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In new poll on homelessness, Seattle area favors compassion but distrusts politicians

Tents line the sidewalk along Alaskan Way South in Pioneer Square near Yesler Way. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times, file)

Tents line the sidewalk along Alaskan Way South in Pioneer Square near Yesler Way. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times, file)

A new Seattle Times poll finds overwhelming support to expand mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to address the homelessness crisis in King County, but deep distrust about elected leaders’ ability to solve it.

By Vianna Davila and Vernal Coleman

King County residents looking for answers to the region’s homeless crisis favor long-term solutions — particularly more affordable housing or mental-health and drug treatment — but they severely doubt elected officials’ ability to actually solve the problem, according to a new Seattle Times poll.

Far more people said getting at the root causes of homelessness is a higher priority than getting people off the street. Despite at least $195 million spent in King County in 2017 on homelessness, roughly a third of respondents agreed it continues because it is a complex issue.

The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless poll, conducted by Seattle-based Elway Research, explores how King County residents feel about the homelessness crisis and potential solutions. The poll highlights where local residents stand after last year’s contentious debate over a head tax on big Seattle businesses to pay for homeless services and affordable housing, and amid ongoing discussions over the region’s unabated crisis.

The results of the poll reveal a more nuanced and complex picture than last year’s contentious debates might have indicated.

Most respondents, even those who supported a compassionate approach to homelessness, said throwing more money at the issue is not the answer. But hard-line strategies — such as a zero-tolerance policy on camping in public spaces — garnered far less support than longer-term strategies.

“Clearly, people think this is a serious problem,” said H. Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research. “And they appear to be willing to support a number of solutions to deal with it and want to deal with the root causes, and not just the manifestations of homelessness.”

The poll was conducted last month by cellphone and landline, resulting in a sample size of 407 people and a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. Seventy-five percent of the respondents were homeowners, compared to about 57 percent in the county.

The Seattle Times
Jan. 12, 2019