City, county declare homelessness emergency; West Seattle property sale to pay for extra help

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Homelessness is an emergency, Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed today. This excerpt from their announcement spells out why:

Last winter’s One Night Count found 3,772 men, women, and children without shelter in King County, including more than 2,800 in Seattle – a 21 percent increase over 2014. In 2015, 66 homeless people have died in King County, including 47 on the streets and in unpermitted encampments in Seattle. The state now reports that 35,000 people in King County become newly homeless at some point during the year.

Part of the declaration includes a city plan to spend $5 million more on getting people off the streets and, for those who are on the streets, covering some basic needs, like sanitation. The plan will be discussed at a special City Council meeting tomorrow, and is to be funded through the sale of city property in West Seattle, according to the city documents related to today’s announcement. From the Frequently Asked Questions document:

How is the City paying for this new investment?

The $5 million investment is funded from the proceeds of the sale of excess property located on Myers Way South.

We’ve reported in recent years about the city process of figuring out what to do with that land, the “Myers Parcels in southeast West Seattle, next to the Joint Training Facility. Some community advocates have lobbied for preserving some of it as greenspace, as reported here most recently back in February.

The city Finance and Administrative Services Department clarified, when we inquired, that the property hasn’t been sold yet. More on that later.

First, what today’s announcement means for helping homeless people:

Both Murray and Constantine signed emergency proclamations. Murray was quoted in the city announcement as saying, “The City is prepared to do more as the number of people in crisis continue to rise, but our federal and state partners must also do more. Cities cannot do this alone.” Constantine was quoted as saying, “Emergency declarations are associated with natural disasters, but the persistent and growing phenomenon of homelessness – here and nationwide – is a human-made crisis just as devastating to thousands as a flood or fire. We call on the federal and state governments to take action, including shouldering more responsibility for affordable housing, mental health treatment, and addiction services.”

Go here to see what the city is proposing, or read the details below:

On the county side, Constantine is proposing $2 million in spending, some of it “already pending before the King County Council, to address immediate human needs and the root causes of homelessness,” according to the news release, which adds that both entities already invest heavily: “The City of Seattle already invests more than $40 million annually to assist people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, including single adults, youth, families, domestic violence survivors, older adults, and veterans. King County invests $36 million a year to assist individuals and families at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.”

That represents a bigger share of those services than ever, says the city announcement: “A decade ago, City resources represented less than 40 percent of the total funding for homelessness services. The City is now responsible for over 60 percent of homelessness investments.”

Thousands of those who need help are children, the city says:

There are 32,000 homeless children in Washington state, with nearly 3,000 homeless children currently attending Seattle Public Schools. On average, that’s more than 1 student per Seattle classroom.

The city announcement says they’re trying to be strategic with the spending:

The City is currently analyzing all homelessness investments and expanding data collection to ensure resources are targeted at the most effective strategies. Seattle is also launching a new effort to reduce administrative burden on agencies by allowing non-profit partners to provide a range of services under portfolio contracts, rather than separate contracts for each type of service.

We don’t know yet what share of the new funding might be spent in this area. We checked with one local agency that offers emergency help to people in crisis, West Seattle Helpline, whose executive director Chris Langeler told us it’s good news in general:

We are excited by Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine’s announcements today declaring a “State of Emergency” and new resources dedicated to alleviating, preventing, and ending homelessness in Seattle and King County. The West Seattle Helpline has served hundreds of members of our community this year who are homeless or at-risk of experiencing homelessness by providing rent & utility assistance, transportation assistance, or clothing. With rents continuing to rise and utility costs increasing as winter approaches, we are seeing heightened demand for assistance and more of our neighbors facing the threat of eviction.

We have initiated a dialogue with the City of Seattle’s Department of Human Services and are exploring ways that we can work with the City to be a part of the solution to homelessness. We’re hopeful that the heightened focus and additional resources will help more of our West Seattle neighbors-in-need stay safe in their homes.

Now, back to the $5 million in city funding for extra services, described as coming from Myers Way sale proceeds. A document late in the day looking ahead to tomorrow’s meeting clarified that the $5 million will for starters come from an “interfund loan” out of the city’s “Cash Pool,” to be repaid from sale proceeds of some of the “Myers Parcels” land. That sale is still in the future, we found out from Cyndi Wilder in the city Finance and Administrative Services Department:

The Myers Way excess property has not yet been sold. The Myers Way property is still under active property review, meaning the City is working on strategies for the reuse and disposition of the property. We anticipate selling a portion of the site for commercial development, but a larger portion of the property, including certain wetlands and much of the tree canopy, would be retained for environmental protection. In 2016, the City Council will review legislation to authorize land to be retained and land to be sold. We understand that proceeds from the sale of any portion of the property not needed for identified future City purposes or retained for environmental protection would be directed toward the emergency response to homelessness. Information about the property is available here, and we’ll be updating that page with information about the property disposition as it becomes available.

