They could be your neighbor someday

Having spent time many of the sanctioned tent cities in Seattle over the years, I have grown an appreciation and greater understanding of what our fellow citizens are going through.

I am on a first name basis with a few who I see time and time again on the streets. They will usually always say ‘hello’. A few of us even follow each other on Twitter!

This year, King County and the City of Seattle will spend more money on the homeless than ever before. In fact, Seattle is just behind New York City and Los Angeles when it comes to overall dollars spent per homeless resident.

While this is one reason why many homeless are attracted to this region, I’ve also found it’s also important to remember Seattle is seen as a land of opportunity.

That is a major reason why the homeless move here, or stay here. And why King County is facing such a crisis.

For example, in Detroit, a city with a comparable population to Seattle and where economic hard times have dealt a devastating blow to the community, the homeless population is on the decline.

And, like Seattle, the Mayor of Detroit is implementing promising new programs to keep people off the street.

But compare the numbers.

The most recent count identified 2,748 homeless individuals in the Detroit metro area in 2015. At the same time, 3,772 people were identified as homeless in King County which is of similar populations size.

In 2016 that number increased to 4,505 in King County while the overall population in increased as well.

In Seattle’s ‘tent cities’ there is a mix of reasons why residents have fallen on hard times. Mental health or drug and alcohol abuse are often common denominators. But opportunity is the hope they hold onto.

Just like the ‘rest of us’, the homeless want opportunities for success too.

The only thing that separates us, is the tent.

There are a few that I’ve met who choose to remain homeless. (Yes there are a few). But that is the minority. And those that choose to live on the streets often stay to help others escape such a challenging life.

I feel safe in tent cities. They are well organized and operate like a democracy by voting trouble makers out and struggling people in. And while pockets like the so-called ‘jungle’ do exist under I-5, it’s only natural that a sub-sector of our population does exist.

After all, we have those kinds of sore spots in our neighborhoods too.

The only thing that separates us is the tent.

While we pay a lot of attention to the number of homeless on King County streets, I think it’s important to pay attention to the turnover rate too. How long does it take for someone to get back on their feet and into safe housing? That’s a way we should be measuring our success when it comes to homelessness.

Because as long as we continue to thrive as a community and offer opportunities for everyone, people will keep coming. It’s how we treat them when they get here that’s most important.

They could be your neighbor someday.

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