[Hpn] Homeless Deserve Safe Dwellings
William Charles Tinker
Fri, 25 Feb 2005 03:57:05 -0500
Friday, February 25, 2005
Homeless deserve safe dwellings
By TOBY NIXON
I've followed the evolution and relocation of King County's tent cities with
great interest because I represent part of the county in the Legislature and
because I have something in common with the Tent City residents: I know what
it's like to be homeless.
My dad was a Korean War medical technician and inspected rocket engines
during the Gemini and Apollo programs. A work accident disabled him and
workers' compensation was not what it is today. He lost his job, my mom left
us and we lost our home. He, my two brothers and I ended up subsisting on
welfare, government surplus food and Medicaid in a small Los Angeles
After gangs assaulted my little brother a few times, my dad decided to move
us somewhere else -- anywhere else. We packed everything we owned into a few
boxes and took a bus (because we didn't have a reliable car) 700 miles north
to Redding. We arrived with those boxes, very little money and no home but
the bus station.
For us boys -- I was 11, my brothers 9 1/2 and 8 -- it was an adventure. But
I know my dad wondered if he had done the right thing. Fortunately, the
local government agency soon found us transitional housing in an $8-a-night
fleabag motel and within a month we had a small apartment.
Fast-forward 35 years. I've been an elected official for three years, at
Microsoft for 12 years and in the computer industry 30 years. Some might
expect I've forgotten what it was like to have nothing, but I haven't. When
Tent City 4 was proposed for the Brickyard park-and-ride in my neighborhood,
I was very concerned for the people who would live there in the rain and
cold beside a bug-infested wetland and a noisy, smelly freeway. I thought of
my youth, grateful that the people of Shasta County, California, helped us
get a fresh start and grateful that they didn't have tent cities -- because
we might have ended up in one.
When I learned the resources of SHARE, the organization that sponsors tent
cities, come largely from taxpayers via the Federal Emergency Management
Agency and the city of Seattle, my first thought was that one of the
nation's wealthiest counties can do better -- that we shouldn't tolerate our
fellow citizens and fellow human beings enduring such conditions. That led
me to introduce House Bill 1585.
The Legislature has addressed the issue of inadequate housing before. Many
migrant farm workers in Washington were not citizens, or were here
illegally, making them easily exploited -- the excuse being that the worst
housing conditions here were better than conditions in their homelands. In
1995 lawmakers addressed their plight, directing the state Department of
Health to develop safety and sanitation standards for migrant worker
Homeless people are today's exploitable workers. Maybe it's because they
lack skills or an address or phone number or legal identification. Maybe
they have substance abuse problems or need medication they can't afford.
Maybe they don't have transportation to jobs. Whatever the cause, they can't
get stable employment and end up, at best, working at day labor jobs without
benefits. Housing them in substandard, unsafe and unsanitary conditions --
as a matter of government policy -- is as much an outrage today as it was
for migrant farm workers a decade ago.
HB 1585 would enact standards for homeless encampments in line with the
state's temporary worker housing standards, found in Chapter 246-358 of the
Washington Administrative Code. For example: 70 square feet of housing space
for the first occupant plus 50 square feet for each additional occupant;
adequate heating during cold weather; a bed, cot or bunk with clean
mattresses for each occupant; a ceiling at least 7 feet high; a ceiling-type
light fixture plus electrical outlet in each housing unit; cold running
water within 100 feet; one drinking fountain per 100 occupants; one toilet
for every 15 people, cleaned daily, with a lighted path at night; showers,
laundry facilities, separate cooking facilities; and ready access to first
Ask yourself if this doesn't represent the absolute minimum we should
provide as housing, especially government-funded housing, for the most
vulnerable and easily exploited. None of these requirements is unreasonable,
although some adjustment might be appropriate to include use of facilities
of host organizations.
HB 1585 has bipartisan sponsorship and received a public hearing from the
House Housing Committee. Whether the committee will take positive action and
place the bill before the entire House is another question. It certainly
would help if people who support the measure would contact their legislators
with that request.
Our fellow citizens who happen to be temporarily homeless deserve to be
treated with respect and dignity. Meeting minimal safety and sanitation
standards in the housing provided for them is the least we can do.
Toby Nixon, a Republican, represents the 45th Legislative District, which
includes Woodinville, Duvall, Carnation and parts of Kirkland, Redmond and
101 Elliott Ave. W.
Seattle, WA 98119
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