Twice in recent months I’ve had neighbors over to dinner in my small rented condo in a Seattle suburb. And the topic that we all talked about non-stop? The impossible cost of housing in this area (a typical home costs $735K; condos average $378K) and the armies of growing homeless people around the Pacific Northwest.
I was in Oregon about two weeks ago and noticed the large amounts of people camping out on the streets overnight, as Portland’s homeless problem is as invasive as Seattle’s. Cities up and down the entire West Coast are in agony over this, as the sheer numbers of people on the street are outstripping local governments' ability to deal with them. The spending in King County (which embraces Seattle) alone is $195 million in dealing with a problem that’s not getting any better and which is documented in this city site.
In a series of Seattle Times stories that are part of the paper's Project Homeless, a two-year concentration on the problem that kicked off earlier this month, I’m finding an odd split personality. You see, the photos show religious content (that is, church groups helping the homeless), but the reporting in the main news stories does not. What's up with that?
Photos by Alan Berner show a man praying at the Catholic-run St. Martin de Porres shelter in south Seattle: a memorial to homeless in St. Martin’s chapel and bunkmates at the Union Gospel Mission’s shelter near Pioneer Square. But I couldn't find mention of what these places do other than be available.
The Associated Press has jumped onto the issue, stating that the entire West Coast is overwhelmed.
That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast, and its victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one. All along the coast, elected officials are scrambling for solutions.
“I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to. Every time we open up a new place, it fills up.”