Homeless in Seattle
The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful areas in the United States. I grew up in eastern Washington, four or five hours away from Seattle, and traveled there often. When I lived in Washington, Seattle was a beautiful city. But not today.
Local Seattle news station komo aired a report recently about the homelessness crisis in Seattle and the effect it is having on the local community. It’s powerful—the kind of report that should be taking up an hour of prime time on major news networks like cnn, msnbc and Fox News. komo reporter Eric Johnson, who put together the hour-long documentary with his team, shows that one of Washington’s greatest cities is now a dirty, trash-littered den of homelessness, drug addiction and rampant crime. Seattle is dying, and no one knows what to do about it.
Seattle citizens complain that the city council is not doing enough. One business owner told Johnson, “The city mayor doesn’t give the [police] authority. That’s the problem.” The video shows tents and piles of garbage on the street next to his business. This man gets to the heart of the problem when he asks, “Why can’t we enforce the law?” (emphasis added throughout).
The biggest problem is that Seattle police have lost their authority. When they arrest people for small crimes, misdemeanors and more serious charges like theft and property damage, the offenders are often released the next day. In 2017, New York City had 1,448 property crimes per 100,000 people—crimes like burglary, theft, shoplifting and vandalism. Los Angeles had more than 2,500, and Chicago had 3,263. In comparison, Seattle had the second-highest number of property crimes of any city in America—5,258. (San Francisco had the highest number, and it’s dealing with many of the same problems as Seattle.)
These crimes are often perpetrated by the same people, sometimes just days apart. Johnson talked to Scott Lindsay, a Seattle resident who put together a list of the 100 most frequent offenders in the Seattle criminal justice system. These 100 people, all of whom are homeless drug users, have 3,500 criminal cases between them. Some of them have 75 or more crimes each—and those are just the crimes that have been reported. Out of every 100 police reports filed in Seattle, only 18 actually result in convictions. The rest of the crimes go unpunished. People can commit “small” crimes with impunity in Seattle.
The city council tells residents to call 911 when they see property crimes, but residents say that calling the police does nothing. Even if the police do make an arrest, these vagrants are often back on the streets within a couple days or even a few hours.
Shoplifting is also a huge problem in Seattle. One business owner Johnson interviewed said that her business reported 599 cases of shoplifting over a 19-month stretch, and eight of those crimes ended with some form of prosecution. Eight out of 599. Basically, you can shoplift in Seattle and, unless you assault someone on the way out, get away with it.
komo sent questionnaires to police officers to fill out anonymously. (None of them were willing to speak to the news channel for fear of retaliation from their superiors, who want to keep the seriousness of the crisis under wraps.) These police officers complained that their hands are tied. One officer said, “I am frustrated because I’m a law enforcement officer that is told not to enforce the law.”
Another officer wrote: “People come here because it’s called Free-attle, and they believe if they come here they will get free food, free medical treatment, free mental health treatment, a free tent, free clothes, and will be free of prosecution for just about everything—and they’re right. It didn’t use to be that way. Law enforcement officers used to be able to enforce the laws. … In the last five years, there has been a culture shift, and it started with the legislature decriminalizing felonies and dumping convicts onto the streets.”
One frustrated officer wrote: “Why are we risking our lives to take felony-level fugitives into custody if they’re just going to be released? [The] prosecutor’s office and judges alike seem to be drinking all the Kool-Aid, causing a huge disconnect and a broken system with absolutely no teeth.”
Johnson interviewed a homeless man named Travis who lives on Seattle’s streets. This man openly admits that he uses methamphetamines “at least” once a day, but he doesn’t consider himself a drug abuser. He is on the list of 100 most frequent offenders, with 34 criminal cases in four years—things like assault, attempted rape and trespassing. Johnson asked Travis if he steals to fund his drug addiction, and he admitted, “I actually just started stealing last Monday.” Travis says he is “having a blast” stealing to feed his addiction.
When Johnson asked Travis what the criminal justice system should do with him, he replied: “I think that this system has done what any viable, legitimate system would, and they’ve really … exalted me and … shown deference and love towards me. I don’t feel like I’ll ever be arrested again. I haven’t been in jail for like a year and three months or so, you know, so a change like that … definitely shows that I have conquered the criminal justice system.”
This is not a homeless man who wants to get a job and work his way out of the situation—he is quite happy to ride the system and live on the streets. After all, he has “conquered the criminal justice system”! He can do whatever he wants!
Todd Wiebke, a former Seattle police officer, was one of the “good guys” trying to stop crime on the streets. He quit after getting fed up with trying to do his job with his hands tied behind his back. Wiebke told Johnson, “You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that the only thing I can equate it to is we’re running a concentration camp without barbed wire up to and including the medical experiment of poisoning these people with drugs.”
Wiebke talked about the new Seattle statute allowing people to have three grams of methamphetamines on their person without being arrested. Three grams is 30 doses. As Wiebke pointed out, if you stop enforcing the little things like drug possession and drug dealing, then people try to get away with more and more. It’s a slippery slope that can only end badly. Seattle is proof of that.
When asked if he would raise a family in Seattle right now, Wiebke replied, “Absolutely not.”
Although the problem is often called a “homelessness crisis,” it’s actually a drug crisis. One homeless woman told Johnson that she has not met a single person on the streets who is not an addict. Drugs destroy the will of the homeless to get out of the situation they are in. My father writes in No Freedom Without Law:
America leads the world in demand for mind-damaging, escapist drugs. … Is that freedom? How many of these people have gotten hooked on drugs and cannot stop? …
Many people would consider it freedom to destroy their lives with deadly drugs. That is not freedom! Instead they have become totally enslaved to drugs! … America is overcome by its drug problem. And “whatever overcomes a man [or a nation], to that he is enslaved.”
Matt Markovic, a komo reporter who covers homelessness in the city, told Johnson that many of the people on Seattle’s streets are choosing to stay there because of their drug habit. These homeless addicts probably believe they are free—free to take mind-altering drugs, free to sleep on the streets, free to steal and break the law with impunity. But that is not freedom. They are enslaved to their drugs—enslaved to the habit.
Homelessness and drug use have become politically charged issues in the United States. Perhaps that is why the ongoing crisis in our cities is met with overwhelming silence from national media sources. Many people are shocked when they visit places like Seattle and San Francisco because they had no idea about the serious problems in these cities; they never hear about these issues on the news.
Seattle is facing problem on top of problem—and nobody has any solutions. The city spends $1 billion each year on the homelessness crisis, but the situation is actually getting worse.
Isaiah 1:5-6 say that our entire nation is sick from the top to the bottom. We have no strong leaders who will take decisive action to rid our cities of these problems for good (Isaiah 3:1-3). The cause of this sickness is transgression (Daniel 8:12). Nationally, we are breaking God’s laws, and we are reaping the consequences.
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like about how wonderful the world would be if everyone kept God’s law. Instead of violence, drug addiction, homelessness and death, we would have “vigorous, vibrant good health, filled with dynamic interest in life, enthusiastic interest in constructive activities bringing happiness and joy. There would be cleanliness, vigorous activity, real progress, no slums, no degenerate backward races or areas of Earth.”
This is the real solution to Seattle’s homelessness crisis—the Kingdom of God. It’s coming, and soon.