Homelessness, increasingly obvious in our city, was tragically punctuated by a fatal stabbing in Belltown and a fire at a Renton hotel recently. As a physician caring full-time for the homeless, I know firsthand the issues facing both people living on the streets and those who serve them.

It is routine for hospitals to discharge homeless people to shelters, even from mental-health facilities following involuntary detainment and “stabilization.” Hospitals have no alternative but to send the homeless back to the streets despite knowing that any stability gained will not be sustainable. Shelters lack adequate resources to help people recover from whatever life events resulted in their homelessness, creating a hopeless situation.

Homelessness is a system problem, not one of individuals making bad choices. Police and prisons cannot fix homelessness. We need to start by providing adequate care for people with profound mental illness. Solutions must involve coordinated action with both regulatory and financial elements, not only in King County but in Washington as a whole. Not only is it the humane thing to do, it would save lives, improve our streets, and provide a pathway for people to genuinely recover and find a productive place in society.

Nancy Connolly, M.D., MPH