More than three years after the city of Seattle and King County declared a state of emergency around homelessness, the visible number of people on the streets, vehicles and in shelters is increasing concern and frustration around a crisis that seems unsolvable.
Despite recent efforts, the region’s homelessness population is rising. On a single night this past January, volunteers counted more than 12,000 people experiencing homelessness – up eight percent in the past two years. And to say the issue facing our city and region is complex is an understatement. There are many triggers of homelessness in our community – whether it’s a loss of job, poor health, or even an unexpected expense – but no single solution.
Paul Allen pledged $30 million toward the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center before he died in October, a solution designed to assist in tackling the crisis. The building, which also includes a $5 million contribution from the city of Seattle, is set to be complete by early 2020 and will be built and managed by Mercy Housing Northwest – a nonprofit specializing in providing affordable housing and resident services to thousands across the state.
We sat down with Mercy Housing Northwest’s director of philanthropy, Marcia Wright-Soika (pictured third on the right below) , to get her take on the crisis, how the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center will help and what gives her hope in the effort to break the cycle of homelessness.
Vulcan: What’s one of the biggest myths of the homelessness crisis?
Marcia Wright-Soika: That nothing is being done. I think the city and county are making steps forward. They are housing more people and preventing more and more people falling into homelessness than they had at any other time during this crisis. But it has been challenging for people to see that when – in their neighborhoods or parks – the need is still so apparent.
Within the crisis, what needs to be addressed?
We simply need more affordable housing opportunities. In our community, we have too many people who are really having a tough time in finding a resource that they can afford, feel stable and feel safe.
What do you think it’ll take to end the homelessness state of emergency?
With this crisis, it really is going to have to take everybody bringing their “A-game.” Whether you are in the public sector or in a private corporation, a nonprofit partner, the idea that we are working within this sector in a more collaborative and creative way is really exciting.
How will the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center play a role in addressing the crisis?
Not only will the building bring 95 housing units for those who need it the most, it will also give the community a family resource center that will serve thousands per year.
Beyond that, the type of coordination that the center will provide will bring out the best of each organization involved. For instance, the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center will give a platform for Mary’s Place to do what they do best, which is to find homes for families experiencing homelessness.
There are many stats out there, but what’s one that jumps out to you?
Statewide, there are more than 40,000 students without stable housing – enough to fill over half the seats in CenturyLink Field. And studies have shown when children experience homelessness in their families they’re five times more likely to become homeless as adults.
What’s the best way for people to help support our neighbors experiencing homelessness?
I think one of the best ways to advocate for those experiencing homelessness is by ensuring employers, elected representatives and decision makers understand that housing is a basic need, a basic right and a priority. We've seen the power of advocacy – both on an individual and collective level. It’s why we have some of the strategies that are moving through the city, county, state and federal government right now. There’s still more to be done and certainly it's going to take more effort, but making sure homelessness is an issue that’s top of mind for people is really crucial.
What gives you hope that we can finally address and end the crisis?
It’s been inspiring to see more and more people across different sectors asking, ‘what can we do?’ For example, seeing the tech industry work within their companies and within the larger community on things like housing issues has been inspiring. Collaboration hasn’t been isolated to one sector—it seems that many of our institutions, companies and people are stepping up to meet the needs now.
People want healthy and thriving communities. They want people to have opportunities. While we may not always have agreed on the path forward, I think as more information comes out regarding the strategies that work and the different ways we can individually and collectively step up to help, we’ll make a difference.
The Seahawks, Mercy Housing Northwest and Vulcan are teaming up to give families and kids in our community the home field advantage they need. To join us and donate, click here. All gifts made to the Home Field Advantage campaign will be matched up to $20,000 by the Seahawks.