A Response to KOMO-TV’s “Seattle is Dying”

A Response to KOMO-TV’s “Seattle is Dying”
By James Pogue, Comprehensive Life Resources

(A staff leader working with one of our partner agencies recently posted the following thoughts to his Facebook account. We felt his insights were worth sharing with you.)

I have been inspired by the recent discussion sparked by the “Seattle Is Dying” program. In my role as the Director of Homeless Services for Comprehensive Life Resources in Pierce County I do a ton of work all over the County. I am a therapist by trade and have worked with addiction for 13 years. I want to dispel some myths and start a legitimate conversation.

While many people are reluctant about being approached, 100 percent of folks living on the streets want off them, want help, and are living in an active and constant state of trauma. Let me say that again, 100% of homeless people want off the streets.

My team and I can work tirelessly to connect people with services and they will still be homeless. If they have addiction challenges, we can drive them to detox, get them hooked up with inpatient treatment for 30, 60, or 90 days or whatever is allowable, and they will eventually exit… still homeless. Homeless, sober, full of guilt, shame, and trauma and really with no hope to end their situation in any reasonable timeframe. How long after returning to homelessness do you think they will start to feel hopeless again?

We constantly meet with community members and educate them about how challenging it is to get a person who is ready and willing into treatment, or more appropriately, into housing. I want to highlight that drug addiction can accompany homelessness, but it is usually a result of homelessness and not necessarily the cause.

In rural east Pierce County, it is even harder. There is no support to help folks there. No jobs, treatment centers, shelters, nothing. We spend all day driving from Bonney Lake (for example) to Tacoma just to get turned away or to learn that there was some mix up.

I am always willing to meet with any person or community organization to talk about what my team deals with every day. I know it is frustrating but the real solution is to develop more housing. In the past five years, the average wages in Pierce County have increased by 7 percent while the cost of housing has increased by 56 percent. Disabled folks, people on fixed incomes, and those making minimum wage can’t afford to live. We are seeing a huge spike in newly homeless seniors in Pierce County and young adults, especially those exiting foster care.

Let me know if you want to chat about this or, even better, about real solutions. It’s not all bleak. The world is full of amazing people who really want to make the world a better place. We work with law enforcement, EMS, hospitals, schools, businesses, everyone. Most people’s hearts are breaking and they really want solutions, but the headlines and Facebook posts often focus on the negative. If we really band together and commit to a solution, we can make it happen.

James can be contacted at: jpogue@cmhshare.org

For additional perspective, check out:

Catherine Hinrichsen’s op-ed for Crosscut, “6 reasons why KOMO’s take on homelessness is the wrong one

United Way’s blog post, “The Danger of Equating Opioid Use with Homelessness


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