Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

Homelessness In Seattle: Why the Current Approach Is Broken

Tents in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Conversations surrounding homelessness in Seattle have reached a fever pitch. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Seattle is dying. People experiencing homelessness are an increasingly visible part of day-to-day life in the City of Seattle and despite measures taken by the City, faith-based organizations and local nonprofits, the metrics indicate that it has not improved. The truth is that homelessness affects men, women and children, veterans, trauma survivors, and people of every age and ethnicity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address the complexity of homelessness.

In June of 2019, I published my master’s thesis Investigating an Asset Based Approach to Housing and Homelessness: A Phenomenological Case Study, which examines the structural response to homelessness, surveying how city, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations respond to this population. I argue that the community’s response to homelessness is a critical missing piece if meaningful change is to be made in rehousing the homeless population. This article will share the lessons from my thesis and explore the institutionalized responses to homelessness with recommendations for what I will describe as an asset-driven model for collectively addressing homelessness. This is both a social and economic argument that takes into account the collective efforts made by the city, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits, and asks the individual citizen to become involved as well.     

Putting Homelessness in Context 

During the production of my thesis I had the opportunity to interview three individuals who chronically experienced homeless in Seattle but have recently found permanent housing through Facing Homelessness’ Block Project. I’d like to share the story of one individual to illustrate the complexity of homelessness. To respect his privacy, I will refer to him as Zee. Zee is a 50-year-old African American man who was raised in an upper-middle-class family in Riverdale New York, just North of Harlem. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham University with a focus on television and broadcast programming and moved to Seattle in 1991 to pursue a career in public broadcasting. This is not the story you imagine when you learn that Zee was also homeless in Seattle for eight years. His future was promising, but as he puts it, “I was living my dream when I met my nightmare.”

Zee’s partner, Brad, was self-destructive, taking him down a path that “led to basically my financial ruin, my mental breakdown and then my substance abuse.” Zee reinforced that his experiences while being homeless led him to substance abuse, not the other way around. He expressed that living homeless is a dehumanizing experience where “you can’t sit down anywhere. You can’t lay down anywhere. There’s nowhere to sleep. They say go to the shelters, you go to the shelters and you get robbed, you get assaulted. You catch parasites and diseases. They’re very unsafe and unclean.”

When Zee did find a clean shelter that provided a safe place to sleep, the waiting list often prevented him from being able to stay there. He mentioned that the Emanuel House Winter Shelter run by the Union Gospel Mission in Phinney Ridge was one such shelter. He preferred the Emanuel House Winter Shelter because it was one of the cleaner safer places to stay with a small and predictable population. This was a much different shelter experience than he had while seeking shelter in Downtown Seattle.  

When I asked Zee to share his story, he pointed out that “I think what a lot of people forget is that everyone wants to know how you became homeless. Homelessness is a very traumatic and victimizing situation. What we try to get people who have not been homeless to understand is that when you ask someone to share that story, basically you’re asking them to re-victimize themselves.”

Monorail Now Functionally Part of Seattle’s Public Transit System


The Seattle Monorail starts accepting ORCA cards today. This change is significant because the system had essentially operated outside of the unified local transit network for more than a decade. ORCA acceptance means that riders can transfer between light rail and local buses without having to have a pay a separate fare or have a monorail-only pass.

To facilitate this change and ensure that operation costs remain covered by fares, the Seattle Monorail will be increasing fares for individual trips. The following are the new fares in effect:

  • $3.00 for adults aged 19 through 64 (previously $2.50);
  • $1.50 for youth aged 6 through 18 (previously $1.25);
  • $1.50 for seniors, ORCA LIFT, and other reduced fare beneficiaries (previously $1.25);
  • Free for children aged 5 and under.

Passengers can still purchase paper tickets with cash or credit cards. The Transit GO app is another option to pay fare on-the-go.

The Seattle City Council approved the changes two weeks ago, paving the way for the fare changes and commencement of ORCA integration as part of a revised concession agreement with the Seattle Monorail’s contract operator, Seattle Monorail Services, LLC. The terms of the agreement freeze further fare increases until 2022 when they could be raised an amount equal to inflation over the previous three years, rounded up to the nearest quarter of a dollar. The agreement allows similar inflationary increases every third year thereafter (i.e., 2025, 2028, 2031, and 2034). The agreement will also require the contract operator to invest $3.5 million to $12 million in capital investments to improve stations.

New fare schedule flyer. (City of Seattle)

Former Mayor Ed Murray released a study in 2017 evaluating whether or not ORCA integration would be a financially-wise decision and attract sufficient ridership. The study indicated that ridership would grow substantially on the monorail and could be financially solvent if fares were increased. Ridership is projected to grow 7% to 16% during the first three years of ORCA integration. With a baseline ridership of 2,147,800 in 2014, ORCA integration could grow ridership an additional 156,000 to 346,000 rides per year. Weekday ridership is currently about 7,000 per day.

