Editor’s note: Today’s editorial was written by Cowlitz County Comissioner Dennis Weber. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News. On Friday, I watched with fascination the YouTube video titled “Seattle Is Dying,” an hour-long documentary by former Portland sportscaster Eric Johnson, now a reporter for KOMO News. The video addresses the failed attempts by Seattle officials to deal with the homeless disaster that has tagged Seattle as a growing embarrassment by many of the folks who live there. (Portland is not far behind.)
Johnson details the result of the apparent limitless, but ultimately misguided, compassion toward Seattle’s huge chronic homeless population that has put an end to Seattle law enforcement, as we know it. One startling statistic his research team discovered through public records requests is that 45 of 100 crimes reported to Seattle police are never investigated and of the rest, only eight result in convictions. The appalling result is that those homeless paralyzed by severe addictions are left to their own devices to survive on the streets and in public and private spaces, denying the rest of the public and private owners the benefits that acquisition of such sites were intended to bring. (Plus SPD is a thoroughly demoralized public agency.)
Unlike the “solution” recently prescribed by a Seattle Times columnist to house the thousands of chronic homeless in huge barrack-style tents, Johnson correctly identifies a two-pronged solution — enforcement of drug laws coupled with significant interventions combining Medically Assisted Treatment with wrap-around case management/counseling.
Leaving these very sick people to their own devices is not a real solution, it is a tragic and inhumane reaction to those desperately ill homeless and creates environmental disaster areas in public spaces as well as private encampments — which threaten public health and safety. This is so obvious to anyone paying attention to the misguided attempts to “help” the chronic homeless locally in Kelso and Longview.
Several months ago, Christopher F. Rufo — a very articulate writer in Seattle’s City Journal — pointed out two realities to the failed attempt to solve that city’s homelessness for nearly 12,000 chronic homeless. First, he identified four special interest groups in Seattle claiming to act on behalf of the homeless: the socialists dominating city government, the compassion brigade, the addiction evangelists, and the “homeless/industrial” complex (the grant writers and fundraisers) who are fighting amongst themselves but demanding ever-increasing government subsidies (aka tax increases).
The other reality Rufo described was that what the chronic homeless really need is not free food and unrestricted campgrounds but relationships with others who can stand alongside them to help them get their addictions and mental illness under control. That simply cannot happen in a large-scale institutionalized setting (whether dressed up like a barracks or another copy of Western State hospital).
Johnson’s research took him to Rhode Island where experts designed a system that actually addesses the cause of chronic homelessness — addiction and mental illness. The prisons and jails provided the correct interventions and those interventions continued after the clients were released from jail through transitional housing, family reunification and beyond — providing the all important relationships necessary for healing.
Through some of my work with the state counties association, we are moving toward the type of jail interventions that provide Medically Assisted Treatment, plus ongoing counseling — along the lines Johnson highlighted as the true compassionate response to chronic homelessness. Anything less is truly cruel and inhumane — freebies just don’t work, they just provide cover for inappropriate policies.