Seattle Mayor Ed Murray went on a media blitz Tuesday to explain his views on the city’s homelessness problem and what officials are doing about it.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray made the rounds on local television and radio stations Tuesday morning and delivered a live televised speech on Tuesday night to defend what the city is doing to address rampant homelessness.
“I hear your frustrations, and I share them. I know we are not always getting it right,” he said in the Seattle Channel speech from Mary’s Place, a shelter for women and families. “But the fact is, we are in the midst of a growing national crisis of homelessness. People are dying on our streets. We are working on a complex problem in real time. I ask that you work with us, so that we can create positive change.”
Murray’s aggressive messaging campaign, including the rare prime-time speech, comes amid public outcry on all sides of a problem that he said has divided the city.
Some residents of neighborhoods with many people camping in unauthorized locations and in vehicles, such as Ballard, have linked the camping to drug dealing and theft, and they have accused officials of taking a lax approach to the issue. Five people were shot at a Sodo encampment just as Murray was about to deliver his Tuesday evening speech.
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Meanwhile, the homeless and their allies have criticized the mayor for shutting down unauthorized homeless encampments, sometimes without notice, despite the lack of shelter beds.
“Instead of cooperation and a shared voice, we have seen too much division and extreme rhetoric,” Murray said in his speech. The mayor said officials are trying to help the homeless in a compassionate manner while maintaining public order, health and safety, and he stressed that other parts of the state, as well as West Coast cities also are struggling with homelessness.
“This isn’t a Seattle problem. This is a statewide and a national problem,” Murray said on Q13 FOX. “I can walk you through almost every town or city in this state and show you homeless encampments.”
The mayor and King County Executive Dow Constantine in November proclaimed states of emergency in Seattle and countywide in response to growing homelessness.
Murray has said he won’t declare the emergency over until he sees a significant reduction in the number of people dying homeless on the city’s streets.
Seattle will spend about $50 million in 2016 to combat homelessness, but Murray said the city can’t solve it unless it receives more help.
“Without a re-engaged federal government and without more assistance from the state, we’re not going to get a handle on this problem,” the mayor said on Q13 FOX.
“It’s about the fact that we don’t fund mental health. It’s about the fact that we’re in a national heroin epidemic,” he said. “It’s about the fact that income inequality has made it hard for some people who work to sleep anywhere except in a tent in an illegal spot.”
Murray has opened two tent encampments on properties leased from Seattle City Light. Last week, he said the city would open two safe-parking sites for people living in vehicles. Seattle has added some shelter beds, as well.
The mayor Tuesday said overall crime is down and asked residents upset about unauthorized camping to not paint all people without homes as criminals.
“To conflate homelessness with crime is a mistake,” Murray said on KIRO-TV. “Yes, there are folks who are criminals who are in RVs. There are also folks who are struggling with addiction, with mental illness, with just having a job.”
The only way for the city to provide emergency shelter to every person who needs it would be to double its spending by cutting $49 million from other services, Murray said in his speech, challenging advocates and City Council members who have called for more funds.