Discussions regarding Seattle’s homelessness crisis have been in full force since Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared the issue a state of emergency last month. Tonight, Murray will speak on the Seattle University campus at an event hosted by the Student Government of Seattle University (SGSU) and the Associated Students of the University of Washington.
“A State of Emergency: Homelessness in Seattle” is open to all members of the Seattle U and UW communities. The purpose of the event, according to SGSU Civic Engagement Director Tyler Saito, is to educate the students, faculty and staff of Seattle U and UW on the issue of homelessness and the steps the city is taking to end the problem.
“We’re hoping to call our campus to action,” Saito said. “This is a big issue and it impacts all of us, so our hope is that the students recognize that.”
Murray will not be the only speaker at the event. Joining him are Director of the City of Seattle Human Services Department Catherine Lester, Founding Director of Real Change Timothy Harris and nonprofit leader Rex Hohlbein. Two individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness will also be onstage to participate in the discussion.
This event is part of a new partnership between SGSU and the Associated Students of UW; the two groups began working together at the beginning of this school year. Saito said that the issue of homelessness rose on their agenda when Murray declared the state of emergency.
“We really wanted to begin engaging the student voice in different issues impacting Seattle,” Saito said. “As students we have the ability to actually take a stand and push our legislature to get this back on the national agenda.”
Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared the state of emergency on Nov. 2. The declaration—similar to what Mayor Murray would announce after a natural disaster—will allow Seattle more administrative authority and flexibility in offering resources to the city’s homeless population.
“We are basically saying what we would say after an earthquake,” Murray said at a news conference on Nov. 2. “More people now have died in the city than in some natural disasters.”
The city will make a one-time allocation of $5 million dollars in addition to the $40 million Seattle spends annually to combat homelessness. Murray said he hopes that this will do more to alleviate the issue than the measures taken earlier this year, such as the legislation passed to sanction three new encampments on city land.
According to Murray, the state of emergency will come to an end only when there is a significant reduction both in the number of deaths of homeless people and the number of school-age homeless children in Seattle.
Sophomore Braden Wild, a member of SGSU, said he is looking forward to learning what students can do to help combat the issue of homelessness.
“We live on an urban campus and we interact with the homeless people of Seattle every day,” Wild said. “This event is important for college students because it impacts our everyday lives. We should be aware of those less fortunate around us, what kinds of impacts we can have and how we can help them.”
Wild, who moved to Seattle from Colorado to attend Seattle U, said he was surprised at the number of homeless people downtown and in Capitol Hill.
“There’s more homelessness than you’d expect, it’s a dirtier city with more trash and litter than you’d expect, and this is something people don’t picture with the idea of the ‘Emerald City,’” Wild said. “[Homelessness] is the sad and often ignored part of the progress of Seattle.”
The discussion will be followed by a reception, where audience members can talk with the speakers in a more intimate way than they would be able to through a formal Q-and-A session.
Saito said SGSU and the Associated Students of UW plan to continue addressing this issue with more projects in the future.
“We’re hoping this will launch our homelessness initiative, and put our voice back into the public sphere,” Saito said.
The event will take place tonight, Wed. Dec. 2, from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Seattle U Campion Ballroom. All members of the Seattle U community are invited to attend. The event is free, but you must register for a ticket online at eventbrite.com.
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