Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn called untreated mentally ill people on Seattle’s streets an emergency at a Monday news conference and called for increased funding for mental-health treatment beds.
McGinn said an effort to fund mental health services in the 2011 Legislature through repeal of an out-of-state sales tax exemption was defeated by business. The mayor called on the Seattle business community, which has been critical of his inaction on downtown crime, to help identify a funding source to support additional treatment beds.
“This is a longstanding issue for the city, the county and the state,” McGinn said, adding that he wanted people to feel safe downtown.
After the August shooting of a Metro bus driver by a man with mental-health and drug issues, McGinn said that violent crime downtown was down and criticized statistics in The Seattle Times showing that on four beats around Westlake Park, violent crime was relatively steady over the past five years with a notable spike in July.
Three days after the shooting, McGinn announced that he was directing an additional $400,000 for police-emphasis patrols through the end of the year, but that downtown was only one of several neighborhoods that would get the stepped-up enforcement.
McGinn said Monday that while mental-health funding is typically the responsibility of the state, the city could not wait for Olympia to act. He said that just as he’s taken action on gun control and transportation because the Legislature failed to address the problems, he would seek ways the city itself could add mental-health-treatment beds.
McGinn noted that mental-health treatment had been slashed by the Legislature over the past few years and that there were few available treatment beds even for those accused of misdemeanor crimes. He cited a letter he and Acting Police Chief Jim Pugel sent Gov. Jay Inslee in July that noted that since January, Western State hospital has refused to accept most of the individuals sent by Seattle Municipal Court for evaluation.
McGinn also called on the Seattle business community, which has been critical of his failure to add more police officers downtown, to identify a local funding source for mental-health treatment and support the city’s efforts. Press reports about the 2011 state effort to repeal the sales-tax exemption for out-of-state residents say that it was largely Clark County businesses who opposed the measure because neighboring Oregon has no sales tax.
Jon Scholes, vice president for the Downtown Seattle Association, said his group joined with others participating in the mayor’s Center City Initiative to call on legislative leaders to provide adequate housing funding and money to ensure that those who commit misdemeanor crimes get needed evaluation and treatment.
“We are in complete agreement that the state is failing the city on this issue,” Scholes said. “When they cut mental health and housing, there’s not a neighborhood in the state that feels it more than downtown Seattle.”
After the news conference, McGinn blasted his opponent in the mayoral race, state Sen. Ed Murray, for not doing more to pass funding measure for education, gun control and mental-health treatment.
“He won’t hold himself accountable for his own votes at the state level to fail to fund those things,” McGinn said.
Murray said state approval of the Affordable Health Care Act will mean that mental-health treatment will now be available to thousands who currently lack medical coverage. He said the Legislature also added additional funding for mental-health care and housing.
“This is a huge opportunity for the city to take advantage of grants and funding but the mayor doesn’t seem to know anything about them,” Murray said.
The King County Council in 2007 approved a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to fund mental illness and chemical-dependency treatment. In 2013, the tax will bring in an estimated $57.5 million. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly said voters approved the 2007 sales-tax measure.)