[Hpn] 'Why' of homelessness points to housing costs, panelists emphasize emphasize

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 10 Nov 2000 20:43:29 -0700

'Why' of homelessness points to housing costs, panelists emphasize

Friday, November 10, 2000


In this star-bright economy, it may seem impossible that any person would go
without shelter. But each night in Seattle as many as 1,000 men, women and
children sleep under bridges, in doorways, in cars and in parks, advocates
for the homeless say.

A panel of social service agency representatives and members of the media
discussed why last night at The Mountaineers in Seattle. Among the reasons
cited were housing costs, a low minimum wage, poverty, domestic violence,
drugs, alcohol, poor lifestyle decisions.

Affordable housing was a dominant theme.

"We need more Section 8, low income housing in mixed communities, so that
those people on the lower end can see hope, possibility -- that there is an
opportunity to move up," said the Rev. Herbert Pfiffner, executive director
of Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, which houses 500 homeless people each

"Universal health care," said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change,
a newspaper published and distributed by homeless people. "Forty-five
percent of homeless people have chronic health problems."

The face of the homeless population has changed, adding a layer of
complexity to the issue. "Twenty years ago the average homeless person was
an alcoholic white older guy," Pfiffner said.

Today, people with one or more children make up about 50 percent of King
County's estimated 6,000 homeless, said Dan McDougall-Treacy, who works with
homeless family services for the Seattle Children's Home.

The county's 4,000 shelter and transitional housing beds are full every

Being homeless is like playing musical chairs, Harris said. In the game,
chairs represent a scarce resource and when the music stops, people fight
for each resource. One person is left with no seat.

"The same is true for the homeless. When the music stops and people sit
down, who loses? The elderly, the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill."

Despite the weight of this complex issue, the successes of those who have
escaped the streets were applauded by the panelists at the meeting, which
was sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists.

"Each month there are a ton of people that get work and get off the street,"
said the Rev. Rick Reynolds, director of Operation Nightwatch, a street
outreach and chaplain service organization.

"There's nothing like seeing the face on someone who says, 'I'm not on the
street anymore, I've reconciled with my family, I've got a job.' You really
feel like you've seen someone raised from the dead."

 1999-2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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