Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seattle Announces Permanent Homeless Encampment Site

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (that's him in the picture) has announced he wants to put a PERMANENT homeless tent encampment in the SODO district of Seattle, the place most people around the country know as the home of the Seattle Mariner and Seahawks.  See those big stadiums at our home games?  Qwest and Safeco Fields?  That's SODO.

The Mayor's preferred location for this permanent 150 person tent city is known to locals as the site of the old Sunny Jim peanut butter factory, a long abandoned building that, ironically, was burned to the ground just two months ago by a homeless man with a camping stove.  The mayor proposes spending $220,000 to clear the city-owned land and put in some basic amenities like a meal house and plumbing.

Of course none of the residents or businesses in the area want upwards of 150 homeless men and women camping out in their neighborhood.  The objections are obvious.  Yes, there is some NIMBY here but the real objection is that this site is PERMANENT.  Neighbors do not want even temporary encampments.  Read an excellent analysis of what Seattle's current shelters are like here.  Despite all the politically correct hype, these tent cities are just what you think they are.

But there is strong logic in the Mayor's choice of location.  I love site analysis and this location makes for a great case study in real estate master planning.

The proposed site is isolated.  Unlike many of the other proposed locations on the Mayor's shortlist, this one is not in a populated area.  The location is zoned industrial, with many warehouses, dealerships, metal shops, and such.  There are many fewer neighbors to upset with your choice of location.  Plus you would think the most jobs available would be in the city's most industrial area.

The site is on a major highway with ample public transportation in every direction.  Some of the other locations, like in West Seattle, were isolated.  If you don't own a car, you couldn't ask for a more central location to catch a bus or train.

The current site is a burned out shell building.  Something has to go there and the city owns the lot.

The problem isn't with the location, it's with the idea of a permanent tent city.

I have lived in downtown Seattle for more than six years and the city's homeless population is simply out of control.  The simple fact the city does not address in its housing solution is that most of Seattle's transients are not from Seattle.  They are from every place BUT Seattle.  The city is filled with transients, runaways, prostitutes, alcoholics, mental patients, and assorted street criminals from every city in Washington State, plus Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, and Colorado.  New numbers just flood in given the permissive and ultra-liberal culture and politics of the Mayor's office. 

The City of Seattle could build a 1,000 tent encampment and it would be overwhelmed with numbers in a month.

In my mind there is a huge difference between helping someone get off the streets and enabling a person to keep living there.  Providing indoor beds is preferable to tent cities in the winter.  The idea of a permanent squatters camp or whatever you want to call it is not only futile but damaging.  It injures the reputation of a city.  There are better options that make more sense.

Please think about this, Mr. McGinn.