Many people who live in Seattle might tell you they enjoy the quality of life the city has to offer. Of course, they would. Seattle is a great place to live.
It is very much alive with stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and an eclectic population of people from all over the world. There is so much to see and do in Seattle. It’s an ideal place to raise a family. And, it is overrun with employment opportunities.
Plus, Seattle is setting new records, making it an even more inviting place to live – especially for out-of-towners looking to relocate. The city is experiencing record low unemployment, record job growth, and a record high $15-an-hour minimum wage.
And, there is an expected and highly anticipated economic boom on the horizon for the city. As Amazon builds its headquarters in Emerald City, the online shopping giant has created an astounding 45,000 new jobs.
But, before we celebrate and take our hats off to Seattle; let’s talk about a few other records the city is breaking:
Homelessness is at an all-time high with at least 11,600 people sleeping in the streets, tents, cars, and emergency shelters around the city. Homelessness has led to the degradation and slow destruction of this once tranquil and serene Washington locale.
Addiction: There was a record number of overdose deaths in 2018. Seattle continues to live up to one of its commonly known nicknames – “Junkie Town.” Addicts use drugs openly in the streets and often cause disturbances that make the community unsafe.
Crime: Property crime is at an all-time high and is now two-and-a-half times higher than Los Angeles and four times higher than New York City. The city is experiencing a rapid increase of burglaries, car thefts, break-ins, and other property losses.
The population is at an all-time high with the Census Bureau reporting that Seattle is the fastest growing city in the U.S. The city now has approximately 724,745 residents and many are struggling to find affordable living accommodations.
Cost of Living is at an all-time high with the cost of housing skyrocketing 57 percent in the past six years, pushing many people into homelessness.
These statistics speak for themselves.
Many say the city of Seattle is under siege; facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis, addiction emergency, and incarceration problem (or lack thereof).
With a reputation as one of the most liberal cities in the United States, Seattle may ultimately come to serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of the country. Many agree this Washington locale is quickly becoming a shining example of what NOT to do.
In this article, we answer the question – is it hopeless in Seattle?
Is Seattle Dying?
Many Seattleites are reporting that they now live in a city they don’t recognize. They say the problem of addiction, homelessness, and relaxed law enforcement policies have caused the city to decline to such a degree that it is essentially unlivable. In fact, some say Seattle looks like some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland.
According to reports, there is waste and trash all over the city. Many prominent areas smell like urine and feces. Addicts are passed out in the streets. Tents line public sidewalks to provide shelter for the homeless. Crime is at an all-time high. Historic cemeteries have been overrun by prostitution and drug activity.
And, the police are outraged because they are being told by the city government not to do anything about it.
To really get a grasp on the hopeless state of Seattle, we encourage you to watch an awesome documentary, “Is Seattle Dying?” It depicts just how raw and real the problems are in Emerald City. Those who care about the future of Seattle should definitely take an hour to check out this video :
Local Government Acknowledges Homelessness Crisis
Homelessness is big news in Seattle. It’s no secret the growing number of people without permanent housing is alarming and disruptive. Currently, there is a collaborative effort underway among local and state agencies and nonprofits to bring about positive change in this critical area of the local landscape.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is calling the problem of homelessness in Seattle a crisis of epic proportions. She has made a solemn commitment to address (and ultimately correct) the problem. Here is what she has to say on the subject:
“Every night, thousands of our neighbors sleep outside without shelter, in some of the most inhumane and dangerous conditions you can imagine. While every single person experiencing homelessness in Seattle has their own story, what is true across Seattle is the need to help our neighbors move to safer places as we work together to build a better future for all who call Seattle home.”
Durkan adds, “We have a responsibility, to be honest, that this crisis won’t go away overnight. Lasting, meaningful progress will take years. But we still must act – and are acting – to improve life in Seattle.”
Many believe Durkan’s promise to end (or at least reduce) homelessness comes largely as a response to the homeless encampments encroaching upon upscale neighborhoods.
Local residents have been very vocal about their disdain for the unsightly camps, unsanitary conditions, increased crime, and a decreased sense of safety. Since the popup of so-called tent cities in prominent local parks situated near suburban neighborhoods, locals have put the pressure on city government to take action. However, the response has not been favorable.
What Causes Homelessness in Seattle?
If you have never been homeless, it can be difficult to understand how it happens.
