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Seattle U professor breaks down policy differences on homelessness in Seattle mayor race

A growing homeless encampment near Green Lake. (KOMO)
A growing homeless encampment near Green Lake. (KOMO)
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Voters have high expectations for the city’s next mayor when it comes to confronting the homeless crisis.

M. Lorena Gonzalez and Bruce Harrell share some common ground but also key differences. Zachary Wood, an assistant professor with Seattle University’s Institute of Public Service, offered his take on what to watch for in the final weeks of this campaign.

For starters, the two candidates are in agreement when they say the city needs to quickly offer more housing, as well as expand mental health and addiction counseling.

“So I see both of them talking about an immediate ramp up in terms of connecting to services,” Wood said.

The most obvious difference Wood sees between Gonzalez and Harrell is their approach to encampment sweeps in situations where campers refuse offers of shelter or other help. Harrell has said he wants the public to have their parks back. Gonzalez has said that sweeps don't solve anything. It could be a pivotal point for voters.

“If that ends up being potentially a deciding factor, one way or another, it will be interesting to see,” Wood said. “I think this is going to be a split for folks.”

Neither of the candidates offer many specifics in how they plan to pay for expanded homeless services and fast-tracked housing goals, Wood said.

Gonzalez focuses on new taxes for big business to rapidly build more housing and pay for on-site wraparound services. Harrell wants to combine American Rescue Plan Act funding, state and local resources, as well as philanthropic support to add 2,000 units of emergency shelter within a year.

“I don't think either one of them really provides a lot of meat and context in terms of how this is going to be paid for," Wood said.

On the whole, Wood sees Harrell's plan as more straightforward and in line with how things have been pushed through and paid for in the past.

“I do think that Bruce Harrell's plan seems a lot more practical and doable," Wood said.

As for the approach by Gonzalez, Wood sees it as more visionary and taking on the challenge of digging into the root causes of the homeless issue.

“So what's really interesting to me is Lorena Gonzalez actually hits a lot of talking points in terms of how you might comprehensively respond to homelessness,” Wood said.

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Gonzalez and Harrell have already traded jabs in a couple of debates and are set to go head to head on the issues at least one more time during a debate on October 28.

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