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Will threat to Seattle tourism spark fiercer homeless response?

A cruise ship on the Seattle waterfront. (KIRO 7 image, file photo)

If public safety wasn’t enough of a reason for Seattle leadership to put even more effort into tackling the homeless crisis, maybe the risk of being a poor place to visit will do the trick.

RELATED: How Seattle spent $54 million on homelessness

As reported on KIRO 7, the American Pharmacists Association is skeptical about hosting its conference next year in Seattle. This comes after association representatives witnessed homeless people urinating in public, using drugs, and acting strangely.

And what they witnessed doesn’t compare to what a tourist from Arizona reportedly went through on June 2. According to police, the tourist was on his way to the Space Needle with family when he was attacked by a homeless person. The alleged attacker reportedly tried to strangle him with a rope. The tourist had “obvious injuries.”

Seattle tourism

In 2017, 39.9 million people visited Seattle. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over the previous year.

Visitors generated $10.7 billion in total economic impact, according to Visit Seattle, a nonprofit marketing organization.

In its 2018 report, Visit Seattle points out there were more than 75,000 jobs supported by tourism last year. Visitors generated a total of $762 million in tax revenue. There were a record 520,206 cruise ship passengers. And Sea-Tac saw a 5.4 percent growth in international passengers.

Those are just some of the tourism highlights for the city and county, which prides itself on drawing people from around the world. But if the concerns from the American Pharmacists Association delegation are any indication of how quickly opinion of a city can change, Seattle leaders will want to further prioritize solving the homeless crisis to avoid losing that tourism revenue.

As Visit Seattle pointed out in its report:

With more than 11,000 homeless persons on Seattle streets, the growing humanitarian crisis requires a laser focus on long-term solutions and steadfast commitment and collaboration between elected officials, service providers, and the business and tourism communities. And, as too many of the city’s small businesses struggle to protect themselves and visitors and meeting groups threaten to not return, the Visit Seattle Street Scene Task Force will work with industry and other stakeholders to improve public safety and identify public policy positions where the travel and tourism industry’s voice can be heard.

Homelessness response

The tourist was attacked less than two before the city repealed the business head tax that would have provided millions in additional revenue for homeless services. Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell — like others in the past — asked businesses that pushed back against the head tax to use that same energy to help the city find solutions to the homeless problem.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is aiming to expand shelter services by 25 percent. It would give the city the ability to serve an additional 525 people every night. The mayor expects the city council to approve her proposed legislation next week.

However, King County’s homeless population continues to rise. According to the latest estimate, there are more than 12,000 homeless in King County, with many centered in Seattle. So while the cruise ships roll in this summer, more and more visitors will see what it means to have a homeless crisis.

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