Samuel Christopher Downward has been building upscale homes for years in North Bend, Issaquah and the Uplands – rural King County east of the East Side, where the median income is about twice that of the United States
Downward, 42, has lived in the Tiger Mountain area for most of his life, but he doesn’t live in any of the fancy houses. He’s homeless.
The homeless who once lived in the woods or out of sight in this rural part of King County are now becoming more visible – just as the Metropolitan King County Council district faces one of the most competitive races in years. The few accommodations in the area are giving away any space or resource they have on a daily basis.
But the public discussion of this race has rarely focused on homelessness, and even when it was – for example, in a debate hosted by the Seattle Times in September – the contestants failed to recognize the tremendous importance of nonprofits and others who stand up for Homeless people stand out, have confronted.
For nearly two decades, the area has been represented on the county council by Kathy Lambert, a former elementary school teacher, children’s book author, and Republican MP. Business owner Sarah Perry presents Lambert with her first real election challenge in a long time.
The ballot papers were sent out last week and must be postmarked or put in a mailbox by November 2nd.
Homelessness is an intimate issue for both candidates. Lambert was homeless himself years ago, and Perry raised her children while mastering her relationship with her late ex-husband, who dealt with behavioral issues and was homeless after the two split, she said.
Although Lambert has been involved in shaping homelessness policy for years, this has not always resulted in an abundance of resources for the area she represents. It has about the same number of publicly funded beds for the homeless as the smaller and less populated district of Southeast King County across Interstate 90, according to Alexis Mercedes Rinck, subregional planning manager for the King County’s Regional Homelessness Agency.
“There just aren’t a lot of services,” says Rinck, who recently visited all the homeless facilities in the area in one day.
That could be because the problem got worse during the pandemic, said Jennifer Kirk, executive director of Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services. Many of the customers now showing up at the shelter evacuated themselves because they lost their jobs during the pandemic and didn’t want to keep piling up rent, she said.
Northeast King County, which stretches from Lake Sammamish to the Wild Sky Wilderness and Skykomish, is one of the richest areas in the state: According to the Census Bureau, Sammamish has the highest average income of any city with at least 65,000 inhabitants in the country. The Microsoft headquarters is nearby.
But when the pandemic broke out, poverty became more apparent here. In downtown Snoqualmie, a 10-person property housed in what was once the city’s first church has been full or overcrowded every night since it opened 24/7 last fall. Downward used to sleep in the abandoned cars a block down on Railroad Avenue; now he has his own bed in the shelter.
“We’re busy and just can’t meet our needs,” said Kirk, who also gives away all of the nonprofit’s motel vouchers to families every day.
Northeast King County has been growing quietly for years, but its relative remoteness from Seattle has put it under the radar. This borough – District 3 – dwarfs Seattle and the East Side geographically and, at over 1,000 square miles, makes up nearly half of the county’s land mass. A misty highland with foothills and valleys that is perhaps best known as the location of the cult show “Twin Peaks” of the 90s.
Although much of the Seattle area is less than an hour away from Seattle, city dwellers think it’s a long way away, said Laura Smith, who lives in Duvall and runs a nonprofit that works with youth in the area in behavioral health, Addiction and business works themes.
“We need to make sure the (Snoqualmie) Valley is on people’s radar,” said Smith.
That area has seen a lot of influx of Amazon employees or other technicians who don’t want to live in the suburbs, said Al Dams, King County’s assistant assessor who has lived in Lake Marcel for 23 years. It has grown by nearly 50,000 people in the past decade, more than any other county council district except northwest Seattle, and that is helping to drive house prices so high that they have been in Snoqualmie in the past five years up nearly 10% year over year, and nearly 24% in Duvall, according to Redfin.
“The population that is moving in here is different from the population that lived here 10, 20, 25 years ago,” said Dams.
The two candidates who are now campaigning to represent this changing district in the district council hardly differ in their homeless strategy. Sarah Perry, who briefly ran a not-for-profit housing association in the East Side years ago but otherwise has little experience in homelessness policy, has taken on the general plans of King County Executive Dow Constantine and the council: build more housing, especially permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people.
Until Tuesday, Lambert was chairman of the district’s health and housing committee, But after her campaign posted a widely denounced mailer highlighting her only black colleague on the council, it lost funders and endorsements (including a backing from the Seattle Times editorial team, which is separate from the newsroom), and her council members voted to to remove them from all committee lines.
Lambert basically agrees with Perry on the basics and has long advocated it, although other Republicans attack policies like housing homeless drug users without the need for sobriety. When a Republican legislature tabled a bill preventing the state from funding Eastlake in 1811, a so-called “wet” housing project that housed chronic alcohol users who slept on the street, Lambert helped get that bill, according to Dan Malone was withdrawn. the director of the non-profit housing association that carried out the project.
This project, and most of the other Housing First projects developed since, were built in Seattle or surrounding cities; In District 3 there is little help for chronically homeless people with behavioral problems.
Downward, who says his parents were drug dealers and he’s been on his own since 14, has struggled with homelessness for more than five years. Although he makes a lot of money building it, he returns to drug use and becomes homeless. He blames himself.
Every time Downward gets back on its feet, finding a place to live is just a little more difficult – property prices in the Snoqualmie Valley aren’t much cheaper than in the Eastside.
“It’s time to break the habit – or I’ll go crazy in Seattle if I’m on a corner,” Downward said.
Ray Martinez, 61, is another construction worker who lives at the Snoqualmie shelter. He has had a voucher for the past two months but couldn’t find an apartment to rent.
He’s grateful for waiting the long search at the Snoqualmie shelter, where he has some fiberboard walls for privacy, a small TV, and an Edgar Martinez plaque from the Seattle Mariners on the wall.
This and the friendliness of the staff, let him look positively into the future.
“You can’t give up – I’m still looking,” said Ray Martinez. “Since this place is here, it’s not that bad.”