New Seattle Times poll reveals overwhelming support for expanding mental health and addiction treatment to address homelessness crisis in King County, but deep distrust with regard to the ability of elected officials to solve it.

People in King County, looking for solutions to the homelessness crisis in the region, prefer long-term solutions – such as more affordable housing or mental health and addiction treatment – but they seriously doubt the ability of elected officials to actually solve the problem, according to a new Seattle Times poll.

Many more people said that tackling the root causes of homelessness was a more important priority than getting people out of the street. Despite at least $ 195 million spent in King County in 2017 on homelessness, about one-third of those surveyed said it was continuing because it was a problem. a complex problem.

The Seattle Times Project Homeless Survey, led by Elway Research of Seattle, explores the sentiment of residents of King County about the homelessness crisis and possible solutions. The survey highlighted residents' positions following last year's controversial debate over a tax on big business in Seattle to fund homelessness services and affordable housing, as well as ongoing discussions on relentless crisis in the region.

The survey results reveal a more nuanced and complex picture than the controversial debates of last year could well indicate.

Most respondents, even those who advocated a compassionate approach to homelessness, said that injecting more money into this file was not the solution. However, radical strategies, such as the zero tolerance policy for camping in public spaces, have received far less support than long-term strategies.

"It is clear that people think that it is a serious problem," said H. Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research. "And they seem willing to support a number of solutions to address it and want to tackle the root causes, not just the homelessness protests."

The survey was conducted last month on a cell phone and a landline, resulting in a sample of 407 people and an error margin of plus or minus 5%. Seventy-five percent of respondents were homeowners, compared to about 57% in the county.

At least 21 respondents – about 5% of the total – said they themselves experienced homelessness. More than twice as many reported having parents who were or were currently homeless.

"You've had a roof over your head all your life, and suddenly, you do not do it anymore after age 60," said Lloyd Houk of Newcastle, one of the survey respondents later interviewed by the Seattle Times. He advocates more affordable housing as a solution. He was homeless for two years and lived in a motorhome parked in his friend's yard before getting an apartment in November with the help of veteran services.

The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by BECU, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Campion Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Schultz Family Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, the Seattle Mariners, Starbucks and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the content of Project Homeless.

· Learn more about Project Homeless

"I thought it would never happen to me, but then it happened," Houk said.

Define problems

Most survey questions were multiple choice or involved a ranking system. But respondents were given the opportunity to answer an open question: In your opinion, what is the most common reason why people are homeless?

Economic reasons – housing prices, job losses, rents too high – were cited by 44% of respondents. Thirty-one percent reported substance abuse and substance abuse as the leading cause of homelessness and 26% reported mental illness.

A homelessness survey conducted last year in King County, according to the one night census, revealed that about a quarter of them had relied on the loss of money. A job to explain why they had no home; about 21% of homeless people cited drugs and alcohol and 9% attributed their homelessness to mental illness.

Tyler Reutimann from Mercer Island, who participated in the survey, worked with students with a developmental disability and helped them find jobs. They had trouble finding work, even with a lot of family support. If you do not have this help, he said, "there is nothing to do except being on the street".

That's why he thinks treatment should be preferred over more affordable housing, "because you can only build as many houses as you can," said 29-year-old Reutimann. "Having systems to help people with mental disabilities or people with chemical addiction goes much further than building a 200-story apartment."

When asked to choose, among a variety of options, the main reason for homelessness, respondents were split fairly evenly between housing costs and the cost of living in the area and the lack of services for people suffering from mental illness or chemical dependence. Seattle residents were more likely to cite the lack of services than residents of outlying towns in King County.

About a quarter of those surveyed about the most important reason for the homelessness crisis felt that it was about the region itself: either because they felt that it was the only way to do it. there were more tolerant attitudes and lax policing in the area, either because the services draw people to the area, chorus.

About 57% of respondents cited a problem of strategy or government to explain homelessness.

Reutimann is among them. He did not support the Seattle Business Tax because of a lack of trust in local government and what he called the "Seattle Process".

How the survey was done

Elway Research, based in Seattle, developed the survey in collaboration with the Seattle Times, which funded it. The results come from a sample of 407 residents of King County. People were interviewed by telephone and by phone – December 15 to 18. Forty-nine percent of the calls were made on mobile phones.

Respondents were randomly selected from households with at least one registered voter, even though it was not necessary for them to be registered to vote.

The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5% for county and city samples, which means that in theory, if the survey had been conducted 100 times, at least 95 times the results would be in the five percentage points of the responses reported here. story. The margin of error for respondents living in suburban towns of King County was plus or minus 6%.

– Seattle time

"It makes no sense for me to tax the people who make money, and give it to a municipal government that has been inept, in my opinion," he said.

