Breaking News
More () »

2 years after Seattle's homeless emergency, now what?

Two years after then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared Seattle and King County to be part of a civic crisis, the issue does not seem to be going away.

It is still an emergency.

Two years after then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared Seattle and King County to be part of a civic crisis, the issue does not seem to be going away.

"It's difficult to reflect on that because in those two years the numbers have gone up. So you have to ask the question, what's going on?" said Rex Hohlbein, executive director of non-profit "Facing Homelessness," which has used social media to connect the unsheltered with help and services. "It is a complicated, emotional, difficult issue."

There is no doubt that ever since November 2nd, 2015, people have had opinions on the issue. Murray's proclamation, which included King County Executive Dow Constantine by his side, was meant to free up additional funding for homeless services and shelter. It quickly evolved into a political quagmire, involving the unsanctioned encampment underneath I-5. "The Jungle" was cleared, only to be replaced by "The Field" on Royal Brougham Way. The latter was overrun by crime and rodent infestation.

There have been issues at other encampments, and questions about how much the city is doing to find "Pathways Home" for the unsheltered. City spending will likely top $63 million in 2018, and there is now a fight about a potential business tax to put even more towards shelter and services.

That's on top of the question about whether the city should sweep unauthorized encampments. There have been hundreds since the emergency, with opponents saying it prohibits people from finding stability. However, Mayor Tim Burgess sent a memo to the council Wednesday suggesting there are currently 400 unauthorized encampments in the city, and doing nothing would pose a public health and safety risk.

Another memo, from city department directors, including Human Services Chief Katherine Lester and Homeless Emergency Director George Scarola, echoed the concern, saying it would harm the city's interests to do nothing.

Yet, there was a rally again at City Hall Thursday to stop the sweeps, led by council member Kshama Sawant.

"It's completely misleading," she said of the memos. "It's full of red herrings, sort of false, fear mongering."

Hohlbein is staying above the fray and says fixing the issue cannot rest at the hands of city leaders.

"Like a small town would when the river is going to crest and flood - wherever is rushing with sandbags - did we as citizens rush forward to address this crisis? No, we didn't," he said. "I think we have to own up, for part of the reason, as why we haven't addressed homelessness, is that we as citizens haven't rushed forward and that's our task."

"If we demand the change, if we are the squeaky wheel, that's calling for ending homelessness, we will end homelessness," said the eternally positive Hohlbein, "I'm 100 percent confident we can end homelessness. I think there is a lot more that can be done outside the political realm."