Feature image: Gillfoto, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Jenny Durkan, the Mayor of Seattle and the face of neoliberalism, was ready to evict 130 high-need homeless people, currently housed in hotels, onto the streets for no discernable reason during a pandemic. While the program has since secured county funding until June, due to the a public outcry and the frantic efforts of other officials, homeless remains at crisis levels.
Following calls from the Public Defenders Association, homeless advocacy organizations, and downtown business associations, JustCARE was created. The program follows a “shelter-first” method to serve chronically homeless people with “wraparound” case management services. JustCare launched in October 2020 with funding provided by King County through January 2021. The program was extended through the end of March, after which funding was expected to dry up. (It appears the latest reprieve is a further extension of county funding.)
People being kicked out onto the street due to a program’s lack of funding is a tragedy. The cruelty is revealed, however, when we learn that the mayor’s office intentionally rejected federal money meant for exactly this sort of program.
The Trump administration, through FEMA, reimbursed jurisdictions 75 percent of the costs for programs to protect vulnerable populations from COVID, including shelter for the unhoused. The Biden administration has since upped reimbursement to 100 percent and made it retroactive to January of 2020.
Durkan’s office refused outright to apply for funds from FEMA, calling them “not guaranteed” and claiming the application requirements are “onerous.” Additionally, the mayor has floated specious rules around jurisdictional overlap between the city and King County. In 2019, the city of Seattle and King County established the King County Regional Homelessness Authority in order to develop a county-wide approach to housing; it is still in search of a director.
Deflection and excuses are nothing new to Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney who built her reputation breaking up the Occupy movement, was elected on the promise to build a thousand tiny homes in her first year. Three years into her term, only 73 have been built.
It is clear who Jenny Durkan serves. As mayor, she has fought against a progressive city council, stood with the police and their violent assaults against activists, and been all too friendly with businesses who are keen to sweep and “clean” Seattle of resistance to neoliberalism and her business allies.
Liberation News spoke with Seattle resident, Ada ‘Mud’ Yaeger, about the mayor and her hostile policies towards unsheltered Seattle residents. Mud is an organizer with the homeless advocacy group StreetLove and was a resident of CHOP and the Cal Anderson Park encampment. Yaeger was instrumental in delaying the sweep of Cal Anderson Park when she sued the city for a restraining order. Despite community pushback, ultimately the case was lost as the judge sided with capital and gave the green light for the city and police to forcefully disperse the community at Cal Anderson.
Yaeger said of Jenny Durkan, “Continuing the sweeps, not going for reimbursement, shows what their actual priorities are.”
Yaeger continued, “It’s a well-known fact, providing health care and housing is always cheaper than the alternative. There are more empty apartments in the city than there are homeless people. It’s not about serving people’s needs, it’s for serving business needs.”
The way to victory, to housing for all, is through struggle. Under pressure from all sides, even intransigent Durkan extended the eviction moratorium in Seattle, which was then followed by a statewide extension. After relentless pressure, King County has now funded JustCARE through September.
The housing crisis in Seattle and the rest of the country is a symptom of capitalism, where homes are built for profit and not shelter. While shelters are an emergency measure needed to save lives, they are but a bandaid being placed on a systemic disease. The real cure is socialism. The PSL Program reads: “The socialist government will provide decent housing for every person in the United States. No person will pay more than 10 percent of their income on housing costs. It will be illegal to generate private profit by renting or selling land. No person may suffer foreclosure or eviction.”