Homelessnes, Tent Cities and us

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    Shane Dillon

    It’s a real tough thing the whole homeless situation, but there has to be a better solution than what is being employed in Ballard today. I was at one meeting last year when numbers for Bellevue Homeless were released and someone declared that they had solved the problem! Of course all they have done is zoned areas and provide no services at all (in fact there is only one shelter listed which I think is gone now) and all the services they give are based in Seattle and Ballard (see http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/shelter.cgi?shelter=14206)

    Unfortunately it is a fact that the more services you have, the more people will come from miles away, it’s just like how people migrate to where there are jobs or a better life.

    The parking in Ballard is ridiculous! It is also annoying that the parking attendants don’t ticket the camper vans near the library, but will ticket everyone else.

    I’ve no idea how much Urness House is saving/costing, but almost everyday I see either a fire engine or ambulance there.

    Instead of building (and funding) more things just for the homeless population, can’t we perhaps buy tokens or credits for them to use facilities that are already available to everyone? There are many motels available with rooms, there are places to do laundry etc.

    I’m sure those businesses would be happy for the work, and also it would only be funded by those who want to help solve the problem, rather than leaving a bad taste in the mouths of those who don’t want to help.

    Just my 2 cents


    great idea

    “Instead of building (and funding) more things just for the homeless population, can’t we perhaps buy tokens or credits for them to use facilities that are already available to everyone? There are many motels available with rooms, there are places to do laundry etc.”

    that is sometimes done, but it is very expensive:
    “Due to the high cost and little success ensuring permanent housing, charitable organizations in the area told KIRO 7 they use motel vouchers only as a last resort.”

    “I’m sure those businesses would be happy for the work”
    not always. in fact, sometimes those businesses deny the homeless, even when the unit is paid for:


    Shane Dillon

    Both interesting reads ‘great idea’ and sad in a lot of respects.

    I do agree with a lot of what the sweet guy said as well. Location should be a big factor, it shouldn’t be where it would negatively effect other businesses, or for that matter near residences where people pay ridiculous property taxes to live in a ‘nice’ area.

    I know NIMBY has been painted as a negative term, but you have to take in to consideration those who are in debt with banks on a mortgage for a property that now has decreased in value due to a new development.

    It is rarely that one of our council members vote for something on the doorstep of where they live!



    I agree with Compass Rose, “As residents, taxpayers and fellow human beings, we should demand better.”

    The problem with the parking program is that they do not have the capacity or funding to do more than they are doing now. As it is there is a significant waiting list of vehicle residents waiting to get into the program.

    If the City would allow the use of public and private properties to be used as host sites that would help a lot. Instead they depend on the religious community to provide the spaces. Thus far the City has not seen fit to allow other types of properties to be used.

    That said, what would help the most would be if there were sufficient funding to develop an adequate supply of low income housing then people could move from vehicle into housing.

    Are existing programs helping to solve the problem of homelessness? I guess we will see when this year’s One Night Count is completed on Jan 23rd.



    Location should be a big factor, it shouldn’t be where it would negatively effect other businesses, or for that matter near residences where people pay ridiculous property taxes to live in a ‘nice’ area.

    People don’t pay ridiculous property taxes to live in a nice area, it’s because they own an expensive property, and the URS won’t change that. Apparently at least one developer isn’t too worried about values going down since they are building “a boutique community of 20 loft-style condos located on a quiet street” right next door.

    For 325K you too can own 712 square ft. worth of the American Dream.




    NWCitizen, I don’t think we can expect things to change unless city leaders grow a pair and stand up to the service providers whose livelihoods rely on simply warehousing the homeless rather than actually helping them out of homelessness. And yes, by that I mean SHARE/Wheel, which has steadfastly refused to be held accountable for outcomes (that is, moving people out of homelessness) while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funding annually, and bullied city leaders who dare to suggest that. That’s how Nickelsville came about.

