As a preface, here is an interactive map that the Northlake Safety and Security Team put together of the camper problem down on Northlake way. They state that in addition to the increasing numbers of vehicles, there are “numerous bags of garbage and debris” plus “12 unusually large piles of dog poop/human feces (?) in just a small section of the walking path”.
Also, I apologize for pairing homelessness with property crime in the question. I was trying to boil the questions down to 5 total and the issues both relate to city responsiveness, but the pairing is ugly and unfair and I regret it. Anyhow, moving right along…
The Question: Wallingford has several camper vans parked down on Northlake Way and homeless encampments in Gasworks and Meridian parks. This has been resulting in violence and mess to the point that the Northlake Safety and Security Team was recently formed to try to contain the problem after they found city government unhelpful. Further, police responsiveness to property crime like car prowls and mail theft and even home burglary is effectively non-existent in Wallingford.
The community has service agencies like Familyworks and Solid Ground, plus local churches that provide services. Programs like low income housing and Conservation Corps with Seattle Parks help with individual cases, but the 10 year plan to end homelessness in Seattle resulted in more homeless people than ever. It is argued the problem is exacerbated by the fact that neighborhoods like Wallingford are the best place to be homeless and receive services in our region.
Solving the problem requires the sort of sustained effort that Seattle government has not demonstrated an ability to undertake, from providing supports to everyone while also deterring abuse of property and laws. What are you planning to do so that city government becomes able to address these problems in a sustained effort?
Tony Provine’s Answer: As a caring and compassionate community, we should provide shelter and programs that connect homeless people with effective services, like job training. Our region’s 10 year plan is well-intentioned but an ineffective attempt to solve the problem of homelessness. Other cities have been more successful. Salt Lake City created a system of supportive housing where unsheltered people wanted to dwell and provided generous on-site counseling for challenges such as drug abuse and unemployment. The SLC results were stunning. In 2004, SLC estimated that each chronically homeless person cost taxpayers $61,000 a year, compared with $16,000 for supportive housing.
As a neighborhood leader I have heard the urgent need for more police officers. Seattle’s police force is understaffed by hundreds; SPD is at 1970’s levels. It is essential that the City of Seattle establish its own police academy to increase staffing quickly. Wallingford would benefit from neighborhood policing with visible foot patrols that deter criminal activity.
We also need to expand the promising pilot program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), throughout north Seattle Instead of arrests and jail time, LEAD takes a public health, harm-reduction approach where drug offenders receive treatment and housing to transition out of criminal behavior.
Jean Godden’s Answer: First of all, you have correctly explained the situation as I see it: Seattle is an attractive city with a moderate climate. It holds out the promise of jobs and it has a wealth of social services compared to other destinations. For this reason, we draw increasing numbers of newcomers, some of whom have found work; others, alas, have become the new homeless.
Because of a vastly increased need for transitional housing, we recently approved three additional encampments. These encampments will need experienced management and cannot be sited in single-family neighborhoods. Yes, we do need more transitional housing, but not under the nearest underpass nor alongside interstate ramps. Another step is that we need to encourage other communities in the region to assume responsibility and provide for some of the homeless population. If these other communities want help with regional transportation, housing, trails and more, we should expect them to help with the problem.
Despite our efforts to help move the homeless into a more stable existence with a secure roof over their heads, we may always have populations in need. Given the present dearth of services at state and federal levels, the city must work to secure more mental health services. One last note, I have noted the increase in private security forces due to the increasing exasperation with property crimes. I am convinced, in talking with our new police chef Kathleen O’Toole, that she is aware of the issue. Seattle needs more police per capita. We have the smallest ratio of any large city. Increasing the force will be a large undertaking, but it is one that stalled during the recession and we must now address.
Abel Pacheco’s Answer: We need to remember that being poor and homeless is not a crime, and shouldn’t betreated as one. On the other hand, those who refuse help and disregard the health, safety and environment of our communities and are not truly homeless should be required to obey the law. Regarding the issue down on Northlake way, it is my understanding that many of the large vehicles are there months at a time and interact with the neighborhood and authority in not only a hostile but dangerous manner. When the vehicles are moved, they often leave mounds of trash, garbage and even feces in their wake. Alternatives to parking on the waterfront should be available, and if refused, the law should be equitably enforced.
Homelessness is and will be a continuing problem as it is said the poor will always be with us. Fortunately Seattle has a wide variety of nonprofit organizations willing to tackle the problem. These organizations should be given greater flexibility to experiment with different models in dealing with homelessness. One example is to allow “housing first” programs. City grant requirements should be reviewed to allow accountability, flexibility, and innovation.
Michael Maddux’s Answer: Clearly our city needs to invest in more shelter beds, transitional housing, workforce retraining, and day centers with attached services. I believe it is time for Seattle to be bold on revenue, and will work with willing council members to review what options we can and should push for – including a local income tax – to stabilize our revenue stream, decrease regressive taxes and fees, and ideally have the funds in place to provide improved human service infrastructure. In the interim, I do believe we need to identify a short-term measure to address Northlake (and other parts of the city with similar situations). To that end, I will work with service providers, fellow council members, and neighborhood groups, in order to identify options, such as a car-camper encampment, so that people who are living in their vehicles have somewhere safe to be.
On property crime, a separate issue, I do believe we need to be proactive in funding and recruiting more officers, activate community policing within all communities, and ensure our officers have the support they need to adequately patrol neighborhoods and respond to calls – including property crime calls – in a timely fashion. As your next council member, I will accompany officers during each shift for each beat – whether as a ride-along, bike-along, or walk-along – and take the opportunity to learn from our frontline officers what their needs are, while ensuring my district office is a place for residents to bring information about neighborhood and block crime spikes, and know that their concerns are being heard by myself, my staff, and our precinct commanders.
Rob Johnson’s Answer: In Seattle unsheltered homelessness has increased by 30% over the past 5 years, which has been exacerbated by the national and state reduction in mental health and social service funding. Clearly it’s time for a renewed effort to tackle the problem. I’ll push to see us work to expand the successful LEAD program into neighborhoods to reduce crime, I’ll advocate for hiring more officers to improve response times, I’ll push for more community policing efforts so officers can work more closely with communities on chronic public safety issues, and I’ll advocate for the budget to include more support for Solid Ground and other service providers to be able to stay open later, provide more services, and assist more people. I have a strong track record of collaboration with local officials throughout the region on complex policy issues and would engage early to combat homelessness. For example, I fought for the adoption of a low-income fare for Metro bus and Sound Transit light rail riders, both of which were implemented in 2015. Nearly 25% of King County residents are now eligible to ride transit at 50% less than the normal fare, a huge increase in mobility and access for working families.