Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Sock Puppet Rebellion

The Consumer Advisory Council (CAC) of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is going ape-shit this week because, with all due respect and I say this as a friend, Bill Block sometimes has the political sensitivity of a turnip.

First, a little background. The Committee to End Homelessness in King County has three main groups that meet. There's the mucky-muck Governing Board, which has a few rich business people, some top level human services administrators, a handful of electeds, a United Way President, and a former Governor. They make the decisions. Then you have the Interagency Council. Other than homeless people themselves, these people have the most knowledge and experience because they work in it everyday. They advise the Governing Board, but mostly lack the means to hold them accountable. Then there's the Consumer Advisory Council, made up of those who have actually been homeless. No one has to listen to them at all, but everyone agrees they're an important part of the plan.

Listening to the voice of the homeless is a key piece of Ten Year Planning efforts everywhere. Philip Mangano does it all the time. It lends an aura of saintliness, which he finds useful in numerous situations.

But having a voice and having power are different things entirely. More on that later.

You may have noticed that I used the phrase "the homeless" just now. That was wrong of me. I know this because I've been working in this issue for twenty years and realize that some people find that phraseology to be objectifying and prefer the term "homeless people," or the more cumbersome, "those experiencing homelessness." I also know it because it's in the 15 page handout Bill Block gave members of the Consumer Advisory Council to help them talk about this issue.

The CAC has been feeling kind of stabby over their obviously tokenistic role for awhile. They have no defined relationship, for example, to the Interagency Council, which is where, supposedly, recommendations get formed. Until a few months ago, they had no representation on the Governing Board either. They meet with Bill, and Bill conveys their concerns.

The CAC decided awhile ago that this arrangement lacked a certain, shall we say, formality, and the Governing Board responded by selecting a formerly homeless person to represent them. This person had everything she needed to be effective in this role except any real relationship to the CAC. So that just pissed them off more.

So then the Governing Board said, "OK, we can handle two consumer representatives on our 24 person board. We hand picked the first one. Send us three choices, and we'll hand pick another from those. If we don't like any of the choices, you'll have to send us more candidates from which to hand pick."

That was the deal. The CAC, ingrates that they are, have rebelled against the colonial overlords to insist on choosing their own representative. Dr. Wes Browning, who is probably smarter than anyone on the Governing Board except for Ron Sims, who is really fucking smart, is smart enough to be mostly amused by all of this, but also pissed enough to want to quit the CAC if CEHKC doesn't stop treating them like the total tokens that they probably are.

But that's not why people are freaking out. Apparently, a homeless speakers bureau is forming out of the CAC, and Bill Block helpfully provided them 15 pages of talking points, along with a CEHKC PowerPoint that he'd like them to use. This is where the turnip analogy comes up.

When Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project was here recently, he told a story about when he was homeless and some advocates invited him to speak at a rally. He talked to his friends, and prepared for his big moment. When it was time, he was handed his speech.

This is sort of like that. But it's worse. Because in his turnipy way, Bill has managed to piss off not only the CAC, but also SHARE and WHEEL, who run the Tent City encampments as well as numerous other homeless self-managed shelters. Here's sample Question and Answer #2 (out of 24). This being a blog and not a book, I won't get into a critique of the whole handout.
Q: Tent city isn't a long-term solution. Why is this?

A: The purpose of the plan is to change from just providing shelter to providing long-term housing. There won't be a necessity for shelters or tent cities when the plan succeeds. I should also note that, in context, the tent cities are only a small fraction of the shelter beds in our system. The two tent cities only house 150-200 people (of 2,500 in the shelter system). So in some ways tent city is not really about shelter. What tent city has accomplished is educating communities that homeless people not just "are like us," they are us. Community members have the opportunity to realize that the people living in tent cities are moms, dads, and grandmas just like us. There is extensive testimony from people who have recognized that people who have become homeless are not a different "species." Viewing homeless people as neighbors has been a productive part of tent city.
So, if you're wondering what's wrong with this, it's not the "people who are experiencing homelessness are people too" rap that starts about half way through. The part that has people doing the war dance is the denial that Tent City is anything other than a public education campaign.

Here's the thing. If CEHKC was listening to homeless people at all, they'd know that when planners talk about closing shelters, it freaks people out. That's because there is presently a 2:1 ration of people needing shelter to available beds, and little to no evidence that homelessness is actually being reduced.

