Letter to the editor: There have always been homeless people in Edmonds


Regarding the recent article about homelessness in Edmonds, I know that lady who was sleeping on the bench for months. My parents live a few blocks away from the Edmonds Station of the Interurban Trail. My friend Robert Gariepy and I would take her food occasionally and cold drinks on hot days. I’m glad that the city finally was able to find a safe option that worked for her. We were worried about her, she used to huddle on the hard metal bench at night with carts around her to try to give her some privacy and protection while she was sleeping. It must be terrifying for an older woman to be sleeping outside alone on the streets.

I don’t know why people in Edmonds are acting like homelessness is a “new” problem. There have always been homeless people here, you’re just seeing them now. For example, Bob used to car camp in his white van on the corner down my street off Highway 99. Literally, for years. He was a great guy, he would keep an eye out for my dad, who has dementia, and would shovel the sidewalks when it snowed. My parents and other families with houses nearby used to take Bob hot food all the time.

I don’t know why it is so difficult for the city or the county to simply pay landlords to house homeless children and their families, as well as homeless senior citizens, once they have been vetted for housing programs.  Section 8 has an eight- to 10- year backlog. The cities need to stop expecting state government to solve the homelessness crisis, it’s not going to happen.

Unhoused people experiencing substance abuse and mental health issues can be given long-term motel vouchers with appropriate security on the property, just like was done during the pandemic. This isn’t rocket science.

Jenna Nand

  1. I’d say go for it. Simply. Quit your day job. Because it takes time and energy to manage. Go out and mortgage a whole bunch of properties. Rent out the properties to people with substance abuse or mental health problems. What could go possibly wrong?

    1. Brian, your comment is pretty funny to me because my parents have multiple investment properties that I manage for them. We have had many Section 8 tenants over the years, we have a Section 8 tenant right now, a single mom with multiple school-aged children.

      I didn’t even have to quit my day job!

  2. Homelessness will never go away by being ignored.
    No problem is ever solved by pretending it doesn’t exist.
    The other extreme is to take Brian Drechsler’s advice.
    I’ll assume his suggestion was facetious.

    The solution will be to find a mixed, balanced, and flexible approach that effectively minimizes the scope and scale of the problem, gets meaningful help to those that will truly benefit from it, is cost effective in delivering help, and is done in a compassionate way.

    Ignoring problems or throwing money at them never work.
    We start by increasing awareness of the problem and by being mindful of our inherent biases.
    Either extreme comes with unintended consequences.

    Let’s work the problem.

  3. John there was nothing facetious about my advice. Just as I would assume that if you don’t want to personally dedicate your own time and money it that you are not sincere. Everyone wants to be a compassionate good person. Some virtuous in this community are especially compassionate when it comes to using other people’s time and resources. Nobody’s ignoring the problem of homelessness. Not accepting your personal responsibility is an inherent bias and not working the problem.

    1. Well, Brian, as I mentioned above, my parents have had multiple Section 8 tenants over the years. I would have to check with my mother, but I believe that every single Section 8 tenant my parents have rented to has been a single mother with young children.

      So if you are angry at anyone for not accepting “personal responsibility,” instead of criticizing defenseless children and single mothers living in poverty, try being angry at the deadbeat dads who are not providing for their children and the mothers of their children.

      Parenting is hard, it’s expensive, it requires a lot of personal sacrifice, too many people in our society seem to think that parenting is “optional.”

      1. Thanks Jenna for your response. I hear you about single parents and personal sacrifice. I raised three daughters as a single father who supported his children. One thing I’ve taught my daughters is to never get impregnated by a irresponsible man and take responsibility for that choice. Irresponsibility is gender-neutral.

        1. Hi Brian,

          Kudos for you for raising your daughters in what sounds like a stable and loving environment and teaching them to make good life choices. Single parenting is incredibly hard and you have my upmost respect. You are correct, irresponsibility is definitely gender-neutral.

          I had the privilege of being raised in a stable household with parents who taught me traditional values from their culture, including not drinking, not doing drugs, and not engaging in casual sex. Not everyone is privileged enough to be raised in an environment like that, especially these days.

          Studies about childhood development have found that the earlier society can intervene for children being raised in unstable and unsafe environments, the better the outcomes for their mental and physical health and future ability to finish school, find gainful employment, and function like normal adults.

          The smartest way to ensure the social safety net for vulnerable children is to fund programs like universal pre-K. I hope that all of us, whether have children or not, see the value in investing in ALL of the children in our society, not just the children of privilege.

