Seattle has ‘culture block’ when it comes to the homeless crisis

Mar 23, 2017, 5:50 AM | Updated: 12:17 pm
homeless, seattle homeless, Portland...
With so many homeless people living next to I-5, Dori wonders when a recent case out of Portland will be repeated here. (MyNorthwest)

We’ve all wondered something like it — why does it seem that solutions are slow when it comes to Seattle’s homeless crisis? Well, according to one expert, it’s because we have “culture block.”

Related: Seattle homeless czar lays out city’s next steps

“I think there is some progress being made,” Consultant Barb Poppe said. “But what I’m not seeing is the rapid innovation that needs to happen between community members, the providers, the government, the business sector. It seems like there is some block in your culture. You want everything all figured out and everybody gets everything, and once we have a master plan, we’ll go forward. And I think sometimes the accountability is just, ‘It’s the mayor’s problem.’”

Poppe has found a balance between being polite and blunt when it comes to telling locals the hard truth about the Seattle homeless issue. Her most recent sentiment is in line with previous comments she has made about the Seattle homeless issue, such as the city can use a lot less talk, and more action.

Seattle homeless crisis: Tell it like it is

The Downtown Seattle Association hosted Poppe and other panelists for a second time Wednesday to discuss Seattle’s homeless crisis. The event was co-hosted by the Seattle Metro Chamber, Visit Seattle and the Alliance for Pioneer Square and was moderated by KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. The city paid Poppe $80,000 for nine months of work in 2016 to come up with an assessment of, and recommendations for Seattle’s homeless crisis. She has since been a fixture around Seattle as locals seek action to the tents lining the freeway and the millions being spent on the crisis.

She was again pressed for answers on Wednesday — more specifically on a $275 million question. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is asking taxpayers for that much in a new homeless levy.

But in 2016, Poppe told city officials that Seattle could mostly fix its homeless issue within a year if it used current funding and resources correctly.

“(The data) was three years ago and the progress that happened since then has been pretty incremental,” Poppe said. “By all accounts you’ve had rising homelessness. So the modeling can’t take into account all of the rapid increases – you had a 19 percent increase in homelessness. Your problem got worse because there wasn’t the action that probably needed to happen several years ago.”

“Based on 2013-14 data, there were enough homeless assistance resources involved that if you shifted to the practices that got the greatest results, you could solve for unsheltered homelessness within a year — if you made those shifts and you added $9 million,” she said.

“What I understand, though, is that collectively you all don’t want to make the shift,” she added. “Because providers and systems haven’t been held accountable to move to make the shifts; because you are attached to what you currently do.”

As for the $275 million levy that Mayor Murray will have on the November ballot:

“What I can say to you is what they intend to spend the additional money on, isn’t on the things that haven’t worked in the past,” Poppe said. “It’s not about building more sanctioned encampments, it’s not about more RV parks that folks can park on. That’s not what the investment is. The investment looks to be on the things that are achieving results here.”

“So you may decide, as voters, that you’re going to support the levy because it’s going to be investing in things we know will make a difference,” she said. “The question for you is what’s the accountability that each of you has to implement the recommendations and work together to be aligned today, doing that which works. How do you each contribute to a solution today and how do you hold accountable?”

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Seattle has ‘culture block’ when it comes to the homeless crisis