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Is the missing piece to Seattle’s homeless solution a job?

There are a lot of aspects in the debate over how to solve the Seattle homeless crisis: housing first, on-demand treatment, criminal policies, sidewalk laws, and even RV parking rules. But one advocate says there is a major factor being left out of the conversation — jobs.

“I have a social work background, and they basically use the medical model,” said Dr. Lee Bowes. “The idea is that you need to fix all the problems the person has before you send them out to go to work. We don’t need to do that. The best way to socialize people back into society and not a situation where they are living on the streets; it’s to get them working as quickly as possible. That is the approach we take and it’s been successful in all the populations we’ve worked with. And we’ve been doing this since 1984.”

Bowes is CEO of America Works, an organization dedicated to using employment services as a route out of homelessness. America Works engages a range of populations, including people exiting prison, people experiencing homelessness, homeless veterans, and people on public assistance. The organization works in 27 locations around the United States.

Understanding Seattle’s homeless issue

“The power of being in a work environment, getting a paycheck, changes the way people speak, changes the way they dress, changes the way they give eye contact,” Bowes said. “I just think work is the solution to homelessness. Yes, you have people who are somewhat dysfunctional within every population. If you look at the general working population in the United States, you have people with substance abuse problems, mental health problems, that doesn’t mean that with the right kind of setting and support they can’t go to work.”

This means, according to Bowes, that a person living in a tent, if they really want one, can get a job. She argues it is all about motivation. Employers, she says, basically seek someone who wants to work and will show up.

“Employers are more than willing to provide training and meet that person halfway,” Bowes said.

“We don’t find that the issue is that there is a complete lack of housing,” she said. “There is always something available, like there is with the job market, you just have to know how to look for it”

Seattle homeless families left with few options for housing

While America Works does operate in 27 communities in the country, it does not have a location in Seattle. Bowes said that the organization is open to coming to the Northwest, however. That would be up to city or county officials.

“Everyone who is homeless is not crazy,” she said. “There is a story about someone in Seattle recently, gainfully employed his whole life. But one thing led to another — lost the job, lost the apartment. That person can be employed in two minutes. It has to be done quickly, or they begin to live that life. We put too few resources into getting people employed.”

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