Recap: Responding to Homelessness in Bellevue
The December BDA Breakfast program centered on the issue of homelessness in Bellevue. Diving into the subject were five panelists from leading organizations tackling this challenge on the frontlines. The fact-filled forum explored data, myths vs reality, trends, and solutions. With more than 150 people in attendance, the community came out in full force to learn about this issue and how Bellevue is responding.
Jennifer Fischer, Executive Director at Bellevue LifeSpring, moderated the event with thoughtful questions and data-packed antidotes. In her opening statement, she stressed the importance of evidence. It was a recurring theme throughout the discussion as panelists debunked myths and informed the audience about the realities regarding homelessness in Bellevue.
The panel began by sharing their experiences that led to a life of service and the importance of compassion and partnership. As Bowling put it, “It’s not what we don’t have, it’s what we can give.” They then shared their statistics. The numbers painted a clear picture that it’s not just Seattle with a homeless issue. Bellevue and the Eastside are experiencing it too.
Bellevue Homelessness by the Numbers
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Key factors causing homelessness include disability and mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and anxiety and dementia. These are considered common assumptions, but what’s not clear are the changing trends and rationale behind the increase in homelessness. Murray noted an alarming jump of 32% to 68% of her clients suffer from psychosis-type illnesses. Both Buckmaster and Bowling confirmed that statement, explaining that over the past two decades funding cuts for treating metal illness has created fewer services. Due to the lack of services, schools and shelters have had to fulfill those needs, straining existing resources to support core purposes. But, these services are necessary as Buckmaster explained, “Students cannot learn if they’re sleep deprived, hungry, or suffering from emotional distress.”
26 of 28 Bellevue schools have homeless students
Ever-increasing housing costs are contributing to the rise in homelessness. Thomas explained the region’s housing market has reached a point where “affordable housing” isn’t very affordable and capacity is unable to meet the demand. Bowling added that a $100 increase in rent correlates to a 10-15% increase in homelessness.
Chief Mylett provided a public safety perspective, debunking the myth that homeless people are more inclined toward criminal activity than someone housed. He explained that there’s a criminal stigma associated with homelessness, and while some homeless people commit crimes, they’re a small fraction of the reported cases. The Bellevue Police Department will add an Outreach Coordinator in 2019 tasked to serve the homeless population as a community resource.
More on stereotypes, Murray noted that, “Shelters are not a destination, but a pathway to housing.” The panelists shared the goal of supporting people back into steady employment and permanent housing, while avoiding re-traumatization. Buckmaster added, “homelessness knows no boundaries;” explaining that the definition of homelessness also includes multiple families sharing an apartment, car camping, or couch surfing.
“Shelters are not a destination, but a pathway to housing.” - Angela Murray
“Community” and “partnership” were common themes when the panelists discussed solutions. Across the board, the panel agreed that it will take a united public/private/non-profit effort to tackle the rise in homelessness. The audience was encouraged to learn more about these leading organizations and how they can contribute or partner.
The rise of homelessness in Bellevue is a reality, and it can happen to anyone. As Fischer said, “Think about the children you’ve raised; that homeless person is someone’s daughter, that’s someone’s son.” Most people facing homelessness never imagined it could happen to them. Some people are born into it, some because of difficult decisions, and some from bad luck. Whatever the situation, there’s a growing challenge and a clear call to action.
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