When online public safety activists told Nuz that Seattle was “dying,” we were certainly listening.
At first, we were inclined to believe it. After all, baseball season’s starting, and to any self-respecting Seattleite, the experience of sitting down to watch the languishing Mariners would surely make the thought of eternal slumber seem comparatively cheery. Then there’s the chore of having to put up with those obnoxious Seahawks fans and the flannel-wearing Nirvana cultists trying to make grunge happen again. Add to that the malaise that comes with living in a rainy haze home to such insufferable billionaires as wannabe presidential candidate Howard “Person of Means” Schultz, and you have a…
Oh wait, nevermind.
Nuz has learned that the real reason for the Emerald City’s supposed imposing doom is Seattle’s homeless population. That idea comes from the Washington-based television station KOMO, owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which faced widespread criticism last year for forcing anchors around the country to read pro-Trump editorials. Under the title “Seattle Is Dying,” KOMO ran an hour-long fear-mongering segment that was heavy on anti-homeless anecdotes, light on data and bordering on sheer propaganda. Police Chief Andy Mills tweeted the video on Tuesday afternoon.
The reason that Santa Cruz locals are talking about any of this is that the county has $10 million worth of homeless funding, and is getting ready to spend it. The Santa Cruz City Council, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans for new social services and homeless encampments, all while fending off public safety fears—some of which are more of a stretch than others.
For one, there are the blanket statements going around—both at City Council meetings and on Facebook—that Seattle’s crime rate is much higher than New York’s and Los Angeles’. Those claims are technically true, according to a 2017 article in the Seattle Times, but it’s worth noting that crime rates are measured per capita, so it doesn’t mean that Seattle’s property crime totals are anywhere close to approaching those of much larger cities. (Also, L.A. and the Big Apple have two of the lowest per capita crime rates among major American cities.) Seattle’s crime rate in 2016—the most recent year in which we were able to access comprehensive data—was still lower than Santa Cruz’s, which was lower than Oakland’s.
Of all the trending oft-cited claims from Santa Cruz’s Facebook pages, perhaps the one that’s most suspect is a rumor stemming from an article titled “Seattle Under Siege” published in the right-wing publication City Journal. Seattle, it argues, is spending $1 billion a year on its homeless population. But is it true?
Well, the Seattle Times pegged the region’s total homelessness spending at one-fifth of that amount, and it was thorough in its analysis, too, including a wide array of sources—city funding, county funding, federal and state funding, private donations. So how did the Puget Sound Business Journal—which originally came up with the much larger $1 billion figure—arrive at its number? Apparently, the paper used a method that—depending on how you look at it—was either exhaustive or just plain boneheaded. In its estimate, the Business Journal included a wide variety of additional costs, including $155 million worth or real estate used for homeless facilities and a whopping $746 million in the budgets of nonprofits that help the homeless. At the very least, City Journal and Santa Cruz activists have taken the $1 billion number out of context.
Making good decisions on touchy subjects is hard enough. Citing questionable data doesn’t make it any easier.