By Theo DePina, Sophia Frost, Alex Igra and Izzy Storm
As of 2017, Seattle has the third largest homeless population in the country, with nearly 3,000 people becoming homeless every month. In 2015, former Mayor Ed Murray declared the city of Seattle in a state of emergency with regards to the rising homelessness crisis.
The Seattle City Council needs to draft a budget that meets the needs of our most vulnerable residents. This includes cutting areas where the money is not necessary, and putting that money into Health & Human Services, which will serve people in need.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget fails to maintain the level of services currently provided. If the mayor’s budget is passed, it will result in the loss of 217 overnight shelter beds as well as space previously provided for the housing of 50 people in “tiny houses.”
While shelter beds are not permanent solutions to Seattle’s homelessness crisis, they are absolutely necessary. Shelter provided by the Human Services Department prevents people, including families and children, from living on the streets. The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) provides housing for 30,000 people annually. For those living without shelter, the risk for illness and drug use increases dramatically. Additionally, those with chronic illnesses are not provided with the care they need. The DESC is not provided the funding needed to accommodate Seattle’s increasing homeless population.
Services such as overnight shelter beds and health care are vital in creating the healthy and thriving community Mayor Durkan advocates for.
The homelessness plan is not “ambitious,” as Mayor Durkan claims. Heidi Groover of The Seattle Times remarks that Seattle needs somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 beds for homelessness and cuts to the beds would only exacerbate the issue.
While Durkan is adding $6.3 million for the beds, it is a fraction of the $300 million budget increase that she has proposed, with most of the money going to transit and transportation at the same time that traffic is easing.
Although former Mayor Murray declared a state of emergency, the government has not treated the homelessness crisis like an urgent issue.
In order to fund Health & Human Services, Seattle City Council must cut from public safety. According to the budget book, the budget for Health & Human Services in the general fund is currently $137.2 million.
Currently in the public safety general fund there is $692.8 million, which takes up 53 percent of the general fund budget. Within the public safety budget, police are being funded using 52.7 percent of that budget at a total of $363.3 million. The Health & Human Services coalition states that currently this public safety budget includes $65 million back pay for police officers for inflation adjustments, while Health & Human Services is lacking $18 million needed for inflation adjustments. By taking some money from the public safety budget, Health & Human Services will then be able to help those in need.
Mayor Durkan’s budget would cut homeless services in the middle of an ongoing crisis. This directly opposes the city’s own estimates, which cite the need for a dramatic raise in the Seattle budget to address needs of homeless people. Therefore, we urge the City Council to cut the $65 million from the inflation adjustments for police and transferring the surplus gained from these cuts to Health & Human Services.
Seattle, a seemingly progressive city, has a homelessness crisis; we should hope it answers to its own reputation in a dire time for its most vulnerable population.
Citizens should tell their City Council representatives to repeat these actions.
The writers of this op/ed are from The Center School in Seattle.
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