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Mayor Murray pressed for answers on city’s homeless plan, levy

Mayor Ed Murray faced off with Ron and Don live on-air. (Matt Pitman)

After months of prodding, KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show finally grilled Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on homelessness.

Related: Ron and Don post-Murray interview impressions

“I don’t know if the money you already have is being spent wisely. I don’t know if it’s efficient,” Ron told the mayor. “Before I vote to give more money, I want an accounting of what you already have. We already spend a lot of money.”

Related: Murray outlines $275M levy for homelessness

Murray reminded Ron and Don that when he took office, he reached out and asked about what could be improved. And his office has “corrected those” issues, he said.

“Those contracts are now being bid on, based on outcomes that will be transparent so that we can measure by metrics,” Murray said. “But I think that it would be a mistake to confuse the fact that the county and the city need to reform their delivery system with the growth in homelessness. We can bring those numbers down by being better at the services we deliver. But we are not the cause of homelessness.”

Just this week, the City of Seattle cleaned up an area in SoDo referred to as “The Field” or, on the Ron and Don Show, “Murray’s Triangle.” At least 37 people, their belongings, and nine cats were removed from the rat-infested mud pit known to harbor at least two men suspected of child rape.

Related: Activists tangle with City, SPD over encampment barriers

Murray said that decision was made based on the conditions of the area and it’s his feeling, despite what some members of the city council believe, that illegal encampments should not be allowed in city parks, greenbelts, and sidewalks.

“You’re tolerating something in the city right now, that as the mayor, I wouldn’t tolerate,” Don said.

“What would you do?” the mayor asked Don. “Would you use your police force and take 3,000 people and dump them outside of our city boundaries?”

Don said he’d give people choices, especially given that the city is asking the public for $55 million and then $60 million, and $25 million from big businesses.

“San Francisco businesses are giving $30 million,” the mayor replied.

“You know what, we’re not San Francisco,” Don reminded Murray. “Let’s just stay in Seattle because we don’t live in San Francisco and we don’t live in Los Angeles. I pay taxes in Seattle. If you’d like $275 million more dollars from me, then I want to know that people living in derelict RVs and kicking in windows and breaking into cars and living in tents on Mercer, I want to know that something is going to be done about that.”

Murray assured Don that one element of homelessness — criminal activity — is being addressed by Seattle police “as recently as the individuals involved in sex trafficking teenage girls.” They’re also taking care of criminal RV dwellers.

But Murray said police are often arresting the same people over and over.

“Why those people keep getting out is a big question that should be asked,” he said. “I don’t control that part of the system. We certainly are involved in discussions about why we see certain individuals out within days.”

We also need to remember that there are people who are struggling, the mayor said. And with the new Navigation team, they’re trying to connect people to services. In fact, 19 people (of 37) removed from “The Triangle” accepted help this week, according to the mayor. The remainder were removed from the area.

Related: Seattle’s new ‘Navigation Team’ tackles homeless camps under I-5

Ron and Don reminded the mayor that they may cross the line with criticism of his strategy, but it’s only because they hate to see what’s happened to the city they love.

“I’m a native of this city,” Murray said. “It breaks my heart. I stay up at night over this crisis.”

Related: Seattle, King County set new record for overdose deaths

Murray said that his proposed $275 million levy — which will appear on the same ballot as his re-election — will cost the median Seattle homeowner about $13 per month. It will improve upon Seattle’s lack of addiction treatment, and increase the beds it has to offer people with mental health issues.

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