Before this article could be published the city found the funds to temporarily fund the emergency shelter network. This is a victory of the movement and a demonstration that our pressure worked. However the overall strategic shift is still in place, therefore we must continue to fight for a progressive business tax for permanent funding and 1000’s of quality public housing units per year.
On Monday, February 12, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights committee hosted a public meeting to help organize the fightback against the city’s draconian cuts to homeless shelters and services.
The meeting brought together over 250 community members, housing activists, and homeless and housing service workers fighting to address the homelessness and housing crisis in Seattle.
In late November of 2017, Seattle’s Democratic establishment claimed to be taking a strategic shift away from traditional shelters that provide little more than “sleeping mats on the floor” to a system of “enhanced” shelters that would be subject to a “performance pay” model of competitive funding.
In reality, this“strategic shift” meant immediate cuts to successful self-organized homeless shelters and homeless service providers, with remaining funding tied to to an arbitrary metric that 40% of shelter residents be placed in permanent housing. However, Seattle’s out of control rental market makes any transition to permanent market-rate housing nearly impossible for most homeless people.
How does the city’s “strategic shift” propose to solve this problem? Socialist Alternative member Kailyn Nicholson explained the scheme during public comment:
“The strategy that the city wants to move towards, ‘rapid rehousing,’ is a proven failure. It involves giving a few homeless individuals vouchers to pay market rate rents for a few months. Now we all know that market rate rents are exorbitantly high, so our taxpayer money will be used to pay the massive rents to private landlords and developers. But also they are expected to be able to transition to paying market rate rent by themselves after three months. Most of the people I know who currently have housing and work full time can barely pay market rate rents!”
This is more than just another corporate raid on working people’s pocket books, It is a direct attack against the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community.
Attack on Women and LGBTQ Youth
Just this year in Seattle a record number of 18 people have died as a result of weather exposure and violence on the streets, including one 16 year old child. How many more people who are forced to remain in unsafe housing with their abusers will be at risk of injury and death?
Emergency shelter is not only a bare necessity for basic survival, it can represent a minimum of dignity otherwise not afforded to a large subset of the population in a capitalist system. Being able to wash your clothes, take a shower, and have a hot meal is absolutely vital to people being able to find some stability and attempt to regain housing and employment.
Confronted with a such a brutal attack, we cannot shy away from taking every necessary step to fight back.
A tax on the largest companies located in Seattle, such as Amazon, could easily bring in $200 million a year. This money could not only maintain and expand the capacity of the emergency shelter system, but build the deeply affordable public housing so necessary for the tens of thousands of people on the street, in temporary shelters, and stuck in unsafe living situations. An aggressive program of building publicly owned housing together with rent control could preserve and expand an affordable housing stock that could begin to meet the needs of Seattle’s working class.
Such a program is the socialist alternative to the neoliberal, pro-developer housing program continued under the newly elected democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan.
We must build the movement to immediately win a supplementary budget amendment to restore full funding to homeless services, stop the sweeps, and win the progressive business tax the council promised to consider. This would be a powerful step along the way to winning rent control and further funding for public housing. Exactly this program won loud crowd support throughout the public meeting.
As Kshama powerfully stated at the close of the meeting:
“We are not going to get this done by putting our faith in the still mostly corporate-dominated city council and Mayor’s office. We are only going to get it done if we build the strength of our movement. That means we all have to dedicate ourselves to this in the coming months.”
Meeting attendees left the meeting with fliers calling them to attend the March 8th International Women’s Day Rally, where we can organize together against the poverty, racism, sexism, and violence of this capitalist system.