SEATTLE --There’s a new first for Seattle when it comes to tackling homelessness. Mayor Ed Murray just hired a homelessness czar. He admits the problem has gotten so bad that a cabinet-level director is necessary to tackle the issue full-time.
George Scarola started Wednesday , and will oversee all of the city’s homeless services and spending, which totals more than $50 million annually.
“We need to move beyond planning and talking and arguing to actually making a difference for people who are living in dangerous outside environments,” said Scarola, who has been a leader in affordable housing and education issues for several years. He’s a doer, but he has his work cut out for him in this new post.
Just look at the number of homeless sleeping on the streets on any given night. These are from King County, but most of these within Seattle:
- 2016: 4,505
- 2015: 3,772
- 2014: 3,123
- 2013: 2,736
- 2012: 2,594
Murray is trying all he can to reverse this trend. Just Tuesday, the city said it’s considering new homeless housing where residents will be allowed to continue using heroin. That’s a way of luring more people off the street.
And sometime next year Seattle will open an innovative homeless shelter that will allow pets, partners and storage space. Those are benefits that a typical shelter doesn’t provide, and it's probably another reason folks stay out on the street.