A couple of days ago, I was walking the public pathway that runs along North Northlake Way when I found my way blocked by an old RV surrounded by piles of trash. I had no choice but to step into the busy street to get around. On the other side was another RV and another and another, as well as parked cars that were clearly being lived in, plus many more piles of aromatic trash and a guy peeing on the asphalt.

Dodging in and out of traffic, I finally got past the gantlet. At that far end was a young woman heading in the other direction pushing her toddler in a stroller. She stood perplexed, trying to figure out how to safely pass this “homeless” encampment.

I put the word homeless in quotes because the term is inadequate to describe what citizens of our city encounter every day on sidewalks, in parks, at the edges of freeways and in close proximity to schools. It is a problem that goes well beyond the lack of affordable housing; it is a mental-health problem, a substance-abuse problem, a crime problem, a public-health problem. It is a problem that grows worse, despite the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that have been spent on various inadequate remedies.

It is also a leadership problem and, as Seattle voters contemplate their choices in the Aug. 3 primary election, the homelessness issue is likely the first thing most city dwellers have on their minds. Who among the many contenders for mayor, city-council posts and city attorney are the candidates most likely to finally find the magic formula to fix this persistent dilemma?

Most of the aspirants offer vague language about compassion and tick off all the right buzz words aimed at Seattle’s progressive majority. It is not easy to decipher what they really might do about encroaching encampments and the thievery, drug overdoses and occasional violence that come with them. A few are more jarringly forthright, like Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, whose campaign has sent out a text message that says “Seattle continues to ignore poor, homeless, and disabled people EXCEPT to imprison them.” She is running for city attorney, believe it or not.

If anyone is being ignored in this town, it is the hundreds of thousands of residents of all races and economic conditions who willingly pay the hefty taxes that support the homelessness policies that are not working. Clearly, we need leaders who are competent enough to oversee real solutions and who are brave enough to address the full array of challenges that are too neatly bundled together under a word – homeless – that plays on our sympathies but fails to acknowledge our justified alarm.

See more of David Horsey’s cartoons at: st.news/davidhorsey

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