I live in the Belltown/South Lake Union area of Seattle. This neighborhood, once a seedy part of town with needle exchanges and flocks of homeless people wandering about, now is lined with towering condos housing professional elites and wealthy retirees. This area exploded in recent years due to the massive growth of Amazon. The subsequent rise in real estate cost has stirred up a heated debate over providing affordable housing.
There still remain strong remnants of the down-and-out people. Since I walk 3 miles each day to-and-from Pioneer Square for work, I share the sidewalks with many of the homeless. I’ve learned that they have their own territories. They seem to recognize the locals, spending little effort trying to get a handout from people like me.
I’ve heard the mentally ill scream at passing tourists in what resembles tourette tantrums. I’ve seen a young woman dancing barefoot lost in her own high as foot commuters dodge her on the sidewalk, while also making sure she doesn’t fall onto the street traffic.
I’ve also walk by healthy, fit homeless people who just seem down on their luck. Some locals, like my son, have befriended a few, taking the time to engage in respectful conversations. They have real stories to share. They like to be heard.
There’s no simple answer to the growing homelessness problem in the US. The ever-expanding gap between the rich and the poor throughout the country is magnified in a neighborhood like mine. Could this be the future of all urban centers, mimicking scenes from a dark futuristic sci-fi movie?
Nearly 12,000 are homeless in King County and the nightly counts of people sleeping outside in Seattle is increasing at 19% year over year (nearly 5,000 in Seattle in 2016). There are many proposals to help from building homeless shelters in people’s back yards, to having more long-term housing options rather than over-night facilities.
I really don’t have a remedy that I can advocate. There seem to be too many variables. I just know the homeless are my neighbors and part of my community. They need help. This is Seattle. This is America.