Homelessness has become the Mirror’s current celebrity cause and therefore the city’s crisis du jour. It should be neither. When poverty and homelessness become — “in-your-face community issues” — it is an admission of society’s collective failure being dumped on municipalities.
The unspoken sentiment, shared by many in this community, is for our elected local leaders to “make it go away.” Push it and its evil twin, “poverty,” back into the shadows where they have been lurking and gaining momentum for years.
Having a national economy operating at close to full employment, which at the same time has created a homelessness crisis, means our society is broken. We need to recognize that we are living in a dog-eat-dog world currently ruled by a cult-like pursuit of economic free markets, where employees are treated as expendable, privatization of government obligations and resources is a goal, and tax dollars are redirected to the top 1%.
What could go wrong? The unintended result of that economic philosophy is homelessness on steroids, due in part to this country’s manufacturing prowess having been transferred to communist countries with state-controlled capitalism, assuring low-wages with no room for employee dissent and 40-years of trickle-down economics as our national policy.
Yes, Federal Way has a homelessness challenge, but so do many cities across this country. The community’s frustrations are being wrongly channeled at our elected local officials.
Our anger needs to be directed at those who facilitated this crisis with a slavish devotion to an economic theory that deregulation and free markets will bring prosperity to all. Not true. The end result of that economic chain is oligarchy, monopoly, a reduction in opportunity, a majority of jobs being near poverty wage, a stressed society that is easily manipulated by corporations and a federal government that has forgotten its responsibility to lead, protect and serve the human side of society’s needs.
The push for our city to build a homeless shelter of some type may be energy misplaced. Is that push a solution that can be supported by data and what is the outcome? Is it potentially a situation of “if you build it they will come”?
What should the city’s service goals be vis-a-vis this crisis? Homelessness is a multilayered problem and one solution will not fit all. This is also a moving target that ebbs and flows.
How do you propose serving the mentally ill, women or men with families, those with medical conditions, parentless teenagers or run-aways, the drug and alcohol addicted and short-term homelessness due to job loss? Drug use and criminal behavior are major crisis contributors and require an active police and public health response.
The recent storms have heightened our awareness of the challenges of serving a largely, and I say this gently, “unwanted” human crisis in our presence. Having access to a shelter built to support the homeless might be nice. Cities often choose to preposition resources for scale-able and short-term crises by converting city buildings to temporary shelters as an effective solution. Federal Way so far has chosen this approach.
Permanent facilities create cost centers that need to be fed dollars and dollars get justified by the metrics of how many get served in combination with the types of service resources required. This city and region experienced a weather-driven crisis and clever politicians and reporters know to never let a crisis go to waste. Is Federal Way ready to become South King County’s homeless hub for services?
It is easy to lay blame at the feet of our local officials for not doing enough. The city deserves praise for what was accomplished with current resources – no loss of life and most immediate needs were met during the recent winter storm. They also get a mulligan for verbal obtuseness in the eye of a storm. Words and wisdom do not always match the capabilities of our elected officials.
With the winter storm crisis behind us, a post evaluation process is necessary, locally and regionally to verify strengths, identify weaknesses, mend fences, and lay the groundwork for an improved response system. It may help avoid miscues but, in a crisis, miscues and adjustments in the moment are something we need to accept.
Understanding that many of the people who have succumbed to homelessness as a way of life will continue down that path regardless of what we do to alter their behavior. I am not saying do not try, but it is important to realize that this city’s tax base does not have the revenues to tackle a multi-year poverty and homelessness intervention.
Our local leadership needs to find some political will and take ownership of the reality that they are responsible for building a city that is opportunity-attractive, education-focused and capable of reconnecting to an upwardly mobile middle class. Allowing a bottom-feeding mentality to take root is unacceptable.
It may be time for our elected elites and contenders to begin ditching the “invest in poverty, homelessness and a desire for affordable housing” script. The lower economic echelons know we are affordable, that is why they are migrating here.
Collectively we know and feel these problems. As a city we need to be directing our anger at the policies and tax structures enacted by our national and state legislatures that caused this crisis. They forgot their first obligation is to serve the needs of people and be a shield against greedy special interests. Their hypocrisy and poor choices have created a national human crisis that has been localized.
To build or not build – is that the question?
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.