Monday, October 22, 2007

We Hold These Truths As Less Than Evident

Events this week have had me thinking about power and how issues get defined; who sets the terms of debate and through that, controls the outcome. Often, this power to define and control works invisibly. This is what makes it so powerful.

Anyone who’s taken the time and trouble to analyze homelessness as a systemic issue knows it’s about declining housing affordability, structural unemployment, and the failure of wages to keep up with inflation. It’s about the globalization of trade that expresses itself in America as our two-tiered, deindustrialized economy. On the one side are an inadequate number of low-wage service industry jobs, and on the other you have the well-compensated professionals who work within an expanding information economy.

Poverty and inequality are growing, and the most vulnerable of us fall out at the bottom.

Homelessness, however, has been redefined. When you hear discussion of homelessness now, it is most likely to mean “chronic homelessness.” The talk here is always of individual dysfunction, its cost to society, and how we’re going to “end homelessness” by getting the most visible homeless (about 10% of the whole, using current definitions) people into housing within ten years. The other side of this “getting the numbers down” is the heightened policing of the urban poor. This, too, is often invisible.

This isn’t ending homelessness. It’s reducing the visible poverty that threatens the profits of developers who have, across the country, invested heavily in an urban condo boom for the winners in the new global economy. It’s sweeping poverty, and its true causes, under the rug.

Follow the money. It won’t win you any friends, but it might open your eyes.


Anonymous said...

I've just started reading Mr. Harris' blog recently and I must admit I'm disappointed. I've been working in this field for over 30 years and never has there been a time were there's been so much potential for us to dramatically reduce the number of people in this community who are homeless. Sadly, I must conclude that Harris is either bending the truth or simply uninformed.

I suppose that I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that some of his more ridiculous comments are because he's misinformed.

It is true that in this community there is a major effort to address long-term homelessness. Harris assumes that we've been bought off by busienss interests and downtown developers. This is bull****. In the years that I've been doing this work I've seen people die on the streets, I've had people o.d. in my shelter, I've seen how desperate the chroncially homeless are. These people need our help. I'm not here to serve the interests of business but to try save the lives of those people that are most desperate. If the busienss community can help me achieve this than all the better.

Shame on you for belittling the commitment of many, many hard working and committed individuals who are working on this problem each day.

Further, Harris is dreadfully misinformed when it comes to understanding the full extent of the work in this community to broadly address homelessness. There are new sources of funding and a greater commitment than ever to address youth homelessness and family homelessness. I wish that Mr. Harris had made the effort to fully educate himself on the range of work being done in this community right now. Maybe it is time for him to get ot from behind his computer and really find out what's happening.

If you're reading this blog to become better informed about homelessness it is time to find a better source of information. Mr. Harris has an agenda to pursue and this blog is a reflection of that narrow, petty agenda.

Tim Harris said...

I have not belittled anyone's commitment. What I have belittled is the absence of a larger political vision within the institutional establishment in Seattle that claims to be "ending homelessness." Let's be clear on that.

Yet again, "anonymous" (I can see IP addresses and whoever this poster is, it's the same person) has chosen to attack me personally as opposed to addressing the issues that I raise. The vast majority of resources HAVE been focused toward "chronic" homelessness at the expense of other constituencies, and family and rural homelessness ARE increasing. The Mayor DOES have a zero tolerance policy toward homeless encampments, despite the fact that shelters are full. We ARE losing affordable housing at a rate that exceeds our capacity to replace it. The gap between rich and poor HAS consistently widened for thirty years, and the rate at which it is widening has accelerated.

And, you know, this "all you do is blog, you need to get out from behind your computer" crap is a bit disingenuous, don't you think? There's this little thing I do called Real Change. It's not like I'm not part of the solution.

It is not my agenda that is the narrow one. You can either address the issues I raise or attack my credibility. It seems you have chosen the latter course.

