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Seattle Mayor Urges Business Leaders To Lobby For Mental Health Funding

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais
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In a candid address to a group of downtown business leaders, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray spoke about the city’s struggles with rising homelessness and a lack of treatment options for people with mental illness. Murray urged all of them to lobby state and federal lawmakers for more funding. 

The setting was the Downtown Seattle Association's annual economic forum, and with that came a flurry of statistics showing how well downtown is doing. Since 2010, downtown has added an average of 25 new jobs a day. More people are living in the city’s core and the number is projected to keep rising.

But the mayor says there are persistent problems. He says he gets letters from out-of-towners who say they’re never going to visit downtown Seattle again.

"Nine times out of 10, those letters deal with an incident where somebody is completely out of control, definitely as a result of mental illness or some type of addiction," Murray said.

Murray started analyzing where the letters were coming from and realized many were from Massachusetts and New York. He says those are states that do a better job of funding mental health treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says Washington spends 40 percent below the average of other states per capita on mental health care.

Murray urged the business leaders to make themselves heard in Olympia and Washington, D.C.

"I need your help so that Seattle can get its act together," he said.

The state Supreme Court last year ruled that people with mental illness were being illegally boarded in emergency rooms as a result of a lack of psychiatric beds.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.