, there were nearly 600,000 mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals. Fifty-five years on, only 43,000 state psychiatric beds remain available for use.

    Civil libertarians have meanwhile erected legal barriers against commitment. Being in need of treatment is no longer enough. Because the mentally ill must now pose a threat to themselves or others — rather than simply requiring care — we must often wait for them to act on a threat before removing them from harm.

  27. Good to see all the people on outer edges of our city and the suburbs are finally able to recognize this problem. For years the inner city and DT neighborhoods were stuck with this and mostly mocked by outsiders for our compassionate and empathetic approaches. We can all now agree that this is a regional problem that does not go away with one way bus tickets to other cities.

    Lets work to restore their dignity and get them the services they need to function in our society.

  28. From recent press articles it looks Seattle is proposing to double spending from $9k up to $18k. And that's just Seattle spending...

    I'd suggest streamlining all of the processes - a single agency that coordinates all of the available resources, with an emphasis on helping children in the foster system.

    And, a harm-reduction approach, reducing the barriers to getting into provided housing by addressing things like keeping families, friends, and pets together.

    But, after that, given the legal issues around forcing people into treatment, anyone is free to not use those resources and will probably remain homeless.

  29. The simplest shelter would be a cubicle 8 feet high, 5-6 feet wide, and 10-12 feet deep. A place for stuff, sleep, and to sit during the day. Heated to at least 60 degrees in the winter. There needs to be porta potties and dumpsters. Close to transit. Not more than a dozen units in any given block. Think of minimum needs if you are out camping or stuck in no where without a motel available. Security cameras to ensure safety and minimal social behavior. Only one person allowed per cubicle. A hundred watt plug in, sufficient for lighting, phone charging etc. Location would probably work best at the border of industrial and commercial.

    Why no toilets or running water - city code Nazis will want $200 a unit a month for utilities. A regular electric connection is too expensive. Charitable agencies to provide food, bathing, and laundry help - not ideal but OK.

    Right now the city code Nazis require a minimal unit costing some $300 thousand per person, in effect making it criminal to be totally poor or mentally ill.

    If we started providing this least for the least of our brothers and sisters we could then work at upgrading such a minimal facility. But meantime they need a place.

  30. Welcome to Seattle!

    One little niggle: Seattle didn't pony up $5 million to "fight homelessness." Seattle can't do that. It's not a sentient being. It was the city government that offered taxpayer money.

  31. This is a very complex issue, and I agree with many others, criminalizing homelessness will not solve the problem. As others have also pointed out, there are many different types of people experiencing homelessness, from many different causes. We can't treat families with children who are recently homeless the same that we would treat a homeless male adult who has been homeless for many years and who struggles with mental illness and substance abuse.

    It is surreal to drive through Seattle and see the evidence of a broken system right in your face with tents everywhere. I grew up in this area and don't remember anything like this ever before. I like the idea of centralized housing, but along with that comes the need for case management and providing many services, which is costly and intensive. DESC is doing great work with the toughest cases of homeless adults, and would be a good place to learn more about the issue, as well as the Seattle/King County Forum on Homelessness:

  32. Hi Cliff - thanks for your thoughts on the homelessness crisis. As mentioned by one of the other commenters, homelessness is a symptom of larger societal ills, including racism, access to quality healthcare, and growing income inequality. That said, and without getting into the age old argument about the deserving and undeserving poor, a local nonprofit called Building Changes (with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) has good information about strategies that really work:

  33. Cliff,

    You're right that we have a homelessness crisis, but the issue isn't that sleeping outside is legal. You're partially right that we have a housing supply crisis and that it's exacerbating homelessness, but you only brush one of the roots of the problem: Washington state has one of the most direly underfunded mental health systems in the nation. We are 48th in the nation in per-capita mental health funding. We need to fix this by any means necessary (income tax, capital gains, etc.), and not just in Seattle - this really is a state-level problem. King County estimates that as many as 35% of our homeless require mental health treatment.[1]

    Let's start by funding our mental health system before we criminalize and stigmatize the homeless even more.


  34. Well, to begin with, the order of your one-two punch is offensive to many. Your second solution is a solution, your first is not. I don't want to live in Singapore.