The monorail has long operated virtually on its own outside of the regular transit system, relegating it to more of a tool for tourism than a practical choice for transit riders to and from Uptown and Downtown. With ORCA integration, this changes things for people who live and work in Uptown. The monorail is easily the fastest way to reach Seattle Center and the central Uptown area. Trip times between Westlake and Seattle Center are as short as 1.5 minutes. Buses, meanwhile, take 10 minutes or more over a comparable distance, and even longer during peak traffic times.

Residents Push for 2024 Opening of 130th St Link Station, Consider Zoning Changes


At a recent light rail station planning event for future Link stations at NE 130th Street NE and NE 145th Street, people crowded into Church of the Nazarene on 5th Avenue NE, and spent hours mapping out their hopes for what the two stations could bring their communities. Those North Seattle communities are more linguistically-diverse, lower-income, and home to a higher proportion of households with children than the Seattle average.

Participants spoke of the dire need for better sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the station planning area, which extends for a half-mile out from the light rail stations at NE 145th Street and NE 130th Street. They called for better bus connections to serve not just the future Link stations, but also other neighborhood destinations like schools. More placemaking that enhances existing and create new community hubs was another frequently-cited desire. Additionally, the concept of lidding I-5 to reunify neighborhoods currently separated by the freeway and increase opportunities for housing, businesses, and open space near the future light rail stations was brought up by all of the work groups.

A recent NE 145th Street and NE 130th Street Link light rail station planning community workshop sponsored by the City of Seattle had robust attendance despite the fact that questions linger about whether the NE 130th Street station will open in 2024 or 2031. (Photo by author)

But for all of the participants’ enthusiasm for helping to plan the future of their neighborhoods, a big question cast its shadow over the event: Would service at the NE 130th Street station begin in 2031, as currently planned, or would its opening be bumped up to 2024 when service is expected to begin at the NE 145th Street station?

Within in a couple months, residents should expect to have a definitive answer. Sound Transit has committed to making a final decision by then end of this year, and the specific date of November 21st has been floated as the exact date on which Sound Transit’s board could issue a final decision on the timetable for NE 130th Street station. Residents also reviewed three approaches to upzoning near the future station–options dubbed Walksheds, Neighborhood Corridors, and Neighborhood Hubs.

Sunday Video: Why The US Drinking Age Is 21


Why America has a universal minimum legal drinking age is due to roads, Vox explains.

The Boring Truths (It’s Not That Bad)


This post is a care package for my colleagues and anyone else who was scared or otherwise put off by a recent spate of exaggeration in some recent newsmedia depictions of Metro buses as dangerous places. Neither of this week’s broadcasts emphasized they were:

  • Actually sourcing their video from a ten-year period (which represents over a billion rides); or that
  • Metro’s experienced a 53% reduction in assaults during that period (despite a 17-percent increase in ridership); and has
  • Received from APTA a national 2018 Bus Safety & Security Excellence Award for their strategies in doing so;
  • Nor, of course, did they explore the complexity of behind-the-scenes legwork required to address security issues with care and consideration for all involved.

Because that’s boring.

We expect TV news, what with its tendency toward framing all events as disasters, to have only a tangential relationship with truth, but I confess to being most disappointed when it takes advantage of what’s best in us—that is, our capacity for concern and care for others. Who wouldn’t worry, after all, when headlines tell us of “dozens of assaults” and passengers “afraid to wait for the bus”?

Wide Support for High-Speed Rail at Cascadia Conference, Plus Skeptic Transpo Chair DeFazio

WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar speaks at transportation break-out session at Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference in Seattle. (Photo by author)

Yesterday, Challenge Seattle hosted a conference that demonstrated widespread support for high-speed rail among political and business leaders in Cascadia. And then there was Peter DeFazio, the Democrat who has represented Oregon’s 4th Congressional District since 1987. During the “Federal Partnership” session, Representative DeFazio came out as a hyperloop enthusiast and high-speed rail skeptic.

The Southwest Oregon legislator emphasized the high-speed rail’s cost and suggested that a hyperloop would be much much cheaper–despite little evidence for that other than dubious promises of erratic billionaires like Elon Musk. No pressurized vacuum tube mass transit system (i.e., hyperloop) operates anywhere in the world beyond small-scale experiments, and there have been broken promises for gullible cities like Los Angeles.

Rep. DeFazio’s skepticism wouldn’t matter much except that he chairs the U.S. House transportation committee, making him one of the most powerful transportation policymakers at the federal level. If Cascadia high-speed rail is to get significant support from the federal government, it will have to go through Chair DeFazio–at least until the next round of committee shakeups or his retirement. Rep. DeFazio is 72.

Business and governmental leaders from Oregon to British Columbia convened at the Westin in Seattle for the “Connect Cascadia” conference to explore how to foster stronger collaboration in the Cascadia region. The biggest course on the menu was high-speed rail from Vancouver, B.C. to Portland, and potentially on to Eugene. With Rep. DeFazio’s notable exception, most speakers at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference seemed bullish about the prospects for high-speed rail along the I-5 corridor.

