Seattle Courant

Bus Ticket Mess Pits Mayor Against Homeless Group

By James Collier
February 3, 2009 06:02PM

The organization, which runs a network of 16 homeless shelters in Seattle, was using the money to purchase bus tickets to shuttle homeless people to and from churches and encampments.

Alex Fryer, the spokesman for the mayor's office, appeared baffled by the mayor's actions. Why did Nickels pull funding? "I have no idea," Fryer said.

"This is about more than bus tickets," said Robert Fuller, a member of a SHARE committee working to resolve the dispute. "This is about dignity." It's about taking people off the streets, he said, and sending them on their way to a meaningful life.

According to the committee, SHARE houses about 500 people nightly at a cost of $2.63 per person. The group's annual budget is approximately $381,000.
SHARE resident Amanda Carricker, 21, is a member of the committee. She said that the shelters are a cost-effective safety net for the city. The mayor is being irresponsible, Carricker said.

"The city has no contingency plan. We are the first wave of this economy in crisis," she said. "Why are we fighting over bus tickets when we should be trying to come up with plans for the second wave of homeless people hit by this dreadful economy?"

"Nobody wakes up and dreams of being homeless," Carricker said. "I lost my apartment, my car and my job, all because I couldn't get paid medical leave. It almost tore my marriage apart."

Carricker and her husband Donovan, both live at Tent City 4, one of SHARE's two outdoor encampments. Unlike at some shelters, here they can stay together.

Most of SHARE's committee members forcefully spoke about their frustration with city services. They said that their organization is the largest shelter system in Seattle. In addition to the two tent cities, SHARE operates 14 indoor shelters. 

The organization is unique in that the residents are self-governed. They are required to do chores and to be involved in the self-government of the group. Unlike city shelters, they said, they attempt to enforce a feeling of self and group responsibility.

"Denying the bus tickets is a step back," Fuller said. "We should be attempting to do our best to look ahead. Not with just words, but with money. We don't waste the city's money. We know we have a financial obligation to the citizens."

But Fuller said Nickels has obligations too.

"The fact of the matter is, the mayor has a moral obligation to think ahead," Fuller said. "The mayor does not have a plan as to what he will do when - not if - thousands of people are on the streets."

SHARE's committee members said that this isn't just a poor problem anymore, it is a growing middle-class problem.

Alison Eisenger, executive director of Seattle/King County Coalition on
Homelessness, said there are 2,826 homeless in King County and 1,976 in Seattle. However, these numbers, she said, only reflect the number of chronically homeless and mentally ill, they don't reflect families and the working class. These people are largely invisible, she said.

Eisenger said that most homeless service organizations are facing budget shortfalls. The number of homeless "is more than we can handle." She expects the situation to worsen before it improves. "We will see an increase in what is already a crisis," Eisenger said.

"This is not going to be pretty," said Fuller. "This is not what we are geared for. And we don't know what we are going to do. But we don't need to be wasting time talking about bus tickets. And we need more money, not less. And it still won't be enough. They don't get it. SHARE isn't ready for this. The city isn't ready for this. And many of us are scared."