Today I went to Ballard. The original plan was to do a walking tour starting at Trader Joe's with someone else from our community, but she was unable to make it today. Ideally, her, myself, and Sara Lerner, a journalist with KIRO News Radio will get together tomorrow to talk more about solutions to the homelessness crisis, while also talking about what has been happening at these community meetings.
I also met Ron of the Ron & Don Show as he was exiting Trader Joe's. Dude's built and has amazing arms.
But back on point - Sara and I walked around the neighborhood, and started by visiting the site on 14th NW between NW 45th and NW 46th that is the current temporary "safe lot" (until the Yankee Diner lot opens). There were around ten RVs parked there, and there was something else present: port-a-potties, a garbage bin, a recycling bin, and (because we are Seattle) a compost bin. Unsurprisingly, the area was relatively well-kept. Much of the complaints we have heard regarding the RVs have involved unsightly trash and poop.
I was reminded during this walk of a Wallingford Community Council meeting I attended during my City Council campaign in 2015. Catherine Weatbrook was also there, and on the agenda were RV and car-campers along Northlake Ave in Wallingford. The members of the community - businesses and residents alike, were concerned about the trash and needles. However, there was not the "anywhere but here" attitude. Rather, people wanted solutions, and most of the folks that took part in the impromptu discussion agreed we needed immediate actions, short-term actions, and long-term actions.
Immediate Actions - This can be hard. Most often, the easiest way to get people to not poop on lawns is to provide a port-a-potty. Don't want needles littering the sidewalk? Provide sharps containers. Sick of the trash? Give people somewhere to put it (ie: a trash container).
This is hard because it doesn't hide poverty and homelessness, but straight up makes it easier for people to stay right where they are while a short-term band-aid is enacted. But to address the immediate concerns of trash, human waste, and needles, there is nothing that will be more immediate than this.
Short-Term Actions - During our conversation, I wondered aloud how people felt about encampments, and using the encampment model with a vacant parking lots. The consensus: this was not ideal, but was a step in the right direction. A recurring theme was that such lots would need to be near transit, and have access to social services. But there was also a recognition that a car or an RV is, to many, better than a tent. So, while we are working on long-term actions, we should use all sorts of creative approaches to address neighborhood concerns while also acting with compassion.
Long-Term Actions - This was the big one. Build. More. Housing. We all agreed that the best way to lose the RVs was not to kick people out of the city, but to provide them with safe shelter and support to help them get back on their feet. That means emergency shelter, transitional housing, job training, health care access, etc. And there was consensus: this housing needs to be in every neighborhood - and community council members were clear they meant in Wallingford, too (which, as they noted, has services for people that need them right there in the neighborhood, so it makes sense to build the housing in Wallingford).
That also means removing barriers. We are hearing more and more complaints about how much this city spends in our human services budget for community members experiencing homelessness. Part of that is the strings attached to those dollars.
Whether it's shelters that don't allow couples to stay together, or don't allow pets, or programs that require absolute sobriety before receiving services, what ends up happening is people are left without access to a safe space. This despite the fact that all of the data (since politicians are so data-driven these days) clearly shows that Housing First saves money.
Some people don't want their tax dollars going towards a safe bedroom for someone who is going to shoot up in that room. I can understand that. However, I would rather my tax dollars go toward that person having safe shelter, a safe place to dispose their needle, and access to treatment for their addiction after we have addressed their immediate housing need. I would rather that a helluva lot more than spending even more of my tax dollars on emergency room services from an untreated illness or overdose - which is going to cost much more.
During my walk with Sara, I said "Housing First" a lot. That is the cheapest solution, and the most humane solution.
I also noted that we have opportunities to make small dents. We passed the so-called "Up House," which is currently vacant, without siding, and it looks like it has been gutted. This was a block after passing a sleeping space that was outside (no tent) under the Ballard Bridge. The Up House could be quickly renovated. It could easily include six or more beds, bathrooms, a washer and dryer, a kitchen, and has space to allow a dog. It could be Housing First. It could be part of the solution.