The criminalization of poverty crime, in Seattle, is officially passé.
Times have changed. Mayor McGinn announced a city budget package last week to increase safety and security downtown. His approach reflects the consensus of the Center City Initiative roundtable, a group that has found a solutions-based middle ground between interests that, in the past, have violently disagreed.
The criminalization of poverty crime, in Seattle, is officially passé. No new aggressive panhandling legislation has been put forward. The talk is of providing human services as opposed to increasing arrests. There is unity between human services advocates and downtown interests that the solution to people peeing in the street is, oddly enough, probably toilets.
There has been, in other words, an eruption of common sense.
The mayor’s package includes $1.7 million for expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which connects low-level offenders with human services, and $776,000 to increase Crisis Intervention Team staffing. There was $150,000 to increase hours of operation at day and hygiene centers; $112,440 to extend Winter Response Shelters to operate year-round; $500,000 for three Seattle police officers to support park rangers; and $188,000 to make two recently hired park rangers permanent.
Downtown interests are supporting human services solutions to street crime, and human service advocates support use of existing laws to curb bad behavior when other approaches don’t work. Everyone agrees on the urgent need to increase funding for mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment.
As I stood behind the mayor last week, along with human services providers, civil rights advocates, representatives of downtown businesses and residents, and listened to Downtown Seattle Association President Kate Joncas and The Defender Association’s Lisa Daugaard agree, I reflected on how far we’d come over the past four years.
The last time the downtown civility debate erupted was during the final year of the Nickels administration. Councilmember Tim Burgess’ aggressive panhandling bill faced a stiff headwind from day one, with challenges from the civil rights community as well as opposition from within the city council itself.
As he worked toward a bill that could get majority council support, the opposition ramped up. The war council that formed in opposition included the NAACP, the ACLU, homeless advocates and representatives of the faith community. The Seattle Human Rights Commission unanimously rejected the legislation.
The mayor who would have passed it lost. The mayor who would ultimately veto the thing won. The four council votes needed to uphold his veto materialized at the eleventh hour, and what was supposed to be an 8-1 slam dunk in city council went down in unanticipated flames
The Seattle Times, KING, KOMO and pretty much every media outlet aside from The Stranger and Real Change threw a full-scale tantrum from which they have never fully recovered. When the mayor announced this new approach last week, they were mostly silent. Gracious losers they are not.
Downtown, meanwhile, survived. Pioneer Square is on the upswing. Tourism recovered from the recession, and the industry is headed toward one of Seattle’s best years ever. Our economy is among the nation’s strongest. All without having to demonize homeless people. Go figure.
None of this is to say that the tensions that existed before are gone. There are those who would love to see more tickets handed out to the unsightly poor, and who would happily turn those tickets into criminal charges that unhelpfully land people in jail. But at the moment, those folks are minority voices, and a rare season of reason prevails. Let’s hope it holds.
CommentsAnd don't forget, you smug jackass, that the solution to people doing drugs and having sex in the streets was also the public toilets we already spent millions installing and removing. "An eruption of common sense..." Indeed. Lose the attitude.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.