Tomorrow’s meeting to finalize the emergency-response plan is at 2 pm at City Hall.

34 Replies to "City, county declare homelessness emergency; West Seattle property sale to pay for extra help"

  • A Small Cat Rescue November 2, 2015 (8:51 pm)

    Friends of the Animals Foundation just took several cats from an unemployed engineer with three degrees. He has been looking for a job for over a year. He was no longer able to afford his rent and has recently had to move in with a friend. With rents starting at $1000, West Seattle has become affordable for very few. It is heartbreaking to watch a grown man cry as he gives up his companions one by one, asking for us to promise that no one will hurt them.

  • Curate November 2, 2015 (10:11 pm)

    A Small Cat Rescue: That is absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing this. Is FAF looking for homes for the cats or caring for them until the engineer finds new housing? I would hate for him to have to give them up permanently.

  • EmmyJane November 2, 2015 (10:46 pm)

    That is heartbreaking.

  • MsD November 2, 2015 (11:29 pm)

    Most of the affordable housing I knew of in West Seattle is being torn down in the name of density. I’m not talking about single family homes, but older apartments being replaced by new apartments going for at least twice the rent. I had some great neighbors who were forced out when their long-term homes were demolished. It will be interesting to see who moves into the new “units”. It seems that the lower/middle income and older people in Seattle are going to be pushed out. As far as I can tell this is how the city wants it – everyone within the city limits under 50 and earning over $100k per year.

  • Losing West Seattle November 3, 2015 (2:21 am)

    They took out a house at 17th and Coverdale for a 8 unit complex, now they took out a house at 17th and Thistle, no clue how many units there. 21st and Barton to my understanding its a 48 unit complex. I took my son to school this morning and spent 50 mins in traffic at 16th and Holden. I thankful I’m not in admiril district. It’s worse. Leave West Seattle Alone.

  • Losing West Seattle November 3, 2015 (2:24 am)

    Bertha could have paid for our homeless and housing. Could have feed all our people. Nope keep wasting our tax dollars.

  • ScubaFrog November 3, 2015 (3:58 am)

    How did it get to the point where 1% of a nation controls 99% of its wealth? This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a human issue. Capitalism has failed.

    Time to truly start the redistribution of America’s wealth. How can we spend trillions of dollars on the military – when we have thousands, perhaps millions of people on the brink of death in our country?

    Maybe I’m naïve. Am I missing something?

  • M November 3, 2015 (5:10 am)

    How can there be “3,000 homeless children attending Seattle Public Schools” if there is only 2,800 men, women, and children that are homeless in Seattle?

    It’s a very important issue, especially in regard to homeless children, however, why can I never trust the city’s math? (or anything they say).

  • deets please November 3, 2015 (6:51 am)

    The link of the city’s documentation is dated August, 2012. What Ms. Wilder says is completely different than the suggested disposition in that F&A report on the four parcels.

    How can individuals access the documentation which reflects the current direction of the city’s plans? Where is that information she is alluding to but which is not visible anywhere on that site?

    Also, the city’s 2012 council conditionally approved the Roxbury street vacation depending upon environmental signage and recreational amenities. What did that refer to? Can the public please see documentation of this plan?

    Or is it just for special people.

  • JoB November 3, 2015 (7:23 am)

    5 portapotties? really?
    where are the safe parking areas for people who are living in their cars?
    impound lots may get their vehicles off the streets but they do nothing to help the people who were living in them

  • d November 3, 2015 (7:25 am)

    The sale of properties that could be used to build affordable housing just like the property they sold to developers and high point Park Lake home and Rainier Valley that’s all just so very affordable big joke

  • Dawn November 3, 2015 (7:43 am)

    @M: 2,800 is the number of men, women and children who did not have a safe place to sleep the night the count was made; i. e., were literally sleeping on the streets. The One Night Count does not include the thousands of homeless who manage to find shelter for the evening.

  • Mickymse November 3, 2015 (8:26 am)

    “where are the safe parking areas for people who are living in their cars?”
    There aren’t many. Landowners are not offering them up. So if you know of an entity with 6+ parking spaces who wants to participate, let the City’s Human Services Dept know about it.

  • RentsTooDamnHigh November 3, 2015 (9:00 am)

    King County needs to step up. Seattle will go broke trying to pay for the huge homeless problem!

  • DW November 3, 2015 (9:07 am)

    I have very, very mixed feelings about this.

    One the one hand, some of the stories are heartbreaking and I do feel a sense of “there for the grace of God” when I hear them. The statistics shown yesterday called out 11 homeless kids at my child’s school – a situation I can’t even begin to imagine. Hearing that makes me think, “yes, we should do something about this.”

