Progress and missed opportunity in Seattle – it’s time to get the job done
June 14, 2023
Over the past several months, we have been speaking out against King County’s support of a homelessness plan that was too expensive, misguided, and doomed to fail. We have worked to inform citizens that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which had asked for $11.8 billion to put their proposal into action, was tragically incompetent. Those with success working on this issue and those with lived experience agreed that it was unacceptable for $882,704 of taxpayer dollars to be spent per homeless person on solutions that have always failed in the past.
Because of the groundswell of opposition, that flawed proposal is dead and the equally-flawed KCRHA as a whole should follow shortly. Citizens and journalists demanded that public officials rethink its “housing first” policy given its history of rapidly increasing the size of the bureaucracy surrounding homelessness while the number of homeless individuals continues to climb. It became clear that the people of King County wanted the KCRHA’s entire plan to be scrapped in favor of increased efforts to treat the root causes of homelessness like mental health and addiction problems.
In the face of this response, KCRHA CEO Marc Dones has resigned – although he has not wavered on his support of “housing first” – and the KCRHA’s Governing Board passed a meaningless five-year plan with no budget figures.
The next few months will be illuminating as a new KCRHA CEO is sought and actual budget numbers are discussed. That’s why it’s critical to keep the pressure on to ensure we are efficiently and compassionately doing what is needed to end the suffering of so many people. That equally applies to dealing with the epidemic of drug abuse – one of the major factors that leads to homelessness.
We were encouraged when Mayor Bruce Harrell pledged to focus on these root causes, but last week, the Seattle City Council instead passed on their chance to take a powerful first step on that very issue by voting 5-4 to reject a proposal championed by City Attorney Ann Davison’s and Councilmember Sara Nelson that would allow prosecution of those in possession of hard drugs – even the hardest drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and fentanyl. The Seattle Times has a detailed overview on what transpired during the meeting and vote.
Effectively, that means that the city that needs this intervention the most will stick with the status quo, ignoring state law that allows for the prosecution of possession of hard drugs. Police can still make arrests for drug possession, but that doesn’t matter too much if there will be no consequence beyond that.
That’s not good enough for local businesses or neighbors. Nor is it compassionate to those using drugs and need assistance.
Davison said that if the legislation was not passed it would “effectively decriminalize drugs in Seattle.” Due to the council’s vote, law enforcement officials will not have the threat of prosecution to motivate those who abuse such lethal drugs as fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine to seek treatment.
The city council refused to take a tough stand on lethal drug use as the number of drug overdoses in King County continues to skyrocket. Through May of 2022, King County EMS responded to 1,863 drug overdoses (12.3 per day). In the same period of this year, EMS has responded to 3,392 overdoses (22.5 incidents per day). This is an incredible 82% increase in overdoses in just one year.
Mayor Harrell is promising to crack down on public drug use. To find a solution, he has created a working group – which includes government officials, law enforcement and other experts) to tackle the issue. Seattleites will be hoping the working group finds solutions quickly, because there is no time to waste.
It is clear what Seattle is doing now isn’t working – for anyone. The most compassionate thing we can do is stop spending taxpayer money on failed programs and let the police intervene to break the cycles that cause homelessness.
Later this year, Seattle’s voters now have an opportunity to make significant changes that will truly put the city on the right path. Four members of City Council have announced they are not seeking reelection, which is an incredible opportunity to reshape the council going forward. Voters are ready for change in Seattle, and November will give them the opportunity to vote for real solutions on homelessness and drug abuse.