Seattle has the third highest homeless population in the country. Business interests put forth a thinly veiled anti-homeless city charter amendment misleadingly dubbed “Compassion Seattle” for the November election. The initiative was removed from the ballot in early September for going beyond the power of cities in state law, but it remains an issue between candidates for city office. Here Gary Tolman, a housing activist with the Freedom Socialist Party, interviews Tye Reed, co-chair of House Our Neighbors, a coalition opposed to the measure and agitating for real solutions to homelessness.
Gary Tolman — What does Compassion Seattle say it does, and what does it really do?
Tye Reed — The amendment is to our charter, the city’s constitution. It’s a big empty promise. It wasn’t written with specificity, aside from if someone’s in an encampment, they need to move. But the stuff about mental health services, building units, fair compensation for workers, that’s up in the air. They’ve written this fairy tale to people who aren’t involved in homelessness and it’s hard to combat because people in the city are really desperate for a solution.
There’s a suggestion that we should get 2,000 emergency or permanent housing units, and use 12% of our general fund to house people. The city council staff determined that because of the way the language isn’t defined, we meet some of the metrics already, like that we should help fund behavioral health. With the JumpStart tax passed by city council last year, we might already have 2000 units on the way.
If the amendment passes, what will happen is we will double down on our currently failed grant structure, where we give millions and millions of dollars to the same non-profits to underpay their workers, overpay their CEO’s and fail to solve the problems of their clients.
The people who put forward the charter amendment are mostly millionaires and billionaires, real estate investors and developers, tech companies.
These same business people are going after the JumpStart tax, a small tax on big businesses for each high-income employee, in order to pay for Covid relief and permanent affordable housing. It isn’t nearly enough and they’re fighting even that, so these people aren’t serious.
Gary Tolman — What’s the history of the Democrats and the non-profits in regard to this?
Tye Reed — I know that some Democrats, especially in Seattle, are aware of what’s going on, even the [state Rep.] Nicole Macri’s of the world who did not endorse our campaign. People like state Rep. Frank Chopp want their name on House Our Neighbors’ voter pamphlet information, or on our endorsement list. But they have not reached out to help in this fight.
To me, that shows their complicity. They’re smart enough to not speak out against it, but to also not speak out in favor of us, because then they might start battling their corporate donors.
Some executives from different housing services, not connected to actual issues on the ground, endorsed it and helped contribute to the language.
Gary Tolman — Why did you get involved in the campaign?
Tye Reed — Around the time I quit my job at a non-profit, I was doing some direct aid to camps in Ballard, and this charter amendment drops.
Tiffani McCoy from Real Change street newspaper reached out to me. I was like, “We should get together everybody who’s not associated with the non-profit industrial complex, not Democratic politicians, who are just doing mutual aid, who have gone to protests. We should put together everything we need to solve homelessness.” And that was our plan, to pull together the best ideas from people with actual experience.
But then because of the charter amendment, the community decided to run a No campaign. We do wanna put forward that radical legislation that responds to all the problems. We just have to waste our time fighting this charter amendment that is only gonna hurt people. So I’m just an angry person who gives a shit.
Gary Tolman — What do you think should be done to assist the unhoused?
Tye Reed — My solution is progressive taxation to get safe plots with services, hygiene stations, social housing built by the city, that’s controlled by the city, where people can’t get evicted. My solution is a higher minimum wage. We are still wasting money to give rental assistance to housing non-profits to pass on to landlords and not building low income social housing. Nobody asks for rental assistance, people want affordable rent.
Gary Tolman — What can people do to help stop Compassion Seattle?
Tye Reed — If you are connected to a group, get them involved in this fight. Talk to your neighbors about it. Join the coalition, get involved. Go tabling. Talk to people with lived experience.
The people in our coalition want to hear
from people who have that lived experience, who are trying to develop alternatives, so we can fight the city for better alternatives to what we’re doing right now.
Gary Tolman — Who is involved in fighting this charter amendment?
Tye Reed — Yeah, some of the people have been really instrumental, especially in helping us craft the language for the opposition statement.
Dee Powers from The Waystation, which isn’t an official organization or anything, it’s like a hub for people to get resources and I love them.
People who are really dedicated to these efforts, people in the Lived Experience Coalition who actually are living on the streets, living in their vehicles, or who are one step removed from that threat, people who are direct service workers at these non-profits.
Because they know that sweeps don’t work, they know how destabilizing they are, they know that there’s no shelter, there’s no housing.
To get involved, check out HouseOurNeighbors.org.
“When they’re going after people who are that vulnerable, with no place to go, then we know that we’re all next.” — Tye Reed