Our community believes we can confront and resolve global climate change. Let’s address the root causes of homelessness with the same determination.
What will it take to end homelessness?
I am asked this question all the time. The assumption is that homelessness has a single cause and a single solution. However, homelessness is a symptom of multiple system failures and broad societal problems.
Just as global climate change is a symptom of deforestation, fossil-fuel emissions from cars and industry and other factors, homelessness is a symptom of failures in the child-welfare system, racism, wage inequity, the failure to adequately fund mental-health and addiction services, and skyrocketing housing costs.
People who experience homelessness are not all the same, nor are the reasons for their lack of housing. Like our local efforts to reverse global climate change, we need to focus on root cause and prevention, and we must all participate in the solutions.
The causes of homelessness are many: Thirty percent of people who experience homelessness have been part of the child-welfare system. People are more likely to be evicted, or never find housing at all, if they are black or brown or have a disability. Communities that have great wage inequities and high housing costs have higher rates of homelessness than communities where housing costs are affordable and wages more equal. Washington state is in the bottom quartile of the country for the number of psychiatric inpatient and other treatment beds based on population, according to a national study. We welcome refugees from war ravaged countries — many of whom don’t speak English — but give them only two months of rental assistance and a bill to repay their airline ticket. Recent studies report that the U.S. military discharges service members who have brain injuries that cause behavioral issues, even as these veterans are denied VA benefits.
If we want to end homelessness, we must address these root-cause issues. Sure, they seem daunting and not completely within our local control, but reversing global climate change is also difficult and not in our exclusive power to solve. Yet we work to shrink our carbon footprint by reducing energy usage, riding public transportation, paying more for green building and investing so that utilities can be carbon neutral. We focus on root cause and prevention.
To end homelessness, we must do the same. Not being able to find an apartment for less than $2,000 a month, or being put on waitlists for housing or treatment, or living in foster homes as a child are not individual failings; they are societal failings. Together, we can reverse these societal issues.
Let’s open spare rooms and backyards for innovative housing models and say “yes in my backyard.” Let’s fight for more mental-health dollars and facilities so that we have treatment on demand. Let’s encourage doctors throughout King County to provide medication-assisted help for people seeking treatment for opioid addiction to increase treatment capacity. Let’s be a true welcoming sanctuary community and make sure our new neighbors have the support they need to be successful in their new country. Let’s have more critical conversations about race and equity. Let’s treat people experiencing homelessness as our sisters, brothers, children or parents, because they are. Our community refuses to believe we cannot confront and resolve global climate change. Let’s address the root causes of homelessness with the same determination.