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King Co. Council chair: 'Start and lead with the humanity' in addressing homelessness

Communities in western Washington have grappled with how to address homelessness for decades. And Claudia Balducci, chair of the King County Council, says local governments, like the one she's part of, must “start and lead with the humanity of trying to help people who are suffering.”

She spoke to KNKX at length about homelessness and housing issues. Listen to the full conversation above, and read excerpts from the interview below.


On Mercer Island’s ban on camping, and uniform policies countywide: “I have always felt that we needed to address homelessness in kind of a holistic fashion. I just don’t believe that people choose this lifestyle. There’s a fundamental idea out there in the world that some people are choosing to live in tents, on sidewalks, under bridges, because they just don’t want to cooperate with society’s rules. If you’ve been anywhere near working with folks who live in homelessness, it is not a pleasant existence. It’s cold, and it’s isolating, and it’s scary. So the idea that if you just get tough with people who are living in homelessness that somehow they will make different and better choices and not be homeless is, I think, fundamentally just flawed.

“But you also have residents … that are very concerned with the appearance of homelessness in their communities, with the waste that they see around homeless encampments, with the fear of crime or the actuality of crime, so you have to balance a number of things here. But if you start and lead with the humanity of trying to help people who are suffering and try to give them what they need, to address the root causes of homelessness, and then give them homes, I think ultimately that is the path to success for everybody.”

On measuring progress or success: “I’ve got a little note on my corkboard here that says ‘Shelter is a process,’ and it’s to remind us that people will experience emergent situations, they will lose homes, they will need to stabilize, and folks will cycle through this process. I think you’ll know you’re having an effect when you see a lot less street homelessness. That is how the community as a whole will feel, and that we will be able to show we are making a difference, because it doesn’t become this well of folks that just fall into street homelessness and there’s nowhere else to go. … I want to see a lot less people having to live outside.”

On the approach of county’s Regional Homelessness Authority: “Homelessness, like so many of our challenges, is not confined to one city within our county and it’s not caused in one city in our county, and the solutions have to be regional because the problem is regional. If it was easy, we would be doing better by now. It’s not easy. There are a lot of different points of view about the root causes of homelessness and the way we should address them. … There’s the wisdom there, within that group, to come up with solutions. I think it’s the right approach.”

This is one conversation about a complicated subject, so for more in-depth reporting on homelessness, we recommend browsing more coverage of this issue, and listening to "Outsiders," a podcast by KNKX and The Seattle Times Project Homeless. 

People set up camp on a sidewalk in King County.
Credit Paula Wissel / KNKX File Photo
KNKX file
People set up camp on a sidewalk in King County.


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