Homelessness highlights Federal Way’s own little soap opera | Livingston

All of us want to live in a perfect bubble where there is no crime, schools are top-shelf, home values are solid and affordable, jobs are good, and the quality of life is universally enviable.

Understanding that there are different points of view is the beginning of wisdom.

What is being experienced by all of us living in Federal Way represents the never-ending challenge of “what do we do” when human behavior goes awry for what we deem to be acceptable behavioral standards.

Homelessness is a national as well as local issue with negative impacts creating stress on infrastructure, community anxiety from dealing with crime, mental health issues, disabilities, drug use, and more.

We are living in a nation that has waged a 50-plus-year war on drugs and crime and, frankly, it is hard to tell if any progress has been made. Getting elected on fixing public safety issues, addressing crime, and assuring the well-being of a community is standard politics. But those issues and consequences have a historical legacy and remain front and center regardless of party affiliation and solutions offered. Progress, if any, remains questionable.

All of us want to live in a perfect bubble where there is no crime, schools are top-shelf, home values are solid and affordable, jobs are good, and the quality of life is universally enviable. That particular oasis may not exist, but all of us want to embrace the ability to live somewhere we are not confronted with a set of human vagaries that detract from our illusion that the place we call home is a mess. We want our living space and the greater community to be a no-fear zone and serve as a retreat that expands life’s opportunities.

Reality says we are living in a soap opera that includes an ever-present homeless population, in a city that is becoming more economically stressed as home prices and rents increase, with stagnant wages and job opportunities, and due to population growth and market forces, people are being priced out of living spaces.

That is only one piece of the soap opera and many sub-stories add clarity to the picture. Homelessness has many faces and facets but chronic street living homelessness has become most directly associated with drugs and mental illness. How someone evolved into their homeless paradigm is relevant but the question remains: What are we going to do about it?

Federal Way has a vocal group that speaks at most city council meetings expressing their displeasure about the direction of our city with the general theme being crime, homelessness, and their experiences cleaning up homeless sites. They are front and center on the city’s responsiveness on shopping cart violations, drug use, calling out the crimes they attribute to homeless behavior, and so on. Many in our community agree with their expressed grievances. Others see a pretentious politically calculated bravado.

However, it is the “what are we going to do about crafting a long-term solution” that has us all perplexed and often tied up in emotional knots. King County has taken the leadership role in trying to address the problem much to the chagrin of those in our city that have a strong “not in my backyard” sentiment. Still, the county has a Health Through Housing program as its regional approach to addressing chronic homelessness using a “housing first” approach.

The director of the program, Leo Flor, was at the Federal Way City Council meeting Aug. 8 providing an update on their progress in trying to establish up to 1,600 units of emergency and permanent supportive housing resources countywide. Specifically, he was providing an update on the construction progress of the hotels being repurposed for homeless housing and as an emergency resource facility in Federal Way.

The hotel being converted by the county for supporting the Health Through Housing effort is the former Extended Stay America Hotel and it will serve as a residential facility. The Red Lion Hotel was purchased by the State’s Department of Commerce and transferred to King County for redevelopment and use as an emergency response facility.

Sadly, both hotels required extensive renovation. The Extended Stay America Hotel will not be available for occupancy until August 2024, and like many rehabilitation efforts, the eventual availability of the Red Lion as a resource at present is uncertain. Until it becomes available for its intended use, the county is considering the Stevenson Motel as an interim possibility.

Solving homelessness and its chronic behavioral pieces requires more patience and tolerance than most of us have. The just make them go away, be arrested, and be forced into treatment may be desired by some and was expressed as a theme during public comment at the council meeting.

Transitioning our chronically homeless to a better life, regardless of where they came from, with housing supported by behavioral health services, nutrition, employment training, job resourcing, transportation, and housing transition management are essential steps to breaking the homeless cycle. The county is realistic in its understanding of the challenge and when all the resources are available, they will only be able to serve about 10 percent of the known countable homeless population within King County.

Still, the goal is to reduce the need and number of people requiring services using a multi-year approach. The county also admits that not all program participants will achieve the goal of being housed on their own or managing without structured services.

Our homelessness crisis happened as a result of multiple societal market forces involving reduced housing development, population growth, market demand decreasing affordability, job offshoring, stagnant wages, education not aligning with job needs, disabilities, addiction, the Covid-19 pandemic, and more. Like the frog, all of us to some degree have jumped into the same pot, and collectively we are feeling the heat.

The solutions are emotional, multifaceted, as well as costly, and like it or not, we must all become collaborators in regaining control of the temperature. We must turn down the heat for the person without shelter, then embrace the reality that their journey and return begins with housing.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com