The Seattle Times is joining media in San Francisco in featuring coverage about homelessness on Wednesday. Get up to speed on the crisis here.
All the while, a homelessness crisis grips Seattle as thousands sleep on the streets.
In cooperation with nearly 20 other Seattle-area newsrooms, and inspired by a project involving 70 San Francisco media organizations, The Seattle Times will be promoting its coverage of the region’s homeless population Wednesday in an effort to inform and spur change for the better.
Follow #SeaHomeless on social media for more from us and other local news organizations.
What’s happening in Seattle
A count of homeless in January found 4,500 people sleeping on the streets, a 19 percent increase from last year’s tally. Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have followed other West Coast officials — and the state of Hawaii — in declaring a state of emergency over the crisis.
Seattle is aiming for a humane response to homelessness and complaints about RVs on city streets. The city council authorized three more homeless encampments for as many as 100 people each. The city also has opened a “safe lot,” where people can park their cars or RVs and have access to portable restrooms and other services. But not all homeless people living in vehicles welcome it.
“There’s a whole bunch of can’t, can’t and can’t,” said Danny Fletcher of the lot’s rules. “There’s no freedom.” He added: “I should be able to do whatever I want in my home.”
Meanwhile, a consultant hired by the mayor told the city she was unhappy with the opening of the encampments because they “are a real distraction from investing in solutions.”
“You can see it takes a lot of energy to get them running and they don’t solve the problem. You still have people who are visibly homeless, living outdoors,” said Barbara Poppe, who led President Obama’s homelessness work from 2009 to 2014.
Times City Hall reporter Daniel Beekman held an Ask Me Anything discussion on reddit’s Seattle subreddit earlier this month. Read the in-depth questions and answers here.
Inside The Jungle
An unauthorized homeless encampment called The Jungle is tucked away under Interstate 5 in Seattle, where hundreds of people sleep in tents and shanties. After a shooting there killed two people and injured three others, officials have been working to shut down the camp.
We spent a few days talking with its residents and those working to clear them out. We found a subsection of the camp called The Caves. We met the survivors of the fatal shooting. And we heard a tale of a man who lost part of his eye when it was eaten by a rat.
Solutions in San Francisco and Houston
Some cities, like San Francisco and Houston, are experimenting with innovative approaches to help end the crisis of homelessness. Officials in San Francisco opened a new kind of homeless shelter, called the Navigation Center, where guests come and go as they please and pets, partners and possessions are welcome. The shelter has taken 300 people off the streets — and found permanent housing for half of them. Seattle now has plans to launch a similar program.
“This could be how we start reinventing our shelter system by taking people as they are,” Murray said. “… The system we have now is mats on the floor.”
Houston’s unsheltered homeless population is down about 75 percent since 2011, and leaders there credit their new housing-first approach. Rather than open more shelters, they focused on getting people into housing. They told charitable organizations to sign on or lose out on funding.
Similar to what Houston uses now, King County intends next month to launch an ubersystem to track homeless people and set them up with housing and services across nonprofit organizations.
Suburban homelessness — and a Hobbit-like hut
Urban homelessness is easy to spot on street corners and in parks. But there’s a hidden population of homeless families on the outskirts of the big city.
More than 35,000 students in Washington were homeless at some point last year, and their numbers are surprisingly high in suburban districts that might be thought of as affluent. The Lake Washington School District, serving Kirkland, Redmond and a good chunk of Sammamish, reported 296 homeless students last year. Mukilteo, on the shore of Puget Sound, with a median household income of $91,095, had 227. Edmonds tallied 600.
“We’ve literally got buses dropping kids at tents and cars,” said Debbie Joyce Jakala, spokeswoman for the Edmonds School District.
Cleaning up homeless camps in the suburbs is becoming a regular part of Wade Holden’s job, whose Friends of the Trail clears out litter and other refuse from illegal dumping on public land.
In the spring, Holden and a King County Sheriff’s Deputy cautiously approached a hovel in the woods that had been David Taylor’s home for three years. They were there to tell him to move on — and to tear down his Hobbit-like hut.
“I tried to make it last as long as I could. I guess that’s today,” he said.
This post includes information and quotes from The Seattle Times archive.