Understanding what causes someone to become homeless is the first step to finding solutions. Homelessness is a systematic problem that affects every city in the Puget Sound region of the United States. Seattle has been hit particularly hard.
There is still an incredible stigma that surrounds this issue. Many people judge the homeless very harshly. They assume they are just lazy and looking for a handout. It is true that many homeless people enjoy this lifestyle and choose to be nomadic. However, many homeless people desperately want to have a permanent place to live.
Becoming homeless in Seattle is actually more common than you might think. Adverse life events can lead to the loss of a home or apartment. These include the loss of a job, a health issue that makes it impossible to work, or the need to escape an abusive situation.
Also, many people who work in decent-paying jobs have been forced out of their residence because of rent increases. We mentioned earlier that the cost of housing has skyrocketed more than 57 percent in the past six years. Some people end up on the streets because they cannot afford rent or find affordable housing.
What is at the Root of Seattle’s Homelessness Crisis?
We’ve cited a few life events that can force someone to live on the streets, but the situation actually goes much deeper. There are a number of other causes that are inherently interconnected and compounded by one another.
Let’s examine a few of the reasons that explain the homelessness crisis in Seattle:
Mental Health Issues
It is estimated that 40 percent of all homeless people in Seattle have a disability that prevents them from sustaining gainful employment. More often than not, disability is a mental illness like bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety. These conditions can be so debilitating that an individual simply cannot work.
It’s no secret that addiction and homelessness often go hand-in-hand. There are a number of reasons for this. In some cases, a person’s addiction can drive them out into the streets. They lose their job and their residence as a consequence of abusing drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, or heroin. With nowhere to turn for help, they end up homeless and continue to use drugs.
In other situations, homeless people have a dual-diagnosis and self-medicate as a way to address their mental health issues. This compounds the problem and makes it next to impossible for them to improve their situation and find permanent housing.
Economic Disparities and Poverty
It is true that Seattle offers a minimum wage of $15 an hour, among the highest in the country. However, this level of income is not nearly enough to cover the high cost of living in Seattle. Plus, the city’s economic growth has not been shared widely enough. Many people live in poverty and stay in constant fear of losing their housing due to nonpayment of the rent.
Lack of Affordable Housing
Finding affordable housing in Seattle isn’t easy. The price of rent continues to rise. According to Rent Jungle, as of March 2019, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle is about $2,014 a month (a 2.18 percent spike from last year) and a two-bedroom apartment costs approximately $2,775 (a 3.6 percent increase from last year).
A recent analysis found that 47 percent of the people who rent in the Seattle metro area are “housing cost burdened.” This means they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent alone. Strict zoning laws aren’t helping the situation.
In 2017, the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) held a lottery for the Housing Choice Voucher program. This helps low-income families and individuals, senior citizens, and people with disabilities pay their monthly rent in privately-owned apartments or houses.
More than 21,500 Seattle residents completed registrations for the lottery, competing for 3,500 places on the list. This ought to let you know how desperate people are to get adequate and affordable housing.
Unfortunately, most homeless people are disproportionately people of color. Racial inequity and policies that drive racial disparity are interwoven throughout Seattle. Access to education, healthcare, affordable housing, and jobs training are limited for people of color in Emerald City. Of the 21,500 applications to the 2017 SHA lottery program, more than 35 percent came from people of color.
The Criminal Justice System
Many people become homeless after they are released from jail or prison. After an extended period of incarceration, they lose their homes. Also, having a record makes it difficult to find employment, which makes it impossible to make money to pay housing costs.
A Decentralized Response to a Regional Crisis
The response to the problem of homelessness involves government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit service providers, individuals, and advocates across the Puget Sound region. Over the last decade, there has been a continued lack of coordination among these organizations, which has limited the effectiveness of monetary investments.
Estimates suggest that approximately $1 billion is spent every year to solve the homelessness crisis in Seattle. What is the money being spent on? No one really knows.
“You have to wonder where the money goes,” Seattle City Council candidate Ari Hoffman said recently. “The first thing we need to do is audit where all that money is going. There’s plenty of money, the city’s coffers are full, the money is just not being spent appropriately.”
The Effects of Homelessness on the City of Seattle
Being homeless profoundly affects an individual. If you have never been homeless, you can’t conceive what this lifestyle can do to the human spirit.
Imagine not having a place to call home; a safe place to lay your head at night. Think about what it would be like to push around everything you owned in a shopping cart. What if you had to dig through dumpsters and sift through other people’s trash to find scraps of food so you could eat for the day? It’s all so very heart-breaking.
