We are in the midst of a growing crisis across our region due to the rising number of people who find themselves displaced by collapsing industries, rising property and rental costs, sudden illness, job loss, and so many other factors. Homelessness continues to rise year after year, our elected officials seem unwilling and unable to address the situation, and too many of us are turning a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis in our own backyards and are attempting to sweep the problem out of sight and out of mind.
The crisis has once again gained wider attention over the last few days with an article on homelessness in the Seattle Times and a recent meeting of the Bellevue City Council. The Times piece, focused on homelessness in Ballard, discusses the work being done by our very own St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle to meet the needs of unsheltered persons. It also addresses the anger of Ballard residents about this problem that has spilled over into their neighborhood.
In Bellevue, the City Council passed an amendment to their Land Use Code that will carefully limit the locations in which homeless shelters can be built. According to the Rev. Chris Jillard, rector at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Bellevue, there is a widespread belief that the homeless in Bellevue are coming from “somewhere else.” Parishioners know of families living in their cars and students enrolled in the Bellevue school district who are experiencing homelessness.
While predictable, and even (to some extent) understandable, I find this growing resentment and anger towards the homeless within our region quite distressing. Instead of looking for creative solutions to address the crisis, there is finger-pointing and blame. Instead of meeting the needs of vulnerable, displaced people, there is an ever-increasing series of restrictions placed on those churches and organizations trying to help the homeless.
Closing our eyes will not make this crisis go away. As we have seen with the sweeps of homeless encampments throughout Seattle, attempting to shove it aside only intensifies the problem in other neighborhoods. Truly addressing this issue will take everyone working together – elected officials, residents in the affected neighborhoods, members of the business community, churches, and other advocacy organizations. Any lasting solution will have to include livable wages, affordable housing, medical aid, and treatment for addiction and mental health issues. These problems are thorny and tangled and will take time and energy to fully address.
In the meantime, the crisis is very real. Mortality rates within the homeless community are extremely high. We need temporary solutions to provide shelter and food to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks in our society. We need churches and organizations to continue their work feeding, housing, and providing other assistance to the homeless individuals within their communities. Lives are at stake.
The problem is all around us. And there are no easy solutions. My office will be compiling a list of homelessness advocacy resources for you to use in addressing these issues with your elected officials. And in the meantime, please show your support for the congregations and organizations within our diocese that are on the frontlines of this crisis.