    A basic premise of criminal justice reform is not to create new laws where existing ones will serve. Many existing laws address criminal actions that challenge public safety and order, whether done by the housed or the homeless. Use those if warranted.

    A second principle is to apply laws equally to all people. If the street person is arrested or detained for loud public profanity, so should the tie-wearing driver with road rage cursing out of their vehicle and the techie telling the street person to f-off, which I have overhead enough to dispel my notions that intelligence and civility are linked.

  35. This is not a city issue. This is a national issue. Our federal government, the richest this planet has ever known, provides nothing for these people that for what ever reason are unable to function in society. This problem is also as old as society. Cities are not in the business to provide endless free housing to Americans that have fallen through the cracks. If there ever was a purpose of having a federal government, this problem is one of them. It's called a safety net and those who are in charge do see it as something' to give back to the American people who have worked so hard in making a society to live in.

  36. We need to rebuild and restore the public psychiatric hospital system. That's at the roots of much of the problem, nationwide. Making it illegal to be homeless, sleep outside on public property, etc., is ABSURD!

  37. Wow, Mr. Mass. Let's criminalize being poor and sleeping without a home. No thanks.

  38. Thoughtful post Cliff; thanks!

  39. Probably in industrial areas south of downtown. As housing prices increases we either make commuting from cheaper areas better or we build low/mid range housing...such as big apartment building. Like in Vancouver Canada

    So no real plan, in other words? There is plenty of disused/underutilized space in the north end but no one wants working class people and the smaller homes they can afford in their neighborhood. The trailer park on Lake City Way will be replaced by expensive intown homes, those residents sent off wherever they can find. Everyone is hoping for that big payday when they sell their rambler for 3-4 times what they paid for it.

    No one wants row houses or tower blocks in their neighborhood — think what that will do to your resale value. If you can't afford a 2000+ sq ft house on a 6000 sq foot lot, you don't belong here.

    In the wake of William J. Baumol's death, I was reminded of Baumol's cost disease []
    Baumol's cost disease (or the Baumol effect) is the rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity, in response to rising salaries in other jobs that have experienced the labor productivity growth. This pattern seemingly goes against the theory in classical economics for which real wage growth is closely tied to labor productivity changes. The phenomenon was described by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in the 1960s.[1]

    In other words, as the standard of living increases, salaries should rise as well, to allow people to actually live their lives, beyond a hand-to-mouth existence. The tide rises, but not every boat rises with it. People in jobs that don't show productivity gains — teachers, barbers, various service workers — don't see the kind of income rise as other workers.

    Seattle's cost of living is rising a lot faster than wages for people who aren't making internet shopping carts or finding new ways to put ads in your face. It's all inflationary. Those houses and condos are not worth 3-4 times what they were 5-10 years ago, but the money to buy them for that price is very real. Add in lots of rentals — much of the rent gets sucked out of the local economy to California or someplace else — which further limits inventory of houses for sale, and it's a perfect storm for potential homebuyers who want to actually live in Seattle vs invest in it. Every dollar I spend on rent is a dollar I can't spend at a local business and if I was a local business owner, I would be disappointed, to say the least. We can carp all we want about leadership but what would you do differently if it was up to you?

    The failure of leadership is not limited to Seattle, as the McCleary decision shows. The state has failed in its "paramount duty" for years and the state's largest and most prosperous city feels the effects. But it hasn't found any solutions to its own local issues. I don't think Ed Murray has done so bad a job as Mayor. He raised taxes? Well, bills have to be paid. What do we want less of to make it up?

  40. Would you mind writing about the weather please.

  41. The cost of living in the San Francisco’s Bay Area continues to rise, so much that a low end six-figure salary is now considered “low-income.”

    In San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, a family of four making $105,350 or less is now considered low income by the federal government Department of Housing and Urban Development. That means they can qualify for affordable housing.

    “They are eligible now to apply for housing through the local housing authority, be it Section 8, be it public housing, or other HUD-subsidized programs,” HUD Regional Public Affairs Officer and Homeless Liaison Ed Cabrera told KRON-TV. —

    Is this what you all want?

