Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

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

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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