One thing you gotta say about the federal government, they’re not afraid to be aspirational.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) says veteran’s homelessness will be ended by 2015. Shortly after, chronic homelessness will be ended by 2016. And youth homelessness? By 2022, that, too, will just be another awful memory.
Subpopulation by subpopulation, the people who brought you our recently failed Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness think no problem is too big to divide and conquer.
But out here in reality land, we’re setting new records for numbers of homeless folks on the street.
Here in King County, our real estate market is on fire and a booming, tech-fueled economic recovery is in full swing. Seattle, for those who are doing well, is swimming in money.
But not so much if you’re homeless and on the street.
We’re a long way from “rare, brief, and one-time.” Our numbers of unsheltered homeless is up by 21 percent and likely still climbing. And, homeless people spend an average of 140 nights in shelter before getting housed.
The federal target for the average time spent in shelter is 20 nights. We’re only four months shy of goal.
Among the various half-hearted stabs at reducing homelessness in Mayor Ed Murray’s 2016 budget, my favorite is this: For a mere $300,000 investment in homeless prevention, the city hopes to bring the average time homeless people spend on the streets in line with that federal target.
That’s one day off the average for every $2,500 invested. The Seattle Department of Human Services seems to be smoking the same crack as the folks over at USICH.
Other highlights? The investments that Murray made last year to reduce unsheltered homelessness will be continued. Insert slow clap here.
A total of $1.2 million new homeless service dollars has been recommended. This will continue the new bare-bones shelter for up to 100 people that was launched earlier this year. It will continue the small youth shelter that opened as well, and it will provide case management at the new tent city encampments on city property.
There’s a little money in there for a small contingency fund to keep currently available shelter on line in case of unforeseen emergency. And there’s $200,000 in there for a new 24-hour shelter.
They spared no expense.
And while the mayor’s office seems to think their recommendation is somehow adequate to the crisis, they’re about the only ones.
The Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness is calling for a $10 million investment in new emergency shelter. The Seattle Human Services Coalition warns that unless new money is provided, required human service wage increases will inevitably result in program cuts.
Let’s underline that. Without new investment, homeless services will be cut.
Those of us who were on the mayor’s Unsheltered Task Force saw the token new investments that were made at the beginning of this year as a down payment on the action that was promised.
We wanted to believe that this mayor was serious about addressing the crisis. But that’s not what this budget says.
A little tinkering around the edges combined with a lot of magical thinking just isn’t going to cut it.
In a year when most city departments are taking cuts, we are to be grateful for any increase at all. Instead, we have to wonder how the city can be this broke when we’re surrounded by so much prosperity.
Since the recession that began in 2008, the state of Washington has cut more than $10 billion from programs that offer minimal economic security for the most poor. You can see the effects of those cuts on the streets of Seattle every day.
Rents in Seattle are rising at the fastest rate in the nation. When you add rising rents and the deep cuts in essential services, you get the radical increases in homelessness that we now see.
The mayor’s budget does not represent the crisis response that homeless people in Seattle need and deserve.
And it does not measure up to the strong action we were promised. Not even close.