Who lives inside the tents? Use homeless survey to best focus spending
Seattle police surround The Field homeless camp in Sodo Tuesday to begin evicting residents. (David Gutman/The Seattle Times)
A new survey of Seattle’s homeless provides useful data for policymakers and voters.
With Mayor Ed Murray pushing another property tax this year to double spending on homelessness, voters should be particularly interested in the survey results.
One finding is that just over half the surveyed homeless came from outside city limits. It found that 51.1 percent lived elsewhere when they lost their previous home.
About 15 percent are from other states or countries. The rest are from the greater Puget Sound area or elsewhere in Washington.
This is significant, not because these people aren’t welcome. It’s needed to affirm that this is not just Seattle’s problem. Homelessness is a regional crisis that demands a regional and state response.
Remember, Seattle has only 10 percent of the state’s population. Yet its residents and businesses disproportionately pay for this regional crisis.
Blame for this arrangement is shared. Seattle shows little fiscal restraint, while regional cities, the state and federal government aren’t contributing enough.
Better data collection will help address funding imbalances and analyze whether money is well spent. Scarcity of data has made it difficult to measure outcomes and hold officials accountable.
Seattle’s survey does provide insight into the people beneath the tarps and the range of help they need.
Nearly half report using heroin, crack or methamphetamine. Many have mental-health issues, for which about a fourth receive services.
Finding affordable housing is especially difficult, yet only 11 percent said they became homeless because of rent increases.
This glimpse into the tents and shelters is just a start. Information about this population should be regularly forthcoming and extensive, especially since 80 percent receive government assistance.
King County has upgraded its data-collection system used by regional service providers. Until there is more transparency, it’s hard to get enthused about Murray’s call to double spending with another property tax.
Call it the Hanauer Tax because it’s an initiative proposed by Nick Hanauer, a Shoreline tech investor and civic activist.
It’s surprising Murray agreed to this proposed spending surge, after his promises to improve outcomes and increase accountability from service providers.
The city and county developed a promising homeless plan last summer that was supposed to bring efficiencies and shelter to all. A consultant said there’s enough shelter capacity if only the system were better managed.
Murray said he needed another $12 million to launch that plan and the City Council obliged in November. It increased homeless spending to around $60 million, up 50 percent since 2015. For comparison, Gov. Jay Inslee is asking for another $20 million for homelessness statewide over two years.
Now Murray and Hanauer are asking Seattle voters for an additional $55 million yearly, the precise use of which will be determined by a new task force.
Murray is testing the limits of Seattle’s compassion by floating a costly new homeless plan before finishing yesterday’s plan.
Both follow the failure of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness by 2015. Despite gains in providing housing, more people are now homeless.
Tuesday’s cleanup of an especially wretched Airport Way tent camp was welcome but doesn’t resolve larger policy questions.
As Seattle convenes task forces and debates the proper notification period before intervening, misery continues. Squatters die from fires and shootings and children have been raped and prostituted in tents on public land. This isn’t tolerance — it’s inhumanity.
Use the data and ample resources that are now available to help these people and end this crisis now.