In the midst of this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with unemployment and lay-offs, with the inevitable economic recession that follows the closing of businesses to protect citizens from infection, the Green Party of Washington (GPWA) sees that the homeless crisis must be addressed now, like never before. Although Governor Inslee has extended the moratorium on evictions until October 15th, the threat of losing their home looms ahead for many.
The findings of Washington State Legislature on homeless housing and assistance: “The legislature finds that there are many causes of homelessness, including a shortage of affordable housing; a shortage of family-wage jobs which undermines housing affordability; a lack of an accessible and affordable health care system available to all who suffer from physical and mental illnesses and chemical and alcohol dependency; domestic violence; and a lack of education and job skills necessary to acquire adequate wage jobs in the economy of the twenty-first century.”
East King County resident and Green, C.J. Sellers broached this topic with the GPWA because it’s a subject close to her heart. “I’m living with someone else and not in a position to house my adult son permanently so have tried to assist him in finding services and housing in the Seattle area. It’s been a struggle and an eye-opening experience on how such services operate. Although some programs have been helpful and certainly are better than no services, after ten months of trying to keep him on his meds and get him into housing, his priority status was downgraded because he stayed on the meds and has not been arrested or involuntarily committed. It’s heart-breaking to know his exposure to contagions is so much higher in a low-barrier shelter (not knocking them). He’s had two bouts of scabies, staph infection, had septic pneumonia, and caught Covid-19. I appreciate the charities, but I’m afraid for his life right now. It seems regressive to punish him for good behavior by putting off his access to public housing for the mentally ill.”
South Sound Green Party member, Molly Feathers commented on the proposal, “As a person in recovery I know that when I was struggling with my addictions and mental health issues it was very important that I had access to community programs that provided me with the basic things like food, shelter and other basic services. It is crucial that funding gets restored and can start going back into programs that have helped me a lot when I needed it most. I think it would help if some of the funding for law enforcement went back into providing public housing and expanding drug treatment programs like drug court and mental health court. That will help the overcrowding of jails and give a chance for people to give back to their communities once they have completed the program. It also provides a way for people to get their records wiped clean after they have completed the program and have a fresh start in life. People I know were accepted into these programs and it has truly changed their lives and helped them get out of the cycle of homlesness and address some many of their other needs. I also think it is imperative that access to rehabilitation centers be funded and expanded.” They added, “On a community level I think it is important to be active through volunteering and finding innovative ways to make sure community programs that do outreach also are part of the solution. For example the Thurston County organization SideWalk’s Rapid Rehousing program helps people get off the street and into housing and is something I know that has helped this community a lot. Also other organizations that provide a place for people to go to get food and their daily needs meet are important. In my experience those organizations don’t just offer things; but people that can meet you where you are at and then can help provide an olive branch to all the other services one might need.”
In the GPWA effort to obtain enough signatures to get their presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, on the November ballot, Greens talked to Seattle people on the street. Among them were the unhoused and formerly unhoused who expressed concerns about the sweeps by Seattle Police Department that push the homeless out of the downtown by scooping up their sole possessions like so much trash, leaving them much worse off. Now, in response to demands by Black Lives Matter to demilitarize the police, Seattle City Council did the opposite of what the intent was (to reallocate those funds to serve the community). They kept the police sweeps in play but removed social service allies from that situation and domestic violence response without having an alternative social services system already in place.
The sweeps of the homeless need to stop altogether and alternatives must be taken seriously. The GPWA affirms that unhoused people are protected by 4th Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure, protections of personal privacy and property, as well as the right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into whatever temporary residence they’ve fabricated in a crisis.
We recommend these immediate remediations to the homeless crisis:
Private citizens hosting unhoused youth in their homes.
Housing all homeless adult Washington citizens in unused hotels during the pandemic.
Ending the sweeps that treat homeless citizens’ sole possessions as trash and push the unhoused out of view instead of helping them.
Ending the profiling and harassment of unhoused people.
Improving the process of housing mentally-ill people and expanding their access to publicly-funded housing opportunities.
We address the recommendations by the WA State Advisory Council on Homelessness regarding Tiny Shelters in the homeless crisis response system. Understandably, these temporary shelters are necessary, but there aren’t enough beds including those for all the unhoused residents. The homeless crisis response system is obviously inadequate. Regular citizens may also assist with the housing crisis, even during this pandemic, if the state and local governments would agree to not interfere. GPWA recommends changing the status of residences on wheels from temporary residence recreational vehicles to residential units. When someone is given permission by a land-owner to house a movable tiny house or RV on their private property, classify them/the mobile housing unit as a guest—the government should not interfere with permits and regulations or limit their stay in the unit, and the property owner should have no liability for allowing residence in the unit on their property and may rescind rights to reside on their property at their discretion.
Publicly-funded financial incentives to large and small businesses, as well as worker cooperatives, for hiring Washington citizens who have been homeless within the last 90 days.
We encourage widespread installation of local entities such as Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), which runs a supported employment program that networks with businesses and employment providers and even provides employment training in cooperation with The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to assist those previously considered unemployable.
Resuming meetings of the WA State Advisory Council on Homelessness which seem to have been discontinued during the pandemic, right when they’re needed most.
The GPWA agrees with the words of our 2020 presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins:
“The housing crisis in America is a disgrace and inexcusable. Homelessness is increasing as rents grow out of reach for more and more people in the private market.[…] I am calling for a federal crash program of public housing to not only fix and repair the public housing we have, but to make a decent home a human right by radically expanding public housing so every person in the United States has access to affordable quality housing.
“I am calling for a 10-year, $2.5 trillion dollar federal program to build 25 million units of public housing that will end the housing affordability crisis. 40% of these units will be affordable for very low income people, thus creating 10 million new affordable units for very low income people. That will close the affordability gap for the 7.8 million very low income people now without affordable housing.” These measures are part of The Green New Deal, which is paid for by decreasing military and police funding.
We can’t wait for the duopoly parties to make these recommendations happen on the Federal level as they’re committed to warfare instead of improving our social safety net. Washington needs solutions now.