In cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, public health authorities are quickly discovering another potential tinderbox for infection: homeless encampments.
March 24, 2020
The coronavirus has changed almost every facet of American life. It has disrupted work routines, sent children home from school, and stress-tested the global supply chain. Medical researchers have warned for weeks that the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is particularly dangerous to seniors and those with underlying health conditions. But in West Coast cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, public authorities are quickly discovering another potential tinderbox for infection: homeless encampments. This has caused significant political discomfort. Three weeks ago, when Seattle radio host Jason Rantz warned about the potential for an outbreak within homeless encampments, progressive activists slammed him as a “fascist” hoping to set up …
The progressive narrative on homelessness has always been wrong—and new data undermine it further.
March 10, 2020
In recent years, discussion about homelessness has been circumscribed around a set of premises acceptable to progressive opinion. The homeless were thrown onto the streets, we’re told, because of rising rents, heartless landlords, and a lack of economic opportunity. Activists, journalists, and political leaders have perpetuated this line of reasoning and, following it to its conclusion, have proposed investing billions in subsidized housing to solve homelessness. But new data are undermining this narrative. As residents of West Coast cities witness the disorder associated with homeless encampments, they have found it harder to accept the progressive consensus—especially in the context of the coronavirus epidemic, which has all Americans worried about contagion. An emerging body of …
The homelessness crisis in America’s West Coast cities is beginning to draw national attention. There are now an estimated 166,752 people on the streets in California, Oregon, and Washington, and sensational stories of human despair and the return of medieval diseases have captured the public imagination. Even President Donald Trump has tweeted about the “very bad and dangerous conditions” in San Francisco and warned that leaders must take action “to clean up these hazardous waste and homeless sites before the whole city rots away.” There has been remarkably little clarity, however, on the key question: What’s really driving the homelessness crisis in West Coast cities? For the past decade, progressive political …
Los Angeles’s addiction epidemic is creating a permanent underclass, cut off from the rest of the city.
February 15, 2020
They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, but it seems that even here, within the five-by-ten-block area of Skid Row, the city contains an entire cosmology — angels and demons, sinners and saints, plagues and treatments. Walking down San Pedro Street to the heart of Skid Row, I see men smoking methamphetamine in the open air and women selling bootleg cigarettes on top of cardboard boxes. Around the corner, a man makes a drug transaction from the window of a silver sedan, a woman in an American-flag bandana flashes her vagina to onlookers, and a shirtless man in a bleached-blond woman’s wig defecates behind a parked police car. Slumped across the entryway of an old garment business, a shoeless, middle-aged junkie injects heroin into his cracked, bare feet. Skid Row is the …
A dangerous new idea is inspiring some criminal-justice activists.
December 26, 2019
The latest call to action from some criminal-justice activists: “Abolish the police.” From the streets of Chicago to the city council of Seattle, and in the pages of academic journals ranging from the Cardozo Law Review to the Harvard Law Review and of mainstream publications from the Boston Review to Rolling Stone, advocates and activists are building a case not just to reform policing — viewed as an oppressive, violent, and racist institution — but to do away with it altogether. When I first heard this slogan, I assumed that it was a figure of speech, used to legitimize more expansive criminal-justice reform. But after reading the academic and activist literature, I realized that “abolish the police” is a concrete policy goal. …
In Seattle, municipal employees increasingly see identity politics and fighting “oppression” as part of their jobs.
December 19, 2019
Homelessness in Seattle has reached a crisis point. Despite more than $1 billion in public and private spending across King County, more people live on the streets than ever before (a problem that will likely get worse, following the Supreme Court’s refusal to address the legality of public camping). But rather than focus on the causes of homelessness — addiction, mental illness, and social breakdown — progressives in local government have waged war against abstract forces of oppression. Last week, the leaders of the homelessness response in Seattle and King County hosted their annual conference under the theme of “Decolonizing Our Collective Work.” According to the organizers, the government’s primary responsibility in reducing homelessness …
America’s big cities are, without exception, politically blue cities, with a new class of progressive politicians doing real damage to public order. When it comes to urban development, however, the blue monolith breaks down: socialists, city planners, cyclists, environmentalists, pragmatists, and social-justice activists are often at odds with one another. They might all support more housing, more density, and more public transportation, but they disagree sharply on the means for getting there. In recent years, a new faction has emerged in city politics: what one might call the new Left urbanists. These activists believe that local governments must rebuild the urban environment — housing, transit, roads, and tolls — to produce a new era of city flourishing, characterized by …
In Seattle, people are losing patience with city leadership over the homelessness crisis, but the frustration is running in both directions: the city’s political, cultural, and academic elites are conducting their own revolt—against the people.
For the past five years, like many of its West Coast counterparts, Seattle has endured a steady expansion of homelessness, addiction, mental illness, crime, and street disorder. Something is terribly wrong in the Emerald City.
Washington State legislators might soon legalize homeless encampments on streets, sidewalks, and parks.
March 11, 2019
The Washington legislature is one step closer to legalizing homeless encampments statewide. Last week, Democratic lawmakers passed through committee legislation, introduced by Representative Mia Gregerson, that would usurp the authority of city governments and legalize camping in all “plazas, courtyards, parking lots, sidewalks, public transportation facilities, public buildings, shopping centers, parks, natural and wildlife areas” throughout the state. If passed, the bill, inspired in part by the work of Seattle University professor Sara Rankin, who claims to “advance the civil, constitutional, and human rights of visibly poor people” through “the repeal of laws that criminalize homelessness and poverty,” would represent the most significant extension of “survival …
Seattle’s suburbs eagerly accept Microsoft’s $500 million investment for affordable housing—but Seattle itself is not interested.
January 21, 2019
Microsoft recently announced an unprecedented three-year, $500 million investment to spur housing development across the Puget Sound region. Since 2011, strong economic growth in the Seattle metro area has boosted overall jobs by 21 percent, but the housing stock has expanded only 13 percent, leading to a massive increase in rental and home prices. It’s a problem reaching crisis levels in all West Coast tech cities. Microsoft plans to devote half the investment—$250 million—to pay for market-rate loans to support low-income housing. Another $225 million will go to preservation and construction of middle-income housing in the cities surrounding the company’s Redmond campus, and $25 million will go toward addressing homelessness. Overall, Microsoft hopes to leverage these funds …