On June 18, the 36th LD Republicans hosted an event at the University of Washington entitled “Homeless & Addicted in Seattle: What’s the End Game?” Purportedly, it was held “to find a solution – together.” But the graphics used for the event’s invitation borrowed from coded anti-homeless signifiers: a Space Needle leans behind a small tent encampment that sits atop another kind of needle — a giant syringe.
The imagery conflated homelessness with addiction. Further, there was little mentioned at the event of the processes that lead to homelessness and addiction to begin with. This was especially concerning as it appeared to regurgitate inhumane tropes and stereotypes about houseless people.
Needless to say, this impression led to a tempestuous beginning as some people who disagreed were escorted out of Kane Hall for disrupting the event.
Some policy points appeared reasonable, namely calls for Housing First and prevention models that help people in crisis. Others simply added moralistic reactionary responses to chemical dependency and viewed it as an individual failure, rather than examining environmental factors that may lead people to drug use as a coping mechanism. There’s still much more to a serious conversation that has yet to be addressed.
Ultimately, a larger discussion needs to move away from the recent “dying Seattle” discourse. And indeed, this process involves doing more direct work on the ground. People in crisis deserve respect and must not be treated as pawns who advance cheap political moves.
House-lessness is a condition that is not encountered by choice. Missing a paycheck, having a medical emergency or being priced out of one’s home often creates a crisis that can send people to the streets. Our digital boom creates an economic malady that drives the cost of living exceedingly higher for everyone — with the exception of a select few. Likewise, the perception that Seattle attracts many house-less residents from out of town, is largely false. According to the annual point-in-time count survey conducted in King County, 84 percent of respondents (sample size was 866 people) noted that they lived in King County prior to becoming houseless. These folks are our neighbors and many of us could fall into this same situation if we suddenly encounter an unexpected emergency that limits our ability to work.
It is abundantly clear that in this city we must have a mechanism in place to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors have protections. This includes affordable and supportive housing, mental health and drug-use treatment facilities, decriminalizing homelessness and, of course, equitable taxation.
This is a humanitarian crisis that can’t be distilled into poorly executed graphics. Let’s “find a solution — together” to a dignified existence.
Oscar Rosales is a Master of Social Work student at the University of Washington.
Read the full June 26 - July 2 issue.
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