Downtown Seattle: a Tale of Two Cities


Seattle has become two cities. I walked through both on a recent afternoon. One is emerging again, its streets relatively clean, its stores open again with windows cleaned or plywood gone, its streets full of shoppers on a Saturday. One shopper was wearing a pair of socks reading on the left “Don’t follow me!” and on the right “Because I’m lost too!”

Then there is the other city, just up Union Street from Target. There, against the entrance to The Triple Door, one man was jabbing a syringe into his arm, next to him was his supplier. All around them were trash, discarded needles, and another man hunched over, sleeping against the wall. Up the street, at the corner of Third and Union, recently cluttered by more than a dozen tents, rampant drug use/distribution, and garbage strewn everywhere. All this on Third Ave had been removed just weeks ago. Now it’s all back, just minus the tents.

I don’t know where we go from this point, or whether any candidate elected now or in elections to come can find a path that both restores our streets, allows still boarded-up shops to open again, and gives meaningful help to those in the alleys and storefronts along the street. But there must be hope, an understanding that compassion is a yes and no.  Yes, we can reach out, help, find a better path — as we must — but no to open drug use and sales, littering and blocking sidewalks, denying shuttered stores even the chance of opening again.

It seems a crossroads unfamiliar in all my Seattle years as a reporter. It’s fair to ask of those who want our votes — don’t give us performance, give us a believable vision forward.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Mike’s description of downtown is not exaggerated. I live downtown and see the ugliness and crime every day. In addition to the open intravenous drug use one can’t help but witness brazen shoplifting. The current issue of Atlantic magazine has a deeply reported article on the increasing use of a newer, insidious form of methamphetamine and how it is making the horrible homeless problem even worse. Now I know why we see a number of homeless people compulsively picking at their skin. Will our politicians and police please do something?

  2. There is nothing compassionate or charitable or restorative about giving over the very heart of our great city to degradation and crime. Whether we ever solve homelessness or not, the solution does not lie in destroying the economic engine and the very spiritual center of who we are. What you see on our streets today, on the street where I live, is the proof that we don’t seem to be able to muster the courage to fight back. The time has come to do something, even if it is wrong. Take back our city and show her the love she deserves. Criminals and miserable people can live out their tragic lives anywhere. I choose that it not be in my Seattle.

  3. I am in Wausau Wisconsin on a short trip (to see if we want to relocate) and staying downtown able to walk around at night. The streets are clean, the restaurants are busy (no masks BTW) . I asked a relative about not having a drug issue and found their solution to be a zone of a couple square blocks where they are not hassled if they stay in that area. I guess the midwestern way might be ‘Live and Let Live’ , but do not put your stuff at my door. We need to discourage drug usage, not condone…………..

  4. The idea that the homeless problem Is solely about a lack of housing seems quaint after reading this devastating story on the new meth.

  5. Optimists will find some hope in this week’s announcement from the Regional Homelessness Authority, but it’s unlikely much will change, at least short-term. The Authority is asking $27 million for new facilities and outreach focused on downtown Seattle and those with psychiatric and addiction challenges.
    Makes sense on paper, as homelessness, mental issues, and drug use are visible daily. As DSA president Jon Scholes puts it: “We’ve by default, in a lot of ways, turned the sidewalks and streets of downtown into a mental health facility without any treatment.”
    The County and Seattle will need to agree on funding and focus. Based on a long history with these issues, caution suggests no quick fix, but at least a plan.


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