While there is widespread skepticism toward the Ten Year Plan's prospects for success, there is also broad support for many of the Plan's goals. We hope to begin a conversation that a.) moves beyond what has been a stifled and largely top-down dialogue to have a real discussion of homelessness and poverty in Seattle, b.) builds an organizing model that is capable of moving a broad grassroots anti-poverty agenda, and c.) supports key Ten Year Plan goals by truly building the political will to end homelessness.
Nobody disputes that the major structural issues that stand behind homelessness (A market that does not support affordable housing, an economy in which many people are surplus and many others are poorly paid, and a federal government that has mostly devolved its responsibility for services to the localities and continues to withdraw support) are extremely daunting.
We must, however, move beyond local solutions that offer no challenge to basic structures of inequality. We need to stop accepting that homelessness is a local problem, and that local and private solutions are capable of meeting the need. We need to address the market forces that eliminate affordable housing nearly as fast as new subsidized housing alternatives come on line. We need to build coalition across issues to increase the bargaining power of labor and mitigate the failures of capitalism to meet basic human needs with adequate food, shelter, and healthcare for all of us.
We need to move away from models of managing homelessness and poverty that divide poor people and their advocates into competing issues and subpopulations, and move toward ways of organizing and meeting people's needs that bring us together across barriers of race and class.
None of this happens overnight. As we all work to build grassroots political will for Ten Year Plan priorities, we need to do so in a way that builds power for the long-term and begins to address the deeper problems that create homelessness. Here are a few quick thoughts to help get people thinking in a new direction.
- Poor and homeless people should be meaningfully involved in the process. We should avoid tokenized input. Likewise, we should avoid romanticizing "the voice of the poor." We should be respectful and realistic, and very much about listening.
- The distance between the experience of poor and homeless people and their middle class and affluent allies needs to be bridged by opportunities for dialogue and action that reach across barriers of class.
- The professionalization of anti-poverty and human services advocacy has left us largely without the organized base of support that we need to effectively challenge money and power. Support for ending homelessness needs to be cultivated at a neighborhood by neighborhood level. Lots of people want the same thing. We need to get a lot better at building for power.
- We need to start challenging the idea that little can be done about market forces that decrease the availability of low-income housing. While we should support reforms like the enlargement of the State Housing Trust Fund, we also need to look at how development and zoning policies impact affordability.
- We need to use every tool available, including the citizen's initiative, to challenge the loss of housing affordability in Seattle.
- We need to create more opportunities to come together, learn, and discuss. In the absence of community and dialogue, we often accept paradigms for reform and action that miss the point.
- We need to recognize that there is huge structural unemployment in our economy, and start organizing for policies that address this issue instead of simply blaming the poor.
- We need to get a lot better at working across issues and forming strategic alliances and coalitions. We need to hold the federal government more accountable for its role in increasing poverty and homelessness.