Find solutions

Despite a homeless population that has grown significantly over the past five years, nearly three in five surveyed respondents said that it was possible to solve the worst of the crisis. Nearly a quarter thought that the problem could be solved entirely. Only 14% said it was insoluble.

To do this, almost two-thirds of respondents said they wanted to get to the bottom of things. Less than a third said that the goal should be to get people out of the street.

Cora Riley, who lives in the south of Seattle and is among the 65% of respondents who prioritized root causes, is totally opposed to the city's policy of removing homeless camps. "If they want to provide services to the homeless, they can think of Honey Buckets and garbage cans, not the forces of order," said Riley, 34.

Federal Way's Elaine Phelps, however, believes that getting people out of the street, especially in winter, should be a priority. She herself was homeless after her house was burned in North Carolina. She and her children lived in a homeless shelter for six months. "I had to sleep in my car for the night," said Phelps, 50, whose daughter, niece and friend are currently homeless. "I can only imagine how it feels to sleep outside."

On a list of six potential solutions that other communities have tried – from affordable housing to the strict prohibition of camping in the parks – 94% of respondents said they were in favor of better access to mental health and treatment of addiction. The approval of this strategy applies to many demographic groups: young and old, tenants and homeowners, and residents of Seattle and the suburbs in an almost unanimous agreement.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan "100% endorses" this approach and has asked the state and the federal government to obtain more behavioral health services, said spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower.

Last month, Governor Jay Inslee announced a $ 675 million proposal to fund hundreds of new mental health beds in communities and to partner with the University of Washington to create a university hospital focused on behavioral health.

On the question of what to do in King County, more than four in five said they strongly support or approve more affordable housing, which many studies have indicated the region desperately needs. All respondents aged 18 to 35 voted in favor of this measure.

Although respondents preferred more treatment and housing options, the survey revealed their frustrations with the proliferation of tent camps. Fifty-five per cent of those surveyed said they would like to see a zero-tolerance policy banning camping in parks and public spaces – a constant concern in Seattle, as camps repeatedly pop into green spaces. This strategy was more popular among seniors than 35 and under.

"Ignoring people and letting them sleep in the parks allows us to ignore the situation," said David Baer, ​​65, of West Seattle. The parks should suit everyone, he said, "but we need to find other spaces where we can provide the necessary health services," such as toilets and showers.

However, fewer people supported the hardest approach listed in the survey, requiring homeless people to prove they were living in the area before they had access to a shelter, a version of which had already been tried in Philadelphia. in the 1990s. Fifty-eight percent said they disapproved of the strategy, compared to 38 percent who supported it.

Just over a third of respondents suggested that businesses could do a lot more. But more respondents believe that the homeless should do more to help themselves. Younger 18- to 35-year-olds and renters were more likely to want more help from state and federal governments than people 65 and older and homeowners.

The respondent Glena Felker, of Kirkland, stated that she felt a lot of compassion for the homeless. But she still sometimes sees people sitting by the side of the road for hours every day, asking for money. "If they could do the dishes for 8 or 10 hours a day, if they were physically fit, would that prevent them from asking for money? I do not know."

Yet, she admitted that she was facing financial uncertainties. At 62, she earns less now than in her twenties. "I have a lot of compassion for the people who are at this place," Felker said. "I do not think anyone wants to be here."

Moving forward

Despite respondents' desire for longer-term solutions and asking their governments to do more, the survey showed that 68 percent of Seattle residents surveyed did not believe that Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council could solve the problem.

Similarly, 70% of respondents living outside Seattle said they did not believe that the county executive, Dow Constantine, or the Metropolitan King County Council could solve the problem.

The Constantine office refused to comment without seeing the entire survey, which the Seattle Times refused to provide before it was released.

In an e-mail response, the Durkan spokesperson repeated a common point of discussion among local elected officials: Homelessness is a regional problem that requires a regional effort.

"Everyone – government, businesses, philanthropists, service providers, experienced people – will tackle the root causes and allow people to get out of the street and settle in permanent housing," he said. Hightower.

Overall, respondents agreed with it: 60% said that the treatment of the crisis should affect the entire region and not just Seattle, although this is the center of the county's homeless population.

This attitude could be good news for Seattle and King County. Durkan and Constantine also recently announced plans to start combining homelessness services, which are currently dispersed in six ministries.

Respondents' mistrust of the ability of elected officials to address homelessness may echo the Seattle City Council elections in November. Until now, three board members – Sally Bagshaw, Rob Johnson and Bruce Harrell – announced that they would not run again. The seven council seats representing the districts will be listed on the ballot.

Riley, from South Seattle, would like to see his elected officials give the example and encourage Seattle residents to more accept the homeless.

"I think tolerance is a bigger problem than just being out on the street," she said. People who have managed to find a job or apartment think that everyone should be able and willing to do the same. "I think the slope is very slippery because it implies that we are all the same and that we must make the same decisions for each other."