Councilmember Rob Johnson

“I will work with you to address the problem of homelessness in the University District,” city councilmember Rob Johnson pledges. Johnson represents the population of District 4.

According to a press release from Mayor Ed Murray, there was a 19 percent increase of people living outside and unsheltered from 2014 to 2015. In 2015, more than 45 people died while living on the streets.

On Feb. 24, the U-District Conversation on Homelessness (UDCH) held a public discussion at the University Congregational Church about the state of policies that affect affordable housing and the homeless population in King County and Washington state.

The discussion comes at a very important time as several bills and initiatives are being debated after a state of emergency was declered on homelessness by the mayor and King County Executive Dow Constantine in November 2015.

The UDCH is a group that include members of faith congregations, nonprofit organizations, and the community. It meets to discuss policies and action plans on local and state levels.

“Our goal, of course, is to end homelessness,” said Nancy Amidei, one of five co-conveners. “It affects people of all ages and races, and it’s a problem that shouldn’t happen. Not in a state like ours.”

The event began with an update on several local city initiatives by Seattle city councilmember Rob Johnson. Johnson broke down the specifics of the budget and investment, explaining that the state of emergency funds allow for more flexible spending to provide better support services to people on the streets.

“What I’ve been really trying to do is outreach to congregations, nonprofits, private landowners, and to the parks department so that we really respond to a call for more permanent shelter,” Johnson said.

Johnson also spoke to the crowd about the mayor’s proposed 2015 housing levy. Most of the funds from the housing levy would be used to invest in affordable housing and homeless prevention programs.

“Our objective with that plan, I believe, is to significantly increase the resources that we’re putting into the housing levy,” Johnson said.

Bill Kirlin-Hackett, director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, updated the audience on the state’s legislative agenda on homelessness.

One of the bills Kirlin-Hackett discussed was House Bill 1565, which outlaws discrimination based on a tenant’s participation in a government assistance program. Though Seattle and other local jurisdictions already follow this practice, some parts of the state do not.

“We’ve got veterans with housing vouchers that can’t find housing because it’s too expensive for the vouchers, or owners won’t rent to them,” Kirlin-Hackett said.

Kirlin-Hackett stressed the importance of writing or calling Senator Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, since the bill is not scheduled for a hearing yet.

Amidei spoke about ways the UW can help out the crisis by hosting the Tent City 3 homeless encampment. According to Amidei, smaller universities such as Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University have already hosted a tent city. Amidei says the UW, with its space and resources, would be a more ideal host space.

“We live in America, where we have a voice and we can vote,” Amidei said. “We can make a difference and we should be in the business of helping people.”

 

Reach contributing writer Savannah Son at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @sonksav

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