      2. What exactly is “Section 8 Housing”?
        Do people offering Section 8 Housing rent their property for less? Do they get less income from their “investment property”?
        It is my understanding that “Developers and Investors” provide housing that is subsidized by the government. Most Section 8 housing voucher recipients pay an average of 40-50% of the rent rate charged by the developer/investor, while the government pays the remaining 50-60% directly to the developer/investor, each and every month, on time. Section 8 housing has been excluded by the “rent moratorium” put in place during Covid by the Governor. (Supreme Court recently overruled)

        While those not offering Section 8 Housing, if they are a developer/investor, were affected quite a lot during the Rent Moratorium, with no recourse for paying their mortgages since they were left to foot the bills without receiving their rental income during the moratorium.

        It seems that there will be many more developers/investors getting “compassionate/big hearts” in the future and offering Section 8 Housing as it is guaranteed payment from government/taxpayers and they will be exempt from any future “Rent Moratoriums”.

        There is definitely a need for Section 8 Housing, but I do find dubious the claims of those offering this housing to be more compassionate in doing so when they are not only getting their going rental rate, but it is guaranteed and cannot be put on a moratorium. It is a win-win once you do the paperwork/approval from the government.

    2. I agree Brian. Thank you for clarifying your comments.
      My wife and I are actively supporting a couple families, and I’m working the problem from the local city government side. It’s hard getting traction there until the city residents make it a priority. That said, I will continue to push and do what I can.

  4. I find it more than a little ironic that we just spent trillions of dollars and the lives and health of hundreds of our young people in a failed effort to build a free and democratic society in a foreign country and we refuse to spend thousands of dollars to help floundering people in our own country.

    We expect our overworked police forces to run the homeless out of our parks and public spaces but provide them nowhere to take them but jail or another jurisdiction that is trying to address the problem in some more meaningful way. When the police take the homeless to jail for related criminal issues, the courts release them immediately back on the streets in a vicious cycle that never ends.

    This has been the norm in Seattle and King County for years and it just appears to be beginning in our little piece of paradise of Edmonds. Real solutions will cost lots of money and so far no one is willing or able to pay for them. We are off saving the world; throwing away lives and money; while we slowly rot out from within. Shades of the Roman Empire. It’s time to wake up and try something different for awhile.

    1. I agree, Clinton, the way that homeless people in Seattle and King County have been treated for decades is shameful. I think we can do better in Edmonds.

  5. Besides disparaging others, what are you doing Brian Drechsler to combat this issue, besides what I just specified. Do tell Brian, do tell.

  6. I spent years advocating for the homeless and doing religious affiliated charity work and the problem just seemed to grow like a cancer with no end in sight. I finally decided enough; and chose to start helping people I know personally with the old idea that charity begins at home. At least I now know for sure I’m not supporting bad lifestyles and rewarding bad decisions. I got tired of lugging food into so many homes where obvious couch surfing useless males were eating the food the mother and kids in the home needed for themselves. Mostly because the overburdened single mother was lonely and needed some sort of companionship. Irresponsible and self centered males create most of the problems in all societies, I think, and ours is no exception. Women and children are their victims and we all tend to condone it. Shame on us.

    1. It takes a lot of work and money to disrupt an intergenerational cycle of poverty. There often just is not the political will to invest in people that our society views as “worth less” than people of privilege. Again, I hope that we can do something different and do better for everyone in Edmonds.

  7. Thank you Jenna for your dedication and letter. Homelessness is a very difficult issue, and certainly not one with an easy answer. There are lessons both good and bad from nearby cities, and really one of the hardest things is breaking down the ideological roadblocks to have a serious discussion on the merits of what works and what does not.

    The 2019 Kone report on homelessness in Edmonds that found that there were an estimated 230 homeless in the city. Interviews from the report showed that the primary reason that was identified for being homeless was family emergencies.

    The recent article in MyEN highlighted cities like Everett that have made positive progress. While cities like Seattle have overall made seriously negative progress on the issues (despite spending considerably more power capita on the issue).

    After years of murders, assaults, and rapes, the encampment near the King County Courthouse was recently cleared out (for now) at a reported cost of $15 million for the 70 people living there. While most homeless are not violent, the policies in Seattle have promoted violence at encampments to the danger of everyone.

    We should focus on those people who need help with a small gap between housing, and who can relatively easily provide for themselves once they are back on their feet. They want to be working, and have money for a house and living expenses. There is a real opportunity to benefit our society if we can help get these types of homeless people back to being productive members of society.