  42. Right on Cliff! Allowing people to live on the street is one of the most inhumane aspects of our current City leadership and a HUGE blight on our City. Do they allow this because it makes them feel better about themselves or do they truly want to help the less fortunate??? Why are all those millions not making it better? Trust me, homelessness did not all of sudden get worse, rather, folks have heard that Seattle is a safe and open place to be homeless and have come here from other cities. If we truly profess to be a civilized, compassionate society, we would encourage life change through tough love and life change services and not by coddling and creating co-dependency. Many of our homeless are VERY capable of living normal, civilized lives, if they were simply forced to change. The Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army has been helping men, woman and families for decades and know what they are doing! Help is available, but many choose to ignore, simply because they don't want to change. For those that have genuine mental issues, I completely agree they need to have readily accessible treatment facilities.

    Hopefully a new mayor will have the common sense to make humane policy changes, that will force lifestyle changes in the homeless, otherwise, it will surely only get worse.

  43. Why not take an existing warehouse or vacated building already standing and repurpose it to house folks living on the street?
    Some of the work to remodel could be handled by folks who are living on the street (if they're willing to have a roof over their heads eventually) and give some purpose to their existence.

    A project manager would obviously have to oversee the work crews to insure codes are being met, but there's no reason why homeless individuals, couldn't participate in the project. Sure their would be many issues to deal with, one being where the workers go after a day of work, but maybe working themselves to provide shelter for folks in similar situations, might have a draw.

  44. Reading through these comments is incredible. It shows why nothing ever happens in government. Everyone has an opinion, generally, with a pretty good reason.

    We all see the problem, unhealthy, unsanitary, unruly people squatting on 'public' (Seattle, private business) properties. From my point of view there are two types.. truly disabled (10%), and people taking advantage.

    I think stricter rules on camping in the city, and sitting on corners asking for money are needed. Most of them know they're taking advantage.. they just want to get high and mess with the 'rich' people. And they know that nobody can stop them.. especially with the goofball mayor in charge.

    On a side note - cliff, you'd be nuts to run for mayor. One good person can not fix what's wrong in there..

  45. Here everyone goes judging.. Who is one to say living on the street is inhumane???

    Possibly, inhumane is other people telling one what to do, how to look, how to live, so on and so forth!

    Wall Street and the billionaires need to give back what they stole from Society!

    Scrap the stupid do good programs! Does money give the top 50% the right to dictate life to those with less??? Wake up!

    Real simple, pay each and every AMERICAN CITIZEN $1000 a month cash.

    Let people make their own choices on how to spend it.

  46. Didn't Chicago try high density housing for the poor about 50 years ago? Believe it was known as "The Projects". I wonder how that is turning out? Since every basic need is met, I'm sure the crime rate in the projects is way down. Prostitution, drug abuse, and violent crime are probably non existent.

  47. There's a critical housing shortage in seattle and without a serious effort at revising the predominately single family residential zoning of this city, the lack of affordability and homelessness will only get worse. Mayoral candidate McGinn is actually proposing a reasoned approach to this. However if elected, I doubt he will support your quixotic stand against road diets.

  48. Maybe we should consider talking to, rather than talking about, people living in these conditions. I am sure we would all stand to learn a lot. Please resist all the judging...

  49. get them off the streets, the trails, the public parks where good family folks gather to enjoy a nice day. An avid walker myself, I have not been thrilled at stepping on needles that are thrown on the interurban trail, to have to view people overdosing on drugs near the trail, to step over individuals in some unknown state lying on the ground and obstructing walkers. The interurban trail has become a hiding place for homeless individuals who sleep behind bushes, among other activities they pursue, and it has made walking on that trail feel more like a risk than an enjoyment.

    I have worked with many disabled folks who want jobs, who are willing to work, and do not want support from public agencies, those are the people we should be supporting, and they are the ONLY ones we should support.

  50. I agree with most of what Cliff is saying - I do have this caveat. First, read this Seattle times article:

    I don't know how many of these organizations run less than full, however the homeless shelter directory lists quite a few shelters in Seattle.

    If private shelters currently are not full, then we should be looking at the reasons - not spending money (that we really don't have to begin with) on government housing...

