Provided here are the notes from our May 24th Community Conversation on Homelessness in Lake City:
Date: Wednesday, May 24
Time: 6:30 – 7:00 pm | Doors open, free food, networking
7:00 – 8:00 pm | Moderated Panel discussion & audience Q&A
Place: Lake City Community Center, 12531 28th AVE NE, Seattle, WA 98125
Chuck Brill, Resident McDermott Place
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman, Seattle Police, North Precinct Operations
Sargent Eric Zerr Seattle Police Department
Melanie Neufeld, Pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church
George Scarola, City of Seattle, Director of Homelessness
Dave Warner, Peer Support Specialist, Valley Cities Behavioral Health
Pam Russell, Pastor, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
Panel Discussion Question Topics & Timeline
Chris Leverson, Executive Director, Lake City Future First – Welcomes everyone to Community Conversation.
Moderator, Pam Russell makes brief introduction of self, outline the evening’s program and welcomes panelists.
Moderator asks George Scarola to lay the foundation for what is happening on a broader scale with homelessness in the larger community
- The upcoming Mayoral race is important regarding homelessness policy implications. Especially regarding the affordability crisis in the Seattle real-estate rental/purchasing market
- Currently Seattle is 30,000 housing units short (these are households, not individuals). The city has built 20,000 units of affordable housing (which is what was originally planned for) but is hasn’t been enough to keep up with the demand which has been a result of the economic growth explosion
- Many Seattle residents are paying more than 50% of their income on housing
- The City of Seattle is spending $50-60 million per year on Homelessness
- The Seattle one night count of people on the street is approximately 3,000
- There is a proposal for voters to consider that will double the housing levy and provide 300-400 million per year for homeless services
Moderator asked the following questions:
- When we are talking about the homeless in Lake City, how many individuals are we talking about?
We have been counting in Lake City each year from 2008 to the current count of 2016.
In 2016 the area of counting was increased to a larger geographical area in Lake City
From 2008-2015 the average count was 60 people who were counted as either homeless and sheltered or unsheltered
2016 using the larger census tracks—87 people were counted—50 were sheltered, the remainder unsheltered
An example of the “sheltered” count is the shelter at Maple Leaf Lutheran Church where approximately 20 people per night are sheltered
- Do you see trends in the Seattle/Lake City homeless population?
The 2016 final count numbers should be finalized this year in May 2017
The general trend is that homelessness has exploded into every neighborhood in Seattle. The city built enough housing to meet previous needs of plan, but far exceeded it due to economic growth explosion
We have seen a 50% increase. As rent has increased and previous open green spaces are developed (ex: cedar Park now developed) the areas used by homeless are more concentrated
Homeless are more visible. The opioid epidemic has struck everywhere. At Gods Little Acre there are new homeless people all the time
Sargent Eric Zerr
Meth and heroin are driving the encampments
Many who start off as homeless in Lake City stay in Lake City because it is their comfort zone and they know the community and know where to go to get services
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman
There are many issues that go into the larger homeless issue
There are mental health issues, the State of Washington is 47th in the nation in spending for mental health funding Police officers often end up being the mental health backbone. Police do have mental health training, but they should not be the lead for services, it is an indication of a broken mental health system
The shelter environment doesn’t work for everyone. Drugs are often being used to help cope with mental health issues and most shelters do not permit drug use
- “Chuck—how long did it take to find housing?”
I had a house in Lake City and lost it 10yrs ago. I went into decline over a few years, did a lot of couch surfing, 7yrs ago I wore out welcome. I had no experience with homelessness or any idea of how to survive. I tried to do everything all on my own. I was referred to DSHS for interviews downtown. They did an evaluation and nothing happened. I gave up because I never heard back. I became a regular at Gods Little Are and Johnathan helped me get an ID and paperwork for McDermott. Two months later I had a roof over my head and I would probably still be looking if I hadn’t got help from GLA
The system needs to work for individual. As a system, it’s not right to leave a person for years. We need to be a better (funded) system.
- “Chuck— What is working?”
Housing provided by the City—they have the $$ and resources to provide the spaces. But I needed personal involvement from people, it really worked for me. These are not the on the clock city workers, but and individual saved me from medical issues and homelessness. Shelters work especially in the winter and are key to keeping people off the street at night. Year-round shelters are needed and food is available in Seattle, no one should go hungry if they have mobility.
- “Where do you see the biggest gaps/missing pieces in homeless services in Lake City/North Seattle?”
We are only able to provide 5 months of shelter and it rotates locations. We need a permanent year-round location. Those with medical issues are also vulnerable. They are released from the hospital and need a place to recover. There use to be Health recovery care—a motel setting to help homeless individuals recover after medical procedures. Always more meals, there is a lot of community support for meals
A 24hr drop in center is needed. One that has a very low barrier for entry, like Gods Little Acre. The Seattle Recovery Café is good but you must be sober to go in, which can be too much of a barrier for some.
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman
We are missing a Law Enforcement Diversion program that would let police officers refer drug issues to case manager and be able to follow-up for treatment, and this doesn’t require a citation. The North Precinct does not have it, but Ballard and U-District do have it and it works
- What has worked? What hasn’t?
