Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Biggest Problem for the Homeless is the Homeless

The homeless issue is a tough one for me. Once you meet and become friends with people who are or have been homeless, and once you have been on the brink of it, you tend to have a more tolerant perspective. I own that perspective.

What I thought was a done deal is in the news once again. I received the following letter from a neighbor via email, and though I empathize with their concerns I can't get on board their train.


"To ALL Residents:

As you may know, the City had temporarlly approved the opening of the former Fire Station #39 as a homeless shelter this last spring. This site sits adjacent to the new Fire Station and is close to Senior housing, library, residential apartments, and retail stores. The permit for Project Share/Wheel, which runs other Tent Cities through Seattle, ran out in May and the current building is empty, however there are plans afoot to re-open it as semi-permanent shelter.

Seattle area churches, led by leaders from Seattle Mennonite Church, have been quietly campaigning to get this site open permanently. They have faced little opposition in their efforts, however, this project is NOT A DONE DEAL. The City wants to hear from Lake City residents. and is holding Community Meeting on July 13th to get your input.

We have since learned that this site would be opened as a homeless shelter for approx. 100 people for 2-3 years at a cost of around $2 million dollars. The building then would be demolished. At the same time, the City of Seattle is cutting their police budget by $2 million. There are several reasons why this location doesn't make sense, whether PERMANENT or TEMPORARY.

Lake City seems to get the 'lion's share' of social services and homeless resources. Some of these are essential to low income and struggling individuals. McDermott House houses 75 homeless/chemically dependant veterans and others with chemcal additions. Seattle Mennonite church runs a soup kitchen/day lockers for the homeless. The VA's office of Community Outpatient Services is also quartered here. At the same time, we witness daily the repurcussions of having too many homeless resources concnetrated into 1 area--dirty/trash-littered sidewalks, human waste in storefront doorways, panhandlers, and people loitering the streets. This turns patrons away from businesses that are struggling to survive in an already challenging economy. While not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless, some of these individuals appear to be the 'bottom of the barrel' in terms of not wanting to get off the streets or into treatment. They just want to do their thing and not be disburbed.

Apart from these reasons, there's also the question of zoning and safety--Fire stations normally house anywhere from 8-12 people. How can this building safely accommodate 100? Some of the churches that are campaigning for this shelter are not in the neighborhood, so the problem is 'out of sight, out of mind' for them, but is placed squarely right on to the residents and businesses that call Lake City home. When the 3 year term for vacating/demolishing this shelter is up, who's to say these churches won't lobby to keep it open? When someone is turned away or booted out of the shelter for bad behavior, where will they go? THE STREETS OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, that's where!

No other neighbohrood in Seattle has been asked to host a 3 year homeless shelter. This plan should be scrapped. It's the wrong plan, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place. There's other ways to address the needs of the homeless and balance the desires of the Community.

Please plan atttending this meeting with City officals and tell them enough is enough! The meeting will be held Wednesday, July 13th from 6PM - 8PM at the Lake City Community Center, 12531 28th Avenue NE (just north of the Lake City Library). If you can't attend the meeting, please consder signing the petition in the Luminaire lobby! We will present signed petitions to Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods.

Thanks for your consideration,
[names withheld]"


This is not only prejudicial, it points to its own inadequacies. No "other ideas" are listed because this isn't the type of problem that has a clean solution. We don't have any other way of housing people who don't have the means to pay rent. What we do have is a big, empty building that is serving no other purpose, and $2,000,000 isn't a lot of money to shelter and tend to 100 people for that amount of time.

The police funding woes are a separate issue and I'm having no luck finding a correlation. That doesn't mean there isn't one, nor does it mean they aren't pulled from completely different funding sources. I'll keep looking.

Meanwhile, the homeless are the least of our worries in this neighborhood. It's the guys selling drugs to the homeless then beating them up, stealing things, breaking into cars and robbing convenience stores with axes (see previous post link) that we need to address. These individuals are not homeless.

I'd like to hear some of the author's "ideas" that he didn't include, and perhaps offer to do some proofreading for him, so I think I'll audit the meeting with my snarky hat on.