    1. Not sure what happened to my last comment but I'll try it again.

      While we debate what to do about the homeless problem, we could at least we provide porta potties and garbage cans. Maybe free laundry facilities scattered around town? They could wash their clothes and dry their blankets. It would make a huge difference in their lives.

  51. I see some comments here that refer to great organizations that are doing a lot already, and we shouldn't minimize their work. I agree, but it seems the larger problem isn't being addressed. From this citizens viewpoint, its frustrating. We donate time and money to help these organizations, but it seems the more we donate the worse the problem gets.

    So a different and coordinated approach is called for. I agree with Cliff's post, it recognizes that we're vastly under-serving this problem, and need real leadership with real action to get this done. No more Pollyannish, Seattle squabbling. Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on this issue.

    Our current city government leaders (mayor and city council) are not capable of addressing this problem. Finding folks with pragmatic solutions, compassion for the plights of our less fortunate, and capability to execute realistic initiatives is sorely needed.

  52. @Mark Anderson: welcome to language!

    @Tom Monroe: it's pretty well known why shelter beds are empty: their rules are too draconian. No storage, gender restrictions, strict in/out curfews, no guests, must be 100% sober. Homeless people don't need a shelter, they need a home.

  53. Throwing money at the situation has only made it worse. Most of the country ignores their homeless problems and the cities that actually provide for the poor get the benefit of attracting these people. The GOP is hugely at fault for refusing to treat the mentally ill. But many of these people are layabouts looking for a handout. Able-bodied, lazy, on drugs and looking for a free ride. And Seattle is ran by such pushovers that they allow it to happen. They can camp out on city property but I can't even jaywalk.

  54. Cliff, please run for mayor. I'll volunteer for your campaign.

  55. As a former member of middle class who is losing ground to the newly minted techo-rich, I wonder what we are supposed to do in a city where median housing costs are $700k?

    You can buy our house for $1.2 million when it goes on sale in a few weeks. We used to tell people that the only way we'd leave Seattle was feet first. I've owned the house here for 21 years, and I've seen this city go dramatically downhill in the last six or seven years. We are getting out while the getttin' good: just in time, we think.

    Seattle's "progressives" are ruining Seattle. Yep, lots of money here, but the city is in a shambles. Boy oh boy, just wait until the next downturn. I could go into lots of specifics, but will mention just one in passing, because it's so emblematic of just how f'ed up the "progressives" who run this joint are.

    Seattle is getting ready to open a string of homeless shelters where meth and heroin users will be allowed to shoot up on the premises. We know what will happen: Drug dealing nearby, fights inside, overdoses and deaths inside. Followed by big-ticket lawsuits, followed by demands that the city supply the drugs.

    I'm not going to tell anyone where we're going other than to say that it's within the state but far from Seattle. There is meth and heroin everywhere, including where we're headed. I have vowed to sequester $1,000 for one-way bus tickets to Seattle. "Progressives," I will do my small part to make your urban dreams come true.

    Call me names if you want. It'll make me laugh harder.

  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

  57. Homelessness is a complicated issue. The city may not be perfect but there are steps being taken to get people off the streets and into housing.

    Here are some resources you can look at to monitor city progress:

    The encampment removal page shows all the documentation from each camp clean up including what services the people requested and if they accepted offers to move indoors.

    City of Seattle updates this blog on a regular basis with information on projects and camp clean ups around the city.

  58. I favor involuntary civil commitment for the mentally ill. If we could "solve" the mental health issues, we could make a huge dent in the problem of homelessness.

  59. People who are homeless seem to be so by choice, at least near where I live, which is in Mason County, not Seattle.

    There are plenty of shelters taxpayers funded over the last few years, but nobody stays in them because they can't stay off the drugs.

    They'd rather panhandle their next fix, than try to clean up and stay somewhere warm at night. I get it, it's an addiction, but you can't help the people who don't want to be helped.

  60. Ever notice how with the progressives in Seattle there is a deep awareness of animal rights and signs urging us not to feed the animals lest fhey become dependent. But these same folks are all about dependency and creating horrifically inhumane conditions when it comes to the human animals.

    As usual, such inhumanity is what passes for leadership in Seattle.

