The boiled-over frustrations and jeers from the crowd that marked a pair of community meetings in January were noticeably absent on Wednesday night (April 20) at the Seattle Children’s Theatre.
Instead, an audience of about 100 people was asked to listen during the Neighborhood Safety Alliance’s (NSA) third public forum.
“The more we are experiencing the homeless issue and the RV [and] tent crisis issue, the more we’re realizing it can be a political issue,” said Cindy Pierce of NSA. “There’s always two sides to a story, and tonight, we wanted to hear a little bit about what our city is doing and a little bit from our state.”
The event was a notable departure from the group’s earlier meetings, which featured pointed comments from audience members and, at times, fractured into shouting matches between those in the crowd.
Instead, several concerned Seattle residents, each representing a different neighborhood, gave brief remarks. They voiced their frustrations on everything from mail theft and property crime, mostly from those in the city’s North End, to larger issues like gun violence.
Damon Benefield, who lives in Rainier Beach, moved to Seattle recently from Las Vegas and is originally from Los Angeles. However, he feels Seattle is the most dangerous of the three.
“I felt safer in the [Marine] Corps than I feel in Seattle,” he said. “That has to be fixed.”
However, the night was, as in previous meetings, dominated by discussions about how best to handle the city’s homelessness problem. And after hearing from the neighborhood speakers, a bevy of local officials took to the podium to respond to their concerns, while noting what work had been done since the last meeting.
‘Most challenging’ time
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the heroin epidemic has made the present the “most challenging” time in her policing career. However, she said while she believes her department has done a good job at responding quickly to the most urgent calls, she wants to improve the rate when it comes to lower-level incidents.
But the data isn’t the only focus for the chief.
“It’s not only the numbers we’re concerned about,” she said. “We want people to feel safe in their neighborhoods.”
Along with O’Toole and SPD Assistant Chief Steve Wilske, Human Services director Catherine Lester, All Home director Mark Putnam and Scott Lindsay of the Mayor’s Office also spoke.
Wilske said progress has been made in getting RVs to move either to safe lots or out of the area and that steps have been taken to address property crime, including limiting officer transfers out of patrol.
Republican State Sen. Mark Miloscia, of Federal Way, gave the keynote address of the evening, delivering strong words for Seattle and King County’s approach to homelessness.
Miloscia, who is currently campaigning to become state auditor, said permissive policies allow people to stay homeless, and he took issue with laws that allow homeless people to seek services anonymously.
He also wants to see Seattle working in tandem with other cities and counties to address the problem.
“If you want to work together with the rest of the state, you will succeed,” he said.
‘Need to do a better job’
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw was also on hand and told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News after the event that she appreciated the tenets of the NSA: that everyone should have access to shelter, mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
However, she said that local officials also have to improve in getting the word out about the work being done right now in looking at best practices and the changes already underway.
“I think we need to do a better job of packaging that information,” she said.
After the meeting, Miloscia told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News that he hoped those in attendance were motivated to keep advocating for change.
“I’m just an outsider,” he said. “They’re the ones that have to do that long-term fight to get change in their local government.”
He also reiterated the need for collaboration.
“Everybody talks about the Minnesota model, or the Arizona model or Utah model, [but] what’s going on in Benton-Franklin [County]?” Miloscia said. “What’s going on in Kittitas? Clallam? Clark? Find out there what’s working. They’re dealing with the same issues we’re dealing with here in King County. How are they dealing with it? And why are their numbers way over us?”
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