Menu Close

Is Seattle Dying? Homelessness, Addiction, and Death in the Emerald City

If you asked the average Seattle resident how they feel about living in Emerald City, you would probably get one of two very different answers.

How Locals Feel About Living in Seattle, Washington

On the one hand, someone might tell you they love living in this Washington locale and enjoy the quality of life the city has to offer. After all, Seattle is very much alive with vibrant culture, amazing eateries, and good music. There is so much to see and do in the city and it is a great place to raise a family. Plus, Emerald City is overrun with employment opportunities with record low unemployment and a $15 an hour minimum wage. On the other hand, you might be told that Seattle resembles a type of post-apocalyptic wasteland found in a sci-fi movie. Many say Seattle is under siege, facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis and addiction epidemic. Many are starting to believe Emerald City is slowly becoming unlivable. Or, to put it another way – that Seattle is dying. Let’s take a deep dive into a frank discussion about what this historic city is currently experiencing. We need to bring awareness to the issues of homelessness and addiction if we are ever going to see a positive change in the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington. We don’t want the city to die. We want to see it continue to thrive for many years to come.

“Get your loved one the help they need. Our substance use disorder program accepts many health insurance plans, this is our residential program.”

What’s Happening in Seattle?

To give you some insight into why we feel it is so important to publish this article, here are some fast facts that might put the situation into perspective:

  • Addiction, homelessness, and relaxed law enforcement policies have created the perfect storm. The city has been overrun with crime, unfavorable living conditions, homeless encampments, and public drug use.  
  • Homelessness is at an all-time high. There are currently at least 12, 000 people without adequate shelter in Seattle. People are sleeping in the streets in front of prominent local businesses and retail locations. Tent cities are everywhere.
  • Addiction is overrunning the city. There was a record number of overdose deaths in 2018. As a result, Seattle now has a commonly known nickname – “Junkie Town.” 
  • Crime is being committed in record numbers. Property crime is now two-and-a-half times higher than Los Angeles and four times higher than New York City. The city continues to experience regular burglaries, car jackings, business break-ins and other property losses due to theft.  
  • The population is growing in record numbers. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that Seattle is the fastest growing city in the United States with approximately 724,745 residents. Many struggle to find affordable living accommodations.
  • The cost of living continues to skyrocket. Housing costs have climbed an astonishing 57 percent in the past six years. This has driven many people into homelessness.
  • Also, let’s get real about the city’s living conditions:
  • There is trash and waste strewn about Seattle. In 2017, the City of Seattle removed 3,205 tons of garbage from illegal homeless camps. This is the equivalent of about 6.4 million pounds of trash.  
  • Many prominent areas smell like urine and feces because the homeless use the streets as toilets.
  • Addicts are either passed out in the streets or openly shooting heroin, smoking crack, using meth, or smoking marijuana in high traffic public areas with reckless abandon.
  • Tents line public sidewalks to provide shelter for the homeless and tent cities litter the local landscape. They are set up under highway bridges and in public parks.
  • Historic cemeteries have been overrun by prostitution and drug activity, acting as open and unregulated black markets.
  • And, the police are outraged because they are being told by city government not to do anything about it.

THIS is what is happening in Seattle. We encourage you to take one hour of your time to watch a very powerful documentary that depicts the seriousness of the situation in Emerald City. We can crank out stats and facts all day long.

But, until you see it for yourself, you can’t fully understand how serious the situation is:

There is a Direct Link Between Homelessness and Addiction

To be clear, addiction runs rampant among the homeless population in Seattle. In fact, many local civic leaders report that Emerald City doesn’t have a homelessness problem as much as it has a drug problem. According to the Seattle Times, fatal overdoses were the leading cause of death among homeless people in King County in 2017; a year when there was an overall record number of deaths among the city’s homeless. Three out of five overdoses were caused by opioids. Many who live in Emerald City say that addiction and homeless are the two most detrimental problems citywide. Others say these two problems are one in the same. Some experts suggest that 100 percent of the cases of people who permanently live on the streets by choice are in some phase of addiction. They often have an addiction to alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers, or other hard drugs like cocaine or crystal meth. Additionally, it has been reported that as much as 40 percent of the city’s homeless community suffers from some type of mental illness like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not uncommon for those with these mental disorders to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. When this happens, it is called a co-occurring disorder, which can be challenging  to treat.     homelessness

How Addiction Fuels the Homelessness Crisis in Seattle

Yes, it is true that a small percentage of Seattleites end up on the streets because of a temporary crisis. This could include the loss of a job or a prolonged illness that made them unemployable. These people usually reach out for help and quickly find temporary shelter and then move on to get permanent and affordable living accommodations. However, there are those who are chronically homeless in Seattle and refuse help from social service agencies. They enjoy living the nomadic lifestyle that homelessness offers. They are addicted to alcohol or drugs, but they have no intention of quitting. They do not reach out for help because they do not want help. Many of these people wound up homeless because of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. They lose their job, they can’t afford to pay rent, and they are evicted. They end up living on the streets and start stealing, prostituting, or selling drugs to fund their expensive habit. It is important to recognize that Seattle’s homeless community is a community unto itself. People form strong bonds while they are living on the streets. They help one another survive and they help each other stay high. Addiction has a strange way of bonding people to one another.

