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In Seattle, 1 in 5 People Booked into Jail Are Homeless

Crosscut

By David Kroman

Rosalind Tymony doesn’t know how many times she’s been arrested, but she’s sure it’s more than 30 — at least once a year since she became homeless.

Tymony often spends her time in Belltown, where she knows the police and the police know her. It was an addiction to heroin that first got her arrested, but these days, she’s more often picked up for what she didn’t do than what she did — and that is: failing to appear in court. As an addict, getting to her court date at the downtown courthouse means walking through a gauntlet of people happy to provide her heroin.

“If I got to pass all of this dope area on the way and I’m dope-sick, which is going to come first, me fixing my addiction or me going to court?” she said. “I’m going to fix my addiction.”

The result, though, is a “failure to appear,” or FTA, and a warrant. So if an officer happens to screen her name, they’ll arrest her. “I could be clean for two years, but they’re not looking at the two years clean, they’re looking at all those FTAs,” she said.

As Seattle grapples with a homeless crisis, the number of homeless people continue to make up a disproportionate number of arrest-bookings by police. According to its own data, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in 2018 booked just over 1,000 homeless people into jail a combined 3,211 times. That means one out of every five bookings last year was of someone struggling with homelessness, despite the homeless making up about 1 percent of the city’s population. Homeless service providers and advocates contend it’s probably even higher, especially if the department also considered people who were handcuffed or cited, but not booked into jail.

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