My first vivid memory of Seattle was an eighth-grade field trip to the Experience Music Project, a museum founded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen in 2000 and now renamed the Museum of Pop Culture (“MoPop” for short). I remember being greeted by a tower of guitars circling up to the ceiling, as well as pictures of Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, and a whole section of the museum dedicated to Nirvana memorabilia. I was in awe of it all.
As we left the emerald city that day, and I watched the pier and the ocean of skyscrapers fade into the distance, I fell in love with Seattle. Growing up in a small town on the east side of the mountains with nothing to do and nowhere to go, I told myself this is where I wanted to be someday.
Fast forward to today, and I’m a 24-year-old, post-college graduate now living in Olympia, Washington’s state capital. I visit Seattle often. Only now, it’s a completely different world than the one I dreamed about growing up. Entering the city, I’m greeted not by guitars and skyscrapers, but by an ocean of tents lining the highway. Walking down Pike Place, the sounds and smells of the farmer’s market are drowned out by the man shouting on the street corner and the people sleeping on sidewalks and public benches.
The worst part? No one is shocked by this—myself included. It’s as if we, as a community, have accepted the state of our beloved city, as if all hope is lost.
The local broadcaster KOMO News recently released a documentary titled “Seattle Is Dying,” in which reporters interview many of the people affected by the city’s homeless crisis. It turns out, according to a 2017 FBI report, that Seattle has the country’s second highest rate of property crimes per 100,000 people—just behind San Francisco, which is facing a similar crisis. The City of Seattle and its outlying areas spend around $1 billion annually addressing and responding to the homeless situation, and countless nonprofits, hospital services, and drug outreach programs are attempting to fix this problem. But, as the state is coming to understand, the more money that’s being thrown at the problem, the worse it gets. So how did we get here?
In the past several years, Seattle has become a new hub for large technology corporations and start-ups. Amazon has become a major industry leader in the city, with the promise of new job opportunities for local people and building a stronger economy in the state. Boeing planted its roots here for decades but has since moved out of state. What we’re now facing is a housing crisis and the gentrification of entire neighborhoods, as communities are being pushed out of a city they have called home for decades. With rent spikes and the cost of living skyrocketing, it’s nearly impossible for families who were once able to live comfortably in the city to continue to do so.
Unfortunately, there’s no one solution to this problem. Finding affordable housing is a nationwide challenge. The cost of living is going up, and quality of life is going down. As a country, we’re draining our resources and not using the ones we have in an efficient way. Many of us turn away from the homeless problem because it makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. We need to bring pride back into our communities and to be involved in them. We need to know our neighbors—truly know them—and to work together to not merely survive, but thrive. A revitalization needs to occur, and reparations need to be made to the people who have been taken advantage of by these larger entities.
"We need to bring pride back into our communities and to be involved in them. We need to know our neighbors—truly know them—and to work together to not merely survive, but thrive."
Yes, progress can be good. But large corporations—and the local officials that support them—need to acknowledge and account for the impacts that occur when big companies move into growing cities and take up space and command attention. These influential corporations have the power to effect change on a large scale. As such, they have a responsibility and an obligation to do right by the long-time residents that are being pushed out. We as a community have the responsibility to hold them accountable for their actions and to help lift up those who can’t lift up themselves. We can no longer turn our heads away from the man on the corner shouting or the tents that line the highways. This isn’t a new problem, but one that is ongoing and is getting bigger. We don’t need more resources—we need better ones.
Many of my peers have big dreams of working in a city like Seattle that provides the promise of job opportunities in a variety of fields. But this feels unattainable. The reality is that a lot of people who need work simply can’t afford to live in the places where work is offered. And the existing communities that are being cast away are the heartbeat of these growing cities— they’re what makes these areas attractive and helps big corporations to thrive. It’s time for those corporations to give back.
I often think back on the Seattle I fell in love with in eighth grade. I know that we can get back to a city that Washingtonians are proud of. One that represents the many diverse cultures and people who make us Washington. A city that’s known not for its crime rate and homeless crisis, but for its art, music, and sense of community. A city that looks toward a sustainable future and a future that is made better than it was left.
Alexis Arambul is a former New Dream Youth Fellow. She is a graduate of Washington State University with a degree in political science and a minor in fine arts. In 2019 she is pursuing a Masters in Public Policy with a focus on promoting the well-being of children and families. Alexis grew up in the foster care system and is passionate about applying all she has learned to improving the lives of other children and families confronted with housing security, and all that it takes to create healthy, connected family environments.