Seattle needs to ‘swing for the fences’ to end homelessness

Aug 14, 2015, 4:14 PM | Updated: 4:16 pm

Seattle needs to “swing for the fences” in order to end homelessness, Union Gospel Miss...

Seattle needs to "swing for the fences" in order to end homelessness, Union Gospel Mission President Jeff Lilley told KIRO Radio's Ron Upshaw and Don O'Neill. (Kipp Robertson/MyNorthwest)

(Kipp Robertson/MyNorthwest)

Compared to some cities, Seattle is behind in its efforts to fix its homeless problem.

For example, Salt Lake City &#8212 and Utah in general &#8212 has lowered its homeless population significantly. In fact, Utah decreased its number of homeless by 72 percent, Mother Jones reports.

However, comparing Seattle to other cities might not be fair, Union Gospel Mission President Jeff Lilley told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show. Salt Lake City actually took Seattle’s model to end homelessness, which includes finding permanent places on the streets for people to live.

“When you look at it, they solved it,” Lilley explained. However, “they had a smaller population.”

According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Seattle/King County has the fourth highest homeless population in the country (8,949); and that number might even be a low estimate. That’s behind New York City (67,810), Los Angeles (34,393) and Las Vegas/Clark County (9,417).

So it’s not a simple task. It also means that Seattle’s 10-year plan to end homelessness may have been a little too ambitious. The plan was completed in the spring of 2005.

Was it bad to name it the 10-year plan? Ron asked.

“Yeah,” Lilley said. But it may have been hard to sell if the plan was called something like “‘attempt to make a small dent in homelessness.'”

The largest percentage of homeless people, about 50 percent, are single males, Lilley explained. Everyone has a different story, but they tend to be dealing with addiction, mental health issues, or issues following post-incarceration. However, the reason people are homeless tends to be because of “relationship issues.”

“If you guys lost your jobs and money … someone would take care of you,” Lilley told Ron and Don.

But things change when bridges are burned and a person is no longer trusted or wanted.

“At that point, you need help to get back on your feet,” Lilley continued.

The city is trying to help. Take, for example, the city’s efforts to create three new tent cities to cater to at least 200 people. Tent cities, however, do not solve the problem and are a temporary fix. In fact, there’s a growing number of homeless people living in vehicles, not tents, Lilley said.

People are finding that, if they have lost everything but can afford an RV, it is a good way to go, Lilley explained. At least then they have a bed, bathroom, maybe a kitchen and a door that locks.

Organizations, such as the Union Gospel Mission, which provides emergency care and recovery services, are also out there every day trying to make a difference.

But even with these resources, the issue isn’t going away. Ron told Lilley he’s seeing homeless people in areas, such as Bellevue Square, where they weren’t before.

“It’s popping up everywhere,” Ron said.

Don walked past Union Gospel recently and was amazed at how many people were there.

“I was overwhelmed by people waiting for help,” he told Lilley.

It begs the question: Is the issue of homelessness solvable or at least manageable?

It is, but people have to be willing to help, Lilley said. Though people in Seattle tend to give money to homeless people directly, it might often be better to support a local organization that, in turn, will provide services and immediate needs.

“We should swing for the fences,” Lilley said. “As long as there’s one more person out on the streets suffering, we should try.”

Ron and Don


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Seattle needs to ‘swing for the fences’ to end homelessness