    For the people who are chronically abusing drugs, and stealing to support it; the quicker we can get them into mandatory state supported rehab or jail, the quicker they can get the help they need.

    Housing support is probably the most important thing or community needs to positively address this issue. Groups like the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) have made some productive advancements in this area. Overall I think that our city is making some positive steps in that regard, although I think that blanket up zoning would be counterproductive.

    1. Thank you, Evan Nelson, I agree with some of your sentiments. However, I must disagree with your policy prescription, based on my years of volunteering and doing pro bono work with unhoused populations in King and Snohomish counties.

      “Mandatory” rehab or jailing people living in poverty simply to sweep the homeless off our streets would be incredibly cruel and violent violations of human rights and dignity. Really, not dissimilar from what the Communist Party in China is doing by attempting to “re-educate” its Muslim Uighur population, whom they have identified as “undesirables” and a threat to their public order and safety.

      I do not believe that housing for the homeless should be compulsory or should be used as another form of incarceration to sweep homeless people out of public spaces, as well as out of public sight and public consciousness. I vehemently oppose that idea.

      Recovery from substance abuse is an extremely difficult process and some people do not survive. Rehabilitation from substance abuse must always be carried out with the upmost compassion and respect, and the patient must always feel safe when interacting with drug counselors and other healthcare providers. That would be impossible under your recommended solution. In fact, it might be a violation of the Hippocratic oath for any healthcare providers involved.

      Homeless people are human beings. They are men, women, and children, with various and unique stories, just like anyone else. Some of them are fleeing domestic violence. Some of them have been priced out of housing due to unchecked gentrification in our area. Some of them have endured childhood physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse that drove them to start drinking, doing drugs, or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors to dull the pain when they did not have access to adequate support and healthcare.

      Please, when speaking about the homeless, always remember that you were speaking about human beings, elderly people, children, people who have endured horrific trauma in their lives that broke them. People who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, just like anyone else.

      1. I grew up very poor in rural Maine. My neighbor rented out an [nice] ice shanty (for cigarettes) in the summer. There really weren’t any homeless people. This phenomenon is mostly a city-thing. So… instead of offering help to people in the middle of a city, why not offer help to people in areas where housing is affordable, jobs exists, and where there’s fewer panhandling opportunities? These are people and people have value. The solution Seattle has is the same solution that old ladies have with stray cats that she feeds. Seattle is drawing people into a people-trap. People need dignity, and the free stuff is every bit as addictive as drugs. Free-things are like velvet handcuffs to people who mostly have a different lifestyle.

      2. Thank you for the response Jenna. Homelessness is a difficult issue, and certainly not something that can ever be fully solved, but there are cities and places that have made positive moves to help, and ones that have not.

        The hard thing is that some of the places that have spent some of the most money have sometimes made problems worse instead of better. Even though those policies were well intentioned, they were not compassionate. They ensured that unnecessary suffering and even death would continue specifically because of policies that ensured that they would continue.

        Some of the areas in Seattle are very dangerous. Some of the chronic repeat offenders who had over 100 convictions in a year were let out with no consequences on humanitarian grounds. Free to throw hot coffee on a baby, or kill a person’s dog because they would not give them money, or prey on the people walking in the area or other homeless individuals.

        Edmonds will not have an unlimited amount of money to spend on this issue, and it is critical that we take effective action and policies that leads to real productive change.

        Most of the people who are homeless are not violent, and need a way to bridge the gap to get back on their feet. With the rise in housing costs, this is a National issue. A recent report found that 100% of full time minimum wage employees cannot afford a two bedroom apartment (defined as paying more than 30% on rent), and 93% cannot afford a one bedroom apartment. With so little left for food or health expenses, we are ensuring that homelessness will increase across the country, not just in Edmonds.

        I definitely think of the homeless as humans. I have met a number of great people who should never have been cast aside by society, even those that have a drug problem. The key though is that for those who are violent or stealing, that it is not humanitarian to allow it to happen with no consequences. That just hurts everyone, including those committing the crimes.

  8. I totally agree with Ms. Nand that the political will to help the struggling in our society, for the most part, just does not exist and we really tend to resent the public funds that are spent in these endeavors. Speaking from some experience, the churches and private aid agencies are somewhat exhausted and depleted in trying to stand up to the task of trying to make people whole again.

