Just before the Great COVID-19 lockdown, my wife and I decided to go downtown to see a touring exhibit about Pompeii. It had been a while since I had been in the area. I probably should not have been surprised to see an entire city block taken up by tents, either actual tents or ones cobbled together with various bits of plastic and canvas. People were slouching, sleeping, or simply passing out around the plaza. Denizens wandered around, stumbled, lurched, or skulked up and down the street. One elderly woman was brandishing scissors like a weapon, perhaps to ward people away from her spot, or maybe to just let everyone else know that she was armed. And I believe I told the story before about the large, violent, obviously mentally ill man who was headed our way on the city streets one spring evening, causing us to reverse course on our walk.
Homelessness has been an ever-increasing problem on many city streets across the United States. Stories of tents and piles of garbage, feces, needles, and the remnants of drugged or destroyed people are legion and have proved to be the impetus for people fleeing these cities for cleaner and safer environs. You can watch PJ Media’s Jeff Reynolds and Portland resident Jim Rice tell Todd Piro their stories on “Fox & Friends First” here.
King County in Washington thinks it has an answer. It plans to build a massive new facility to meet the needs of homeless people. The press release states in part:
Enhanced shelter allows a person to stabilize without having to check out every morning and check back in every night and allows steady access to bathrooms, showers, and supportive services like healthcare.
The expansion of the SoDo Enhanced Shelter creates space for people to receive healthcare and supportive services, so that they can stabilize and move forward on the path to permanent housing,” said Marc Dones, CEO of KCRHA. “This project is an example of another successful collaboration between the County, the City, and the private sector, all working together to make progress toward humanitarian solutions.
The expansion would consist of five projects and will cost nearly $66.5 million. It preserves the existing 270-person Salvation Army-operated shelter, which will close in November without a lease extension, and adds capacity for additional enhanced shelter projects with onsite support staff, case management, meals, and behavioral health services for up to 150 additional persons in separately operated and co-located services. The hub will also serve as a frequent site for other services such as the mobile medical unit and mobile behavioral health services.
On spec, it sounds like a good idea. Theoretically, it would help people get off the streets, help them kick addictions, and generally get their lives back together. That is if they choose to do so.
There was one problem. The proposed site of the facility is in Seattle’s Chinatown, and no one bothered to ask if the residents wanted this new shelter in their neighborhood, or apparently even tell them about it. And those residents had some things to say.
Discovery Institute senior fellow and journalist Johnathan Choe covered a rally last week attended by over 1,000 Chinatown residents who made their voices heard. One resident stated, “I wish the decision-makers were here because this is what I want to say to them: How dare you schedule a homeless shelter in our neighborhood?” She voiced strong concerns for the safety of the residents. Community advocate Matt Chan explained, “So what this is all about, it is this mega shelter that’s planned to open this fall [that] will house 500 people and we didn’t know about it…All we’re asking for is we need to be heard.” He added officials are quick to do photo opportunities in his neighborhood when they’re running for election, but when we need their help, they’re nowhere to be found.
Chan went on to name the names of the Seattle officials who went behind the backs of the residents of Chinatown. He mentioned councilwoman Tammy Morales, who claimed to know nothing about the shelter despite the scope and cost of the project; Joe McDermott, the King County council member who sponsored the bill; and county executive Dow Constantine, who went to Chinatown at the height of the Asian hate issue as a show of support but who, according to Chan, “doesn’t have the guts” to engage the community about the project.
Chan explained that this was not an anti-homeless issue, especially since members and agencies of the community have provided help to these people on their own accord. He noted that there are already ten shelters within a mile of the community.
Matthew Patrick Thomas of the King County Republican Party was on hand and stated that the party was there to listen to the residents, calling the notion that county council members did not know about the plan “hogwash and garbage.” He added that the city government cannot handle the problems it currently has and that the answer was not to put the facility in the neighborhood without talking to the residents. He said that once the shelter was in place, the area would become known as the homeless, crime, and drug district and that officials know they won’t be able to protect the residents. He equated a loss of safety with the loss of freedom.
When asked by Choe why Chinatown residents were not consulted about the plans, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said that the query was a “leading” question, that research and outreach were done, and that he was confident that the county would work with Chinatown residents. He quickly pivoted to the small business recovery event he was attending.
I don’t think that any person of conscience wants to see people living out on the streets. But people also do not want to hide in their homes, navigate garbage, fecal matter, and needles, and try to avoid someone who has lost control of their faculties. And they certainly don’t want their children to have to do those things. A mega shelter in Chinatown will only exacerbate those problems for the community. Unfortunately, when someone raises those issues, they immediately subject themselves to being called heartless, cruel, and of course, guilty of NIMBYism. They might even be called the worst name in the book: conservative.
According to one of Choe’s tweets, in the past, the Asian American vote skewed blue, but situations like the one in Seattle’s Chinatown could change that. And if someone wants to join the GOP, that’s fine. And to be honest, if they don’t, that’s fine too. But the nationwide exodus and demonstrations like the one last week are a signal that people are starting to understand, and maybe even on a certain level admit, that the policies of blue states, counties, and cities are just not working. Sooner or later, one must admit that bad ideas are bad ideas, no matter the party of origin. This is yet another example of elected officials creating a solution that will not affect them, without giving thought to the people who own the homes and businesses, pay the taxes, and build and maintain a community.
Not everyone who is homeless is a hopeless addict or dangerous. Some have lost jobs, and some cannot work because of a disability. Some are dealing with a mental illness or addiction and need and even want help. Some have been priced out of the housing market or could not keep up with skyrocketing rent. The problem is a real one. But instead of trying to create workable solutions or even talking to the people who deal with this every day, King County decided on the answer all on its own. The county could partner with the community, but it appears that it preferred not to do so. There has to be a way to help those who genuinely want and need a new start, without subjecting residents of Chinatown, or any community for that matter, to increased danger and unsanitary conditions.