Almost six years ago, in November of 2015, the City of Seattle declared that homelessness in and around the Emerald City had become a crisis, with then-Mayor Ed Murray stating in a civil emergency order that “members of our community should not be forced… to live and sleep outdoors and on the street.”
In the time that has passed since, however, the number of people experiencing homelessness in and around Seattle has gone up, not down.
The city, county, and state have all enacted new laws and ordinances recently in an attempt to address the crisis and prevent more people from becoming homeless, but our research shows that Seattle voters feel strongly that the city needs to be doing more — a lot more — to get people into housing.
A whopping 68% of likely August 2021 Seattle voters surveyed last week by Change Research for NPI identified addressing homelessness as the priority they most want the next Mayor of Seattle to tackle once sworn in.
13% cited housing costs and access to housing — a closely related priority — as a top concern they want the city’s incoming chief executive to act on. And 9% specifically mentioned they want to see public housing for low income Seattleites.
Here’s a word cloud that visually demonstrates just how dominant of an issue addressing homelessness is this election cycle for our respondents:
“Homeless” and “homelessness” appeared over and over again in the responses submitted to our open ended question about the work of Seattle’s next mayor, which are coded below into categories based on the themes that Change Research and the NPI team saw after sifting through them.
QUESTION: What policies do you want to see Seattle’s next Mayor implement to improve the health of the city?
[Note: Responses coded from open-ended submissions]
- Address the city’s homelessness crisis: 68%
- Police reform (defund, demilitarize, change nature of): 18%
- Improve public safety and tackle crime: 17%
- Bring down housing costs (i.e. through rent control): 13%
- Police support (increase funding, deploy more officers): 10%
In addition to the five top answers shown above, respondents also specifically expressed support for beautifying the city (like through graffiti removal or picking up trash — 9% of respondents identified that as a concern), providing public housing for low income Seattleites (9% identified that as a concern), and bolstering the city’s infrastructure (8% identified that as a concern).
Smaller percentages flagged additional priorities they want the mayor to focus on:
- more and better transit (7%),
- increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations (7%),
- expand services for those struggling with addiction (6%),
- support the city’s businesses (6%),
- improve parks (6%),
- enforce laws (5%),
- act on climate and protect the city’s environment (5%),
- make downtown Seattle safer and more welcoming (4%),
- and help families with better childcare and educational opportunities (4%).
Finally, 3% of respondents specifically mentioned they’d like the next mayor to focus on lowering taxes and another 3% mentioned championing racial justice.
Many respondents’ answers consisted very simply of “Address homelessness!” or some variation thereof, while others offered lengthy and extremely thorough commentaries on the state of the city and what they think their elected representatives are or aren’t doing to act on the issues of the day.
Because homelessness was such a predominant theme in the responses, we’ve created a second word cloud that doesn’t have homelessness in it so you can see a sampling of other words that were common to the responses we received.
In all, five hundred and eighty-two out of the six hundred and seventeen respondents answered this open ended question — a pretty high percentage. Their responses cumulatively total 70,669 characters and 11,090 words.
Our survey was in the field through Monday, July 12th, through Thursday, July 15th. 617 likely August 2021 Seattle voters took the survey, with all participating online. The poll was conducted by Change Research for NPI, and has a modeled margin of error of 4.3% at the 95% confidence interval.
This being Seattle, most respondents in the survey identified as Democratic or leaning Democratic. (The Emerald City is one of the bluest places, politically, in the Pacific Northwest). While most Democratic respondents offered just a few words in response to our prompt above, there were a few who took full advantage of the opportunity to lay out a vision for what they want Seattle to be.
One respondent sketched out their ideas for Seattle’s next mayor prioritize creating a more connected, livable city as follows:
Rapid expansion of supportive services, shelters and affordable housing to address the homelessness crisis. Support for small businesses as the city’s economy recovers from the recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Investments in transit infrastructure and modern improvements to roadway design.
