The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) is requesting nearly $12 billion to address local homelessness over the next five years, a dramatic increase over its initial $253 million budget for 2023.
The proposal’s budget is broken down into two parts: $8.4 billion for one-time capital costs over the five-year period and an additional $3.4 billion for operating expenses.
“If money was the solution, wouldn’t we have solved this 20 years ago?” Andrea Suarez, founder and executive director of We Heart Seattle, asked Dave Ross. “Every major city keeps getting more millions and billions of dollars. Meanwhile, we can stand up 20,000 beds in New York City for refugees that are coming in from Ukraine, with services, toilets, bathrooms, medical care, and nurses … it’s a bit different when you’re dealing with drug addiction and that is what KCRHA doesn’t address at all.”
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We Heart Seattle is a community-based organization that organizes trash cleanups in public spaces and offers resources to those in need, including setting people up with safe housing, shelters, and treatment facilities.
We Heart Seattle attempts to “house our neighbors quickly without the typical restrictions, delays, and inefficiency that has kept many on the streets,” according to the organization’s website.
“We’ve been boots on the ground for two years here in Seattle, providing a platform for volunteerism to clean up our shared spaces,” Suarez said. “We have cleared over 780,000 pounds of trash from our parks and shared spaces and picked up over 20,000 needles. As a person who is not very civic-minded or plugged into city politics at all prior, we have an addiction problem in our city and in many cities across our nation. And it shouldn’t be political.”
KCRHA held an implementation board meeting Wednesday for community feedback, where many residents and parents expressed anger over the organization’s handling of the homeless crisis and the cost to fix it. An encampment in the Wallingford neighborhood under I-5 was brought up on multiple occasions.
“You are failing in your jobs,” said Don Mackenzie, specifically referring to the Wallingford encampment, at the public forum. “You are failing my neighborhood. You have shown disregard and contempt about our concerns for kids being exposed. Why would anyone support further spending on homelessness when you can’t do anything useful with the money you already receive?”
Suarez refers to Alberta’s success with dropping overdosing rates as a potential blueprint for Seattle and other cities in similar situations.
Alberta saw an approximate 50% drop in overdoses in 2022 compared to 2021, something the United Conservative Party and Conservative Party of Canada both take credit for after launching a new recovery-oriented approach to its region’s drug crisis.
Their plan included residential addiction treatment, narcotic transition services, and therapy while actively distributing Naloxone in an effort to make it more accessible. Alberta residents can also use a mobile phone app to alert medical authorities to someone who becomes unresponsive while taking drugs.
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“They’re holding a conference, in fact, in February in Calgary,” Suarez said. “I hope every city leader in Seattle has purchased their ticket. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. They have a working model. Go to Alberta.”
Part of KCRHA’s plan is Housing First: An approach that recognizes housing is necessary to address any other underlying medical situations, mental health concerns, or addiction issues someone may be facing. Housing First believes employment, education, and other steps towards self-sufficiency start with housing — something Suarez believes KCRHA should reconsider.
“Fundamentally flawed. Should be abolished,” Suarez said regarding Housing First. “It works for some, but we’re talking about chronic street homelessness. What we see in our parks, our sidewalks, people who cannot care for themselves. If you know anything about addiction, we have to have some kind of facilitated and mandated treatment. Not saying incarceration forever. I’m saying arrest, stop the behavior, triage to treatment, mandate addiction treatment for all, and get people to a pathway of self sufficiency so they can get a job and get a house.
“That’s how humanity should work,” Suarez continued. “To elevate, empower, and help people reach their full potential, instead of enabling them to slowly die by enabling their addiction through these failing harm-reduction policies and failing free housing-for-life policies.”
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