It feels like every day people in Seattle suffer and die due to our piss-poor mental health system.
Overdoses are off the charts. Cops kill people in crisis, or else people in crisis call the cops for help, and then the cops kill someone else en route to the scene. People go into crisis and hurt or kill other people, and they go into crisis and kill themselves.
When they’re not dying, poor people with mental health issues and drug addictions endure daily indignities and sneers, and everybody else walks around town feeling variously helpless, anxious, resigned, and fed-up.
We could prevent some of these tragedies and a lot of this agita if we had a place where anyone in crisis could go for help. Unfortunately, right now, in all of King County, we only have one of those places: DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center downtown. The center has 46 beds to serve a population of 2.3 million, and people can’t just walk in—a cop or some other first-responder needs to hand them off. Not great!
That’s why you and everyone you know must vote to approve King County’s Proposition No. 1, the Crisis Care Centers Levy.
The levy would impose a property tax that would raise $1.25 billion over the course of nine years. The funds would build five behavioral health urgent care facilities across King County, with one specifically geared toward youth. The first one might go up as soon as 2026, and the last one would go up before 2030.
These crisis care facilities would stay open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Anyone could walk in and receive “immediate, on-site crisis support with 23-hour observation” in units that serve around 20 people at a time, according to the County. If people need more time to stabilize, they can access behavioral health treatment “for up to 14 days” in a 16-bed unit. People with substance use disorder would be eligible for help with immediate needs and referrals for treatment elsewhere if appropriate (and available). No insurance? No problem. And, if they see fit, cops and other first-responders can drop off people at these places instead of booking them into jail.
The levy also aims to construct 111 new long-term mental health residential beds, which would restore the system’s capacity to 2019 levels. (We’ve been bleeding long-term beds as facilities shut down due to lack of state funding.) To make sure we don’t lose any more long-term beds or any of the new short-term beds, the levy reserves tens of millions of for maintenance costs over this nine-year period.
Finally, to entice people to work at these facilities, there’s also money to create apprenticeship programs and to boost pay for mental health care workers.
Will those higher salaries potentially lure people away from other mental health facilities where we desperately need workers? Probably, but the pipeline programs will help, and the state won’t be totally useless in this regard, either.
Will these centers solve the county’s mental health facility needs? HAHAHAHAHAH. No. The state and federal governments have been so negligent for so long that passing this bill will keep us humming at crisis levels rather than total-meltdown levels. But hey, that’s capitalism.
Do property taxes suck? Yes! This one will tax property owners 14.5 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value, which adds up to around $120 in 2024 for owners of median-priced homes (~$700,000). But seniors, poor people, and disabled people can apply for an exemption. And, remember, we don’t have an income tax. Until we get one, they’re going to keep hiking property taxes and sales taxes to pay for stuff we needed 10 years ago. If you want to change that, then email your state representatives and tell them you want them to pass an income tax yesterday.
In the meantime, vote “approved" by April 25.