  61. A solution for those who are not mentally ill would be to create shelter work camps and leave the choice up to them. They could either leave any time they want and make an effort to take us up on all of our social programs to help them find a way to integrate with productive society or stay in the camps and have work assigned to them so they can share some of our societal burden. Some of the proceeds from their newly harnessed productivity could also finance facilities for the truly mentally ill and inpatient drug treatment programs for the addicts.

    We've got a lot of potholes that need filling and litter to be picked up. And if we are so set on light rail, there must be some ways to reduce light rail build costs by putting the underutilized homeless to work.

  62. As a former homeless person I spent just under 2 years in shelters and on the street in a tent much like the folks you pass every day. Homelessness stems from a myriad of causes like you point out though mine was straightforward in the sense that I injured myself at work, lost my income and was evicted from my apartment. Coupled with addiction problems and mental health illness it is concominantly more difficult to get into services, access shelter, food, clothing even things we take for granted like a shave, a haircut, shower and laundry. Homelessness causes mental illness; I have a disorder I have new issues arising from my experience. I talk to myself-I dare say it would not make sense to you or others, but as a natural response to stress it brings me comfort.
    I follow closely the progress of homeless "programs" in the City and County. Paul Allen's donation for housing that will take several years to build and more to occupy new taxes, levies, etc. Our Mayor appointed a "Homeless Czar" last year who seems to have done next to nothing and yet makes an enormous salary which is an affront.

    In Seattle we give dollar after dollar to help, and that money comes to naught. In my opinion there is no plan to use funds and talent to make a difference. Do we have an idea or plan in place to make Mr. Allen's money make the greatest difference or do the greatest good? Do we have workable laws to make developers provide affordable units (even when the units might lose money) in this era of booming construction? How many go to City Council meetings and make their ideas and comments known? Do we demonstrate in front of construction sites to show public support for affordable units? Form or join organizations that do good and have low overhead costs thus giving back in service or programs more of every dollar taken in? Get together with friends and neighbors to provide socks, underwear, t-shirts, backpacks, school supplies for children, hygiene items? And why does housing law follow16thC common law? Since taking a person from street to apartment is often very difficult, where is case management, social workers, Peer Counselors, DSHS, mental health agencies? Each and every person re-housed cannot be placed and just left to survive; it won't and doesn't work. Government is not the total answer, but through legislation, rules, oversight of agencies and yes providing money government can do good work.
    What I have seen in my several years of being voluntarily and involuntarily involved in this "system" is that we lack a plan. We can tax ourselves more and more but without a plan -a plan that actually involves homless folks, mentally challenged folks, addicted folks and folks reading this blog, we will only use the money, time and talent of people in a catch-as-catch-can manner, putting out one fire only to see another somewhere else. And it is imperative that the majority of every dollar from taxes, grants or donations is used to its greatest extent: not to pay irritatingly excessive salaries to bureaucrats who dream up forms, surveys, data bases, asessment tools that siphon time and money.
    These ideas require involvement. No person asks to be homeless, to defecate or urinate in public. To live in filth or shelter in places with lice, scabies, bedbugs, violence. Instead of "sweeps" that remove the bit of ease and comfort under a bridge or in a tent that one can control,provide toilets, rubbish removal and some police protection. Incarceration is not the answer: do not criminalize poverty as everyone can face income loss in this rapidly changing 21st century economic revolution.
    Anger does nothing directed at those without a secure place to live. Be angry at government. Lobby, write, all know the drill. Volunteer one hour a week; build a community to do but to plan first. We are one of the most talented cities in the nation- we can learn to be progressives in the early 20th century meaning of the term, planning how to use all resources to their utmost.

  63. One of the things about this issue is the more services the homeless are offered the more homelessness there will be. It is economics and rational behavior. There are many homeless that move to Seattle and Portland for the services and as we add more, more will leave other parts of the country and come here. And no matter how much we spend it will keep increasing. Like students loans, the more money borrowed, the higher tuition goes. The more services offered for the homeless the more homeless will arrive.

  64. @Vdub Wasbum - Thank you for the standard dose of misinformed cynicism. Public housing has generally worked very well for its intended purpose. Yes, there have been some spectacular failures like Cabrini-Green or Pruitt-Igoe, but those are the exception, not the rule. Seattle has been building public housing for longer than most cities (since the thirties) without creating any of the stereotypical failed projects.