    The city should gradually reduce the number of shelter beds and divert that money instead to housing and supportive services. And we need more housing like 1811 Eastlake, which saved $4M in it first year of operation alone (great story about that here: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/case-allowing-homeless-drink-alcohol-recovery-supportive-housing-96061/)

    What I object to is continuing to throw money at band-aid solutions that just enable homelessness. I don’t believe that the city can’t afford to spend more on parking programs, but parking programs aren’t a solution. I’d really like to see a detailed accounting of where that $35M spent annually on homeless services is going. Clearly it’s not being spent in the most effective manner.



    CR said, “…parking programs aren’t a solution…”

    I agree and neither are tent encampments or indoor shelters for that matter. What they are are interim survival mechanisms (a term used by the Committee to End Homelessness). They are a safer, more stable place for people to be while they figure out their next steps. Some people need help in moving forward in their lives and others simply need that safer, more stable place to be while they figure things out for themselves.

    There does need to be more housing and supportive services. In the end that is what will put an end to homelessness. But even if you diverted all funding from survival shelter to building more housing you still would not be able to build enough to fill the need and more people would die on our streets in greater numbers than they do now.



    Then again, maybe ISMs are just diverting homeless from finding towns with more affordable housing, or jobs that they’re suited for. Homeless advocacy and service organizations are very resistant to surveying the homeless to find out where they’re from and how they got homeless, which suggests they don’t expect to hear answers they’ll like.



    CR +1

    We will never “end” homelessness. There are reasons that these folks have no family and/or friends willing to take them in “until they can get on their feet”. They need some serious help and letting them camp whereever and handing out sandwiches only prolong their stay on the streets. Given that we aren’t about to send them all to labor camps (Russia’s solution), programs that strongly encourage accepting serious help in exchange for whatever service is being provided makes a lot more sense.


    Life is amazing

    I have to ask what kind help you mean.

    If everyone on this thread was suddenly homeless and someone came along and said “I’ll give you help to get out of homelessness and in the meantime here are some sandwiches” we would jump up and get right on the list for the help to get on our feet, I’m assuming we’re talking about counseling, job search, food stamps. low income housing.
    Unfortunately, many of the homeless that have no family to take them in are mentally ill or addicts that haven’t been able to kick it.

    You can’t force someone to stay off of alcohol or drugs even if you could force them into a detox program. You can’t often “fix” whatever it is that is their root cause(s) for being an addict.

    You can’t often ‘fix’ someone who is mentally ill so that they can function in a way that doesn’t include homelessness unless you institutionalize them against their will.
    We can’t compare the general homeless population to the average joe who is capable of getting and holding a job.

    Each person who is without a home has a reason they are without a home. It’s far more complicated than “stop being homeless”.

    All of this I believe is true, unfortunately, it doesn’t get me any closer to knowing the answer. I believe there is a catch 22 in that the answer is not giving people things that perpetuate the self vision that they can’t do it for themselves nor is it stopping the programs of help with the idea that if they were not given help their homelessness would “stop being encouraged” and they would wake up in that doorway and say “Gee, I don’t get to have free stuff anymore. I’m going to go look for a job and get an apartment.

    Wait, I do have the answer. We need to have enough money to give each person on the street what they need or what they are willing to accept of what they need. We need more programs set up like habitat for humanity where to get the perks you gotta work for it for those who can and programs that simply provide a safe roof over the head of anyone who can’t function in another way. Huge buildings made into lovely small one or two room places with a private bathroom and a community kitchen where everyone who is capable shares chores. Anyone have a gazillion dollars to set that up everywhere in the US?



    Since I’ve lived in Seattle and the Ballard area, I’ve noticed there are a bunch of different groups that all share one thing in common – they’re homeless.

    There’s the transitional homeless:
    – People who went through difficult circumstances
    – People who moved here without a job or housing lined up

    There seems to be quite a bit of support and acceptance for this group.

