Seattle Homelessness: Reflecting The Nation’s Economic Issues?

Ruth Caster, Writer

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The Seattle metropolitan area has the fourth largest homeless population in the nation, trailing only New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. For now, regulated tent cities accommodate to those who experience homelessness in the Seattle area. Tent cities provide an additional option for couples, families, and people who simply do not feel safe or comfortable in shelters.

Not only do tent cities help homeless people survive by accommodating tent for them, but also help by giving them a place to lay their head at night. Although homeless people break the often contradictory laws that criminalize activities such as sleeping in parks or of benches, still tent cities provides another loophole for homeless people.

These laws make up what Sara Rankin, an associate professor at Seattle University School of Law and director of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, calls “a very well-established trend of trying to push poor people out of public space, these people are being penalized for existing.”

Rankin and her students recently released a series of in depth policy briefs on laws pertaining to Washington. Among other ordeal matters, the reports find that since 2000, Washington has found 288 new ways to make it illegal to live on the street. This can otherwise throw law abiding people into the criminal justice system, “not only making it more difficult for people to get out of homelessness, but ensuring they stay there”, Rankin said.

Cities around the country try other novel ways to reduce homelessness. Utah, for instance, dropped 72% in numbers for homeless population owing to a policy called Housing First, which offers homeless individuals permanent supportive housing, no strings attached.

Although Seattle tried a similar approach on a smaller scale, still, says Tar, these encampments “should not be seen as a permanent solution to the real problem.”  He further states “The fact that tent cities exist in a country considerably rich among others, should be seen as a local and national shame.”

The problem’s real answer Rankin reiterates, “is affordable housing”. If a tent equates to housing, she argues, then cities may feel like encampments can only respond to homelessness and lack of housing.

What will happen to the homeless population if they lower housing costs?

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