Unusual idea strikes at core of Seattle’s homeless debate

Aug 26, 2016, 12:56 PM | Updated: 12:57 pm
island, san juan county...
A ferry sailing from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands. (MyNorthwest file photo)
(MyNorthwest file photo)

Sweep it under the rug. Out of sight; out of mind. However you want to put it, there is a notion in Seattle that one solution to homelessness is simply removing the visual blight it produces. A Tom and Curley Show listener offered an idea, which has John Curley’s endorsement and Tom Tangney’s skepticism. The idea: create a homeless island outside of Seattle.

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The idea strikes at the core of the homeless debate. Is an island set aside for the homeless approach inhumane, or a strict, yet reasonable remedy?

The listener’s argument: Giving the chronically homeless a place to live apart from the general population would give them a chance to regroup and eventually reintegrate into society. The island would be a safe-haven for those who are out of work and living outdoors without support.

In theory, food and medical help would be provided as well as other services on the homeless island. Residents would be free to come and go. After repeated criminal offenses, individuals would be sent to jail. Seattle could then declare itself a No Homeless Zone, but still claim to be compassionate.

Curley says sending homeless individuals to one of the San Juan Islands would help both sides — giving people a comfortable place to live while also eliminating the tents and junk that many consider an eyesore. Tom praised the creativity of the idea, but he is not sold on what he would consider an internment camp.

A homeless island

Tom Tangney: That’s well and good for people who only don’t want to see society’s ills. However, there are people who would be morally responsive to that and would say that’s not a good thing, that we’re creating an internment camp on an island for the homeless. Now, there may be some homeless who would prefer that, but others who wouldn’t. So then what do you do? Do you arrest them if they don’t stay on the island? It’s just impractical, but I like the idea that it’s a possibility.

John Curley: My argument is it is visual. People look at these tents and say the system is broken. It’s upsetting and they don’t like that it costs millions of dollars to pay for a population that sits to the side of the general system of civilization.

Tangney: The problem with the island idea is it would get too crowded if everybody is going to come from around the world to take advantage of the great social services offered by the City of Seattle. And the Right might also object: Why are we giving all these homeless people waterfront property on an island when I can’t afford my own property?

Curley put together another hypothetical: adopt a homeless person. Listen below:

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

John Curley and Shari Elliker

John Curley and Shari Elliker

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Unusual idea strikes at core of Seattle’s homeless debate