Friday, June 8, 2007

The Turnip Gets His Say (Sort Of)

My sock puppet post seems to have hit a nerve. Wes was telling me recently that he's never seen Bill Block get mad. Well, I have. I think the secret is to compare him to a turnip. Bill emailed to say I'm more interested in having a colorful blog than in checking my facts.

I do hate to be dull.

There are a few corrections to be made. The handout and PowerPoint were created by Leadership Tomorrow for anyone who intends to speak on behalf of CEHKC, and not for the benefit of the Consumer Advisory Council (CAC) alone. It's in beta stage. SHARE/WHEEL didn't hear it that way, but as Anitra so delicately put it, "When you're getting fucked all the time, you develop a habit of expecting to be fucked." So maybe Bill should clarify with them as well, so they can stop holding strategy meetings about how they're going to metaphorically kick his ass.

I'm also informed that there are two CAC reps on the Interagency Council, which turns out to be true. Out of 38 seats. Filled mostly by high level government bureaucrats and senior staff from the largest human services and housing agencies in King County.

Bill says the CAC is being empowered.

He has offered, for example, to get some board training for them. I'm not really sure that this addresses the issue.

SHARE/WHEEL, I'm informed, is the only organization that has actually been allowed to have organizational representation on the CAC, and they fought for that tooth and nail. All other homeless and formerly homeless people are instructed to leave their affiliations at the door. They are on the CAC as individuals.

I wonder if that's true also for, say, Paul Lambros, the ED of Plymouth Housing, or Adrienne Quinn from the Office of Housing. Or City Attorney Tom Carr. I sort of doubt it. I mean, how would that work?

Anitra says it's pretty easy to be intimidated if "you don't know that you have 300 people standing behind you." I'm sure that's true. I mean, the other people at the table come from more privileged classes, make about ten times as much money as you do, and can talk insider jargon that you don't really understand without even knowing they're doing it. And there you are. You're outnumbered about twelve to one, and you've been informed that you don't represent anyone but yourself.

Here's the other thing. When I asked Bill about the Governing Board handpicking their representative from the Consumer Advisory Committee, his response was that no one else gets to choose their representation. That very "powerful" organizations wanted on and were refused. To me, this misunderstands the point.

The person Real Change nominated to the CAC, for example, is a recovering addict and a felon with limited formal education. He is staying clean, dealing with major health issues, and working toward his dream of one day holding a job in the field of waste management. Everyday life for him borders on the heroic.

He sells Real Change for a living. To pretend for a moment that this guy is on an even playing field with people like Greg Nickels or Paul Lambros or Tom Carr is just fucking sick.

It seems to me that there are two ways one could go about building "consumer" representation into the coalition. One would be to understand the vastly different relationships that people have to power, and attempt to compensate by encouraging genuine empowerment along the lines that SHARE/WHEEL has achieved in their representation. The other is to tokenize and to call that empowerment.

Rachael and I met with Bill shortly after he took this job to talk about homeless representation. If you want homeless people's ideas to really inform this process, we advised, forget about putting individuals in the position of representing "the homeless." Hold forums. Do surveys. Get real feedback about how the issue is viewed from a broad spectrum of those most affected and analyze those results for meaning.

But that's not the route they chose to go. I wonder why?

I don't think Bill Block is the issue here. There aren't many people who could hold together a coalition of county and city officials, high level career human service administrators, housing developers, business people, faith community advocates, and foundation heavyweights.

Let's face it. Most of these people aren't all that interested in what homeless people think. They already have their own ideas, and these have to do with their own self-interest. Lets remember our Niebuhr here. Individuals behave morally. Institutions act upon their self-interest. This is a coalition of institutions. This homeless inclusion stuff is ten percent reality and ninety percent useful fiction.

Are we such children that we don't understand this?

I don't believe for a moment that homeless people are an authentic part of CEHKC. Power sets the agenda and dictates the terms of inclusion. SHARE/WHEEL has some ability to push back, and those who have power don't like that a bit. It hasn't been that long since the city basically went to the mat in a failed attempt to defund the opposition.

Or have we forgotten that already? Somehow, I doubt that SHARE/WHEEL has.


Stephany said...

What does it look like to me?

It looks and sounds like the elite group of doctors and "oh I am a fellow, not a resident" psych peeps at Childrens hospital. I sat in a stacked board room. Yeah they stack the room with every notepad possible in a black suit. I sat out numbered and held an empty file. When the chief of staff said, "I am the doctor and have 25 years experience" the place fell silent.

When I opened my file when seated next to the "fellow" I did this on purpose. I knew he would look. Inside was an OMBUDSMAN complaint form with his name on it.

He looked away.

I placed a poster board on the table full of photos. No one spoke.

Later at the in house Tullys--one suit walked up to me and thanked me for the photo board--because it made the person they were talking about REAL.

Point: status means nothing.

Keep on moving it forward. The suits and all of the turnips--heartless clueless wonders with a good dinner in front of them right now.

Give em hell.

Dr. Wes Browning said...

The news that the handout was from Leadership Tomorrow and that that it was for the whole CEHKC doesn't make me feel any better. It makes matters worse.

Leadership Tomorrow trains people to step into leadership roles. How do they go from that to being regarded as experts on homelessness? How does their Q&A get distributed without their name on it and the CEHKC logo on the front page? Who the hell in the CEHKC said let's outsource this kind of work to the Leadership Tomorrow people, and not bother asking the CAC or the population subcommittees for input on these issues?

Leadership Tomorrow's expertise does not extend to knowing what Tent City is for. Who decided they should be the main consultant to inform the whole of CEHKC on Tent City without at least first having THEM work with SHARE/WHEEL to learn about the Tent Cities, so they'd know what they were talking about?

And how is it better that this document is meant to inform the entire CEHKC instead of just the CAC? I'm supposed to be happy to know that this elitist propaganda is being spread as far as possible?

Steph said...

Read my angry blog from a couple Fridays ago about the IAC. My board president and I walked out -- the week they met in Renton. There were people who abstained from voting on whether or not to move forward with something --- because they felt they shouldn't speak for the whole city they were representing. I wish like hell I could remember that woman's name. Anyway, it's all a bunch of suits talking shit. I must say, Bill Hobson made points I agreed with. Doesn't happen often.