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Mayor Harrell's plan to combat Seattle homeless crisis draws praise

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's ambitious plan to combat rising homelessness is a start, according to an independent data scientist and UW Professor who has written ex

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's ambitious plan to combat rising homelessness is a start, according to an independent data scientist and UW Professor who has written extensively about the issue.

Gregg Colburn co-authored "Homelessness is a Housing Problem" with Data Scientist Clayton Aldern. The two men studied how Seattle's issues are related to other cities of similar size across the country, and came to a conclusion.

"There's more poverty in Detroit than in Seattle, there's more drug use in in Appalachia than there is here. But they don't have the same problem with homelessness, because housing is much more accessible," says Colburn.

In fact, he said permitting and construction costs are factors as well in building permanent supportive or transitional housing. Regulations and space are working against Seattle, according to Colburn. 

"It's kind of the double whammy for us," said Colburn, who is also a member of the Gates Foundation Family Homelessness Evaluation Committee and University of Washington’s Homelessness Research Initiative. "When you get behind and we're behind right now, the costs of fixing it are significant, both in terms of financial costs, and just the human cost of, of that what we observe when we when we live and work in Seattle and observe people who are experiencing homelessness."

Harrell says he wants to create 2,000 new units of housing by the end of the year. The City's new dashboard is actively tracking construction and permitting, and is lagging behind that goal.

Given the argument about construction times, it perhaps adds fuel to the King County Regional Homeless Authority's request to build out 6-7 RV lots, which would create additional space for the 225 RV's that are currently on the street according to the city.

Harrell fully admits the RV encampments, on city streets and near city parks are out of hand. On Monday, there were rows of dilapidated recreational vehicles near the city's Georgetown playfield. By Wednesday, many had been cleared out, and moved to parts unknown.

Harrell is vowing to speed up permitting for any of the related housing, to transition people out of unsheltered conditions.

Colburn credits the Mayor for transparency, and that the data will also create some accountability. He believes his book will also make a case.

"The purpose of the book was to answer a question that I think a lot of people who live in our city have, which is, why is homelessness so bad here and not in other places. Seattle has five times the per capita rate of homelessness of Chicago, which if you visit Chicago, think here's another vibrant, you know, healthy city that has a very different experience than we have," Colburn said, adding, "It's a costly intervention."

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