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?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.
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.
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.