Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council
Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley, Seattle City Council
Nick Licata, former Seattle City Councilmember
Nikkita Oliver, community organizer, writer, educator, attorney
Katie Wilson, General Secretary, Transit Riders Union
Tim Harris, Founding Director, Real Change
Tiffani McCoy, Lead Organizer, Real Change
Paula Lukaszek, President, WFSE 1488
David Parsons, President, UAW 4121
Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director, Got Green!
Matt Remle, Cofounder, Mazaska Talks
Esther “Little Dove” John is about to get pushed out of her home.
A developer has bought the 4-unit apartment complex on Beacon Hill that John lives in. The building will be replaced by a new one, with 44 separate 220-square-foot micro-apartments, not livable for John or other families or seniors.
Unless we organize a movement to stop this displacement, John, a community activist, artist, and retired psychology professor, will be forced out of the neighborhood she’s lived in since 2005.
We all have friends and neighbors like John who have been displaced from Seattle – pushed by rising rents to the suburbs or entirely out of the region. Yet others are increasingly forced into living on friends’ couches, in shelters, or on the streets.
Homelessness has spiraled out of control. This is not the Seattle we aspire to be.
Two years ago, on November 2, former Mayor Ed Murray proclaimed a state of civil emergency to address the homelessness crisis in Seattle, declaring that to forestall dramatic action “would be in dereliction…of the welfare and basic human rights of the people.”
Two years into the emergency declaration, things have only gotten worse.
More than 8,500 Seattleites don’t have a home to sleep in. Zillow recently pointed out that in Seattle, every 5 percent rent increase pushes an additional 258 people into homelessness. The percentage of homeless students in Seattle Public Schools has doubled in the past five years to 7 percent of all students, and at Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary, 20 percent of the students are homeless. And homelessness disproportionately harms people of color, who account for nearly three-quarters of all homeless families with children in King County.
The average working family can forget about the dream of homeownership as an escape from the rental market. A Seattle schoolteacher with a Master’s degree and five years’ of experience would need to save money for 15 years before being able to afford a typical Seattle home down payment.
Instead of investing in affordable housing at the scale the crisis demands, elected officials have instead prioritized “sweeps,” moving unauthorized homeless encampments from one location to another.
The policy of sweeping people from unauthorized encampments is ineffective, a waste of the City’s resources, and inhumane. Last year alone, there were 601 sweeps, – an alarming increase from previous years – moving an estimated 135 encampments around the city. Yet, as we move into the rainy season, we still find most of these individuals on the street, without permanent housing and in a precarious living situation.
Sweeps disrupt the meager stability people living in tents and cars can attain, and too often cause the loss of belongings, while solving none of the underlying problems. In short, sweeps cost us millions and do nothing to alleviate homelessness.
We can’t continue with lip service. It doesn’t have to be this way. And this fall, the City must back the 2015 emergency proclamation with meaningful action.
The new mayor, Tim Burgess, has proposed a budget that provides incremental improvements, but no substantial funding increases for services or affordable housing. Furthermore, it continues the inhumane sweeps. Adopting such a budget will in no way advance the City’s emergency declaration on homelessness.
We need a budget that stops the sweeps, and instead uses the millions of dollars to fund services, sanitation and healthcare for people living in expanded encampments. Such an approach will still allow the City to ensure locations such as school property, active rights-of-way including sidewalks and stairways, and activated parks are clear.
We also need a budget that greatly expands publicly-funded affordable housing construction through a progressive tax on big businesses like Amazon, which are thriving and need to step up and contribute their share in addressing the crisis.
There’s a public hearing on the City’s 2018 budget on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 4pm, and we hope you will join us there, and speak up to stop the sweeps and fund services and housing through a modest progressive business tax that exempts 90 percent of the smallest businesses.
But we need to do more. That’s why, following the public hearing, community members are committed to stay in City Hall till late into the evening. Many will occupy it overnight until the morning of Nov. 2, the two year anniversary of the emergency declaration. Since homeless people are forced to camp outside, we will conduct a peaceful camp-in to bring focus to the city’s crisis. We’ll share music and food, and have conversations and teach-ins.
Please join us and help create a city that is truly welcoming to all.
Featured image by Will Sweger