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New Seattle homeless director speaks out about issue plaguing the city

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says opioid addiction and homelessness go hand in hand. (KIRO 7)

Seattle’s first director of homelessness says that while the people in the city are compassionate, the system to get help for those living on the streets could work more efficiently.

George Scarola, who was hired in August, told New Day that the issue is a top priority for the city and Mayor Ed Murray, and there is a “tremendous” amount of good will to deal with it. However, he says, things could be clicking better.

“We have a great group of providers. As a system, we could work better together — we could be more efficient, more effective at helping people who are long-time living unsheltered to find the housing that they need,” he said.

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The problem comes down to resources, he says. Echoing what Murray has said in the past, Scarola says the city could benefit from state and federal resources. However, improving the city’s substance abuse and mental health programs, while further funding shelters, could come down to the local level.

“We do need federal assistance and we will keep asking for it,” he said. “But we might have to do some of that on our own — find our own set of resources to meet that need.”

The short-term solution, according to Scarola, is setting up camps, building tiny homes, and supporting emergency shelters — especially for the winter.

In the long run, Scarola says Seattle needs a homeless program that gets the people currently living in shelters into housing to make room for more people. The permanent solution, he says, is a system that gets people off the street almost immediately.

“A system that helps homeless people find shelter that day,” he explained.

What complicates the process, Scarola says, is the urgency. It’s a balancing act to provide in the short term while also coming up with long-term solutions.

“There’s always a bit of a trade-off and I think that’s the biggest challenge,” he said.

The city still needs to solve the argument of where people can live while they are homeless, he says. By that, he’s referring to the ongoing discussion over a proposed homeless ordinance that would dictate where people can legally camp in public places.

“I think we’re on the way to solving that problem, but while it’s an argument it makes more and more people anxious,” he said.

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