    1. The homeless are in a unique position to practice peaceful civil disobedience. What if at 5:00 am every morning, thousands of homeless took to the streets? (not too difficult since that's where they live, right?) What if they just sat down in the middle of important Seattle roadways and simply refused to budge?

      Fines wouldn't work. Jail time wouldn't work. No fear of losing their jobs.

      The city would have no choice but to quickly deal with the homeless crisis.

      All that's needed are some leaders to organize the "sit-ins".

  65. Mark Mason and A Patt get this exactly right. Seattleites are propogating a MYTH that the majority of those who are literally pissing and shitting on OUR LAND are victims. They're not! They are making a lifestyle choice.

    I have the (dis)pleasure of encountering them everyday in downtown and living on Dexter Ave near the forest people's campsite behind Highway 99. They are all addicted to heroin. There are dirty needles everywhere around Dexter Ave, 99, and especially Dexter Way. I literally see people on the road/sidewalk behind my condo regularly shooting up heroin in broad daylight, esp. on the stairway that leads up to the E-line bus stop. It's complete madness.

    Let me just repeat what A Patt said because I liked it so much...

    There is a second class of homeless that literally live on the sidewalks and under overpasses. This is a completely different situation. These people are either incapacitated by mental illness, or prefer the lifestyle of living on the streets (usually because it provides freedom to use substances unhindered).....

    ....The mentally ill need to be hospitalized involuntarily. This requires a loosening of the involuntary commitment laws. I notice you blame Reagan for de-institutionalization, but the legal regime which maintains it is actually an odd alliance of libertarians and progressives. In their well-intended desire to promote individual liberty, they maintain a destructive belief that people who are incapacitated by mental illness have the "right" to destroy their lives and the lives of those around them right up until the point that they present an imminent danger. Then, as soon as they no longer present an imminent danger, they are released back to the public, usually still incapacitated.

    For the others, it's simple behaviorism. The costs of living on the streets need to consistently outweigh the benefits. This is easy in theory: Laws need to be enforced against sleeping in public spaces. These spaces are paid for and maintained by MY TAX MONEY. It should be illegal for drug addicts to invade, take over, and destroy them. Once the authorities take a hard stance, these people will find a place to go.

    Hospitalize the mentally ill, prosecute the rest. This would fix the problem. No additional housing needed. Will this ever happen? No. The political and litigious environment in this country makes it impossible. Therefore, I predict this problem will just keep getting worse, with more pandering, more demagoguery, more wasted money, and more homeless.

    That's my humble opinion at least. This is spoken as someone who works closely with homeless people as part of my profession.

  66. This is a great opportunity to move on homelessness as you said. Lots of interesting candidates, but the one thing that might be helpful to the new mayor is a strong legal background to fight the financial hurdles in Washington for the next four years. I'd like to think former US Attorney Jenny Durkan might be that person.

  67. It can happen to any of us. In this flat, technology driven world, the third world is extending its reach into the first. One medical issue away from it, even the well off, if Republicans succeed in removing protection against pre-existing conditions, just like the bad Ole days before the ACA where it was the #1 cause of bankruptcy. Or a market crash? Remember those? Failing that, rampant Argentine style inflaion, cashistas. Or how about just getting old? No one is immune.

    Now, since you have some skin in the game, how do you want to deal with the homeless again?

    Perhaps some grand bargain with humanity that recognizes the fundamental truth that the market has been telling us for 40 years; a surplus of us. And the market has less and less need for most of us going forward. It's a formula for strife, perhaps nuclear, if you were thinking you won't be involved.

    Perhaps we do what that island society in the South Pacific came up with, unlike Easter Island, as outlined in "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. A class of us dedicated to recreation in exchange for no reproduction. In their case, surfing, diving, and long sea expeditions, most of which never came back. Or perhaps drug use, for the lazy. All subsidized, in exchange for not making the problem worse.

    Or, we can continue to paint ourselves into a corner until a Philippine like strong man comes along and opens the camps...

