Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Note to Nickels: People Are Not Trash
Today's Real Change leads with an investigative piece by Adam Hyla that reveals a pattern that dates back to at least May of targeting a list of homeless encampment sites for "cleanup." This, from what we've seen, involves destroying people's homes and throwing away their meager possessions without actually removing the trash from the area, which is apparently a lower priority.
A FOIA request to the Mayor's office revealed this email from Nickel's human service liaison Julien Loh that identifies 10 sites that are targeted for "cleanups" that occur monthly. The email lists the five sites that were hit in May, and discusses the June schedule, and attaches a Top Ten List of encampments that are targeted. I have chosen not to make that public.
The email refers to a shift in policy from one of tolerance, where sweeps were triggered by neighborhood complaints, to a policy of "proactive" monthly "cleanups." This is the zero-tolerance policy that we've been hearing rumors of that nobody wants to go on record about.
Let's be clear about our terminology here. Cleanups are something that one does with garbage and messes. When removing people and their homes, a different term is required. For my own purposes, I'll use "homeless sweeps," but stronger terms would do as well. I'd describe a policy of targeting homeless encampments and possessions for monthly destruction in a city where the shelters are full and homeless people must therefor survive however they can "terrorism."
To help the Mayor clarify, I offer the above two photos. On the left, we have a ten year old file photo of a homeless person recovering on the street from surgery. Note the eyes, the tortured expression, and the palpable sense of desperation. This is a human being. On the right, you have a pile of garbage, which is basically inanimate, has no rights, and deserves little or no respect. Different approaches and terminology are required in each case. I invite the Mayor and others involved with this policy to refer to this handy field guide as often as necessary.
Adam visited an area that was recently "cleaned" and found signs that advise campers that crews will be coming through, and they should call the Community Service Office for assistance. The Mayor defunded the CSO office years ago. A call to the phone number gets you a "no longer in service" message.
Whether this is cynicism or incompetence is something for the Mayor to explain.
While the area was subjected to a "cleanup," garbage remained everywhere. Only the belongings, structures, and people were removed.
This is another example of the dark side of the Ten Tear Plan to End Homelessness. The focus on getting the numbers of homeless people in Seattle down so that we can declare a "win" after the January One Night Count by any means necessary should make any thinking person want to puke. Ending homelessness isn't about eradicating evidence. It's about helping people. Or is it?
I guess it depends on who you ask.