Community Perception & the Puzzle of Homelessness

puzzle - paid - free digital download“Redmond is attracting so many homeless people now.”

“Issaquah is attracting so many homeless people now.”

“(Insert city name) isn’t what it used to be: there are so many homeless.”

These are comments which have been made repeatedly in the City of Redmond certainly and are echoed in other cities on the Eastside.  A recent meeting hosted by the City of Redmond to open a conversation on homelessness had over 100 attendees and even more could not all fit into the room.

Now Redmond Mayor John Marchione has invited 14, including me, to meet as part of a Task Force on Homelessness to better understand the scope and causes of homelessness, the systems in place to address needs and to identify concerns and solutions.  A set of short- and longer-term actions for the community will result from work done over the spring and summer.

I have written about homelessness and housing issues in this blog.  Together Center hosts agencies providing housing and homelessness supports, including A Regional Coalition for Housing and Friends of Youth’s youth shelter, The Landing.  Yet, Meeting One of the Task Force provided information that has me already chewing on new understanding.

In a brief Homelessness 101, Mark Putnam of the Committee to End Homelessness reviewed reasons why people are homeless. In one study it was learned that nationally (in 2013) when average rental rates increased by just $100, homelessness increased by 15% in urban areas (31% in rural and suburban areas). Given our booming real estate market, this is a startling fact to consider.

Another observation was by Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson who shared data on calls for service in the downtown Redmond area from January 2012 through December 2014.  While property and person crimes have increased in a steady trend line (although “person crimes incidents” remain remarkably low), those arrested have not typically been homeless. Chief Gibson noted that the increasing sight of homeless people coupled with a trend line toward more crimes may have people feeling more vulnerable.  These two facts (more crime, more homelessness) may, in fact, not be related.

Off to interesting work, for sure, on a very sad, frustrating and complicated issue.