S. P. Miskowski said...

I read this blog, and I am concerned about my homeless neighbors--because the people I see every day don't have to own something for me to think of them as my neighbors. I also think that our situations could easily be reversed, given a few circumstances. So I see a homeless person as someone just like me who has had bad luck or has seen tough times and needs a break.

And I think how one views the issues related to homelessness depends on how you view homeless individuals. It seems to me that that is what Tim Harris is addressing: the heartless greedy, the well off and feeling pretty special about it, the 30 year slide into self-indulgent acquisition that now threatens to ruin every aspect of this nation. We simply cannot continue to coddle the rich and behave as though it is the fault of the homeless that they are where they are. THIS (I think) is what Tim Harris is talking about, rather than ONE business or ONE person or ONE government leader. He's trying to shift the balance by pointing out greed and negligence wherever he spots it.

For future reference, I do understand that there are times and places when it is necessary to remain anonymous, to avoid being attacked or fired from a job for expressing an opinion.

But I believe that, if you have a strong point of view, and ESPECIALLY if your viewpoint includes severe criticism of another individual who is neither rich nor famous, and therefore not powerful in society---you owe it to that person to identify yourself and own up to your view.

So, I won't be reading any more of these anonymous comments. If you want me to care about what you say, have the courage to express your opinions as we do--as ourselves. THAT is what open debate is all about.

Carolyn said...

"Anonymous", Are you Bill Hobson? You sound like him. Anyway, no one would say that it’s not important to solve the problems of the chronic homeless or that working toward that end isn't noble and urgently needed work. The problem is the complicit agreement to ignore the rest of the problems in our society that cause homelessness. Many of us have seen people die in the streets and in shelters. It doesn't give any of us a monopoly on truth. Carolyn

Steven Greimann said...


Your continued criticism of anonymous comments is puzzling. I thought you would support the option of anonymity. Your blog certainly makes the choice available. Perhaps you can disable the option.

The “tell me who you are!” theme that I see in this thread and in others stands against the fundamentals of open politics that you find on the internet. Sure there is a place for identifying yourself, but your focus on the fact that naysayers (in particular) are not identifying themselves only adds to the tortured logic that I see you demonstrate in other areas of your writing.

I see room for all range of comments (e.g., anonymous, via pseudonym, full disclosure, etc.), but this is my blog. Again, if anonymity on your blog displeases you, make the choice unavailable.

Anitra said...

For a few who are usually intimidated into silence, anonymity lets them speak up and tell the truth. For most, however, anonymity has far more negative effects. It would be far far better to encourage those that we disagree with to not be afraid to speak out in their own name, than to encourage them to speak out anonymously and thus affirm to them that it is not safe to do so otherwise.

One can be safe on the Net, or elsewhere, without going by "anonymous." Many homeless people go by "street names" or first-name-only. Many people on the Internet go by "handles," giving enough profile information to establish a sense of "real person" without making it possible to physically locate them.

It is a long-acknowledged social phenomenon on the Net that anonymity does not encourage discourse, it encourages abuse.

When human faces and even real names are absent, social habits aren't automatically triggered, except for those to whom they are really habit. People who always treat others kindly are still kind when they cannot see faces. People who are only nice to others when they are face-to-face and know they can be slapped, indulge in nastiness when the other person is far far away down the electron tunnels and doesn't even know who or where they are.

However you judge what Tim has said, he has not sniped at anyone from hiding.

deb said...

Those who just hate homelessness - "Just because" with no valid insight or reasoning - will attack us with same vagueness. To weaken us - waste our time - add confusion - try to steer power into hands of Corporate Pharohs out to turn us into slaves. I'm with Tim all the way. He's an expert in this arena.
I can't see what the annonymous person is actually (factually) upset by. He/she just calls Tim names and treats Tim like Tim doesn't know anything - (being unspecific in what it is Tim doesn't know except a vague reference to 'homelessness') - I think the annonymous note can be ignored. Tim is an expert on the issue and is doing a great job.