    There are the ‘street kids’ mostly adults under 25:
    – They tend to be visible and enjoy the freedom a 0 responsibility life offers, and enjoy irritating anyone they can

    There are the mentally and physically ill:
    – Complicated group, not as easy to help as people in a transitional state since they have major obstacles preventing them from caring for themselves wherever the may be living.
    – Street living no doubt makes the situation worse the longer they’re living rough without care.

    There are the people suffering from severe addictions:
    – Significant overlap with the mentally ill, but the main difference is what helps someone who is just physically or mentally ill may actually hurt (enable) a homeless person in this category.
    – Property crime is tied to this group, mostly theft.
    – If given the choice between a place to live and having drugs, the drugs will be a higher priority.
    – Treating the addiction might only get them to the point where they’re physically or mentally ill, still not able to care for themselves. Sometimes this is a result of the addiction itself.

    Not a lot of sympathy for this group, and the help currently available seems to be inadequate. The few ‘harm reduction’ programs available like needle exchanges and methadone clinics only deal with specific issues but are not successful in reducing the problem. The existing programs that do have a measurable impact (housing facilities that help people manage their problems) are expensive and unpopular.

    Then there are criminals:

    – people whose criminal history disqualifies them from most opportunities, sometimes for good reason
    – sociopaths who have no innate or imposed reason to behave in a way that doesn’t hurt others

    The last group are the ones NOBODY wants around, and in my opinion cause most of the problems for the other homeless – either they victimize the homeless directly or they destroy any sympathy people have.

    With this group, there may be no solution aside from continued incarceration. As long as they’re mixed in with the general homeless population, helping the others is nearly impossible.



    I mean REAL help- help with their mental illness, help with their addiction, help with their inability to keep a job or an apartment. A lot of motels won’t rent to homeless people even if you offer to pay for them and I don’t blame them.
    Most of the homeless have problems well beyond lack of funds. Definitely help people who just need a bit of stability so they can save up for the apartment or room rent, but those are the easy ones and not a high percentage of the homeless population. I have a lot of sympathy. My cousin died of exposure in a park. He was a nice guy. My bi-polar sister asked me for money so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the street and my mother asked me not to give it to her so that she would allow herself to be checked into the hospital for treatment. It drives me kind of crazy when people assume that a job offer and a housing voucher will solve homelessness. I hate to see people handing out money to panhandlers when they could be giving it to an organization like DESC that would truly help.


    great idea

    that is a decent list of homeless ‘types’, MRK.

    there is another group that should be considered, or perhaps they individually fall into these separate categories– military veterans.

    they certainly represent a decent chunk of the homeless population.

    I know this group has been targeted to get off the street, but I would bet many our our streets are in fact vets.

    it is good to know other cities are having success with this particular problem:



    “They need some serious help and letting them camp whereever and handing out sandwiches only prolong their stay on the streets.”

    I agree, Kate. The IRSes, as NWCitizen calls them, can serve to simply enable and prolong homelessness, rather than reduce it. I think the city (and society generally) has an obligation to try to help people out of homelessness. But allowing people to camp out while they “figure things out for themselves” indefinitely isn’t good for anybody – not for homeless people or for the communities where tent cities and car camping is proliferating. Last night, driving down Market Street, I saw two separate encampments in doorways on Market Street, with people surrounded by grocery carts and bags of stuff. The same thing is going on under the Ballard Bridge – tents, trash, old furniture strewn about. How is that in any way acceptable?

    I don’t have an answer for how to deal with people who refuse help, or for mentally ill people. But I don’t accept that the $35 million the city spends ANNUALLY on homeless services is not enough to house at least a good percentage – if not all – of Seattle’s homeless population. I don’t buy that. I would like to see a clear accounting of how that money (read: taxpayer money) is being spent. If we can’t end homelessness entirely, we can surely reduce it greatly. And we are not doing that. Why? I have to wonder just whose interests are being served by the current system.



