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7 points: What Seattle leaders should know about homeless solutions

Dave Chung, who says he has been homeless for five years on the streets of California and Washington state, eats a meal before bedding down in a bus shelter in view of Seattle’s Space Needle in October 2017. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

There’s a popular bumper sticker slogan that goes something like this: “If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.”

Seems like when it comes to the homelessness and opioid crises in the Puget Sound area people are paying attention. The outrage is starting to bubble over in communities from Snohomish to Pierce Counties, and especially in King County. People are making demands on all sides. Residents want solutions and homeless advocates want more resources.

RELATED: Should Seattle take a hint from San Francisco?

What’s a reasonable person supposed to do?

Don and I have been covering this story since before the 10-Year Plan To End Homelessness was introduced about 13 years ago. How’d that work out for everyone?

7 points to understand about the Seattle homeless crisis

I feel like I’ve given over way too many of my waking hours reading about, and thinking about, this issue. And while I don’t have all the answers, may I offer up seven pragmatic thoughts.

  • 1) Homelessness is not something to be “solved.” It’s not a puzzle that will go away if you just find the magic combination of moves. Whatever course of action we take as a community, homelessness will never disappear.
  • 2) Standing by and being passive when someone is in distress is morally wrong. If you saw someone screaming in pain and bleeding on the sidewalk, you would not walk over to them and offer them services. You would call an ambulance and get them immediate help. While people in the clutches of addiction or untreated mental health issues aren’t visibly bleeding, they are in distress. Offering them optional services is not helping and it is not humane.
  • 3) Too many opinions are counterproductive. Social scientists have been studying group decision making for decades. Virtually no-one suggests that you keep adding more and more people to the decision making group. To be effective, you keep the group of decision makers small, disciplined, and agile. You will not please everyone and some people will get their feelings hurt. Sorry, but if you want to solve complex problems, that’s just the way it has to be.
  • 4) We need to copy and adapt winning strategies. Trying to reinvent the wheel is expensive with money and time. Ignoring winning programs from around the world is just dumb. People are literally dying as we hire more consultants, convene more blue ribbon panels, and then ignore expert advice. I’m looking at you Barbara Poppe.
  • 5) More money is not a cure-all. I’ll say this again, in 2017 Seattle and King County spend $195,588,532 for homelessness programs.
  • 6) Ask for help. We live in a community that has one of the highest concentrations of brilliant problem solvers in the world. Only they solve problems for companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing. Swallow your pride and ask them to help you. These people have skills in how to bring complex projects to market on time and on budget. For god’s sake, ask them for assistance.
  • 7) Finally, and I feel like this should be obvious, camping on the street, under bridges, and in parks is no way to live. Passively allowing this is cruel and inhumane.

Rage is an excellent motivator, but not great fuel for lasting solutions.

I’m calling on our leaders to actually lead. The result the community is looking for is for you to take the giant pile of money that we have already given to you and do things differently, starting now.

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