Cary Moon supports a ‘right to shelter’ for the homeless. What does that mean for Seattle?

The mayoral candidate endorsed an approach, most famously used in New York City, that virtually guarantees shelter on demand. That could require adding tens of millions of dollars to the emergency shelter system.

Seattle mayoral candidate Cary Moon has endorsed a significant and potentially hugely expensive change in the city’s approach to sheltering the homeless, backing what’s known as a “right to shelter.”

Asked at a mayoral debate Tuesday if the city should adopt “an ordinance that guarantees people a right to shelter,” Moon appeared unsure, then answered firmly yes. “We sort of have this system where we provide housing as it becomes available instead of housing as a right.”

Moon’s response surprised some homeless advocates because it endorses an approach, most famously used in New York City, that virtually guarantees shelter on demand. Taken to a logical end, a Seattle “right to shelter” could require adding tens of millions of dollars to the emergency shelter system at a time when Seattle and King County embrace strategies to divert more people from shelter and into stable housing.

As the city’s homelessness crisis has emerged as a top issue in the Seattle mayor’s race, both Moon, a planner and activist, and her opponent Jenny Durkan, the former U.S. Attorney in Seattle, talk of affordable housing as a “right,” but only Moon endorsed a right to shelter.

2017 Seattle mayoral race

Moon stands by her endorsement, said her campaign consultant, Heather Weiner, and supports looking “at other cities for what works best.” Moon has not identified a specific tax source to pay for it, but supports a variety of new taxes, including a city capital gains tax and a tax on vacant properties.

Durkan has proposed 700 new shelter beds citywide, distributed equally among neighborhoods. But she rejected a “right to shelter” law.

The effect would be “diverting millions of dollars in scarce resources to warehousing people experiencing homelessness in sometimes degrading shelters rather than providing people the housing they need to permanently exit homelessness,” Durkan said in a statement. “It is inevitable that such an ordinance would cause lawsuits and ligation, which would also divert additional funding and resources.”

Here’s what a Seattle right to shelter law could potentially mean.

January’s annual Point In Time Count tallied more than 3,800 “unsheltered” people…

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