Another Democratic respondent wrote that they want to see the city lead where the state Legislature won’t, and invest tax dollars in services that help people rather than punishing them or locking them up. Their comments:
I want the next mayor to work for the people, not the police. I want investment in people, not police. Meet the unhoused and addicted where they are with services. Flourishing public spaces. More P‑Patches to meet the growing low-income housing built without green spaces. The city moving forward where the state won’t (UBI, municipal broadband, safe injection sites, no bail, housing the unhoused, social workers in libraries) …
Still another Democratic respondent offered similar thoughts:
Move funding from police to social services, including addressing [the] homeless population. Stay firm on stance toward mega employers. Work with schools, families and childcare providers to serve all children. Support adults who make too little to afford cost of living in Seattle. Use research to inform community building versus allowing the newspaper to point out inequities in our city. Help unify the city. Avoid business versus socialists.
Helping people rather than citing them or locking them up was definitely a unifying characteristic we saw across the Democratic responses.
One Democratic respondent explained that they want the city to intervene when problems like noise pollution arise… they just want the city to send first responders who aren’t police to provide a non-punitive response:
Find a way other than the police to handle civic cases. Fireworks go off every single night in my neighborhood, and the cops say they can’t respond unless it involves alcohol or violence. There also was a protest rally for Donald Trump last summer in my neighborhood, and the cops said the same thing. I don’t want to call the cops for these types of things, but I would like to be able to call on some public service law-enforcement group that could help without incriminating those who are either breaking the law or causing trouble.
Republican respondents who answered our question had very different takes.
“Stop giving money to the homeless!” one wrote. “It just brings them to our city. Start funding the police. Quit allowing protesters to ruin our streets.”
“Reverse a majority of policies enacted by mayor/city council over the past several years,” wrote another, without elaborating further.
“More police, crack down on crime downtown, get the homeless out of public parks, get a move on repairing the West Seattle Bridge. Actually charge those arrested for any violent crimes, vandalism, rioting, and prosecute the offenders instead of releasing [them]. Support the police!” wrote a third.
(Emphasis is the respondent’s).
Respondents identifying as independents expressed a few of the same sentiments as the Republicans who left comments, but unlike the Republicans, many of them expressed interest in finding and implementing “solutions” for the unhoused as opposed to dismantling encampments with sweeps, or other punitive measures.
One characterized homelessness this way:
It is a complicated problem that has not been addressed by our city leadership. The taxpaying citizens and small street level businesses are the not getting what they contribute to the good. Crime lingers in the shadows of the homeless camps and is unchecked.
Life has consequences. We cannot continue to let people who are not capable of making good decisions live in the streets.
Not my fault, not the fault of the small business owner, but we are the only ones suffering the consequences of poor decisions. The poor decisions have crept into city hall and our current council are unable and not equipped to deal with the complicated problems.
Continued street living is not a solution. It is time for solutions.
“Solutions” also stood out in this response from another independent:
Faster improvement to public transportation; real solutions to homelessness not just clearing them away from where we can see them; more activities for youth.
Still another independent put it even more simply, and paired their desire for action on homelessness with their desire of action on housing costs:
House the homeless. Do something to curb the cost of housing/home buying and assist those who rent to feel more secure.
The bottom line? Regardless of age, party affiliation, gender, or race, Seattleites really, really want their next mayor to make addressing homelessness and public safety in the city their top priorities. There is a strong desire for results over rhetoric. While respondents diverge on how to get there, they are in agreement that there needs to be action. What the city has done to date just isn’t sufficient.
Interested in the findings we’re previously released from this survey? Then we suggest reading these Cascadia Advocate posts next:
- Bruce Harrell, Lorena González lead in 2021 Seattle mayoral race with many undecided
- A three-way race for Seattle City Attorney: Pete Holmes barely ahead of two challengers
- Teresa Mosqueda well ahead of Kate Martin for Seattle City Council #8 with most not sure
- Nikkita Oliver has a big early lead over Sara Nelson for Seattle City Council Position #9