Cascadia Rail’s latest map. (Oran Viriyincy)

Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan shared the stage and announced a new shared 100% clean energy grid pact between their jurisdictions. They both talked up high-speed rail as a means to to unite the region, drive down carbon emissions, and overcome congestion on I-5, which is hindering economic growth and mental well-being of many a traveler in the region.

$115 billion for I-5 widening or high-speed rail for a third the price?

In a transportation-focused breakout session, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Roger Millar delivered an update on the “ultra-high-speed ground transportation” study–and the alternative of widening I-5. Adding one freeway lane in each direction from Canadian border to the Oregonian border would cost $110 billion, Millar said, “and the lanes would be full as soon as they open.”

“So why spend money on ultra-high-speed rail with all this going on?” Millar said. “We need to look out 165 years. We need to look out 50 years. We need to think about what kind of population are we going to have, what’s the land they’re going to live on, and how are they going to get around.”

The population of the Cascadia corridor is expected to grow by 3.5 million residents by 2050. It’s already account for $630 billion in economic activity annually. (Credit: Challenge Seattle)

“We looked at what would it take so that everybody can drive 60 miles per hour whenever they want. It’s $115 billion dollars. If we built that on gas tax and bonded it on the gas tax, we would only need to raise our gas tax $2.50 to do it,” Secretary Millar said. “And that’s only the people here today. It doesn’t account for growth. And it doesn’t account for growth in city roads and county roads that would be connected to this glorious transportation system where you can drive 60 miles per hour any time you wanted.”

Meet D4 Candidate Shaun Scott at Our Monthly Meetup on Tuesday


Please join us this coming Tuesday, October 8th from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at the Panama Hotel Coffee and Tea House for our monthly meetup. This month we are excited to be joined by District 4 Seattle City Council candidate Shaun Scott.

Shaun Scott is an advocacy journalist and historian who worked as the editor of Real Change News. While an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he was a member of UAW 4121 and worked with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project to delve into exclusionary practices in Seattle land use decisions. As a member of SEIU 775NW, he wrote about issues facing homecare aides for the union paper Insight Magazine.

As a candidate he is running on a platform of more public housing, a Seattle Green New Deal, and a free lancer’s bill of rights. He has earned The Urbanist’s endorsement, and, at a moment when reactionary forces backed by a firehose of corporate money (we’re looking at you Alex Pedersen) hope to take over the city council, he represents a progressive ray of hope. He will be talking about his vision for Seattle and taking your questions.

Mountlake Terrace Readies Town Center for Light Rail with 12-Story Zoning


Mountlake Terrace adopted notable changes to its primary urban node, expanding its boundaries and increasing development capacity near its future Link station. The city refers to the area as “Town Center”–much of which is fairly low-slung post-war development, though there area is beginning to see some re-invigoration with modern development and investment.

The city is one of the latest to revise its zoning in anticipation of light rail with Lynnwood and Shoreline recently overhauling zoning and development regulations near their future stations. Edmonds and Everett also doubled down on transit-oriented zoning to make better use of existing high capacity transit investments in their communities, and Snohomish County is in the midst of station area planning in advance of light rail that could result in zoning changes near Ash Way and Mariner Park and Ride–both future Link stations.

New future land use map for Mountlake Terrace's Comprehensive Plan, which highlights the Town Center area. (City of Mountlake Terrace)
New future land use map for Mountlake Terrace’s Comprehensive Plan, which highlights the Town Center area. (City of Mountlake Terrace)

Building upon the previous subarea plan for the Town Center district, Mountlake Terrace hired Makers Architecture and Urban Design to assist city planning staff in formulating a subarea plan and proposal to regulate modern, mixed-use development that new regulations will allow. Boundaries of the Town Center were expanded to include all blocks between 58th Ave W and I-5 from 230th St SW to 236th St SW–a six by three block area.

An earlier proposal for Town Center had sought to expand zoning changes a little more at the edges east of 55th Ave W, but that was pulled out in response to community concerns and reformed in other ways for the adopted proposal. The adopted Town Center Boundary on the new Comprehensive Plan future land use map includes some of these transitional buffer-type lots, but from a regulatory standpoint they are treated different from the core Town Center-zoned lots. Nevertheless, the adopted plan does stick with the vision for buildings up to 12 stories near the future light rail station opening in 2024.

Much of the existing land use in the Town Center area is residential. The subarea plan highlighted this, indicating that 70% of the acreage is currently in residential use–and 83% of residential land is single-family detached residential use. The zoning changes will help increase development across the new TC-1, TC-2, and TC-3 zones over the next 20 years. The city estimates that Town Center, on the high end, can accommodate up to 8,410 new homes and 1,190,660 square feet of new commercial space. Most of the four-square-mile city will remain single-family zoning even with the more intense changes at the Town Center.

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