By Frederick H. Lowe
SEATTLE–Seattle-area Muslims have begun distributing food and personal hygiene supplies to the area’s homeless, a population that continues to grow in Washington State’s largest city.
Called “Mercy on Wheels,” the program began April 8, and it will operate every week. Volunteers will drive a van provided by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief’s Washington State Team, which is based in Kent, a Seattle suburb.
The Seattle area is home to some of the nation’s wealthiest corporations. They include Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbucks, but the city of hills and picturesque views has a large and growing homeless population.
In March, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked the city’s residents to approve $55 million a year in new taxes to fight the problem of homelessness. Mayor Murray’s ballot initiative would increase property taxes by $275 million over five years for homeless services, nearly doubling what Seattle already spends.
The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, an independent coalition working for safety, housing, justice and an end to homelessness, reported on Jan. 29, 2016, when the homeless were counted, 4,505 people were living without shelter in King County. This is a 19 percent increase from 3,772 in 2015. Another 3,200 are living in shelters and 2,983 are living in transitional housing, the coalition reported.
In 2015, 40% of persons living in shelters were African American, 31% were white, 12% were Hispanic, 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and 2% were Native American.
The Washington program was inspired by a similar project in San Francisco operated by ICNA Relief except volunteers will not prepare food in the van. Instead, volunteers will pick up food from restaurants. The hygiene supplies include dental kits. ICNA Relief USA strives to build healthy communities, strengthen families and create opportunities for those in despair while maintaining dignity and advocating for basic human needs.
“I’m very excited to see the volunteers pull this project together,” said Faheem Khan, president of ICNA Relief Washington.