    @CR – a significant number would have to be involuntarily committed or arrested in order to be housed, otherwise they would not agree to it. Once that comes into play the costs of housing skyrocket.

    I do think there are some opportunities to better house those suffering from addiction. But that’s a difficult population to house without also providing some security and medical care. JUST housing the addicts might not improve their situation at all on average.

    As for the disabled, mentally ill and veterans – I’m not sure what to make of that situation. Supposedly these groups qualify for SSDI or some other form of permanent assistance but they’re still on the streets in surprising numbers.



    @MRK “I do think there are some opportunities to better house those suffering from addiction.”

    Indeed there are, just not enough. Seattle has been a leader in the “Housing First” movement that demonstrates that housing someone with chronic addiction in a setting that provides supportive services is a win-win for all concerned.

    An Internet search for “DESC 1811 Eastlake” will provide links to reports on the program. Here’s an excerpt:

    “In January 2008, Mayor Nickels announced the findings of studies on one-year outcomes at two Housing First projects: 1811 Eastlake and Plymouth on Stewart. Separate studies revealed similar findings. Preliminary research shows an estimated cost avoidance of over $4 million* because of fewer visits by these formerly chronically homeless individuals to the Harborview Medical Center and the Dutch Schisler Sobering Center, as well as less use of other crisis-treatment services.”

    Those programs continue to provide positive results.

    More recently Utah has announced results of its “Housing First” program that has reduced chronic homelessness by 75% so far and still going.



    @MRK “I do think there are some opportunities to better house those suffering from addiction.”

    Yes, there are such opportunities. An internet search for “DESC 1811 Eastlake” will lead to information about that successful program and one other here in Seattle.

    Also, Utah has gotten press coverage on its successful program to end chronic homelessness which follows the “Housing First” model similar to 1811 Eastlake.



    We need more facilities like 1811 Eastlake. The Housing First model has been proven to be effective for the people it serves, as well as economical.

    What we do NOT need are more tent cities. I was frustrated to read in the Times today that the mayor wants to add three more tent cities to Seattle. Again, where is the $37M the city is spending annually on homeless services going? I can’t believe that isn’t enough money to provide permanent housing for at least a good percentage of Seattle’s homeless population.

    Tent cities just divert resources and attention away from coming up with more permanent solutions to reduce homelessness. Even the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness thinks they’re a bad idea, yet our useless mayor supports them.

    Here’s what the council says about tent cities (emphasis mine):

    “USICH believes that encampments also are not a solution to homelessness—as encampments do not provide permanent housing outcomes, nor do encampments best serve those who are experiencing homelessness. Encampments only offer a TEMPORARY and REACTIVE response to homelessness. Encampments—regardless of whether or not they are officially sanctioned or publically or privately funded—can distract communities from focusing on the real solution of connecting people experiencing homelessness with safe, stable, permanent housing. Encampments also create risks for their inhabitants related to safety, health, and sanitation. The costs associated with trying to ensure the well-being of people living in encampments CAN BE SPENT MORE STRATEGICALLY TO CREATE PERMANENT HOUSING and services options for people experiencing homelessness in encampments, which will decrease overall homelessness in a community.”

    So why is Seattle expanding tent cities instead of spending its funding on homeless services more effectively?



    “@CR – a significant number would have to be involuntarily committed or arrested in order to be housed, otherwise they would not agree to it. Once that comes into play the costs of housing skyrocket.”

    True, MRK, and that’s probably a big part of the problem. Perhaps laws around involuntary commitment need to be changed.



    Although the mentally ill and homeless may qualify for SSI, they probably wouldn’t qualify for SSD which requires a certain amount of work within a 5 year period. SSI is means tested and will currently give the recipient just over $700 a month. That would feed someone, but having enough for housing AND food (not to mention utilities, and how about health insurance?) would be rough.

