MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Murray: Loss of life warrants homeless emergency declaration

Nov 2, 2015, 3:16 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2015, 5:45 am

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has noted that 45 people have died on the streets this year and 3,000 kids ...

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has noted that 45 people have died on the streets this year and 3,000 kids in Seattle Public Schools are homeless. (AP)

(AP)

It’s no tsunami or earthquake, but King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proclaimed a state of emergency Monday to address the region’s homeless issue, calling it “a local crisis.”

“After much consideration, I’ve decided to use this authority usually preserved for civil unrest, natural disasters or a terrorist attack because the loss of life is so great and because of a growing public health concern,” Murray said.

Murray is following a precedent set in recent weeks, first by Los Angeles and then Portland. The city will spend $5.3 million it will receive from an upcoming sale of city property. King County will spend $2 million.

Related: Orderly homeless camps a must to avoid lowering property values

Murray says the funds will go toward additional services, including 100 new shelter beds, but also prevention, such as mental health and addiction counselors for people living on the streets. A mobile van offering mental health services for residents of tent encampments should be launched within a month.

Murray made the announcement with most Seattle City Council members at his side. He gave the council one week to allocate his recommended $5.3 million.

Both officials say this emergency declaration, and the funds that come with it, will go beyond simply serving people who are homeless, but will also attack the root causes behind it. That includes providing mental health counselors for homeless veterans suffering from PTSD or by treating heroin addiction, a rising, local epidemic.

“Homelessness is not a natural disaster,” King County Executive Dow Constanine said. “It’s a human-made disaster… the phenomenon of homelessness community-wide, countywide, nationwide and particularly here on the West Coast, has reached crisis proportions.”

Constantine and Murray say this declaration also serves as a request for emergency assistance from the state and the federal government.

Murray said the funds should perhaps come from FEMA, although FEMA itself has its budget slashed in recent years and last week denied individual assistance to Washington residents whose homes were destroyed by wildfires this summer.

“We’re going to continue to ask for federal money,” Murray said. “We need action from the federal government. If not FEMA, we need it from somewhere else.”

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Murray: Loss of life warrants homeless emergency declaration