Homelessness hinders local business, survey says

Federal Way Chamber gathers data on impact of homelessness for business retention.

Like communities across the nation, our area is grappling with affordable housing and homelessness, both of which impact existing and potential business growth. Homelessness is an issue identified by our membership as negatively affecting their ability to do business in Federal Way, which makes it a concern for the retention and expansion efforts of our economic base.

The chamber recently conducted a survey to gather data and quantify the impact with information from its business community. The survey had a 25 percent participation rate with 65 percent of the respondents from businesses in the 98003 zip code area.

The chamber survey noted the following:

• 65 percent of respondents have seen an increase in the number of homeless persons in and around their businesses. When individuals are not seen, evidence of activity — trash, shopping carts, and other paraphernalia — are on their premises or adjoining lots.

• 72 percent of survey takers have received customer complaints.

• 81 percent of businesses have received staff complaints.

• 52 percent of the respondents felt unsafe operating their business.

• 71 percent of survey takers have had to call the police due to homeless disruptions.

• 23 percent of chamber businesses are experiencing a range of problems associated with homelessness, chief among them is trespassing or sleeping on business premises. This is followed by needles and other hazardous waste near the business site; vandalism; human waste on the business site; theft; harassment of business owner, staff, or customers; and lewd and lascivious behavior.

• While 69 percent of the respondents have not considered leaving Federal Way to open a business elsewhere due to homelessness concerns, 28 percent have considered it.

• 29 percent of the survey takers believe housing is a solution. Shelter that provides rehabilitative services was noted as a solution at 18 percent, as was a call to enforce more stringent laws. Jobs and training were suggested as a solution at 9 percent.

Over the last 12 months, most of the businesses have not seen, or are unsure of, a revenue loss due to homelessness. Those experiencing loss estimate it in the thousands of dollars with one business noting a loss between $40,000-$50,000.

Which groups/organizations are responsible for addressing homelessness? At 49 percent, respondents think government is responsible. Of that group, 80 percent believe it is the city’s responsibility, with 6 percent of survey takers looking to the state. Government was followed by nonprofits at 21 percent and the community at 20 percent.

In finding a solution to the homeless crisis in our local community, survey takers noted a need for community groups to work together as the issue is multi-faceted and will require a range of stakeholders and skill sets.

For its part, the role of the chamber is clear — support and promote an economic climate that retains and attracts living wage jobs. We want our current business investments to be strong, ensuring our economic base does not deteriorate.

As the voice of business, our members have invested in the community through the chamber. They’re not only opening their doors for business every day, they’re also investing in a network of economic sustainability for the future. The chamber survey was designed to collect data on how this civic issue influences retention and expansion efforts of our business community.

In support of the stakeholders addressing the local challenge of homelessness, the chamber will share the survey data with elected representatives, including the city of Federal Way and its Homelessness Task Force, for their use in addressing the issue. The survey was funded in part by the state of Washington.

Rebecca Martin is the president and CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

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