  68. I am 44 years old and have been employed by several of the major homeless organizations including LIHI,Plymouth Housing,The DESC & Roots Young Adult Shelter. As a former homeless person in the early 90's who grew up in Seattle my whole life insurance can tell you from experience that all of these agencies have no real interest in getting people out of their situation and into a "normal" life.
    Out of all of the agencies I've been employed by the DESC is by far the worst and possibly the biggest problem. I worked at the Main Shelter for over a year and put in well over 300 hours of OT due to staffing issues. There are 300 homeless clients with severe mental health and chemical dependency issues per night with an average full time staff of 3-4 people! In my first year 6 people died for various reasons (usually overdose) and I have witnessed countless assaults including against staff.
    The employee's get no recognition from management who couldn't do their job if they had to. I have seen many new employees come in to work and never see them again after the first day, one employee was even taken out on a stretcher due to a severe anxiety episode.
    The shelter staff do everything from administrating and recording medication to applying first aid and medical treatment. Mediating between violent clients and often having to confront said clients without any sort of conflict resolution training or anything else.
    There is constant conflict due to the fact that there are drug addicts and people with severe mental health issues all in one place so the latter usually become victimized.
    The people who do this very exhausting work on a daily basis are only paid $13 an hour and receive no recognition or appreciation from the management staff who never deal with the daily shelter mess so therefore they don't stay long.
    Right now there are over 100 positions open at DESC yet they continue to receive millions of dollars every year to open new buildings and programs while nobody ever hears about what is really going on.

  69. From Fletcher: "Hospitalize the mentally ill, prosecute the rest. This would fix the problem. No additional housing needed."

    Mental hospitals are housing. Prisons are housing. Huge amounts of money must be spent building more of them and keeping people in them. While some of the mentally ill should be in hospitals, I think that money would be better spent building housing, dealing with mental issues that don't require hospitalization, providing addiction treatment, and job training that would allow people work and pay for their own lives. In the end this will cost less, but man are against it because they don't like any kind of handout from the government.

  70. We lost a battle when the Kingdome was demolished, the opportunity to house all street folk, provide safety and services, without shipping all the above to outlying zones. Where is the next suitably large property slated for transformation? Will Key Arena be a solution, or continue the problem?

  71. @Craig, do you have ANY IDEA how many of these people (addicts) have come from out of state? They've come in droves. If Seattle ups its social service game even further, how many more will come? Why are we (taxpayers) taking responsibility for these addicts? This is apologism at its very worst.

    What the (sort-of) silent majority is saying here is ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. City leadership: please grow a pair and start enforcing the laws.

    We cannot "have a heart" at the expense of disgusting, dangerous, and illegal hobo camps ruining our public spaces. It is not our responsibility to coddle and pay for heroin addicts and their chosen lifestyle. What NEEDS to happen is for the police to do their job and make conditions so uncomfortable for them here that they will decide to either (a) get clean or (b) go to another city and stop ruining ours.

    If you don't have these people dumping needles on your sidewalk or sneaking around stealing your property (Amazon package thefts, car break-ins abound in Seattle) maybe you don't understand the urgency and impatience with which we the silent majority want to tackle this problem. But try and see if from the perspective of good law abiding citizens who have to actually deal with these people on a daily basis.

    We are sick of it and we deserve better.

  72. Many commenters have noted many valid factors in this complicated problem.
    Regarding the addicted, none have mentioned the culpability of big pharma. Purdue in particular has made billions on oxycontin, while stonewalling attempts to stop abuse of a population who is increasingly victimized by corporate greed. Meanwhile, their political lackeys get stronger in their efforts to erode and misuse tax funds in ways that could support a healthier society.

    Read the book "Dreamland" or the recent LA Times expose about the drug problem in Everett for examples of how complicated this problem is. Until corporations are held accountable its only going to continue to get worse.

