Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a new plan on Wednesday to quickly add short-term housing options to serve an additional 522 people per night within the next 90 days. The plan will boost Seattle’s current shelter stock by 25 percent and involves adding a mix of new bridge housing, expanding current shelter capacity, and opening more tiny house villages, and will be, as Mayor Durkan explained, “the largest increase in shelter and enhanced shelter beds that our city has ever seen.”
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The proposal comes the same day as King County Count Us In released the results of its latest point in time count which found 12,112 homeless residents of King County, a 4% increase in homeless over the 2017 count. A slowing of growth, but growth all the same. This number likely undercounts the true number of homeless individuals in the county due to the limitations of its methodology (point in time) and seasonal fluctuations. Of particular concern is the 14% increase in unsheltered homeless and the dramatic 46% increase in those living in their vehicles.
Several Seattle City Counselmembers, including Counselmembers Mike O’Brian, Lorena Gonazales, Teresa Mosqueda, and Sally Bagshaw, praised Durkan’s plan, support the mayor will need to ensure the plan is approved by the Seattle City Counsel in the coming days. Said Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda,
“It’s immoral that in Seattle thousands of people are living outside. We must act with urgency and compassion to create the shelter and supportive housing needed now. Until we build significantly more affordable housing, expand shelters, and reduce the number of people entering homelessness, people will continue to suffer needlessly and die on Seattle’s streets. Today is a small but important piece of the puzzle to provide shelter to those without homes in our city.”
500 more shelter beds is just a drop in the bucket of the 6380 unsheltered homeless counted in January and still does not address the problem of long-term affordable and supportive housing needs. Both Counselwoman Sally Bagshaw and Mayor Durkan suggested Wednesday that the problem has grown so large that Seattle cannot solve it on its own. Counselwoman Bagshaw explained,
“I want to call on our Governor and Frank Chopp, the speaker of the house, and Rueven Carlyle, who is one of our leaders in budgets in the Senate. We need help from the state and from the region to be able to do this [solve the homelessness crisis]. We cannot do this all on the backs of Seattle taxpayers… We are in this together.”
However, with over $63 million budgeted in 2018 to address homelessness, not including Mayor Durkan’s proposed $6.3 million, and a projected $45 million per year more from head tax revenue, business and community leaders question if Seattle really needs more money to fight homelessness, or just better management of what it’s already got. Attendees at the announcement questioned Durkan on the efficacy of the proposal, especially the plan to add 54 tiny houses, which have draw criticism as ineffective and not the most efficient way to attack the long-term affordable housing crisis. Durkan’s plan is at least a start, but only time will tell if Seattle can land on an effective and coordinated strategy to reverse the rising numbers of homeless.