Reactions to the 'Seattle is Dying' special on homelessness

The reaction to KOMO News’ ‘Seattle is Dying‘ special on homelessness has been unexpectedly strong, at least according to Eric Johnson, the reporter who created it. Yesterday Johnson went on Facebook live to discuss some of the reaction and respond to some of the criticisms.

“The reaction has been unlike anything I have ever seen in my career. It has been unbelievable,” Johnson said. He continued, “It touched a nerve and people said to themselves ‘yes, I’ve been thinking this, I’ve been feeling this and I didn’t quite know how to articulate it.”

The YouTube version of the clip has been viewed about 250,000 times but the version posted on Facebook has 1.5 million views and of course tens of thousands of people in the Seattle area saw it on television. The special is set to air on KOMO two more times in the next two weeks.

In addition to the viewership, there have also been thousands of comments left on Facebook, on YouTube and on social media sites. The reaction has been largely positive but there are definitely some who see the special as unwelcome. I’m going to offer a selection of responses I picked from Johnson’s own Facebook page and I’ll have more to say about it below. This is going to go on a while but you can sample or skim as much as you like:

  • I’ve lived here for twenty years. I’m the mother of a son. He’s been on and off Heroin for 10 years. Of course I believe in being compassionate. At the end of the day, my son’s problem shouldn’t be visited upon innocent citizens. He’s an addict making a choice to use. Law abiding people are being held hostage in Seattle. The families and businesses who make this city strong. It’s within their care that the future of Seattle should be placed. Make no mistake, I love my son, so very much. If we don’t intervene and give drug addicts consequences, they will die. I would rather my son be locked up and getting treatment. Then to have him terrorize or trash a local community. I want for the children now to have the clean place he once played in. The leaders of Seattle are wrong in their approach. None of them have walked in my shoes. As a mother I can’t see letting sick people run a completely chaotic agenda. It’s time for the reality to be addressed instead of the fantasy that if we just keep giving, it’s going to get better. No it won’t…I will just get a call or a knock on the door, that my son was found dead in a public something of an overdose…
  • As a cop who retired from the SPD 10 years earlier than I would have because the city would not allow me to do my job, I have to commend Eric Johnson and KOMO for this outstanding project: Seattle is Dying.What an important and courageous production. Congratulations!Things were horrible when I retired, and they’ve only gotten worse since.
  • Thank you, Eric. This should be MANDATORY viewing for Seattle’s mayor, city council and city attorney!
  • I am 62 and have lived in Seattle my whole adult life. The addiction and intervention and consequences is the problem and the solution. NOTHING else will work! Thank you for this program. Your hard work, I hope, will not go in vain. AND a huge thank you to the SPD that has a thankless job.
  • Thank you so much for this! I am moving out of this state partly due to our declining Seattle. When my grandchildren have to trip over drug addicts in front of Nordstrom to see Santa it’s a sad day in Seattle! I used to brag about what a beautiful clean city it was. I hope the city council and Seattle police dept. Open their eyes to the sorry state our beautiful city is in.
  • Eric – You and KOMO have done Seattle an incredible service. f the mayor and city council saw your program, it could actually make a difference. And maybe Seattle voters will figure out that liberal = enabling and change the way they vote.
  • This is what I call Journalism – no BS, no clickbait or political brainwashing, just straight facts. We need more of this. Thank you, Eric Johnson KOMO
  • Excellent program. It is a drug and mental health problem, not a housing problem. The housing crisis is political cover for doing nothing
  • Thank you thank you Eric Johnson for saying what I and all of my friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers have been saying for years now! I am a Seattle native and moved to the east side to get away from this sadness and awfulness. Watching my city go down in the ditch and being so frustrated with an incompetent city council, city attorney, and mayor pushed me to the brink.
  • I work in Ballard and nothing said or shown was exaggerated. Thank you KOMO.
  • Yes!!! As an Executive Director of a non-profit that serves homeless moms and kids on the Eastside I couldn’t agree more with what you have said. We see incredible outcomes with our families because we see homelessness as a symptom. Not the problem. Addiction. Abuse. Neglect. Lack of job skills and education (due to the above). Lack of relational skills (parenting, how to be a good employee, reliable renter etc). People are resilient and can change but not if they are enabled on a grand scale.
  • The current government in Seattle would never implement the programs that Rhode Island is making work. Using McNeil Island. Out would come the words; profiling, racism, discrimination, etc. Seattle as a city (in it’s current form), could no way pull it off.
  • Eric, your piece was outstanding. We at the Neighborhood Safety Alliance have exposed this reality for about 3 years now, and everything you said was spot on. We are dying and nobody cares. They just want more money and, as we have said for years, a home will not fix addiction, as our city “leaders” are trying to get us to believe. Thank you for exposing our homeless situation for what it is. Excellent work.
  • Eric! Fantastic reporting. Progressive enablement and tolerance of “survival crime” are what is killing this city. Pete Holmes is directly responsible for our City’s condition. The man is a cancer on this city.
  • Awesome story Eric….I am born and raised here and embarrassed is an understatement!
  • As a police officer here for the last 25 years, it has been heartbreaking to watch the moral and social decline of an area that I used to love so much and an area that used to be so beautiful. It is in the area where I have invested the greater portion of my life trying to make a difference. I used to feel that what I was doing was actually having an impact, but I’ve lost hope in the ability to enact true positive change. I moved here FROM The San Francisco area to try to raise a family in an environment that would be cleaner and healthier for them than the one that I grew up in. It’s clear that I can no longer say that is true.
  • This is what I try so hard to explain when I tell people I love my city but couldn’t live there anymore. (born, raised and lived there for 50 years)… I never thought I would move away. But when work provided an opportunity I took it.
  • Excellent reporting. Thank you for airing. We’ve stopped taking our kids into the city. My oldest told me she hates the city because it scares her. It scares me too unfortunately and it continues to get worse.
  • I am crying. I am crying because I left Seattle 16 years ago due to the exorbitant cost of housing. I cry because every year I go back to visit family it looks less and less like the Seattle I grew up in since 1972. I’ve lived in several different states, and can say without hesitation, not one of the other cities I’ve lived in would’ve tolerated what has happened to Seattle.
    Whether you believe addiction is a disease or a choice, it is undoubtedly ruining Seattle. It’s time to practice tough-love and establish boundaries and consequences for those who break laws, whether they’re using or not.
  • The show and the folks behind it: Pathetic. The level of your ignorance and meanness is awesome. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
  • Our wedding guests had to step over a homeless man passed-out in the doorway entering our small Seattle venue. Every one of them. I was simultaneously heartbroken for him as a person and angry/embarrassed Seattle had become so acquiescent of the growing drug problem.
  •  As someone who has worked in SODO for the last 12 years the last 3 have been terrifying. I have be yelled at, followed by shirtless man carrying a 2×4, stepped over needles on a weekly basis (I bought extra thick sole shoes just on case), stepped in human feces, and fear being pulled into a run down RV and raped. I love my job in Seattle but have been contemplating a job change to the Eastside because I don’t feel safe anymore in Seattle. I asked for pepper spray for Christmas (and got it). Seattle do something!!!
  • My husband and I were both born and raised in the PNW and it used to be that we bragged about it to everyone! Now it feels like a war torn 3rd world country. We will only go downtown if the theatre is something we really want to see, otherwise we wait for our annual xmas trip to NYC and watch on Broadway. NY is safer at night than Seattle…how disturbing is that?
  • I am also a lifetime resident of the Seattle area, and used to be proud of our city. Now I’m embarrassed to have out of town guests come visit. Our governor should stop considering running for President, on a global warming platform when he has a bigger problem – DRUG addiction and unlawful behavior in this states biggest city Seattle!
  • This isn’t journalism. This is a hit piece designed to plant fantasies of violence against the powerless in the minds of those who watch it. The criminals are not the people you see in this poverty porn–they are in the towers above us hoarding the wealth that could be used to create safe housing and secure food access for everyone on this planet.
  • We as a society would not leave a dog in these conditions. Yet we leave human beings to rot in their own filth every day and call it compassion.
  • Wealth Inequality is the cause of all of this and there should be a much more dramatic piece of outrage-bait to cover that subject.
  • And it is my hope that a future administration strips every single Sinclair station of its broadcast license.
  • I was just watching this video outside of my work on 5th and pine when I, along with numerous passing bystanders, got caught in the middle of two homeless people running down the street masing each other. This city has gone to complete and utter shit
  • This show needs to run EVERY WEEK, until EVERYONE sees it and realizes that what the city of Seattle is doing is NOT working, and it’s not working because the mayor and the city council are idiots!!