Sargent Eric Zerr
The current system that provides a central place for services is a fallacy. The system must go find the Homeless population where they are living and take services to them (case management and outreach.) They all have a story, by providing housing first it lets the system help get to the other issues that people struggle with.
Get the housing is first. North helpline and LIHI built McDermott place and immediately it took 75 people off the streets, 25 who were from Lake City. It was a low barrier application process, so people didn’t need records of being a tenant. Ballard apartments is another good example. A “Person centered approach” works. It gives a homeless person someone like an advocate to walk along by their side through the system. When you are isolated and alone it’s hard to go to an office and feel accepted. Having an advocate that goes with you as a companion is a big piece of the puzzle.
It’s a community and team. The Mental health system needs help. When there are only 550 housing units of availability and a 3500-person waiting list, it can mean a 7year wait. Thus, you need a community and a team to help a person stay the course.
- What is community based policing?
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman
My take is that it takes a village. Police can’t do it alone, you can’t arrest your way out of it. Opioids are not just a police problem—there needs to be multiple services providing help. There are only 1300 police officers for 700,000 Seattle residents. Compassion with rules so that crimes like assault, property damage etc. are still enforced but the opportunity for the police to connect people with resources exists.
Sargent Eric Zerr
A layered police approach. 911 is only for first response, there are 1 million 911 calls per year in Seattle. People take time to help and 911 can’t do it. Lt Grossman can use Community Policing for long protracted issues and a Navigation Team for Homeless encampments.
- What services are there for homeless children
Melanie Neufeld —Mary’s place serves 75 families
- Where are the facilities where homeless people can shower and do laundry?
Melanie Neufeld —Gods Little Acre (33rd ave at NH 125th) has a day center that is available 9am till -noon, and services provided include mail pickup, shower, laundry, bus tickets, a kitchen for cooking if you bring your own food
- Is there a link between mental illness and criminal behavior?
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman—I’m not sure there is one. Lots of people who are not mentally ill commit crimes. Mental Health issues and substance abuse and homelessness are a commonly blended together.
Sargent Eric Zerr—There are 911 calls that come in that are really crises calls or civility calls, they are not reporting criminal behavior but rather Mental health related issues.
- What is the impact of the homeless on neighborhoods. How can residents deal with upsetting acts like making fires, lots of garbage under bridges, etc.?
Melanie Neufeld —it takes community engagement to solve the problem. Everyone is effected and those who are suffering on the street need us to work together. When people are housed they are no longer a problem on the street.
George Scarola—If your life is threatened call 911. If you need services call 211 to find out where there are shelters, a hot meal. If you call 684 it goes to Eric and he and I can figure out why a person is stranded by system. It takes trust and I care about you, and I can help you.
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman —if you see someone in crisis call 911, also use the find it fix it app.
- Is it a waste of funding to try and help people who are not willing to be helped or don’t want help? In Lake City, we have issues with illegal drug use and RVs that are illegally discharging their black water tanks.
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman—call 911 for illegal activities, use the find it fix It for dumping, the police can’t deal with the problem if they don’t know about it.
George Scarola –Getting God’s Little Acre funding for a 24hr operation is part of contracting with the city, and contracts are currently going through RFP (request for proposals). Human Services Department reviews the contracts and it is competitive.
- Homeless are policing themselves, some are homeless by choice, but others are forced into it.
Moderator thanked audience member for comment
- What is going on with a safe injection site in Lake City
George Scarola—Lake City is not a leading candidate for a safe inject site, the site is still to be determined. It is one of the hardest issues to figure it out where a permanent safe injection site will be located.
- Is the city’s funding for homeless and shelters the same funding that is used for refugees/immigrant services?
George Scarola—not really, if an immigrant become homeless then they qualify for homeless services. But otherwise refugee services are considered separate. I do not know how much is budgeted for immigrant services but I can find out.
- Is there an increase in homeless people moving into the greater Seattle area from other locations?
George Scarola—west coast cities are all dealing with a homeless crisis. In WA 85% of our homeless are from WA state and our local area, 15% are from out of state. In Seattle 50% of our homeless are from Seattle, 25% are from the larger king co, and 25% become homeless in the area they live.
Chuck Brill —When I was at a shelter in Lake city, there was a group of us at the shelter that didn’t want outsiders coming in. But by the time I left the shelter the influx from other parts of the city was huge. Most of the outsiders move on, but there has been a dramatic increase.
Moderator thanked panelists and audience and poses final question to each of the panelists:
- What can we as community members do to support these efforts?
Sargent Eric Zerr—community works together, use the navigation team, look at the gospel mission model
Chuck Brill—everyone needs to be an advocate for the homeless. Volunteers are needed. It may be a pipe dream of mine but churches can help make a large dent and help fix the problem, but State funding is needed.
Melanie Neufeld —safe places on Sunday nights at Lamb of God, offer meals, HIP lunch, Shelters need volunteers. Come to our Monthly meeting on the 2nd Friday of the month at Lake City Mennonites Church.
George Scarola —help welcome Lake City Ending Homelessness, learn how you can help the local service providers
Dave Warner—this is a problem that will not go away. We all need to get our hands dirty, motivate your own organizations, there are great opportunities to help your fellow humans who deserve help
Lieutenant Kevin Grossman—It takes a village, make sure you vote, get involved