WHEEL challenges Seattle mayor's pledge to shelter homeless FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 3 Jun 1998 12:50:50 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.seattletimes.com/news/local/html98/homea_060398.html
FWD  The Seattle Times - Wednesday, June 3, 1998
See also http://members.tripod.com/~WHEEL98/

"It's grandstanding; it's not practical," said Anitra Freeman, a volunteer
and activist who was homeless in 1995. "It's a standard Seattle practice.
You promise something flashy in order to avoid doing something difficult.
Then, they just let the promise sit there and die out." -- from article
below


     SCHELL PLEDGES TO GIVE HOMELESS A PLACE TO STAY

     by Susan Byrnes - Seattle Times staff reporter


Calling homelessness a civic embarrassment, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell has
pledged to get every homeless woman and child off the streets by Christmas.

The mayor said yesterday he would ask the City Council to immediately
allocate $500,000 for additional shelter beds, short-term rent assistance
to families about to be evicted and hotel vouchers for homeless women and
children. Schell also released a list of 11 ways ordinary citizens can help
address homelessness, including respecting and being kind to them.

"In many ways, we've become one of the wealthiest communities in the
world," Schell said at his regular weekly news conference, where he was
joined by members of several homeless organizations. "The fact that we have
children and families going without shelter ought to be a matter of civic
embarrassment."

But it was unclear whether the mayor's action would do more than
temporarily refocus attention on a stubborn problem that has plagued U.S.
cities for more than a decade. Yesterday, a half-dozen members of the
Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), an organization of
homeless and formerly homeless women, challenged his proposal.

"It's grandstanding; it's not practical," said Anitra Freeman, a volunteer
and activist who was homeless in 1995. "It's a standard Seattle practice.
You promise something flashy in order to avoid doing something difficult.
Then, they just let the promise sit there and die out."

Despite millions of dollars in homeless assistance and a robust regional
economy, the number of people living on the streets of Seattle grows
steadily every year, officials say.

A February report by the Seattle-King County Homelessness Advisory Group
said at least 5,000 people are homeless on any given night in King County,
the majority in Seattle.

Shelters are routinely full, meaning many people have nowhere to go.
According to some estimates, 3,663 people were turned away without shelter
in 1997, more than double the number turned away four years earlier. In
1997, more than half of the homeless people turned away without shelter
were single women and one-third were women with children.

"You can't sit in this job and not feel a sense of responsibility," Schell
said. "I'm committed to doing what I can to address this problem."

Schell blamed the growing number of women and children without housing, in
part, on welfare reform. Last month, Schell and King County Executive Ron
Sims wrote a letter to Gov. Gary Locke, urging the governor to fund
affordable child care and job training to keep people from slipping behind
in rent payments and ending up on the street.

The mayor's proposal allocates $200,000 from the existing Department of
Housing and Human Services budget to give short-term hotel vouchers to
families, a program that usually only operates during the winter. The money
also would help move families into longer-term housing by subsidizing rent
payments and counseling services.

An additional $300,000 would be earmarked for new shelter beds and
day-service centers.

But John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition said the mayor's
proposal will have little impact. Fox, a member of the city-county
Homelessness Advisory Group, said recommendations from the study included a
minimum of $10 million in 1999-2000 to be spent on homelessness in the
region.

"This gesture is so small and trivial, it amounts to no gesture at all," he
said. "What he is offering is embarrassingly small."

Deputy Mayor Tom Byers acknowledged the mayor's action is only a first
step, but he argued that adding $500,000 in the middle of the year is a
significant commitment. He said next year's target budget includes more
money for homeless assistance.

"We are reinvigorating ourselves, setting measurable goals," Byers said.
"We're saying homelessness is not a foregone conclusion in America."

Madeline Lewis, who was homeless for almost three years and now works as a
speaker for a homeless women's forum, also challenged the mayor. She said
city laws, such as an ordinance that forbids people to sit on sidewalks and
one that allows police to kick people out of parks for breaking rules,
don't show respect for the homeless.

"The truth is, they gave $23 million extra dollars for a parking garage,
and they are only offering $500,000 to homeless people," Lewis said. "Why
aren't we worth the dollars? Even if we are the worst of the worst, it
doesn't make us any less human."

Susan Byrnes' phone message number is 206-464-2189. Her e-mail address is:
sbyrnes@seattletimes.com

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