Like many in the community, Sound watched, with interest, the recent KOMO-TV program, “Seattle is Dying.” As a provider of mental health, supported housing, addiction treatment and many other services in this community, we disagree with the overall message of “Seattle is Dying.”
Yes, there are significant and crisis-level issues gripping our community and yes, the crisis is everywhere in our city and county. But we believe that the program’s central arguments are inaccurate and its focus on the criminal aspect only draws attention away from what we know is the most pressing and significant healthcare crisis of our time: mental illness and addiction.
Addiction and mental illness are healthcare issues that must be addressed through healthcare interventions –not criminal ones. Limited access to quality, affordable behavioral healthcare is a social equity issue and a key reason many of our community’s most vulnerable individuals go untreated and eventually end up on the streets or over utilizing emergency rooms, hospitals and the criminal justice system. Our organization fights every day to provide care to thousands of individuals, yet, many others fall through the cracks.
One of the greatest misrepresentations in “Seattle is Dying” is that there is no evidence of any meaningful behavioral health interventions. Interview subjects mentioned it and the program seemed determined to communicate that. This is simply untrue.
Sound has numerous programs, like our Re-entry program and our Transition Support Program as just two examples, that directly work with people in our community to get them into clinical services, case management, medication management, housing and even employment. For more than 50 years, we have served the community and there are other organizations, too, that have done so as well. Not a one of us was interviewed for “Seattle is Dying.” If we were given the opportunity to contribute, it would have been abundantly clear that many organizations like ours have successes every day helping people get off the streets and into supportive and effective services.
In conclusion, rather than offering a realistic look at those who are homeless or live with mental health and addiction issues, Eric Johnson opted for a tone that conveyed a biased and unbalanced look at the issues — only further stigmatizing and marginalizing people who struggle every day. Words like “lost souls,” “madness” and “demons” can turn public sentiment against these people and further undermine our community’s efforts to support and engage those who are homeless and live with mental health and addiction issues.
Patrick C. Evans
President & CEO