Photo depicting a line of tents for houseless individuals along a street in Pioneer Square.

OPINION: Homelessness, Poverty, and the City Budget

by Jay Sygiel, Isaac Litwak, and Sawyer Hanners

Walking down the streets of Seattle, tents, tarps, and sleeping bags have become a familiar sight. The state of homelessness in our city can only be described as a human services emergency. To solve this dilemma, we must look at where it stems from. The primary cause of homelessness can be boiled down to two things: the cost of living and the income gap that plagues the city.

In recent years, 77,300 Seattleites (5,000 more than the seating capacity of Lumen Field) reside below the poverty rate. Of these people, more than 11,000 of them are homeless and half of those are unsheltered. But this statistic is not representative of the amount of people not having their needs met due to low/unstable incomes. The national poverty line is set much lower than what is considered livable in Seattle. For one person to live comfortably here, you must make around $72,092, which is over five times the national poverty line.

Over the past six years, rents in Seattle have increased 57% while the average salary has not scaled to compensate for that increase. Thus, the income gap is only getting larger, leaving the people of Seattle in the dust.

The Budget

When looking at the general fund, the Department of Education & Early Learning and the Human Services Department (HSD) are bundled together, and they collectively receive around $187 million from the general fund. That equates to about 12% of the $1.6 billion that the fund consists of.

Most of the budget that is allocated to HSD only maintains last year’s efforts, accounting for some inflation as well as an increase in the homelessness population. What the budget does not address is preventing homelessness in the first place. To prevent homelessness, more funds would need to be allocated to affordable housing, shrinking the income gap, and reducing poverty rates.

To make changes to this proposed budget, city councilmembers must vote on amendments that would alter the funding allocation for certain services. Most of these amendments seem minor in the grand scheme of things but have a huge effect in practice.

What Can We Do?

To effectively address pressing topics such as homelessness and the income gap that leads to poverty, the city budget must be amended to allocate more funds to these growing issues. Within the HSD, there are three amendments that would do the most to redistribute funds to prevent these problems. HSD-002-A-001, HSD-013-A-001, and HSD-023-A-001 are the most beneficial amendments for addressing these issues. For ease, we will refer to these as HSD-2, HSD-13, and HSD-23.

The first listed amendment, HSD-2, proposes the allocation of $750,000 to the HSD to analyze the relative value of HSD jobs. This means that human service workers will be able to make more livable wages, which will in turn attract more people to go into that field. More livable wages will also improve worker retention.

HSD-13, if passed, will provide $2 million in funding for youth job readiness. This includes pre-employment options, which include stipend-based programs, as well as internships. Job-readiness programs will also be funded. All of this means that our future generations will be more prepared for the workforce and, hopefully, are able to obtain more competitive wages.

The final amendment, HSD-23, would set aside $1 million from the general fund to housing funds for court cases. These housing funds would enable people with unstable housing/income to be able to attend their court dates. By providing these accommodations, there would be a lower jailing and criminalization rate of lower-income individuals. As it stands, by missing court dates, you can be jailed and fined, something that not everyone can spare the time and money to endure.

While all these amendments might not directly address homelessness, the growing income gap, and poverty rates, they are small steps that we, as a community, can take to solve these problems. If you want to encourage the passing of these amendments, contact our city councilmembers at or individually. Seattleites, with a little effort, time, and the ingenuity that all of us possess, we can end homelessness and close the income gap in our city.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Jay Sygiel, Isaac Litwak, and Sawyer Hanners are seniors at The Center School, a small college prep arts school with a focus on social justice, located in the Seattle Center Armory.

📸 Featured Image: A Pioneer Square encampment in May 2020. (Photo: Erica C. Barnett, originally appeared on PubliCola)

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