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Like many others, I nodded when a homelessness emergency was declared three years ago. I’m no longer nodding. The problem is growing, and taxpayers are not seeing much value from their dramatically higher taxes. Imagine if there were a big earthquake. Would this be an acceptable response? I’m pretty sure the answer is a loud no.

One aspect of this challenge has been underreported: a culture of impunity that allows the homeless to ignore city of Seattle regulations without legal consequences. If they are not held accountable by public authorities, why would their behaviors change? This culture of low-level lawlessness suggests we do not have the right balance of sticks and carrots to enforce different behaviors.

King County and Seattle spend nearly $200 million each year to help about 30,000 individuals and families. Recent reports on how often service providers do not meet their performance targets were, politely, embarrassing.

There is no compassion in letting the homeless live in unsafe conditions. I recognize the challenges in moving homeless individuals into productive lives. Simply, either there is an emergency or there is not. If there is, the city and county are failing to address these challenges.

Where is their accountability?

Joe Mitchell, Seattle