Homeless in Seattle

Homeless in Seattle
Richard Hil

July 30 2016
 

You don’t have to go looking for it – it’s in your face: Seattle’s homelessness crisis. Outside a huge downtown ritzy Wholefood store – not far from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation HQ and almost next door to several Amazon office blocks – the homeless gather. They’re there because the folks shopping in Wholefoods are city hipsters probably working for some IT company on six figure salaries but with some sort of social conscience. If the Gates can be generous, so can they. But it’s mostly quarters I see being thrown into threadbare hats and battered shoeboxes. It’s going to need more than that to fix the homelessness crisis in Seattle and the US more broadly. In Seattle alone there are an estimated 4500 people on the streets, many of them low wage debt victims. Nearby I happened upon a long queue of homeless people waiting for meals provided by a Christian charity. Joe, a fifty year old “casualty of corporate greed” told me that many young people in the queue had spent most of their lives on the street. They were part of the great army of America’s 46 million poor who exist on the crumbs provided by charities and the state. “They’d love to get rid of us” said Joe, “we’re just a burden, we’re expendable”. Everywhere I go in downtown Seattle there are homeless people in doorways, on benches, or shuffling aimlessly along the street. There’s nowhere for them to go. Many would rather suffer Seattle’s often inclement weather  than stay in some heaving hostel.  But there’s no shortage of new homes going up in Seattle. With house prices skyrocketing the cement can’t be poured quickly enough. Business is booming. But not for Joe and millions like him.  There’s no American Dream for them. But hey, Donald is going to make America great again!

I raised these issues briefly with Kshama Sawant, a Seattle city councillor and America’s only elected avowedly socialist politician. Re-elected to the council last November – a success she credits in part to Bernie Sanders – Kshama sees the growing divide in wealth and income as the greatest contributor to poverty, growing disenchantment, anger and political polarization. The national crisis in homelessness is, says Kshama, attributable to this state of affairs. Kshama has agreed to participate in one of the Ngara Institutes’ Politics in the Pub events later this year. Keep an eye on the website.