  73. I've read most of these comments and frankly I'm appalled by the real lack of real information you folks have. Where are the "mental hospitals" in King County? How many patients can they serve? Who can qualify for on-going help? When incarcerated, do you have any idea of the process of jail booking, "tank" assignment, and jail healthcare? What happens when folks are released- do you know if there is any planning or guidance for sheltering or living?
    Choice? Again, would you choose to be homeless? Mentally unwell? Begging? Probably not, eh. Read what Buck says about the DESC shelter where he worked. It's 100% accurate. And where does this notion come from that we move from city to city "shopping" for benefits? Do you have hard data to support this opinion? Any of these opinions?
    I read how angry many of you are about our condition and I understand it; I'm angry too. But being offended by what you see, angry at what you perceive does nothing unless it's channeled by real information into real action planning.
    In some sense it seems that many of you are a type of "homeless-problem deniers" not unlike those who deny anthropomorphic climate change. Though it's ironic that many of you with the "save the planet" bumper stickers on your cars drive in single occupancy vehicles all over the place and complain about the poor condition of the streets and freeways. Funny how the poor streets, roads and freeways get productive notice and assistance while the people living under them are scorned.
    Oh, and for those of you who feel I don't pay my fair share towards my own benefits, I pay a bit over 25% of my monthly income in sales taxes- this on an income of $1180.00 per month; I pay tax on the small amount I get from the state of Washington whenever I buy toilet paper, soap, razors, etc to keep myself presentable so as to not offend you all.
    Hey, this blog needs to go back to the weather. Something we all complain about but cannot do anything to really alter.

  74. Building extremely low-cost ultra-high-density dwellings to solve the housing crisis will repeat the mistakes of the toxic "project" developments and related urbanization of last century unless they are serviced by adequate green infrastructure: parks, trees, green roofs and green walls. Doing that will also require making these neighborhoods walkable and adequately served by transit so the land base is not taken up by polluting cars and other motor vehicles that necessitate extensive paved surfaces which in turn exacerbate urban heat island and poor air quality. In short the idea to warehouse people by simply building lots of low-cost ultra-high-density dwellings without the other ingredients of a complete, healthy community is not a humane solution.

  75. Why not bring back the "poor house" (also "poor farm" if agriculture was involved).
    Edgefield, near Portland, was a 70 year success story.

  76. Beggars can't be chosers. Those sort of environments are for those that can pay. Perhaps low cost housing located on the east side of the Cascades where land is cheap and plentiful?

  77. Cliff,

    What you are asking for is what people in the city are trying to do, but only with some success.

    I agree that the short term solution is to invest in lots of low cost units that are safe, secure and clean. The sweet spot for this are the tiny houses that have been put up that cost about $3,000 a piece just for the units. For a little less an 8x12 fire resistant tent on a platform costs about $1,500. The city is at the limits of their capacity to provide low cost alternate shelter, but not for lack of funds.

    In the North Rainier Valley the city has just swept two large camps that comprised approximately 100 people. I've spent many hours with the residents of the camps and I am trying to follow as many of their paths of those who have left the camps that have been cleared. We can give credit to the city for finding alternatives to many of the people how have been displaced but the challenges right now are:

    1. It is very difficult to find sites for low cost shelters, and once a site is found it takes tremendous political capital to see a site through as there will usually be a group of neighbors mobilized against a site as soon as it is proposed. Also vacant sites that seem usable that are owned by the city, county or state will usually be administered by a department that has little interest in getting in the business of running homeless encampments. This requires a change in thinking at the highest levels to mandate that we open up vacant land for safe sanctioned tiny houses or similar shelters.

    2. Many authorized camps and shelters are limited as to who they will take. As an example most tent cities will not take drug users that comprise a large percentage of the homeless population. This requires what are known as "low barrier" camps that allow residents to not pass the kind of background checks that some places require. These again are more difficult to site as neighbors are often more resistant to camps that don't screen for drug use or criminal records. The level of IV drug use among the homeless population somewhere around 50%, so to move this population low barrier solutions are required. Even if we increase the availability of drug rehab facilities, users are often not ready to accept them. Other issues are that people will only move where they can have their partner or pet move with them. This limits immediately limits the resources available for them.

    As an example the UW has welcomed a Tent City that has a population that screens for drug use, criminal history and sex offenders. If you took an acre of the Montlake parking lot and allowed it to be a low barrier site for tiny houses, much of that population would have these issues. I think it is a good idea and I hope there could be advocates for this in the University, but who would put their career on the line for this (Last I checked administrators don't have tenure)?

    So then we have the real problem of what we do until we build the capacity to handle the displacement from the unacceptable conditions the homeless live in. That is hard. And if we cannot move them today, can we at least provide some basic sanitation?


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