My Homelessness Policy
What's going wrong
Homeless policy in Seattle has been a disaster. More money is being spent every year. More effort is being expended. And yet the problem is getting worse. What's going wrong?
Asking for Trouble. Seattle has been criticized for encouraging homeless people to come here from other parts of the country. Whether it's deserved or not, we've been tagged as "Freeattle" – a place where you can camp in the park or set up in an RV on the street and be left alone by the cops. City officials claim that a majority of homeless people in King County are from here, but the data they have to show for that is scant. I've spent hundreds of hours in homeless camps across Seattle, and the majority of people I've talked to tell me they are NOT from here but came here recently. Most of them were already homeless when they arrived. Some were honestly looking for work at the time, but many were content to stay in camps indefinitely, until they were ready to bounce to the next town. We can't refuse to help the new arrivals, but we can do more – much more – to ensure that homeless people living in other parts of the country don't see Seattle as a good place to flop. We must move to close down homeless camps, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, and start moving people into transitional housing programs. If they refuse to participate, that is their right. But they can't live in our parks.
Giving Dumb. Seattle isn't getting its money's worthy when it comes to shelter programs. And that's because we're not giving smart but giving dumb. We are giving money to some organizations that are perpetuating homelessness rather than solving it. (I have written extensively about this on my personal blog. See for instance my article: Anatomy of a Swindle.) We've got to take a close look at shelter providers and phase out those that aren't getting people into permanent housing. As you'll see if you read my article, I know where the waste is and how to cut it.
So what's the solution to homelessness?
There's no one solution, but there are better approaches than what we've been using. Here's a start.
One-stop shopping. Seattle needs a "coordinated entry" system for homeless recovery. Using technologies that are already in place and operating in other cities, we can ensure that first responders, hospitals, and public officials, have access to a centralized source of information on shelter and housing availability. When a person becomes homeless in Seattle, they can be referred to one location that will hook them up with the services they need. Such an agency or office could also be a clearinghouse for information on which providers are performing and which aren't. The efficient providers should be rewarded, the inefficient ones weeded out.
Accountability / Transparency. As I've shown exhaustively on my blog, homeless service providers are failing at their task, and the agency that's supposed to be watching them, the Human Services Department, is similarly failing. A handful of providers are milking the system and using their political connections at City Hall to shield their operations. These practices can be ended with a little daylighting and a City Council that's determined to end the abuses. There's currently no one on the Council who will take up these tasks. Having one councilmember who will fight for accountability would make a huge difference.
Bring everyone inside. The City Council is currently dominated by ideologues who believe people have a right to sleep outdoors in parks, even when shelter is available and offered to them. This mentality clearly has to end. This misguided compassion, or libertarianism, or whatever you want to call it, is one of the chief reasons Seattle is currently overwhelmed with homeless people. It has become a magnet for people who choose the "homeless lifestyle." If we send a clear message that we expect people to live indoors, that we expect them to take as much responsibility for themselves as they can, then we will see the flow of homeless people from elsewhere abate to the point where we can get everyone on the streets indoors. That's what we're shooting for.