People who stay at Tent City do not regard themselves as props. They are people who would otherwise not be sheltered at all. This is especially true in this Brave New 10YP World in which no new shelter is politically possible.

But that's not in the script, is it?

In other news, here's something from yesterday's Seattle Times.

Isaac Palmer, 62, was apparently inside a sleeping bag concealed by blackberry bushes in South Seattle when he was run over by a state Department of Transportation (DOT) contract worker. The King County Medical Examiner's Office said Tuesday that the death was caused by tractor-mounted brush-clearing machinery. ...

After striking Palmer, the subcontractor saw his body roll out of the blackberry brambles toward an access road, according to a Seattle police report. Palmer died almost immediately after the 11:40 a.m. Saturday accident, the report said.

"Everybody believed the site was clear," East said, adding that the area is popular with transients. "This person had crawled into a sleeping bag and burrowed his way amongst the blackberry bushes. He wasn't visible to anybody."

In the days before the accident, police, DOT employees and contract crews were in the area working and advising transients about the upcoming work, East said. They were told to abide by the no-trespassing signs and leave the DOT-owned area.


Dr. Wes Browning said...

I'm not as smart as Ron Sims? Ouch! Well, just for that, you're not as smart as Ron Sims either.

As for Block's Question and Answer #2 the anger only begins with the suggestion that the Tent Cities are political. The other shelters in the system are actually INFERIOR in many ways to the Tent Cities. The others don't generally allow couples. They break families up. They have such restrictive hours that people can't work most jobs that aren't 9 to 5. They are infested. They have more crime, more noise, more drunkenness.

It's also infuriating that Block uses the fact that the Tent Cities only account for a small part of the shelter system against them. That is aggravated rudeness. Tent City 3 had to fight tooth and claw for the one hundred beds they are allowed inside the city. Tent City 4 has had to fight over and over again just to exist. And Block says they aren't a significant part of the shelter system -- because there's not that much of them! That is totally rude.

It's like beating somebody down to the dirt because you disagree with something they said, and then calling around to witnesses, "How can you listen to a man who lies in dirt?" Absolutely assinine.

Mark said...

RE: guy run over and killed by city worker. WTF

Stephany said...

When I read about that man dying from being ran over by the brush cutter, it made me sick. It has to be one of the worst stories Ive ever read. As far as TC4--Ive met many residents, and been to as many moving days as possible. I don't get the anti-tent city people.Hell most have jobs and worry when their isn't a busline close to get to work. Each time they have to move, it jeopardizes jobs that could be further away.
Personally glad they are coming to my town soon. There's a good bus system close by. Though interestingly, I spoke with a few people without homes--and they were concerned the Tc4 crowd would "take over my corner". I encouraged them to get into Tc4--and they had a misconception that "they are all drug addicts and it's a bad scene."

Not the case. This is what I think the general public believes as well. They are hard working people just like anyone else.

Anyone wants to help Tent City 4 move, they always need Hefty bags to pack, and ice for coolers on moving day.
I know I'm preaching to the choir here; but maybe someone without knowledge and turnip souls might decide to read.

Bill said...

The tent city issue continues to escape too many folks, sadly including those charged to guide the CEHKC at its Interagency and Governing Board levels. Oops, guess as Tim says, it's still a little challenging to staff. There is usually one word fully adequate to describe the importance of tent cities: Safety. It is a curious and yet little reported reality that the regions outside Seattle are not cutting shelters they don't have, they are planning shelters into their own local 10 Year Plan expressions. Typical that the Seattle core thinks the regional need for shelter is simply theirs to determine,... Would there was better counting skill present to see that "adequate shelter" doesn't come even close to describing what we presently have. That tent cities also provide a peer network -- albeit hard work as we all know, since being partners and not doing business as it has always been done takes effort -- seems to get lost too often as well. There is still blame in the system, that in effect people are homeless because it is their fault, solely. The political correctness generally limits such directly toxic remarks, but the parallel behaviors, actions, and texts issued for being a "homeless speaker" tend to reveal some evident lack of clarity. Why do we think a person homeless cannot tell his/her own story? And, this issue of what to call those homeless, I am thinking of calling myself "housed by the grace of God," but am likely rejecting that because it imputs too much favor by God to me. Like I have earned it,.. ha!

Dr. Wes Browning said...

