With comments after every story, plus the Forums section, there are many channels for your opinion here on WSB. But sometimes, as happened last year with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, you have something longer to say, in the style of the print-media “op-ed piece.” After we recently wrote that WSB is open to “op-ed” pitches from West Seattleites, we received this, about the touchy, urgent, difficult topic of homelessness, from Highland Park’s Dorsol Plants:
Opinion: By Dorsol Plants
Within the last couple of weeks, the issue of homelessness has been one of the things at the forefront of the political activities going on in the city. This is fitting, since last week seems to have been the first signs of a cold winter. Even before the economic crisis, there were over 2,000 men, women and children counted sleeping outside on a cold January night, and with the effect of the recession still being so profoundly felt, we can expect this January’s One Night Count numbers to be even higher.
With Seattle’s shelter system already turning away people at night, what are we going to do? Is ending homelessness viable and is it something the city can do in 10 years as promised?
So far we have heard two sides to this argument, each trying to explain why the problem of homelessness is getting worse and not better. The stance that many homeless advocates have taken has been that the City isn’t doing enough in the way of funding for shelters and permanent housing. They say that if we are truly going to make a go at ending homelessness then we need to place more money into affordable housing and the burdened shelter system. The city’s stance however is that they are already doing as much as they can afford, and it’s time the County and other cities began to step up and handle their share of the problem.
There is truth on both sides of the argument. The city should provide more funding for human services, and if they were to look through the budget they could find ways to more efficiently provide more shelter with the money already in place. Yet the city is also raising a valid point. It is well past time for us to begin to discuss a National Plan to End Homelessness.
When you get right down to it, homelessness is about a lack of housing. Yes, there are a number of issues surrounding why someone is without a home. Those issues may include mental illness, job loss, or unexpected medical expenses. But all those issues are more easily worked while not fighting for your survival every night on the streets. There is no inherent reason why people who are experiencing these problems should not have housing.
The real problem is that there is no congruent plan. When it comes to affordable housing, funding from city, county, state, and federal levels all tie in at different points and various ways. To actually end homelessness, we can’t just try to throw together enough money to build enough houses or subsidize enough existing apartments. Rather, we need a plan — including timetables from the top down — that outlines the strategy for dealing with homeless at all levels.
This has to start at the Federal level so that from the State down to the Cities, funding and resources can be focused around need areas lacking in the federal plan. By clearly outlining and defining each role from the top down, one specific plan enables those plans under it to fill in the cracks left behind. This starts with creating a national chain of communication that breaks down the walls between Federal, State, City, Nonprofits, Faith-Based, and other homeless agencies.
This very idea came to several cities, and each drew up their own 10-year plans like the one we have here in Seattle. But it is unreasonable to expect cities to be able to work out this problem on their own, and that can very evidently be seen through the city’s demands for more help. Much as we wouldn’t expect the city of Seattle to be solely responsible for stopping global warming, we can’t expect that any real end to homelessness could come without looking at homelessness as a regional and national issue.
The change has to start somewhere; Seattle is in a good place to initiate it. For starters, Mayor Nickels has placed Seattle prominently onto the national stage on the issue of the environment and the next Mayor can use that to generate a conversation on the need to end homelessness. We must also correct the mistakes in our 10-year plan, plug the budgeting gaps and make a commitment not to remove any more funding until the crisis has passed.
Finally, we should set an example by allowing the sheer humanity of the issue affect the decision making process. We can do this by admitting there aren’t enough beds for everyone and allowing for the basic survival needs of all human beings. In part, this means providing Nickelsville a permanent site that will allow Nickelodeons to remain as a community until the cities of the region and the county have a chance to create enough shelter and housing to allow everyone to come inside.
We can end homelessness, but the only way we are going to be able to do that is by honestly reflecting on where we are as a city, by acknowledging that we won’t be able to do this alone, and by calling for a national movement to address this national issue.
Dorsol Plants is Homeless Veteran Employment Case Manager with the Compass Center (and a U.S. Army veteran himself). He also is former chair of the Highland Park Action Committee, and ran for Seattle City Council in this year’s primary. He is also Field Organizer for the Northwest Progressive Institute as well.
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