    There’s also something I haven’t heard yet. LIA said any one of us if we became homeless would jump at the chance for real help and go through every hoop needed (I’m assuming you meant the last part LIA, apologies if you didn’t). I don’t think that’s 100% true. Why? Because losing your job is depressing. Losing your friends is also depressing. Losing your housing is *really* depressing. If someone is depressed, it can be difficult just to eat something, let alone go through stupid hoops when you’re robbed of all hope. A depressed person may not always be rational/make rational decisions. Also, some people in that depressed state may turn to drugs or alcohol because it IS a bandaid. Sometimes a bandaid seems better than an oozing wound.

    I’m not suggesting all homeless got hooked on drugs or booze after becoming homeless, but I can certainly see it happening. Even if they were an alcoholic first, alcohol may seem like the only comfort or “friend” they have left. Sure, that “friend” may be abusive, but people regularly stay with someone who actively and visibly beat them, whereas alcohol is a little more passive and long term abusive.



    I used to think we needed tent cities, but it seems they are not temporary. I don’t really blame the inhabitants of the tents — for the most part they are decent people trying hard to work within their abilities to scrape by. As MRK, CR, and others have pointed out above there are lots of folk who have limited abilities to cope, whether the disabilities are PTSD, illness, alcoholism, other addictions. And the route to their current situation varies whether it was service in a war, loss of employment, abuse at the hands of a “loved” one, etc. I am truly concerned about the people in the tent cities getting the help they need to get back on their feet. I just don’t see it happening there. CR is so right that we spend a ton of money, but we’re not getting much for it.

    There is some percentage of malevolent (dare I say criminal) individuals counted among the population we call homeless. The crimes are somewhat more serious than the similar individuals counted among the students at nearly any high school, just grown up, more serious crimes.



    Items from the current newsletter of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County:

    Low-Income Housing Funds Are Drying Up All Over America
    Across the country, applications for public housing have sky rocketed while affordable housing stocks continue to dwindle. For example, when Baltimore opened its public housing wait list for the first time in a decade last fall, more than 70,000 people applied for 25,000 spots. Affordable Housing advocates hope that the launch of the National Housing Trust fund last month can provide some additional funds, but warn that more investments in affordable housing are needed to meet the demand.

    The lack of low-income housing is nationwide and not just in Seattle. However, the situation in Seattle is exacerbated by the rapidly rising rents that put housing out of reach for many of its citizens.

    King County Section 8 Wait List Opening
    On January 28, 2015 the King County Housing Authority will begin accepting applications for placement on the Section 8 rental assistance waiting list. Applications will be taken solely on-line at http://www.kcha.org starting at 6 A.M. A random lottery drawing will be used to select 2,500 of these applications for the Section 8 waiting list.

    This is merely to get on the waiting list and not to obtain actual housing.

    So, no, encampments are not a solution but they are an “interim survival mechanism” for people who are homeless and, as some have said here, they are better than sleeping on the street.



    We need more facilities like 1811 Eastlake.

    Should they build one in Ballard? Maybe somewhere along 58th? <\s>

    Man I would love to watch the shitting of bricks that would occur if they tried to build a wet house in central Ballard!

    Judging from the reaction to the URS, a wet house would cause an uprising to rival the WTO riots.



    Ernie, they already built a “wet house” in Ballard — it’s called Nyer Urness House, on NW 56th (1753 NW 56th, IIRC) less than a block from the proposed URS location. I laugh every time I see the asking prices for the new condos being built across the street from Urness House — who would want to pay ANY money for a condo across the street from frequent loud sidewalk domestic arguments in the summer time and late at night, plus hundreds of 911 fire/MedicOne responses showing up every year? I think they’re trying to pre-sell as many units as possible at the off-site sales office…



    I’d rather see wet housing than people camped out in vehicles and hanging around Ballard Commons. But Ballard already has a proliferation of homeless services. Other locations should be considered too.

    It’s a moot point, though. I haven’t heard anything about the city planning to build more Housing First-type facilities, just more tent cities.

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