Of course, individual homelessness affects Seattle as a community. Here are just a few of the many ways the city has been impacted by the crisis:
- Poor individual hygiene, which can lead to the spread of community diseases
- An unsanitary lifestyle creates unlivable conditions in public right-of-ways
- Extensive public drug and alcohol use (which leads to discarded dirty needles, empty glass liquor bottles, and other scattered drug paraphernalia)
- Aggressive panhandling can lead to the harassment of area residents
- Increased property crime and theft
- Unsightly tent cities scattered throughout the city
- A decreased sense of safety
- Tents situated on high traffic areas including sidewalks and shopping districts
Homelessness in Seattle is such a major problem, there are few areas that have been untouched by it. This leaves community members urging local government to solve the problem and take drastic measures.
Yet, in spite of the fact that in 2017, King County and Seattle spent over $195 million to combat homelessness (which included local, federal, and charitable spending), more people are homeless in Seattle than ever before.
The Reality of Trash Cleanup at Homeless Encampments in Seattle
Here’s another consequence that comes from the homelessness crisis – all the trash that is left behind.
When homeless communities set up encampments under bridges, along the sides of roads, and other locations; they accumulate a lot of trash. This includes dirty syringes. Usually, there is nowhere to properly dispose of garbage so it goes on the ground. This quickly leads to unsanitary conditions for everyone.
The City of Seattle continues to make significant financial investments to clean up trash resulting from the homelessness crisis in an effort to keep the city beautiful, sanitary, and safe. Here are a few statistics that put the problem into perspective:
- In 2017, the City of Seattle removed 3,205 tons of garbage and waste from unmanaged homeless encampments. That equates to 6.4 million pounds of trash!
- In January of 2017, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) kicked off a pilot program to collect trash from unsanctioned encampments in popular RV camping areas. The pilot program collects an average of 31,233 pounds of trash per month from these areas.
Just think about what Seattle would look like if the city didn’t pick up all this trash. Emerald City would get a new nickname – Garbage City!
City-Permitted Villages Help House Those in Need of Shelter
To combat the problem of homelessness in Seattle, nine permitted villages have been constructed across the city that offers temporary shelter and allows residents to connect to housing resources. This is perhaps the most promising effort made by local agencies to solve this problem.
These villages consist of a group of tiny houses that can be locked, which provide safe shelter to more than 300 people each night. The houses have electricity and heat and they are weatherproof.
The villages offer access to clean restrooms, showers, on-site social services from a case manager, a kitchen, and a managed community that follows a code of conduct.
Villages provide temporary shelter to the homeless. In many cases, it begins the process of placing them into permanent housing. In 2018, the citywide villages served 658 unique households and placed 135 of these households into permanent housing. This represents a 32 percent increase from 2017.
Homelessness and Addiction in Seattle – What’s the Connection?
In no uncertain terms, addiction runs rampant among the homeless population in Seattle. In fact, it is one of the most addicted cities in Washington State. Many civic leaders say that Emerald City doesn’t have a homelessness problem as much as it has a drug problem. Some say that 100 percent of all people without permanent housing are in some stage of addiction.
Many people abuse alcohol and drink daily to avoid the detrimental consequences of alcohol withdrawal. But, of greater concern is a collective addiction to heroin and prescription opioids.
It is no coincidence that many of the unauthorized homeless encampments across Seattle are down the street from methadone clinics. Many homeless people who were once addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers use methadone as a way to avoid deadly withdrawal symptoms.
Because these people do not have access to transportation, they set up camp so they can walk to the clinic for their daily dose. More than 3,6000 people in King County receive methadone treatment.
The Drug Culture in Seattle – The Party Never Stops
Seattle has a national reputation for being a party city. Illegal drugs are available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365 days-a-year – and they come cheap.
Many addiction experts suggest that an addict can score heroin, crystal meth (which continues to rise in popularity), cocaine, and prescription painkillers within a 10 miles radius from any point in the city. Alcohol is readily available at local grocery stores and corner stores. And, of course, marijuana is legal for recreational use in this city and the stuff is everywhere.
Seattle is known for its lax approach to criminal justice – drug laws in particular. In Seattle, law enforcement officers generally will not take an individual to jail for drug possession as long as they have less than three grams. This includes hard drugs like heroin and crystal meth.
