King County Dem caught up in controversial ‘homeless island’ idea

Aug 30, 2016, 4:58 PM | Updated: 5:34 pm
homeless island...
A not-so-serious thought about putting Seattle's homeless on an island sparked a debate on Twitter. (AP)

When vice chair of the King County Democrats Omaha Sternberg joined an online debate over the idea of an island for Seattle’s homeless, she wasn’t expecting the harsh response.

“It seems like there were some knee jerk reactions to the concept and idea, especially since people were immediately saying this was a Hunger Games, internment concept kind of thing,” Omaha Sternberg told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “Which was totally, absolutely not my intention.”

It all started on the Tom and Curley Show, questioning a listener’s extreme out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to the current homeless crisis. A discussion blew up on Twitter and Sternberg found herself at odds when she commented that she would like to discuss the homeless island idea further. It didn’t go over well.

“I was actually surprised with the amount of hate and the response I got,” she said. “I was hoping to have a general conversation about concepts — what this would work with, what it wouldn’t work with. It’s just an idea to throw around.”


Homeless island sparks online ire

Sternberg wanted to discuss the hypothetical idea of a homeless island, where people would voluntarily move. She said there could be resources, programs, water taxis to Seattle.

“This was a twitter conversation and it ended up going on this entire day,” Sternberg said. “There were a number of people who jumped to the conclusion that this was supposed to be some kind of internment camp and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

You can count Rantz in the “bad idea” camp.

“I would argue that resources and money would be better put into concrete programs and affordable housing,” Rantz said.

“What is causing people to find this offensive, and I’m almost at that point … if the root cause of homelessness is a lack of a home, why not give them a home?” he said. “They still wouldn’t have a home if you put them on an island. I would understand if you said ‘let’s build affordable housing on an island and give it to them for free’ and make an argument there. But putting them in tents on an island seems like a giant social experiment using human beings. That seems cruel, which is why I think you are getting such push-back.”

But for Sternberg, people seem to be ignoring the cruelty that is happening already, in reality, not on a mythical homeless island. 

“Homeless people who are in a situation where they need a place to be, and the Seattle City Council is not constantly coming over and removing their tents, and (a homeless island) provides some kind of consistency,” she said.

“(Tent cities) are getting destroyed on a regular basis,” Sternberg said. “This provides consistency. Then you turn around and start talking to construction sites that tend to purchase more supplies than they need. You would be able to create a 501c3, and have those supplies donated to that 501c3 and it goes directly to the homeless on that island.”

But why an island? Isn’t the idea of an island perpetuating the idea of out of sight, out-of-mind?

“One of the problems with keeping with them where they are is that you get the Seattle City Council constantly saying, ‘We’re tired of them being there. We want to remove them and get rid of them,’” Sternberg said. “That is a big push, in large part, from wealthier members of society saying, ‘We don’t want them there. We want to build there. We want to remove them and build there.’ My thoughts of having an island is that it would provide a space where you wouldn’t constantly have people saying they want to build there. They would have their own space. No one would be able to remove them. They would have their own community, they would be able to turn into their own district.”

And in the end, does Sternberg really think that a homeless island is something the area should pursue?

“Good heavens, no,” she said.


Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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King County Dem caught up in controversial ‘homeless island’ idea