Trapped in a Failing Status Quo


Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat for City Council? He won’t do it, but maybe his writing on homelessness and open drug use in our streets will provoke something different at city hall. As he wrote recently, and I have preached, Seattle’s approach just doesn’t work: In brief, there’s simply no way to build or buy enough apartments and/or tiny houses to keep up, even though we spend tens of millions of dollars trying.
As Westneat writes: “I’ve been arguing in this space for more than a decade that Seattle’s approach is both too utopian (apartments for everyone) and too lowly (while we look for money and time to build the apartments, you can go live or die in wretched, dangerous conditions under this bridge).”
His take, mine too, is that although the Boise court decision decriminalizes illegal camping in parks and on sidewalks it doesn’t stop us from creating temporary emergency shelters —  places where camping can be safe with toiletries and services available — and getting people there. Leaving them on the streets and parks takes public property away from the public and does virtually nothing for the homeless.
As Westneat writes, you can legally say: “You can’t sleep here, in this park or on this sidewalk. You can sleep over there. Those are the Seattle rules.”
Somehow, city government just doesn’t get it. When former mayor Jenny Durkan was asked in interviews why couldn’t we create something like the above she just dismissed it as too difficult. Even with someone new at the mayoral desk, there’s no significant shift away from a failing status quo. Why not at least try something different? Emergency spaces won’t solve every challenge, but it’s a way to get more assistance to the homeless and also give streets/parks back to the public.
That approach, as Westneat says, “is doable.” Doable would be at least a start.
Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Simple and basic.
    1. Set up temporary shelter(s), save back money defunding present overlapping efforts.
    2. Triage inbound people. Address the closest to recovery first, the classic “just down on luck” who can relatively quickly cycle back to normality.
    3. Move down the list from there. Note: There will be impossibles. They go to permanent dorm shelter. If they leave, the just start back at step one. Check in from time to time to catch anyone who fell through cracks.
    4. Close down all grants and operations by the randos who ad hoc now once this process is fully in place.

    Done. Solved.

  2. The way I read it, Westneat thinks we could solve a big part of the problem with tiny home shed camps. They’re nice. All the campers want a shed. But one of the reasons they’re nice, is that as a rule they don’t let just anyone in, they don’t allow substance abuse, etc.

    And I believe the typical idea is, in principle, they’re temporary, transitional housing. So they hope you will look forward to walking away from your shed home and your friends in this clean living community, and get a shabby apartment that costs too much. I don’t know the success rate, just that the Nicklesville in Wallingford sort of kicked LIHI out and became squatters. To me, Westneat’s enthusiasm may be misplaced.

    Anyway … it seems to me that, to be clear, what we’re talking about here is trying to run these people out of town. The shelters aren’t to house people, they’re just to satisfy the court. Few homeless will go into the shelters, for various reasons – pets, friends, fentanyl, whatever – but as long as there’s technically room, the police can chase them around. Maybe that could be another city job … call it “Navigation Team” or something.

    • OTOH, your argument seems to be everyone is entitled to a nice place smack in the middle of a community they want. I totally agree! Can I get a free nice place like that? How about everyone gets a free nice place like that!

      Oh wait. Because that’s financially and logistically impossible.

      Yeah, we all make sacrifices and substandard choices because that’s what reality is like. Don’t want the shabby apartment, put the effort in to get out of it, just like everyone else does.

      • I said or implied anyone’s entitled to anything? Go ahead, try to run people out of town. Let them die in the gutter, for that matter. Am I right? Their choice. Something to show the kids, so they’ll understand about our freedoms.

        Just don’t pretend that they’re going to go along with whatever ideas you have for them. It should not be news that when told “you can sleep over there”, many of them won’t. The real alternatives are 1) provide them with something they will accept, 2) incarcerate them, or 3) chase them around. My suggestion: don’t let them congregate, doesn’t take many tents and you have an encampment situation that becomes more difficult to deal with without a certain amount of inflaming public opinion. That’s why I suggest Navigation Teams, you’ll need a lot of manpower for this. Keep after every single one of them, and there won’t as likely be any news coverage. News coverage of Murray’s bungling efforts with The Jungle had a lot to do with where Seattle is at today.

        • No, your #2 covers it. As I said initially, you triage through folks. Butveventually, as you note, there will be a not insignificant amount of the “I just like to use” gang who won’t agree to anything other than (to glibly oversummarize) “Junkie/tweaker cozy”. And that isn’t societies problem to pay big bucks for. I’m speaking of the idiots from this:

          “In response to Nelson’s questions an advocate of “meeting people where they are at,” Amber Tejada of the Hepatitis Education Project explained to Nelson, “There are folks who don’t want to stop using drugs. There are folks for whom abstinence is not something by which they measure success in life . . . Ultimately,” added Tejada, “bodily autonomy is key.””

          Aber’s wonderful people aren’t our problem, in that we don’t owe them a nice place to use with their fellows. We just don’t. At that point, effectively we have an involuntary committment moment. We owe them three hots and a cot until they get themselves together. If they don’t/can’t, they get three hots and a cot. There are just too many people who do want and need help to get back on their feet we can better spend scarce resources on. There is a collapsing climate. Etc…

    • No one’s trying to run folks out of town, just trying to get them to spaces where they can actually get help, find bathrooms. Westneat doesn’t limit his suggestions to tiny houses – just one idea on his list. My particular approach is to have safe camping grounds with toilets/services as alternatives to the present leave them in the sidewalk/park until housing is available. It’s time to consider two things — more effective help to the homeless, and keeping public parks and public sidewalks available to the public. Worth a try…….

  3. “Why not at least try something different?”

    Because officials are rewarded for adhering to the status quo ante. Followers rise through the public sector ranks around here, NOT leaders.

  4. That is a complete lie and wishful belief that tiny home villages are drug free, I know for a fact they deal and use drugs through out the villages because I helped a homeless person get into a tiny home now he’s worse off.. the people running these camps don’t care what goes on as long as its done in their unit or off grounds.. so now this person is further down the ladder then when he became homeless .. Drugs are everywhere and there not ever going away we need to teach kids at young age and stop homelessness to hopefully get control of this whole mess

    • Most tiny home villages are low barrier, meaning, yes, that drug use is tolerated. People wouldn’t move into them otherwise. And yeah, most people living in these spaces continue to have addiction issues (as do most people living in encampments).

      If we can get people out of encampments and into better, safer spaces like these, there’s a greater (though still small) chance those people will get on a pathway to overcome their addiction issues. But there’s also a baseline reality here that most people who end up chronically homeless have serious, deeply entrenched issues that make it unlikely they’re ever going to reach a point where they can live and function independently without assistance. Which is a big part of the reason why it’s so hard to make progress on the problem of homelessness.

      • Well said, Sandeep — no easy fix if there even is one. My take is that it’s better to have it play out in organized emergency spaces than in the public sidewalks and parks of our city.

      • Salt Lake has made a pretty serious push on homelessness that Seattle can’t seem to make, mostly because of political reasons.

        Even though Salt Lake has made progress, the city is running out of money for transitional housing. Homeless people were given free housing and support for a year, but many of them are so messed up they’re nowhere near ready to support themselves. Some of these folks will never be able to make it without supported housing.

        Political correctness aside… Do you see Seattle ever spending that sort of money on the down and out? There are no cheap fixes here.


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