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our inpatient program.”

How Legal Marijuana Has Impacted the City  

In 2012, Washington State and Colorado were the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the United States. This has since benefitted Seattle in a number of ways. For starters, there has been a significant decrease in violent crime. Plus, there have been fewer marijuana arrests, freeing up space in the jails and prisons for violent offenders. Also, the city has largely contributed to the more than $1 billion in marijuana sales statewide that have happened in the past five years. A portion of marijuana tax revenue goes to substance-abuse education and treatment programs. Plus, in 2018, more than $262 million helped the state pay for Medicaid, which provided health insurance to approximately 1.8 million low-income Washington residents. This is all great news – but it comes with a price. The legalization of marijuana has helped to contribute to the problem of homelessness in Seattle. marijuana addiction

Has the Legalization of Weed Added to the Homelessness Crisis?

People from all over the U.S. have moved to Seattle to enjoy legal weed. Many of them were homeless when they got there. According to survey data, approximately 9.5 percent of the city’s homeless say that they came from another state to partake of legal marijuana. Plus, marijuana is an addictive substance. It causes its own set of unique problems for those who are hooked on the stuff. Believe it or not, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are more than 500,000 nationwide emergency room visits every year for marijuana use alone. There is no question that marijuana is a popular drug among both the homeless and those with an addiction problem. After alcohol, weed is the most commonly abused substance in the United States. Can you believe there are tens of thousands of people who go to rehab every year just for marijuana?

Many of Seattle’s Homeless Frequently Visit the Local Methadone Clinics

It is no coincidence that many of the homeless encampments across the city of Seattle are located near methadone clinics. Many homeless people use methadone as a way to avoid deadly withdrawal symptoms caused by heroin or prescription opioid addiction. Because the homeless do not have their own transportation, they set up camp within walking distance from a clinic for their daily dose. More than 3,6000 people in King County alone receive methadone treatment every day.

How Homelessness Negatively Affects the City of Seattle

Homelessness in this area of the country is such a dire problem, few areas remain untouched by it. This leaves community members urging local government to solve the problem and take drastic measures. Many judge the homeless population in Emerald City quite harshly. People are angry that they are trashing the city, congregating in public parks, and sleeping on sidewalks. Local residents have zero tolerance for addiction and the lifestyle that accompanies it. They want “those people” gone from their neighborhoods. They consider them to be inferior and condemn them as a menace to society. Here are just a few ways that homelessness affects the entire community:

  • Poor personal hygiene can lead to the spread of communicable diseases
  • The lifestyle of the homeless creates unsanitary conditions for all
  • Rodents, roaches, and other critters swarm to homeless encampments because of all the waste and trash
  • Prolific public drug and alcohol use leads to dirty needles, broken glass liquor bottles, and other drug paraphernalia being scattered across the city
  • Aggressive panhandling often leads to the harassment of area residents who are already fed up
  • Increased theft and property crimes
  • Unsightly tent cities are seen throughout the city and are overrun with garbage
  • An overall decreased sense of public safety

Of course, these are all very good reasons to have some very strong feelings of ill-will toward the homeless. Those who work hard to provide nice lives for their families do not want like the idea of tolerating the local “riff-raff” junking up Emerald City. However, we must realize these people are people too. They have insurmountable problems that cannot be solved with some kind of quick fix. They need compassion and community support. community-problem

Homelessness is a Community-Wide Problem

Try and put yourselves in the shoes of a homeless person for a moment. It is a rough way to live. Every day is about survival and fueling an addiction that you don’t have the money to pay for. Imagine that a tent is your home. You have to brave severe weather conditions to live there. If you walk away from it, someone might steal it. You don’t have a safe place to lay your head at night. You have to keep constant guard against violent offenders.   You push around everything you own in a shopping cart in constant threat of being robbed. Think about what it would it be like to sift through other people’s trash to find a few measly food scraps so you could eat for the day? It’s quite heart-breaking when you think about it. This is not an “us” versus “them” problem. The issue of homelessness affects everyone in the Seattle community. To breathe life into what many are calling a dying city, we simply must engage with local government, social services, and charitable organizations that are fighting the good fight every day to end homelessness.   

“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order, take a look at our residential program.”

What Does the Future Hold Seattle’s Homeless?

We talked about how desperate things are for the homeless and the entire Seattle community. This issue is frequently discussed among community leaders and local residents alike. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has made a solemn promise to address and correct the problem and has been working hard to make a positive difference. In 2017 alone, King County and Seattle spent over $195 million to combat homelessness. This included local, federal, and charitable spending. A considerable portion of this money went to fund nine permitted villages that have been constructed across Emerald City. Each village offers a small group of tiny homes which provide temporary shelter for 300 of the city’s homeless. This allows residents of the housing village to connect to social services and find permanent housing. This is perhaps the most promising effort made by local agencies to solve this problem.   There are no easy answers when it comes to this crisis. However, with time, we are confident that the “powers that be” in local, state, and governmental positions will find solutions that bring Seattle back to life.