The story about the man being run over by a tractor points up the need for real two-way communication with the homeless. If the DOT took the trouble to actually talk to the people who sleep by the freeways instead of talk at them they would know that going out a few days before to warn them off wouldn't work. I won't try to list all the reasons here. I'll just make one related point.

Where does the DOT get off, on the one hand, saying they can just tell everybody to bug off, with a day or two of notice, but, on the other hand, act as if there is no way someone new from somewhere else in the county who hadn't got the notification couldn't have moved in that day?

I'm not saying the man run over wasn't a regular at that site. I'm pointing out that the procedure of warning two days in advance and then moving ahead without eyes-on at the site begs for something like this to happen. The procedure is criminally negligent on the face of it. You're dealing with a harassed population that is forced to move from place to place.

The harassment and oppression is so general and widespread that the DOT can not properly claim to be in control of it all. There are other jerks just like them beating the bushes elsewhere, and the DOT is just one among the many so wildly arrogant and so self-blindedly-ignorant organizations that each think they're the only oppressors in town, and are therefore in complete control of their little fiefdoms of homeless "burdens".

Anonymous said...

Not really a good way to build coalitions.

The ten year plan may have faults, but right now it's the only game in town!

Tim Harris said...

Anonymous, the more I've thought about the Ten Year Plan, the more I've come to regard it being "the only game in town" as a problem that needs to be addressed. I don't think that coalition needs to mean submerge our differences, shut the hell up, and take direction from the top down on how to address homelessness. The more open people are about the problems that exist, the better chance there is of something being done about it.

Stephany said...

Okay the "only game in town" isn't working. There's the clear sign something needs to change direction. When I encountered a police and firemen crew hovering over one homeless man [without home, face it he is homeless]under the Ballard bridge, I got out of my car and asked what was happening. They told me that they "needed to clear the area". I asked what would happen if he didnt move? "we will throw all of his belongings into that dumpster over there, he cannot keep things here. He can sit there but he cant have his stuff". I asked the man his name, and I asked him if he could walk. He said no. I went back to the cops, told them his name and asked them if i bagged up his stuff would they get him to harborview if he wanted to go for care for his back. They said yes. Now I am talking 1/2 dozen professionals and a clean up crew all standing there staring at this man as if he was not human. I placed gloves on his hands and bagged his stuff. I didnt have any bags, so I asked the clean up crew for one of their hefty bags. They wouldnt give me one until I had a shit fit at them telling them what the hell was one plastic bag to help one man going to do, they were going to use em anyhow to toss his stuff. Then I bagged the items, and had the firemen label the mans bike with his name on it and they held it at the station for him. I stayed by the man until AMR came. The cops were complaining that they were tired of the fecal matter around the area. Clearing out an area is what they called it. I called it a November freezing day, and they were watching a man freeze to death.
AMR crew showed up and I knew them well. They transported my daughter from her hospital to mental health court many times. I talked to the man [using his name but dont want to write it here]. he told me his life story and how he ended up there. So did everyone else over a couple of months. They also never asked me for anything except trash bags to keep the area clean.
Boardroom meetings don't create answers when the people involved are not there or have input.

The "game" is not all we have. That kind of attitude is defeating and useless.

Start with removing the "Ten Year" wording. Homelessness does not ever leave society.

Also, a point I wanted to make though Im trying not to write a thesis here--is that the churches that house Tc4 are doing all they can do--really where are the shelters on the Eastside??
There are a few places that serve meals, and there are food banks, but why doesnt the Eastside address this issue with more than "keep off the grass" signs?

Our society is filled with people who are uncomfortable with mental illness or homelessness, it is easier to look the other way and pretend it does not exist, and often in tandem.

Causing officials to squirm in their chairs is the way to go.

Anyone reading this near a tent city should get out of their cars and walk into them and meet the people. You will not regret it. You may end up a better person for it. The people I have met are just like me, we are not different. Except I get to get in my car and drive to a house. They sleep in a tent and work hard. I actually feel they are heroes, and I dont say that lightly.
Thanks for the space here for my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Stephany, you are awesome. Tim, hire Stephany.

As far as the CEH/Plan being the only game in town, the Bush Administration is the only game in town right now also. Does that mean we've gotta fall in line? And let's make a distinction between the Plan and the CEH's carrying out of the Plan. This may be flogging an analogy to bits, but the Plan (just like the US Constitution) is a pretty good document; the CEH's administration of it (just like Our Leader's bumbling) is a sorry sight.

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