    On the other hand, it is very, very difficult to muster much sympathy when I see quotes like yesterday’s Seattle Times of a homeless man who just wants “a pound of weed and warm place to smoke it” or the squatters in the Seattle Times building who return after being kicked out since “no one else is using it”

    And then the fact that the city and county spend over $70 million a year on homeless prevention and yet the number is growing every year, I have to wonder if that fact that we are so generous will only attract more and more people looking for handouts – as opposed to those to genuinely need help.

    Transitional housing and tools to help people back onto their feet. THAT is something that I could get behind and support. Unfortunately, most of the efforts I see involve finding lots for tent cities to go. Much of the advocacy is going toward getting people a roof over their heads RIGHT NOW as opposed to seeing the big picture around transitioning people back into society.

    This is one of the most affluent cities in the country and it breaks my heart to see it polluted with tent cities and ramshackle shelters. That said, we do have a sense of permissiveness about the homeless. There’s no enforcement and no carrot/stick approach to incentive people to get their lives in order.

    Again, I get that there are legitimate hard luck, tragic stories out there, but there are also a not insignificant amount of people taking advantage of a generous city. We need to do all we can to help the former, but we need to demand more accountability – and perhaps rethink our generosity – toward the latter.

  • skeeter November 3, 2015 (10:16 am)

    DW you raise some good points. I have also been struggling to understand why homelessness is increasing at such a rapid pace. The local economy is red hot. Joblessness/unemployment in King County is at a very low level. So I don’t think the economy is causing homelessness. It’s true that housing prices are up, but most people with at least some income source are able to relocate to the ‘burbs (Kent, etc) before moving into a tent. I have to think that something else is going on that is creating increased homelessness. Are other cities offering free bus rides for the homeless to relocate to Seattle?

    There are many reasons people are homeless – addiction, lack of support, abuse, health problems, loss of income, etc. I get that. But my question is why is homelessness increasing at such a rapid pace? What changed to make the homeless population increase so fast?

  • Ms. Sparkles November 3, 2015 (10:34 am)

    Absolutely spot on DW! The homeless children issue always confuses me- isn’t that what welfare is for? To ensure children’s basic needs are met? So are the parents of these homeless children not applying (don’t know the resource is there) or somehow disqualified? And if they’re disqualified, is CPS looking into those situations?
    Then there’s my own brother, who isn’t homeless (yet) but who repeatedly makes bad decisions, often the same bad decisions; I love him, but my empathy only extends so far- at some point you have to learn from your mistakes, get your sh*t together and trudge out of the trench you’ve dug for yourself.

  • Neighbor November 3, 2015 (11:30 am)

    I think it’s time to recall WSB frequent commentor’s misw’s (?) story.
    He lost his housing due to medical bills, ended up living down at the Nickelville site. For him was either pay for medication or pay rent.
    One of the first things Republicans did when they took control of the WH was to abolish medical bankruptcy. It was the number one reason Americans declared bankruptcy, now after you mortgage your house and can’t pay due to cancer or other medical reasons the banks can order the sheriff to evict you. What friggin country do we want to live in when we allow people to be thrown out of their homes due to illness?
    We are better than this aren’t we?
    Here in Seattle we live in an economic bubble. If you travel anywhere else in the country you see just how bad it really is for most of Americans. The recovery has passed the majority of Americans by. Homelessness must not be allowed to become the new normal, we can’t just become desensitized to seeing thousands living on the streets.

  • AceMotel November 3, 2015 (11:46 am)

    the mayor declares an emergency. you think? Did he suddenly walk down the street and see all the human beings sleeping in tents? This should have been done long age.
    I know there are a lot of causes of homelessness, some self-imposed and some situational. But frankly, I don’t care what the cause is. It’s simply untenable in society to expect anyone – anyone – to live on the streets, be they unemployed engineers, drug addicts, alcoholics, medically fragile, irresponsible, upstanding parents, whatever!!!
    What has happened to our society, when we ACCEPT this state of affairs; when we try to “explain” it, when we try to “analyze” it or when we try to sort our our “feelings” about it??????
    Isn’t it clear to everybody that it’s just not right to have human beings living on the street?
    And I totally agree with ScubaFrog.

  • sophista-tiki November 3, 2015 (1:37 pm)

    Are we suddenly in an information bubble here?! Its already been proven that its more cost effective to actually give people places to live than it is to continuously throw tax money at emergency services.

