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Seattle pastor has solution for city’s homelessness problem

If there was a "right to shelter" it would mean police could better enforce public camping and sleeping on city streets. (KIRO Radio Photo/File)

It’s not people taking up residencies under business doorways or setting up a tent, but the rest of Seattle that has a homeless problem, according to a pastor. Because we see homeless people as a permanent fixture, we are morally failing.

Sandy Brown, with First United Methodist Church near Seattle Center, talked with KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross, about how to solve the problem – and one of the first things we need to recognize is that not everyone on the street is homeless. Some of those people, Brown calls “home free.”

“They’re living a lifestyle by their own personal choice to stay out of doors. And I think that as a trade off on this, we could be a little bit more aggressive with people who want to be home free,” said Brown.

If some people are homeless by choice, while others are struggling to get their life together, how can police know the difference?

First off, Brown said that in his shelter, many people stay there for up to three years. These are people who aren’t “home free,” but are in need of resources to get their life back on track.

Instead of housing those people and not providing the counseling they need, he thinks they should get motel vouchers.

“It costs $10,000 a year to house somebody in the shelter that our church provides. That’s $29 a night.”

While it would be a political fight, Brown believes that a plan involving the motel vouchers could free up case managers for those people who want help, as well as more beds in shelters for people who would otherwise sleep on the street.

As for those who choose to be home free, now they’d have a place to go at night – if the city and police wanted to enforce a policy to prevent them from sleeping on the street. The trade off is that police could be “more aggressive” with people who want to be home free, said Brown.

New York and Boston already do this – they call it “right to shelter” or “right to housing.”

“It means there is a guarantee that no one is going to have to stay outside at night who is vulnerable. (It) allows New York and Boston to be more aggressive with people who are camping,” explained Brown.

Brown is sure of one thing, the solution to the Seattle area’s homelessness isn’t going to be solved with just a bus ticket and directions to the next church basement.

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