The homelessness crisis has emerged as the top issue in the race for Seattle mayor. With six days until Election Day, the issue is taking center stage, once again, as advocates and activists mark two years since Seattle declared a state of emergency on homelessness.
The “Housing for All Coalition,” comprised of various community groups including the Tenants Union and Transit Riders Union, is holding a camp out at Seattle City Hall Wednesday into Thursday.
It’s a show of activism that both mayoral candidates say they applaud.
“I think one of the great things about our country and our city is the First Amendment. I think government shouldn't be afraid of the people. If people want to come, they want to sleep out, they want to protest, that's part of who we are,” said former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.
“Heck yes,” said urban planner Cary Moon. “We need to call attention to this. It's getting cold; rains are already here. This is an emergency. We declared it an emergency two years ago; we haven't done enough to actually invest in solutions.”
The demonstrators at City Hall are calling on city leaders to stop the sweeps of unauthorized encampments, a policy that Moon defines as a key difference in the race.
“Forcing them to move, chasing them around, throws their life into further chaos. It's inefficient, it's inhumane, it's ineffective,” said Moon. “They're human beings that have found a place that works for them and we have to respect that until we can offer them something better.”
Jenny Durkan argues she wants to shift the focus to solutions, rather than keeping homeless in unsafe living environments.
“Right now, we need to have a process to get people out of living in these really squalid and horrible situations that they are in,” said Durkan. “Nobody who has spent any time in those encampments can think that’s a place where people can live, let alone people with children.”
Durkan’s immediate housing proposal calls for adding up to 100 emergency shelter beds in each council district, as well as starting construction on 1,000 micro-homes within her first year, if elected.
“We've had a number of labor unions and working groups and community groups saying we'll help build them, and we'll build them for free, because we want to get it done,” said Durkan of her plan.
Cary Moon, meanwhile, argues her range of housing options is broader and more inclusive of the communities and providers on the front lines of the problem.
“I'm saying let's talk to the people who are experiencing homelessness who know best what they need as a starting place,” said Moon, who supports Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s proposal to look at additional RV Safe Lots around the city.
“That’s the last roof over their head,” said Moon. “If they feel more secure in their RV, let’s find a place for RVs to come together; offer them fresh water, sanitation, garbage pick-up and social services, and we need to facilitate them getting shelter the way they believe they will be best served.”
Housing for All advocates are also pushing city council to adopt the recent HOMES proposal, which would fund additional homelessness services through an employee head tax on businesses grossing at least $5 million a year.
Both mayoral candidates have expressed concern over the tax, as currently proposed, worrying that small businesses could be negatively impacted.