Seattle has a very lenient drug policy and three grams is viewed as “for personal use.” Addicts take this as a green light to use drugs openly so it is not uncommon to walk by people hitting crack pipes or injecting heroin on the streets.
How the Legalization of Marijuana Has Negatively Impacted Seattle, Washington
In 2012, Washington State (along with Colorado that same year) was the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. This has certainly benefited Seattle. There has been a decrease in violent crime and drug arrests citywide since marijuana was made legal. And, the city has largely contributed to the more than $1 billion in marijuana sales statewide in the past five years.
A portion of the marijuana tax revenue generated is allocated to substance-abuse education and treatment programs. Plus, in 2018, more than $262 million helped the state pay for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to an estimated 1.8 million low-income Washington residents.
These are just a few of the many benefits that have manifested as the result of legal marijuana sales in Washington State.
However, legalizing marijuana has contributed to the problem of homelessness. People from all over the country have migrated to Seattle to partake of 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 for legal marijuana.
Also, keep in mind that marijuana is addictive. Those who use the substance daily have a habit to support and feel as if they cannot function without their herb. This often leads the homeless to commit property crimes and theft so they can get high on pot.
The Far-Reaching Opioid Epidemic is Affecting Addicts in Seattle
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 population. Three out of five overdoses were caused by opioids.
In a public health report released by King County, the number of confirmed drug and alcohol deaths investigated by the King County MEO has significantly increased over the past decade: from 272 in 2008 to 383 in 2017. The number one offender? Opioids.
In 2017, 49 percent of overdose deaths involved opioids in combination with other substances (like cocaine or crystal meth) and 19 percent involved opioids alone, including prescription painkillers like Fentanyl.
Brown Town – The Prevalent Use of Heroin
Heroin addiction is rampant in Seattle. In fact, in addition to its famous Emerald City nickname, Seattle is also known as “junkie town” and “brown town.”
Heroin (known by its drug slang name “brown”) is readily available in Seattle. It is snorted, smoked, and injected.
In King County, more people enter detox for heroin than they do alcohol. The number of treatment admissions for heroin addiction in Seattle has more than doubled over the past seven years. Amazingly, the city’s syringe exchanges programs exchanged 7,112,962 syringes in 2017.
Reports indicate that more than 80 percent of heroin addicts in Washington State were previously prescribed opioids by their doctors – including Hydrocodone, Percocet, and Oxycodone. Those who become hooked on legal painkillers turned to street heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get.
Affordable Drug Rehabs in Seattle – They Do Exist
According to estimates by Washington state officials, a whopping 90 percent of all Washingtonians who have a substance use disorder do not pursue professional addiction treatment. The number one reason for this is because addicted people mistakenly believe they cannot afford it.
Drug rehabs have gotten a reputation for being overly expensive and out of reach for the average person. Sure, there are luxury rehabs that overcharge clients for a 28-day stay at an inpatient facility. They offer five-star spa services and charge as much as $250,000 per month – if you can believe it. However, this is the exception rather than the norm.
Most drug rehabs near Seattle – including Northpoint Washington (which is frequently mentioned in local news) – are genuinely concerned with helping people break the cycle of addiction. They want to help the individual and better the community.
To make this happen, they know they must provide affordable addiction treatment services. This makes rehab accessible for all those who want to get help for a drug or alcohol problem.
Learn more about drug rehab in Washington State.
Seattle Rehabs Take Insurance and Substance Abuse Treatment is Covered
Health insurance companies are required by law to provide addiction treatment services for people who are seeking help for a substance use disorder. Many people don’t know this. They think they will have to pay for rehab out of pocket. This is just not true.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. If you have health insurance and you want to get addiction treatment in Seattle, you should know that all plans cover:
- Behavioral health treatment, such as psychotherapy and counseling
- Mental and behavioral health inpatient services
- Substance abuse treatment
Most Seattle drug rehabs accept health insurance and provide free, confidential insurance verification. This helps addicted people or their loved ones find out what their insurance covers and if there will be any out-of-pocket expenses.
Of course, most homeless people do not have medical insurance. However, reaching out to any rehabilitation facility is a great place to start. Most places are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to free local resources.
Free Drug Rehab in Seattle, Washington
For those who do not have healthcare coverage, there are free rehabs in Seattle. City and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and some private rehabs provide addiction treatment services to those who need it but cannot afford it.
Free Seattle rehabs are designed to serve the city’s homeless and impoverished population and give them access to addiction treatment. Seattle and King County currently spend nearly $460 million a year on addiction and mental health services. In many cases, scholarships are available to attend rehab.
