Homeless on the Streets of Seattle Addressing homelessness one roof at a time
There is a total of over 11,000 people living on the streets or in shelters in Seattle. The only thing they can call their own is a car, tent, or just the clothes on their back. As winter approaches, temperatures will drop, maybe even below freezing at night, and rain will become more frequent. Beyond staying warm, starvation, crime, and disease are other threatening concerns people living without adequate shelter.
“Seattle’s homelessness crisis has been years in the making, and its roots run deep, touching racial inequity, economic disparities, mental health treatment, rising housing costs, mental health, addiction, and so much more,” said Jenny Durkan, Mayor of Seattle. Sometimes people get themselves trapped in the cycle of homelessness and cannot get out, and other times they are affected by outside influences. For example, a substantial amount of Seattle’s homeless struggle with addiction or substance abuse. Research has shown that 64% of the homeless population is dependent on drugs or alcohol. In addition, around 34% of homeless people suffer from mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, depression, severe anxiety, and most visibly, schizophrenia.
Seattle is growing at remarkable rates and our economy is booming. But while this is benefiting the middle and upper class, those who live in poverty are being pushed aside as living costs become increasingly unaffordable. Not only is rent skyrocketing, but available, affordable housing is on the decline. If individuals or families find themselves in an emergency, without the budget to pay for housing, it is becoming more challenging to find a temporary solution. As a result, they might find themselves living on the street. Furthermore, studies have shown that people of color are experiencing homelessness at a disproportionate rate compared to other racial groups. For example, in King County, only 6% of the total population is African American, but 32% of the homeless population is African American. Lastly, many children leaving the foster care system are becoming homeless. At the age of 18, when youth leave the system there is no support or programs provided to help them with housing, education, and employment. Consequently, one third of the homeless youth in King County were previously involved in the foster care system.
While this is a huge problem, there are signs that Seattle is making headway in addressing its homelessness crisis. There is an annual, one night count of the homeless population in King County. This year there were 11,200 people counted compared to 2018 when there were 12,112 people counted, the first time since 2012 that the number decreased. Research conducted by the Seattle Human Services Department showed that since the beginning of the year, 3,042 people were moved into housing, 6% higher than last year. Also, over 2,000 families were able to maintain a stable living situation during a six month period. Spokeswoman for the Human Services Department, Meg Olberding, said, “We hope the trend continues.” Even though King County made progress in the last year, it doesn’t mean that homelessness everywhere in Seattle is declining, but this new data indicates successful progress and hopefully this is a change for the better.
Progress like this isn’t just a coincidence, however. Organizations and charities are spending millions of dollars and committing innumerable hours of their time in trying to get people off the street and into shelters or, better yet, homes. One organization that is a major contributor to solving this emergency is Mary’s Place, an organization that provides shelter for homeless people, especially families. A new project is in the works between Amazon and Mary’s place: Amazon is donating 63,000 square feet of one of its new buildings in Seattle to the organization. There will be several floors reserved for Mary’s Place to shelter around 275 people. The shelter is in a state-of-the-art facility and will have programs for individuals and families to get back on their feet by finding housing and employment.
Not only are organizations in Seattle doing what they can to help those who are struggling, but students at Bainbridge High School are helping as well. Social Justice League is an ASB club that is committed to serving the community with a focus on homelessness. Five times a month, a small group of club members commute over to Seattle to volunteer in shelters. They work with with Downtown Emergency Service Center and serve meals at the shelters. Catherine Fleming is a student at BHS and the president of the Social Justice League. When asked about the homelessness situation in Seattle, she responded, “It is an intense issue that is very different than Bainbridge, but it is meaningful to help.” Fleming also explained that if you don’t have the time to participate in Social Justice League, but still want to help, there are other ways to contribute. You can donate to local food drives, contribute money or other resources to shelters, or volunteer at Helpline House. As a society, we must strive to insure that everyone has a roof over their head and three stable meals a day.