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Seattle Homeless Crisis: NAACP Says Plan Must Look At Race

caption: A homeless camp beneath an Interstate 5 off-ramp in Seattle's SODO district.
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A homeless camp beneath an Interstate 5 off-ramp in Seattle's SODO district.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

City and county leaders have declared a civil emergency on homelessness in Seattle. But some critics say what's been proposed is not enough.

Sheley Secrest, the local NAACP's chair of economic development, said racial equity should be baked into the new emergency plan or it may not reach certain communities.

African Americans make up around 7 percent of Seattle's population -- but account for 41 percent of people in emergency shelters for the homeless.

“When you go inside of the homeless shelters, anyone would be surprised by the number of black faces that are sitting there, women with children, men who've been couch-surfing years on end,” Secrest said. “We've gotta start addressing the crisis, through a racial lens.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s declaration allows him to access $5.3 million. Councilmember Kshama Sawant and homeless advocates also have called for the city to dip into its rainy day fund. They say at least $15 million should go toward the problem.

Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said about 3,000 people sleep on the streets of Seattle every night.

The mayor's proposal would create a shelter with 100 new beds. Eisinger said that's not enough.

“I'm a realist. I don't actually call on us collectively to bring every single person indoors in the next few weeks,” she said. “But I absolutely believe that if we marshal all of our resources, public and private, we really can bring 750 to 1,000 people indoors in short order.”

Eisinger said her organization is calling on the City Council to allocate more money toward shelter beds and survival services for the homeless in the 2016 budget.

In the meantime city officials say shelter space and the reorganization of homeless outreach teams will be addressed first.

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