LETTER: Homelessness solution might be barracks
Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Westside Seattle columnist Jean Godden and reprinted here with her permission.
Dear Ms. Godden,
I decided to write to you about homelessness because each week I read your closing column in "Westside Seattle" and find that your statements are informed, thoughtful, and compassionate while shunning radical or extreme answers to difficult contemporary situations. Homelessness is certainly one of these. My purpose in this note to you is to advance a solution to what is evident on the streets of Seattle but to avoid mixing the underlyingcauses into the discussion. It is here that I believe that our leaders are stumbling. It is imperative to separate the causes from the effects because the enumeration of the causes only elicits feelings of guilt or paralysis.
Do the causes include lack of preschool for minorities; substandard education through high school; lack of good-salaried employment; affordable healthcare; housing; transportation; a hostile government; et al? This partial list is the entry to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland but a solution to one or the other - singly or combined - may or may not stop homelessness. Average citizens reading about or listening to the causes will simply throw up their hands in despair and turn away from the attributed causes and regard the continuing effect with anger. Therefore,dealing with the effects will be possible as soon as dwelling on the causes is set aside.
The efforts, so far, have been numerically unsuccessful because there is not enough money to provide permanent housing for all that languish on the streets and, I would contend, that there never will be enough. The cost of building apartments with separate kitchens, bedroom(s), bathroom, and living space in a multistory structure is simply too great for the society to bear for the number of people in need. The phrase "housing is a human right" is at the very least debatable particularly when citizens are asked to approve a levy tax for a level of housing quality which many are struggling to achieve themselves while earning a living. Yes, there are available beds in missions, shelters, converted King County prison, etc. but the available money to alleviate suffering on the streets is primarily focused on permanent housing of a level of quality that is admirable but ultimately unattainable because the costs are too high. Therefore, what can be done?
I will preface my solution to the effects - again, not to the causes - by referring to a personal experience. Almost 60 years ago, I enlisted in the US Army and received basic training at Fort Ord, California. The barracks were simply constructed, rectangular, one-story frame structures with a row of double-decker beds on each side of the open space. There was a bathroom at one end with a row of sinks, toilets, and showers. The premises were warm, dry, and clean (because we were obliged to clean them). Adjacent was a "mess hall" where we were fed. All of the basics were provided and no more than that. When I went to Germany for the next 26 months, we "upgraded" to singles bunks in a row in a former German barracks.
My recommendation to the city fathers (and mothers) would be to provide just such permanent accommodation for the homeless on land to which the city has access, namely Pier 5 on the Duwamish Waterway. If Seattle's citizens saw that this was advanced and implemented - and consequently the city streets were cleared of encampments and the accompanying mess - I believe the citizenry would whole-heartedly endorse this solution. Buses would transport the homeless from the streets daily to the compound which, in turn, would take the pressure off the missions and other temporary facilities in the city center so that the newly-arrived homeless could be accommodated there. Those unwilling to move to the compound could be dealt with by the police. Yes, I have heard the objections that some want to be left alone and undisturbed and would find such a compound too constraining. That's when the City of Seattle has to take a stand and annouce that habitation, defecation, and urination on its streets is unacceptable and unlawful. Period.
Sixty years ago, I adjusted to such a communal facility and so can they whether health or mental issues have driven them there. After the requisite number of barracks have been constructed, then and only then can the city consider "permanent" housing, Kshama Sawant be damned. The streets will be clean and citizens will be relieved and supportive. Now, the conflation of cause and effect makes everyone indecisive and that need not be the case.
Ultimately, the causes can be explored by "experts" of every sort but let's not let that infinite exploration stand in the way of dealing with the effects in a decisive manner.
Thank you for your time.