The pandemic has shown us that millions of Americans are just an unpaid bill or lost job away from losing it all. In Seattle, home to the world’s wealthiest people and some of the highest housing costs in the nation, there has been a reported 50% percent increase in tents in the city. This has forced a conversation between government and residents who want the tents removed and neighborhoods cleaned.
But if the sight of more tents on our streets makes you uncomfortable, imagine what it’s like to live in those tents. The cold and damp, no matter how many layers you put between you and the hard ground, soaks through your clothes and blankets. The trash you collect in the process of everyday living surrounds you. Your best hope is that no one bothers you but it’s just that, a hope. No guarantees of safety are made as you huddle in your nylon shelter with only a zipper to keep others out.
Twelve years ago, I lived on the streets. I’m Siletz and Chippewa/Cree and, statistically, I’m more than 10 times likely to experience homelessness than any other race. Despite the fact that Native Americans make up 1% of the overall population, urban Natives make up 15% percent of the city’s homeless. Today, I’m working to make sure that my Native relatives don’t have to sleep out in the cold. For years, task forces and community groups, elected officials and nonprofits have sat across conference tables to talk solutions. A solution will be on the horizon only to be shut down by residents who want unhoused people off the streets, but not if it means they move to their neighborhoods. The time for more talk without action is over. We know the solutions that work and it’s time to make the investments.
For Black, Indigenous, and people of color we know that when the support and solutions come from our own people, we have better outcomes. Our sisters and brothers are less likely to return to the streets when we are creating culturally relevant and appropriate spaces and support systems led by people from our own communities. Street outreach, case management, temporary shelters and permanent housing placements all need to be created and funded with a focus on equity. A one-size-fits-all solution will not work if we want lasting solutions.
Chief Seattle Club is guided by Indigenous values, building community through ceremony and cultural practices that provide healing for our relatives.
At our ?ál?al (a Lushootseed word for home) development located across from the Pioneer Square Link light rail station we will have 80 housing units, a cafe for community to gather, and a clinic run in partnership with the Seattle Indian Health Board which provides traditional and western medicine. Sacred Medicine House, opening in fall of 2022, will provide 120 units of permanent supportive housing. Kings Inn Motel provides 58 shelter rooms for the most vulnerable and chronically homeless. At Eagle Village we transformed an unused Sodo parking lot into a development with 29 long-term shelter rooms built from shipping containers. Each warm space comes with a shower, microwave and fridge.
These developments are proof that when we block out the noise of the latest complaints from neighborhoods and businesses who dislike the appearance of homelessness, we can be creative and tenacious in providing solutions. Because behind the tent openings, and under the tarps, is a person with a story. They are more than their living situation. They love funny movies, grew up fishing with their grandfather, dream of becoming a teacher or a dad someday. They are real people deserving of a safe home. And they shouldn’t have to wait for the next administration or the next task force meeting for us to provide it.