Is the privilege of the affluent of Seattle derived from the suffering of the homeless?

April 23, 2018 | John Burbank

Fourteen years ago, the City of Seattle, King County and several other philanthropic and corporate partners embarked upon a bold new approach to end homelessness among families with children. Administered by Building Changes, the Washington Youth and Families Fund aimed to make youth and family homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring in our state.

Yet just two and a half years ago, Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency over homelessness and promised to tackle this epic problem of inhumanity.

Anyone walking the streets of Seattle can tell you that homelessness in Seattle is worsening, not getting better. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released new data this week. In Seattle public schools, there were 4,280 homeless students during the 2016-2017 school year. One out of every 13 children in our public schools was homeless.

It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, in 2010, the depths of the Great Recession, 1,324 students were homeless – one out of 36 students. In 2011, one out of 26. In 2014, one out of 23. In 2015, one out of 18 students did not have a home to go to at the end of the day.

You can’t attribute this growth in homelessness to the recession. Instead, it correlates with the acceleration of income to the already affluent, which helps to bid up housing costs, making permanent housing out of reach for working-class people.

Indeed, Amazon has a lot to do with the growth of Seattle’s affluent and privileged. The share of total income in Seattle captured by households with income in excess of $200,000 grew by almost 50 percent between 2012 and 2015.

These households, which make up 9 percent of all households in Seattle, capture 47 percent of the total personal income in our city. Their average income exceeds half a million dollars.

Recently, David Buckel, a prominent New York City attorney in the fight for gay rights, immolated himself in protest. In his suicide note, he wrote, “Privilege was derived from the suffering of others.”

Is the privilege of the affluent of Seattle derived from the suffering of the homeless? The correlation is compelling and depressing. Yet the privileged pile on opposition to any taxation that would take away from their power.

Not every society is so callous. In Finland, the government provides homes for the homeless, lowering homelessness by 25 percent.

What the Finns have discovered (in addition to Angry Birds) is that when “people are given homes, homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction are comparable to a ‘treatment first’ approach. Even more impressive is that there are overall savings for government, as people’s use of emergency health services and the criminal justice system is lessened.”

We could do that. We have the income and assets in our city to provide homes for the homeless. We might even save money doing it.

We have to end the righteousness of the privileged which enables them to condemn homeless people, including homeless children. They relied on society to gain their wealth. It’s time for them to give back.

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Posted in An Inclusive Economy, Funding Public Services


  1. carol isaac says:

    ” In Seattle public schools, there were 4,280 homeless students during the 2016-2017 school year. One out of every 13 children in our public schools was homeless.”

    Doesn’t this show that the latest tallies of one night counts are off, and, perhaps, shows by how much?

    • derek taylor says:

      Good thought, but not sure that would work. I think the counts may be based on different criteria. The one night count (ONC) tallies people who are “literally homeless” (HUD definition = in shelter or place not meant for human habitation) or in transitional housing, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) count includes children only, and also from families who may be “couch surfing” (these families would not be included in the ONC). Furthermore, the one night count is a point in time count (one night each winter) and includes all family members and OSPI collects data on kids who receive McKinney-Vento Services during the school year. I’ve been trying to find a more accurate annual assessment for King County homelessness but haven’t had any luck. Not really sure anyone is doing that.

  2. NW Citizen says:

    Instead of “trickle down” these data show that wealth is gushing upward leaving more and more people behind. That is an immoral situation. Studies have shown that when societies are more equal, overall health measures improve for everyone rich and poor alike.

  3. WP Kelpfroth says:

    don’t doubt that homelessness correlates with the increase in the income of the affluent, but the case for causation is speculative. A better case can be made for homelessness and single family home zoning. see

  4. Tom M says:

    Hmm. So, you’ve just….decided….that the cause of increasing homelessness is some people making more money? I note a lack of proof and reasoning supporting that assertion.

    We can also correlate increased homelessness with:
    1) increased homelessness spending
    2) increased income level of the middle and lower class
    3) decreasing unemployment

    What do those correlations mean? It means there’s another factor that is causing the increase: less law enforcement and more enabling policies increasing entrance into homelessness and the addiction and mental health issues that it so often entails.

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