Looking for free rehab in Seattle, Washington? The Salvation Army offers a free drug rehabilitation program. This is a good place to start.
The Revolving Door of the Criminal Justice System
We’ve talked about homeless and addiction in Seattle. Now, let’s talk a little bit about the incarceration situation in Emerald City. It’s a real problem. Bottom line – if Seattle wants to correct the problem of addiction and homelessness, it desperately needs reform to close the revolving door between jail and homelessness.
According to a report published by the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated people are about 10 times more likely to be homeless than those who do not have a criminal record. Additionally, people who have been incarcerated more than once are twice as likely to be homeless as those who are returning home after their first prison term.
The problem with Seattle is that the city is generally very lenient on crime. More often than not, offenders who are arrested for nonviolent crimes spend just a few hours in holding and are released. Charges are ultimately dropped or dismissed.
This has produced an environment of lawlessness in Emerald City. Addicted and homeless people have no real respect for the law and they do what they please.
Many people in Seattle have been arrested 30 or more times in a single year for theft, disorderly conduct, property crimes, or other nuisances. In Seattle, 1 in 5 people booked into jail are homeless. They spend a few hours in jail and then they get out. Those who engage in such activity say they know they won’t face any real consequences, so they just continue their bad behavior.
Local citizens say that the city needs to crack down on crime and restore law and order. Until they do, the problems that plague Seattle will just get worse.
Is it Hopeless in Seattle?
We talked about how serious things are in Seattle, but is the situation hopeless?
If things don’t change, we are afraid things will only continue to get worse. Homelessness is on the rise. Addiction continues to skyrocket. There seems to be no real law and order in Emerald City. Without an intervention of some kind, things will just go further downhill. After all, nothing changes if nothing changes.
However, nothing is ever hopeless. Things can change. They can get better. How does this happen? By treating one addict at a time. As the homeless and addicted get help one by one, there is a collective movement toward a better situation for everyone.
In keeping with a spirit of hope, perhaps policymakers and city government will recognize that Seattle desperately needs affordable and accessible addiction treatment for all. Imagine what the city would be like if just half of the money spent on solving homelessness were allocated to addiction treatment? Just by the nature of substance abuse, this would make a positive impact on the homeless population.
Of course, we are addiction experts. We know very little about how to address the many social issues that face Seattle. All we can do is help one addicted person at a time find freedom from the bondage of the addictive cycle. Nevertheless, we hold out hope that Seattle will be restored to health sometime soon. Where there is life, there is always hope.
Resources Available in Seattle
We understand the city if Seattle is hurting. We want to help. Here is a comprehensive list of resources in Seattle for the homeless and addicted:
Find a city-approved village Seattle to get approved for temporary housing
The YWCA offers late-night motel vouchers, which provides 40 beds at motel rooms for families experiencing homelessness, serving 40-60 individuals and children every night
Central Family Emergency Housing provides culturally appropriate services to homeless families of color
Peace for the Streets by Kids on the Streets provides shelter and resources to homeless youth and young adults
YMCA’s Angeline Center for Women provides emergency shelter for women who are ready to transition to permanent housing. Includes meals, access to laundry, showers, activities, and connections to other services.
Bailey-Boushay House provides nightly shelter to Seattle’s most vulnerable homeless population, including those who are HIV positive or living with mental health issues
2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember phone number that allows people in need to connect with services that can help with rent assistance, temporary and permanent shelter, legal referrals, housing assistance, transportation, food, and other basic needs, including addiction treatment
The Crisis Clinic is at the heart of the so-called “Seattle-King County safety net.” It provides various telephone-based crisis intervention efforts and information, as well as offering referral services
Housing and Essential Needs (HEN): Those who have zero income and disability can receive assistance with rent and utilities, transportation needs, hygiene and cleaning supplies, and more from HEN
The Urban Rest Stop is a safe place that provides a clean facility where homeless individuals and their families can use restrooms, laundry facilities, and free showers
The Solid Ground Circulator is a free shuttle available in the downtown corridor for homeless and low-income individuals with stops near many shelters, and social service agencies. The Circulator runs Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m.
University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute provides access to free hotlines for addicted people to call for help with a drug or alcohol problem
Northpoint Washington is an affordable drug and alcohol rehab for those with insurance or self-pay
This resource guide will tell you everything you need to know about detox and rehab in Seattle