 Sleepless in Seattle – Drug Culture Dominates the City

We have talked a little bit about homelessness. Now, let’s talk about how addiction is killing the city of Seattle. It is no secret that Seattle has a national reputation for being what many call “a party city.” The drug culture is prevalent, especially in the local music scene.  Illegal drugs are available all day, all night, and every day – and they come cheap. Plus, marijuana is legal for recreational use and the stuff is everywhere. Many addiction experts suggest that crystal meth (which continues to rise in popularity), heroin, cocaine, and prescription painkillers are readily available within 10 miles from any point in the city. The bottom line is – if you want to get high, Seattle’s got your back.


A Recipe For Widespread Addiction in Emerald City

Let’s put this simply:   Mass quantities of drugs + lenient drug policy + lax law enforcement efforts = a recipe for addiction. Seattle basically serves as a test case for what happens when easy access to drugs and a broken criminal justice system pair up. Needless to say, the outcome has not been positive thus far.      Here is one explanation why addiction is spreading like wildfire in Seattle. Three grams of any illegal substance is considered “for personal use” by local authorities in the city. And, police generally have a “no arrest” policy for those who are in possession of three grams or less. When there are no legal consequences for possessing illegal substances, addicted people see this as a green light. It is not uncommon to see people hitting crack pipes or injecting meth on the streets. Many heroin users are passed out in public and passersby just step over them on sidewalks. Drug dealing takes place out in the open. It is a free-for-all, round-the-clock drug fest. And, where there is heavy drug use – addiction is sure to follow.

The Far-Reaching Opioid Epidemic Has Made its Presence Known in Seattle

With the national opioid epidemic in full swing, Seattle has seen its share of addiction and death caused by street heroin and legal prescription opioids. Many see the effects of the epidemic every day in the faces of addicts who are passed out or shooting heroin along the city’s sidewalks and street corners.     In a public health report released by King County, the number of confirmed drug or alcohol-related deaths investigated by the Medical Examiner’s Office has significantly increased in the past decade: from 272 in 2008 to 383 in 2017. Opioids are the number one offender when it comes to fatal drug overdoses. In 2017 (the most current data available), 49 percent of overdose deaths involved opioids combined with other substances (like alcohol, crystal meth, or cocaine). Nineteen percent of all overdose deaths involved opioids alone. This included heroin and prescription painkillers like Fentanyl or Oxycodone.

Getting Down in Brown Town – The Relationship Between Heroin and Emerald City

Heroin (known by its drug slang name “brown”) is readily available in this Washington city. In fact, in addition to its nationally known nickname “Emerald City,” locals have two other choice slang names – “junkie  town” and “brown town.” Heroin use has become widely accepted in Seattle. Though most local residents don’t like it, they have come to understand that this is just the way things are. People by the tens of thousands shoot, smoke, and snort brown all over the city. Many of them do it openly in public. You might be shocked to learn that the city’s syringe exchanges programs exchanged 7,112,962 syringes in 2017 alone. Without the program, many of these used syringes would have just been discarded in public places like parks and sidewalks. Believe it or not, in King County, more people enter detox to kick heroin than they do to stop drinking alcohol. This is not typical. In most states in the U.S., alcohol is the number one substance that triggers a treatment admission. The number of people going to rehab to be treated for heroin addiction in Seattle has more than doubled over the past seven years. Also, it is worth mentioning that about 80 percent of all current Seattle heroin were previously prescribed opioids by their doctors – including Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, Percocet, and Fentanyl.

Doing Our Part to Help Seattle Recover From the Disease of Addiction

We are addiction experts. We do not claim to know how to address the homelessness crisis in Emerald City. However, we do know all about addiction and recovery. This is a topic we can speak about with authority.   There is only one way to solve the addiction epidemic in Seattle – and that is to treat one addict at a time. It may be unrealistic to think that every addict in this Washington city can be helped. Not everyone wants to change their lifestyle and do what it takes to recover. However, we believe that addicted Seattleites everywhere have the potential to give up the drugs and alcohol. They can learn how to live and enjoy a sober lifestyle. They need only reach out their hand for help.   Affordable and accessible addiction treatment should be made available to those who want to find freedom from the disease of addiction. Take a look at our 28-day drug rehab program and/or 28-day alcohol recovery program. That is what we have to offer here at Northpoint Washington. We are on the frontlines every day, helping people from all across the great State of Washington find a new way to live.

Some Final Thoughts – Long Live Seattle

We set out to answer the question, “Is Seattle dying?” In a word, we say no. Sure, the city is facing some very serious problems. Overdose deaths are at an all-time high. There is an unprecedented homelessness crisis. There is trash and tents and addicts using drugs in the streets. It is a mess. But, one thing is certain – messes can always be cleaned up. Sure, it will take time, proper funding, a collective effort from both the government and residents, and a whole lot of determination. Nevertheless, it can be done.    We will continue to hold out hope that Seattle will be restored to wellness in the very near future.  Where there is life, there is hope. And, in the meantime, we will be here on the frontlines fighting to end addiction in the lives of those who come to us for help.  Feel free to comment or ask questions below.