Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Interesting piece/maps about homelessness from the Seattle Times

In response to a reader's question about how does the number of homeless in Seattle/King County compare to other places, the Seattle Times looked more deeply into the question, ("Is Seattle’s homeless crisis the worst in the country?") comparing their community to others at different scales. Interestingly, DC in one of the rankings comes out as the #1 place for homelessness, as having the greatest number of homeless measured as a rate per 10,000 residents.

Observationally, I've always felt that homelessness is "worse" out west, but maybe that's because it is more visible, because more people "sleep outside" and not within shelters, in large part because of the weather.

One of the maps makes the point that the top 10 locations of cities where the homeless sleep outside are all out west--not even Florida makes the cut.

While out this morning to grocery shop (since I had access to a car), I saw a couple people panhandling, which surprised me since these are neighborhood areas, not central business districts.

Similarly, there was a "brazen" burglary of a neighborhood 7-11 a couple days ago, where people drove a truck into the building and stole the ATM.

Generally, these kinds of acts are a measure of desperation and tend to increase as times get rougher (e.g., back in the 1990s when people were breaking into/stealing parking meters--"Remembering the District's great parking meter massacre," Washington Post).

Separately, as Orange County, California removes homeless encampments, advocates there are trying to organize opposition to the action ("Advocates launch last ditch effort to change public opinion about river bed homeless encampments," Orange County Register).

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At 12:12 PM, Anonymous JHeyward said...

Great article to bring attention to this issue. This is sad but not surprising. As new construction has increased in the DC area so has the number of people being pushed out of their homes.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having visited Seattle, the homeless problem there appears more drug related, whiter, and younger.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, the homeless problem I've seen in San Diego, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City is similar, younger and white definitely, drug problems likely, mental health issues probably.

Granted, in SLC and San Diego I happened to be in the areas where multiple homeless shelters were located, but I was really shocked at the numbers, the line ups so to speak, etc.

It's nothing like that here.

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Charlie said...

DC is #1 per capita because it acts a regional dump for the entire metro area.

DC IS admitting family homless use is down hard. they don’t want to admit it demographics; ie the parents now are born after 2000 and there is just a large drop off in young child bearing females.

they are admitting problems in senior housing and in street persons....

I’m not sure the 7-11 atm buruglary is really desperation.

Come down to to the west end, the homeless problem is the worst I’ve seen in years. You’ll notice a lot of white people in the camps — they do no want to go into the shelters.

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I was there Sunday, but only to look at the new library. I was "shocked" to see a tent in a small reservation, and tents along a walkway crossing K St.

It's not that such tents are new to me, they are a big issue around Union Station, especially the L St. underpass (although the underpass is now fenced off for the creation of an architectural lighting installation there).

If you ride the MBT in the section between M and L, it's been a constant for years.

But yes, this is why I write about the homeless issue, but why I aver that it's more complex than people think, not merely a lack of housing -- excepting the massive need for SRO housing.

But not wanting to go into shelters doesn't mean that the city isn't trying to deal with the problem.

.. very good point about why DC numbers are higher than they should be relative to the city's size.

Didn't know about the drop off in family homeless demand.

... for you,

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah I go by there daily. they've moved as far as 19th.

Kristy Greenwald, who is the interagency chair, is admitting they've been caught a bit by the decline in family and increase in street/campers in terms of the inventory available.

I have no doubt part of it is other states (beyond MD and VA) bussing people into DC. You'll notice much more drug users and white people than you usually see with DC area homeless users.

Again, the mayor wants DC general closed this year, which is a sign of the reduced use of family shelters, increased money in rapid rehousing, and the need for 68 acres to appeal to amazon. Not that I think it will....

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

That Guardian article about cities busing people to other communities was really damning.

To really know here, we'd have to do a good set of qualitative interviews.

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DC government has been talking about homelessness for decades, and the only thing that changes are the numbers, the visibility and the locations.
When DC booted out the tent cities over in Foggy Bottom last year and fenced
them in, the campers then moved east to the string of pocket parks along Virginia Avenue between 20th and 23rd.
The City did a clean up of this new camp (part of which had been a homeless spot when I moved to the neighborhhod in 1980!) in October, and they were back in less than 24 hours.
While I agree with Charlie that DC has become a dumping ground for homeless, until all governments realize that homelessness is a symptom of a much larger issue, we'll continue doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. Yes, homelessness is a function of poverty, which should be considered a national responsibility, rather than it being saddled on jurisdictions, center cities mostly, that have a few more resources and usually more compassion.

I used to say that DC provided a quality of life subsidy to the suburbs, because of our disproportionate dealing with the homeless and poverty more generally vis a vis the rest of the metropolitan area.

While poverty is increasing in the suburbs, probably the deepest poverty is still in the center city.

2. But at least one response I suggest, a massive campaign to expand SRO housing, would not be "continuing to do the same thing over and over."

It would be a big change. It's subtly different than the homeless housing initiatives that have been pushed for awhile, but pretty similar.

E.g., DC probably has about 700 units of SRO housing. It probably needs 3,000 - 5,000 units.

wrt "doing the same thing over and over," the problem is as I say "homelessness is a river, not a lake" in other words it constantly replenishes, it isn't a fixed and shrinking pool.

The flow increases with economic vicissitudes, competition for housing, health issues, family breakdown, etc.

and yes, close to the core areas like West End bear a disproportionate burden.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm always open to the idea of something to alleviate (more SRO) perceived suffering, I don't agree that poverty is the root cause of homelessness. IMHO it is yet another symptom--concomitant with homelessness--of the effect of the industrialization of society.
As we naively enter the post-industrial age, it's bound to get worse.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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