Last Wednesday’s conversation between Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and San Francisco counterpart Mayor Ed Lee started with a pun — “Two Eds think better than one.”
Puns aside, the conversation addressed a major issue currently affecting both cities.
Murray and Lee discussed the measures they have taken in their cities to fight homelessness at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium. In a packed venue where many participants shared their questions and concerns during a final Q&A session, the two mayors talked about the relationship between homelessness and the American criminal justice system, the need to see the homeless as people and the potential impact on the two sanctuary cities if President-elect Donald Trump cuts federal funding.
“You have to look at homelessness from a holistic point of view,” Lee said. “The status quo hasn’t worked. You’ve got to increase jobs. You’ve got to end discrimination. You’ve got to deal with drug abuse. And preventing homelessness is as complicated and important as it is to treat those that are homeless and as it is to sustain those who recently came out of homelessness.”
Two cities with similar homeless populations—2,942 and roughly 3,500 unsheltered people in Seattle and San Francisco, respectively, as of last January — both have applied some strong measures to fight the issue in recent years, including hiring new data vendors and declaring homelessness states of emergency.
Lee said philanthropy encouraged in the pulpits has helped his city deal with homelessness.
“Take the pulpit, guilt-trip those ones who do have means,” Lee said. “Go to your church and ask them what they do to help the mayor and homelessness. And guess what? It works. It works. I have several billionaires in the city who go to certain churches. And when they’re called upon in public, I have some phone calls back.”
Larry Hubbell, director of Seattle University’s Institute of Public Service, said he isn’t sure this strategy would be sustainable.
“We rely much more on the tax system than rich people to try to solve the problem,” said Hubbell, who moderated the Jan. 11 conversation. “They are doing something, at least, but I don’t think we should rely on rich people to solve this problem. There are more effective ways to deal with it, for example, through federal support, which is less likely now with [Trump’s] administration.”
What would happen in the event that Trump and Republicans decide to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities like Seattle and San Francisco remains to be seen, but Murray and Lee are trying to come up with potential solutions.
Murray proposed to double Seattle’s housing levy to support the construction of new affordable homes for low-income families at the beginning of 2016 and received 70-percent approval in August.
“We’re stepping up big time when it comes to funding homelessness services,” Murray said. “If the federal government fails to come forward and the state continues to be paralyzed, maybe we’ll have to go back to the voters again. We have competing needs in this city but, certainly, as I said last year, another funding proposal to the voters on homelessness is something that I would consider.”
Some attendants were unsatisfied with the mayors’ participation though.
Seattle U student Haleema Bharoocha, who lived in Santa Clara County in the past and grew up in the Bay Area, said she felt the mayors’ answers to the questions from the public were vague, that the two Eds overlooked some crucial issues related to homelessness.
“Mayor Lee never mentioned gentrification. He just went around to say, ‘Oh, we have lots of housing. People are moving in here. Maybe rent will level up by itself,’ but he never mentioned gentrification, which is a big issue with all the big corporations buying houses in San Francisco,” Bharoocha said.
The Seattle U student also criticized Murray and King County’s plan to construct a new youth jail.
“[Seattle] will spend $210 million in a failed system, which [Murray] said himself was a cause of homelessness,” Bharoocha said. “I don’t think incarcerating more youth will solve the problem. I was very disappointed at what they were saying.”