    We throw band-aids on a problem that will require major surgery; if it is ever really solved. Our political parties no longer seem to serve any purpose except to divide us. The extreme Right just wants power over us and the extreme Left wants unbridled freedoms with no responsibility for actions; there is no compromise and exchange of good ideas; so the middle ground, where solutions might happen, is lost. I grieve for the coming generations and fear violence and factionalism is their future, the way things are going. More draconian laws, more hate and more guns – not a healthy situation and very similar to pre Civil War America. Hopefully our young people will be wiser than we are and stop the insanity at some point.

  9. I worked my way out of poverty, took in homeless individuals and helped turn their lives around. I gave a full scholarship, volunteered and served on boards.

    2019, I sold my condominium and the majority of my possessions to move cross country, with my partner, who was a two decade broadcast engineer, 2nd to the President. Almost a year to the date of living in Edmonds, with Mike, who I discovered had extra hobbies, out of fear, I found temporary housing. Tenants were amazed I lasted 7 lasted seven months renting from a renter.

    In need of help, I hired a personal assistant to help me through the chaos. I didn’t have connections, couldn’t find an affordable place to live and decided to try AZ. I was suppose to have a room for six months. Within the first two weeks, I called the police and moved out, now experiencing homelessness.

    Within a few days, a driver in a different vehicle was at fault and totaled my car. I was in (middle) Northern AZ in shock. I lived in a hotel for three weeks until I found a nearby apartment I could afford, 200 sq ft and no kitchen.

    I learned I am living primarily with felons on parole, addicts (recovering), and severely mentally ill (noticeably so when not on medication). My entrance is on a low to no light, alley and up metal stairs.

    In every move, I lost more money and possessions.

    For the most part, I am one of your homeless. For now I am stuck. I am on SSDI, have wanted to work and have tried in a variety of ways with multiple gov’t vendors, contract agencies and private companies. I have tried education, and an internship.

    I have no history of substance, drug, alcohol or medication abuse, and no criminal record. My credit score is excellent. I have a graduate degree.

    Now, I have a cousin in the Midwest who checks in on me about once a week. I can no longer afford to live in safe, healthy housing or neighborhoods.

    1. Hi Lori, I haven’t heard from you in a while. Have you been? Which jurisdiction are you in? If you are in a city or county that actually funds social services, I can give you the number for you to start the process of being assigned a social worker who can help you navigate the systems, government and private, that can help you stabilize your situation. We’re still Facebook friends, right? If so, I can PM you. Or you can just email me at jnand@fortuna-law.com.

      Thank you for sharing your story with everyone, Lori. I know that that isn’t easy.

  10. Wow. I hope your story has a wide circulation. People need to hear from you. The stereotype of the homeless needs to be erased and replaced ASAP. The overdone description of a drug and alcohol addict with a criminal history needs to be replaced with someone like you who is educated and in circumstances that forced you into poverty. My wish for you is safety and a home of your own.

  11. At the local Salvation Army, I learned there are not social services, per say. I have spoken with 211, Community Connections… A branch of my current health insurance is filling in as a social service “worker”, focusing on one issue at a time.

    As there is virtually no public transportation here, my insurance is willing to accept a request for approval to pay for transportation to health appointments. A representative even completed the forms for the health providers to sign. However, this is such an alien topic to my health providers, I have been stuck for months. As long as the PCP does not sign an okay for transportation for the appointments he referred, and, or the specialists do not get back to my insurance, I delay my appointments by not paying $50 round trip on each ride. There are two private volunteer organizations for transportation, I am now going to tap.

    It is such a learning experience of what low resource individuals accept because of the exhausting battles. I have noticed I am falling into the feeling of being beaten down, accepting, as my neighbor tenants do, to go without health care services, minimal living expectations, lack of basic apartment maintenance…

    I haven’t been participating, contributing and volunteering in society. I feel the culture enveloping me.

    Supposedly, the best season of the year in this area is just beginning.

    I am trying to work with the systems.

    I am not familiar with other temperate western living locations.

    Health care, administrative changes take so much out of me.

    If I were a frog, I don’t know how much I have adapted.

    I ask all communities to look into bringing in non-profit (NOT government) organizations. There is no need to recreate the wheel. Go out and learn from them, present them to your neighbors. Create the 501c3 branches in your own communities. Have an outsider train the locals and then the outsider can leave. Provide awareness and advocacy. There are many proven empowerment non-profits raising people and communities up.

    MEN’s outlet is a rare gift for me.

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