Blog post from a different party with a comment from our mayor:


  1. It seems that in your neighborhood, the homeless are the least of your worries! In a building, they would have access to a shower and toilet. A blessing to rest of us,
    A friend of mine works for the county. Last week they cleared all the under passes and vacated the people. It seems these homeless do a lot of business with the drug dealers.

    Stay safe...

  2. I do not have a solution for the homeless problem in either your neighborhood or my own. But it sounds to me like the writer of the letter was afraid the firehouse plan had real merit and would lead to a solution for some of the homeless in this neighborhood. Many people who are all for solutions to the homeless problem turn on a dime when the solution might include their neighborhood, their street. As you point out, there are far more serious problems in this neighborhood than those posed by the homeless. Why is the letter writer seemingly not concerned with these issues?

  3. Hello, and to address both comments:

    It's a sad situation. Most homeless are quiet and ashamed as it is, without being passed around the city like stray dogs. Some drink heavily and become confrontational, but that happens at family gatherings, too!

    I guess everyone has a hot-button issue. This one seems to be hotter than most. I'm definitely getting tired of my neighbor (he lives in my building and he's an ass) speaking of the homeless as if they were some sort of invasion. There is already a food bank and methadone clinic within blocks of our building, and when "Nickelsville" was here before it made little difference.

    Seattle is getting so urbanized it's impossible to avoid contact with homeless people, drugs and gangs, so I'm not sure why he is so uppity. All he has to do to realize there is no solution but to leave them alone or house them is to go downtown to the shopping district. He'll be asked for spare change 10 times between Macy's and Nordstrom.

    Sad, sad, sad.

  4. I know it's been awhile , but what if they open one of the many closed Walmarts to the homeless? Walmart is famous for abandoning the building when their tax breaks expire...thus, a vacant building! There are hundreds in the country. Or possibly a closed school?

    Every time I turn on the boobtube, they show another vacant building. Why leave it that way? However, I believe in giving it for free. I don't think they would like it either. have them clean the roadsides, or something along that nature. Give them a sense of pride.

    Just my opinion of course...

  5. That's a good idea, and one we could propose. It's a very conservative company, but you never know.

    Unfortunately the one Walmart near here is well outside Seattle city limits and is still open. The rest are 50+ miles away. We do, however, have other privately owned and abandoned buildings. They're in awful neighborhoods, but this neighborhood isn't exactly safe.

    Herding the nameless homeless to do road cleanup is problematic (plus we have plenty of prisoners for that). I wonder, though, if those who sleep in the shelters are asked to help with building maintenance? Those who can... do? Hmmm.

  6. I think the difficult thing is that of course the need clearly EXCEEDS the resources. I worked in a homeless shelter and I to was moved at how many 'good' people can end up on the streets so we should not be so quick to judge. With that said however, I also noted that close to 95% of the homeless had either addiction or mental health issues. Clearly housing is important but that is treating the symptom NOT the disease. I know it feels cold and heartless to try and prevent the care and comfort for people in genuine need. But if your community is legitimately cutting police services then it is doubtful they have buckets of money available for ANY extras. Of course they may want to consider priorities better but again it is unlikely a small community will simply look at a $2 million cost to provide services for 100 non tax-paying entities as doable in the current fiscal climate. I think the thrust of your frustration is rightfully that the guy complaining in the letter offers no solutions and is simply a 'not in my backyard' squeaky wheel. That is true and unfair for any group who does not have an advocate so I appreciate your passion. A possible compromise which everyone could get on board with is maybe making the fire station a 'volunteer' service center. The homeless could use the place to get a shower, use the restroom, maybe temp. job resources, used but clean clothing to help them get a job, find other clinics and Fed resources to help with their addictions etc. Something like that could be a BOON to your local community and I think your business people and residents might be more supportive rather than just another temporary home for people that have little chance to help themselves. Keep us posted on your success. It is a tough issue where nobody is ALL right or ALL wrong so it has to be dealt with in that light. VERY PROVOCATIVE POST BUT GREAT!! W.C.C.