  • Diane November 3, 2015 (2:01 pm)

    thank you Neighbor and AceMotel; other comments here “just buck up and get one of those great jobs; or just move to Kent; or just apply for welfare”; please take a break from your cushy desk in your warm house and learn about the reality of people being forced out of their longterm housing do to skyrocketing rents, and other real life issues that could happen to anyone, like the medical crisis that forced our dear friend Mike into homelessness; how about visiting one of our many homeless shelters to actually meet and talk to the real people who have been forced out onto the streets; it is a travesty
    and yes, we’ve had this homelessness emergency for years; about damn time the Mayor finally took some action

  • skeeter November 3, 2015 (2:19 pm)

    Diane – I wasn’t recommending people just move to Kent. I’m simply saying that high housing costs don’t necessarily explain the increase in homelessness. There are affordable places to live if you’re willing to commute to work. Decreased rents might be a way to improve quality of life so people can live where they want. But I don’t think decreased rents would decrease homelessness. Something else is causing increased homelessness but I don’t know what.

  • Jon Wright November 3, 2015 (2:38 pm)

    DW, The Times quoting someone who just wants to get high and finding some folks squatting “because it is there” does not make those individuals representative of our homeless problem. That does make for good sloganeering (“The homeless are just a bunch of indigent drug users”) which in turn dehumanizes these folks and makes them easy to dismiss.

  • Diane November 3, 2015 (3:51 pm)

    skeeter; it costs THOUSANDS of dollars to move; most renters who need affordable housing do not have THOUSANDS of dollars
    in fact, yes; skyrocketing rents have caused many longterm renters to become homeless

  • Diane November 3, 2015 (4:05 pm)

    agree Jon Wright

  • NM November 3, 2015 (4:10 pm)

    Developers are tearing down all of the old buildings these homeless people lived in before all of the development. Squatting was better than tents. There is no where to go but into tents because the shelters are full.

  • West Seattle Hipster November 3, 2015 (4:32 pm)

    It seems Seattle leadership is more apt to throw money at a problem instead of taking the steps necessary to find the root causes and solutions.


    No matter how much money we spend on the homeless issue, I am guessing it will get even problematic.


    I will be curious to see in 5 years if its gotten better or worse.

  • DevNull November 3, 2015 (6:18 pm)

    In 2004 Seattle and King County proposed a 10 year plan to end Homelessness. Per Ed and Dow, the problem is worse than ever. Is it possible that throwing more money at the Homeless system is not the answer?

  • LongCommute November 3, 2015 (6:28 pm)

    Commuting to work isn’t always an issue of willingness. If you have a 9-5 job, you have options to commute. If you work swing or graveyard shift or weekends, you are far more limited in your transit options and would likely be forced to drive to work.
    Between gas, parking, and increased insurance/maintenance it can cost as much or more to live in outlying areas-despite the more affordable housing-due to transportation costs. It’s just not as simple as “move out of the city”. If it were, more people would do it.
    I also want to point out the number of folks moving to the area from other parts of the country. Yes, Seattle is experiencing an economic boom and creating lots of jobs–that are going to people from out of state who already have the savings they need to relocate and start a new job here.
    I will agree that this seems like a band-aid solution, but a band-aid is better than letting the wound fester and grow. I just hope there are some long-term plans in there as well.

  • jissy November 3, 2015 (6:56 pm)

    Thank you DW for articulating what I have been feeling for a long time as well.

  • flimflam November 3, 2015 (7:14 pm)

    how is it within the mayor’s power to declare a state of emergency on this? doesn’t it regard to earthquakes, terrorist attacks?

    seems a bit of a stretch considering the money involved and the abandoning of any sort of procedures/protocol/etc.

  • just asking November 5, 2015 (8:37 am)

    To A Small Cat Rescue: My heart is breaking for the man who was forced to give up his cats. Will you be able to find them homes? Maybe a foster family until he gets back on his feet? Can a donation be made to help?

    I realize this probably seems minor in the face of larger issues, but sometimes our furry friends are the only thing that keeps us grounded, and being forced to give them up is heart wrenching.

  • Cass Turnbull November 12, 2015 (6:17 pm)

    The part that Seattle wants to sell is, as always, the best part. It is the flat meadowland located in the center of what could be the last large park Seattle could create. Discovery Park South. Instead it will probably be sold to Lowes.

    It is a place that kids could play in nature (there is a large low-income development near by.) It is a place where the infirm and the old would be able to stroll or sit in the sun (there is a senior housing complex close by too. Most ‘natural areas’ are in steep slopes.

    Myers has crickets, chorus frogs, garter snakes, native butterflies, killdeer, and gold finches that need open space. It is where the hawk hunts for voles. And it did have wetlands until the city developed the other half of Myers, washing out the creek below. I suspect it could be restored.

    We need to add parkland to the City not chip away at it. With 200,000 more people headed our way, they’re going to need it. Housing can always go up, but green space needs to be on the ground floor.

Sorry, comment time is over.