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King County regional leaders respond to recent homeless conversation

Apr 2, 2019, 1:22 PM | Updated: Apr 3, 2019, 5:50 pm
homeless, seattle, homelessness...
(AP)
(AP)

There has been a range of responses to the recent controversial Seattle is Dying TV special. Now, business and nonprofit leaders in King County are weighing in.

While some say “Seattle is dying,” they note that the region is making progress toward solutions in an “Open Letter to Our Community” signed by more than 40 members of the community, ranging from the United Way to Sounders FC and Tom Douglas Restaurants.

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“So many of the people who were profiled in the Seattle is Dying piece were people who do have mental health issues, and addiction issues, and it was a real eye opener,” said Howard Wright with Seattle Hospitality Group, who also signed the letter.

“We wanted to respond to it to just show that a lot of progress has been made on the homelessness issue, and what has not been addressed is mental health services and addiction treatment,” he said. “And we cannot arrest our way out of this issue. And we wanted to show the progress that has been made in providing homelessness services to veterans and to youth and to families.”

As the letter argues: “Real solutions come from a whole community: nonprofits, businesses, philanthropists, neighbors, those who’ve experienced homelessness — even media.”

The letter was distributed by Pyramid Communications. A representative said that it was approached by various organizations — such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Campion Advocacy Fund, and the Ballmer Group — to support engagement and conversations around the homelessness issue.

It’s a continuation of the work Pyramid did on behalf of Pearl Jam for the home concerts in 2018.”

Seattle is Dying has indeed sparked a lot of passionate conversation in the region,” said John Hoyt, founder of Pyramid Communications. “Those conversations prompted local leaders to come together and say we solve homelessness by being unified — and taking action informed by facts, proven solutions, and innovation.”

Open letter about homelessness

Other signers of the letter range from David Bley, director of the Pacific Northwest division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; investor Nick Hanauer; Jim Theofelis with A Way Home Washington; Connie Ballmer with the Ballmer Group; and Maria Chavez Wilcox with YWCA Seattle. Also, Tod Leiweke with NHL Seattle, GeekWire, and Live Nation Seattle.

The letter notes that youth homelessness in the region went down by 22 percent between 2017 and 2018. Also:

  • The number of families housed through King County’s homeless response system increased by 63 percent between 2014 and 2017.
  • Homelessness among veterans was reduced by 31 percent from 2017 to 2018.
  • In four years, housing placement rates have doubled (between 2013 and 2017).

“I don’t think it is an American value to allow these people to live this way on the streets,” Wright said.

“I think that we need to have stronger incentives for people living on the streets to get off the streets and to get into care,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that we lock them up and throw the key away. But I am suggesting that you either accept services and get treatment or there will be stronger consequences.”

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The letter references a recently-approved regional plan to build a cohesive approach to homelessness as a solution.

We are enthusiastic about the work on a new regional plan that includes health care, mental health, criminal justice, social services, and affordable homes. It will redesign our city and county systems to address homelessness in a coordinated, unified and compassionate way.

The plan was approved in December 2018. It forms a single, independent entity to consolidate funding and policy-making for homelessness between King County and the City of Seattle. The new effort unifies preventative funding for services and shelters; coordinates housing solutions; oversees contract management; establishes metrics, and more.

The full letter can be read here.

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King County regional leaders respond to recent homeless conversation