You may have read this in The Stranger, but in case you haven’t, I wanted you to see a letter that Councilmember Harrell and I wrote. Thanks for reading — Sally
Imagine you have lost your job, your home, maybe your marriage or long term relationship. You now find yourself alone and homeless in Seattle. Imagine further that you have landed downtown and are trying to regain your footing. You need housing and work. You’ve found emergency shelter at City Hall that keeps you dry at night, but you and those with whom you share hard mats on the cold floor are back on the street at 7:00 a.m.
You line up for food at various locations including Union Gospel Mission or under the freeway at Operation Sack Lunch. Your mood is flat but things are looking up. You have recently had a shower — possibly at the Urban Rest Stop or YWCA’s Angelines. And this morning you have a job interview thanks to Downtown Emergency Services Center’s Connections employment program. You have cleaned up as much you can, yet you face one more hurdle: what to do with the few remaining belongings you have. You know if you leave your stuff unlocked or unattended it won’t be there when you return.
So you drag your possessions with you to your interview, on your back, in bags, whatever you have, stigmatizing you for sure as homeless. What can help you at this point? A locker.
Portland, Santa Monica, New York City and Lisbon among many other cities, have helped people improve their lives by providing lockers downtown and in other neighborhoods. It’s not a new concept, but it is both workable and vital. Not just for those who are hauling their belongings, but also for businesses, residents, and visitors who would like to visit clean parks and sidewalks. Seattle needs this too and that’s why we are exploring a system of lockers city wide.
Here are some small steps we can take toward restoring a sense of dignity and safety in Seattle:
- Like Lisbon, provide freestanding lockers outside. Those who get the lockers must maintain regular contact with their case manager, keep the locker area clean, and agree not to store illegal substances or weapons.
- Like Berkeley, negotiate with a private storage company to make lockers available at fair prices. Locker users must be in regular contact with a case manager and have a plan to get off the street.
- Like Madison, contract with human service providers to add lockers or protected storage areas where they offer showers or food.
- Like Sacramento, work with local churches and shop classes to build simple wooden lockers available across the city.
Will we face opposition? Of course. Some will complain about public costs. Or fear terrorists. Or worry about the burden of watching someone else’s stuff. Some of these concerns are real, yet other cities have found ways to deal with the worries while providing something substantial that helps. So can we.
Over the next 100 days, we will investigate what has worked in other cities. We will investigate costs and solutions. We will work with the Mayor and our other partners to set a goal of adding 100 lockers in our city this year. We will write more about steps we can take as a city and region to become healthier, safer, and more welcoming for all. Some proposals will require long-term regional strategies to address both temporary shelter and moving more people toward permanent housing. Other proposals will help us obtain more funding from the Washington State or the federal government to address mental illness and dependency issues.
Yet more proposals will require a regional approach to add more supportive housing in all 39 cities in King County. Other cities must step up to help us care for those among us who need help. Seattle taxpayers should not be expected to carry more than our fair share. We will advocate for broad based police training in “harm reduction” strategies; and of course we will support King County Metro to add more transit countywide. There’s a long list.
We will also write about more actions that can be both meaningful and relatively quick. Working with the City Council, Mayor, King County Executive, non-profits, human service providers, labor, businesses, volunteers, and more, we can try many of these approaches, learning lessons from other cities and modifying as we go along.
Providing lockers is admittedly but one small tool to make our city a safer and more welcoming place. We are ready to get going so we can all get ahead. We welcome you on this journey.
–Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell