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Homelessness In Seattle, After 'A Year Of Emergency'

Paula Wissel
Encampments of homeless people -- some authorized, many not -- exist throughout Seattle. The city last year declared a "state of emergency" to help address the issue.

It has been a year since Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness. In that time, the city has poured more money into addressing the problem but also had some setbacks.

Reporter Casey Jaywork says the city of Seattle has done a lot, and it's not enough. Jaywork wrote the cover story for the Nov. 2 edition of the Seattle Weekly, analyzing the city's efforts to address homelessness -- and the social and political tensions that have been brought to the fore as a result.

In an interview with 88.5's Ed Ronco, Jaywork tells us about Jerry Dean, who has been living without a home in Seattle. Dean finds himself torn between wanting to regain the life he had with a home, a job, and custody of his children, but not wanting to abandon the community he's built living on the streets.

Listen to the conversation:

On the city's efforts to date: "Seattle's doing a lot, and it's not enough. We've produced a great deal of housing-first units. That's the philosophy where you don't make someone get sober and put them into housing, you put them into housing and then help them work on the things they want to work on. ... Seattle has increased its spending on homelessness. ... But, as the mayor himself has pointed out, this is a bigger crisis than a city on its own can handle." 

On where Seattle struggles: "We're faced with a problem that everyone desperately wants solved, but there's not an immediate satisfying solution. So there's always pressure for a fake, optics, short-term solution. That's what I argue the encampment evictions by the mayor's office have been. Sometimes they're encampments that need to get evicted [for safety reasons] ... but the city has done hundreds of evictions since declaring a state of emergency. Whenever I ask the mayor about it, he talks about how awful the conditions are for the people who are living there. What I haven't heard an answer to yet is, 'How does pushing them out improve their situation?'"

On how society recognizes the issue of homelessness: "We talk about this like it's just another issue, and sometimes we have these Hallmark card moments where we talk about the humanity of homeless people. For me, it's been really unsettling to see the depth of poverty and luxury that can exist next to each other in our city at the same time. ... There's a moral continuum that exists for people who are willing to look the other way while other people are dying en masse. Whether it's millions of people or dozens every year — those are different things, I'm not trying to equate them — but to me, I'm really unsettled by how unconcerned we are about the level of human carnage in our city."

This conversation aired on 88.5's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," on Monday, Nov. 7.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.