A coalition of downtown Seattle business leaders and social service providers asked the state Legislature today to provide funding for housing and health services for the poor to address problems of chronic disorder and public safety on downtown streets.
The coalition called on the Legislature to implement the Affordable Care Act with full Medicaid expansion, preserve funding for mental-health and substance-abuse treatment programs and invest $175 million over the next two years in the Housing Trust Fund to increase affordable housing.
“The lingering effects of the economic recession have compounded with recent cuts in funding for treatment services, resulting in severe challenges in our downtown core and in many other cities across our state. Without stable housing and medical care, we have seen too many people become a danger to themselves and a threat to public safety,” said a letter sent to the Legislature by Mayor Mike McGinn and members of a group working on a Center City initiative to address street crime and vagrancy.
The request for better funding for social services and health care comes as the Legislature grapples with a $975 million budget shortfall and a state Supreme Court case mandating improved funding for education.
At a morning news conference in Westlake Park, Jim Miller, executive director of the Millionaire Club Charity, said increasing street disorder downtown over the past several years has “significantly impacted the quality of life.” The problems have been compounded by budget cuts to the Seattle Police Department and increases in open air drug dealing and homelessness.
Miller said the services that would help many of these people generally aren’t available to the poor.
Lisa Daugaard, assistant director of The Defender Association, said police shouldn’t be asked to make up for the absence of health care and drug and alcohol treatment. She said the Legislature will be making critical regulatory choices regarding the federal Affordable Care Act that will define the scope of drug, alcohol and mental health treatment services.
“It’s important that these services be accessible to the population that needs them most,” Daugaard said.
Other members of the coalition include the Downtown Seattle Association, Visit Seattle, the Seattle Hotel Association, Real Change newspaper and the Plymouth Housing Group among others.