SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle and King County officials declared states of emergency over homelessness on Monday, backed by calls for millions of dollars for new prevention and outreach programs.
The city is grappling with a surging indigent population and rising housing costs amid a growth spurt fueled in part by retailer Amazon.com and other companies.
They also follow similar emergency moves by the mayors of Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon..
Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, or SHARE, which operates 15 indoor shelters and two tent cities in King County, criticized the declarations as empty and said the money would be better put toward expanding encampments and shelters, which provide immediate, relatively cheap shelter.
A One Night Count found 3,772 homeless men, women and children in King County, and more than 2,800 in Seattle - a 21 percent increase from the 2015 to 2014.
Sixty-six homeless people have died in King County, including 47 on the streets and in illegal encampments in Seattle, the data shows. There are nearly 3,000 homeless children attending Seattle public schools. Large numbers of homeless people camp in hidden or forested areas along roads and major highways.
“Seattle is facing an emergency as a result of the growing crisis in homelessness,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said, adding the city was shouldering a growing burden amid a decline in federal housing support and state funds.
Murray’s declaration asks the U.S. government for money for affordable housing, mental health and addiction services, as well as other help, such as removing the limit on Medicaid reimbursement to facilities with more than 16 beds.
Murray also presented a $5.3 million package to help cover the costs of moving people from shelters into stable housing, of collecting data on homelessness, dispatching a “mobile van” offering counseling and drug detox treatments, and add 100 shelter beds.
The City Council must approve the money. Murray asked that the council act within a week, an aide said. King County Executive Dow Constantine also signed an emergency proclamation and proposed $2 million in investments.
The plans are supported by aid group United Way.
“Seattle and King County are rich, but they still have to spend some of their money on the first step of the real solution – shelter tonight – instead of the fancy stuff that doesn’t help 1/10th of the people sleeping outside tonight,” SHARE said in a statement.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Ken Wills