This really is just a selection from a tiny fraction of the comments. And these are all from one Facebook page. There are thousands of people commenting on other social media sites as well.

The point I want to make about all of this is that there’s an inherent political aspect to it. You can see it in the responses. There are cops and former cops taking a law and order view of this. And there are a few people who think the real offense in Seattle is Amazon, gentrification, and the lack of rent control. Lots of the people responding want to see the Seattle City Council, which is overwhelmingly liberal and in some cases socialist, thrown out. There’s really no escaping the fact that the current situation is the result of political decisions.

And yet, reporter Eric Johnson said on Facebook that he though politicizing the story was a mistake. He says he’s received many offers to comment on national shows that lean either right or left and he’s turned them all down. He really seems to believe that people on all sides of the aisle can see the problems and the solutions regardless of where they are coming from.

As much as I like the special he has created, I think Johnson is wrong about the politics. This problem has gotten to where it is in Seattle because of a specific outlook which is connected to politics. And fixing this problem won’t happen without changing that partisan mindset or, more realistically, replacing those City Council members with people who see things differently.

I can understand why Johnson, as a reporter, would want to keep politics out of it as much as possible. Let the work speak for itself. But the people who see Amazon as Seattle’s biggest problem are not going to take a tough love approach to Seattle’s homeless. The activists in Portland who want the police force disbanded are not going to adopt tougher policies on the homeless. If the politics don’t change, the city won’t change. It’s that simple.

Below is the Facebook live statement from Eric Johnson, but if you haven’t seen the special yet, you’ll want to do that first. It’s one of the best pieces of journalism you’ll see in 2019. And given the reaction it is generating around the country, I think this is going to be part of an even larger national conversation about this issue. The full special is here.