Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gone to Ground

Today, I was able to expand the lexicon over at the Urban Dictionary. The phrase "gone to ground" wasn't in their database yet. Here's how I defined it. Gone to ground: to take evasive action in order to avoid further attention. To "lie low." e.g., Ever since we exposed the Mayor's sleazy policy, they've gone to ground on this issue.

Since Real Change reporter Adam Hyla broke the story last month that the Mayor's office has pursued a secret policy of proactive monthly homeless campsite clearances since at least last May, the response has been classic Nickels. That is to say, played close to the vest and tightly controlled. Demands by advocates for an immediate cessation of clearances have been met with stony silence. They're working on a policy, they say.

Hell, that's what they were saying months ago, before their secret policy became public. So now, are they still working on the secret policy, or are they just working on the public policy that they'd rather work on in secret? Whatever they're working on, they clearly don't want us to know about it.

A scheduled city council briefing on the issue was canceled, and no new date was offered. As far as stopping the sweeps goes, all we know is that the greenbelt clearances that were scheduled for November 1st were called off when our reporter tipped his hand that we knew. As far as anyone knows now, homeless campsite clearances are continuing as before.

This is obviously unacceptable. The Real Change Organizing Project has therefore initiated a petition campaign to demand accountability from the City on this issue of basic human rights.

It is not acceptable to chase homeless people out of town with harassment tactics as if they were no more than rabid vermin. It is not acceptable for the Mayor's office to unilaterally formulate policy on this issue when their actions have shown they don't give a flying crap about homeless campers and how they are treated. The breathtaking contempt the Mayor's office has shown for their so-called "partners" in "ending homelessness" by covertly pursuing a policy of systematically destroying homeless campsites and trashing the belongings of vulnerable people render them unfit to be trusted.

The Mayor's office will minimize. They will self-protect. They will try to maintain control. And they will, most predictably of all, go on the offensive by attacking homeless campers as a menace to public safety that must be eliminated.

And that is why they cannot be allowed to set the terms of this debate.

The Real Change petition launches today. It reads as follows:
Housing, Not Harassment. Justice for Homeless Campers.

On any given night, at least a quarter of the 8,000 people who are homeless in King County are without any shelter. They sleep in cars, camp in greenbelts, ride buses, and try to find warmth and safety in any way that they can. Nobody should have to live outside, but there simply is not enough low-income housing and emergency shelter for everyone who needs assistance.

Current City of Seattle clearance policies (and implementation of those policies) devastate the lives of people who are already marginalized and vulnerable. People's campsites are being systematically destroyed, and their basic survival gear and personal effects are being taken away and discarded. So far, the city has not made public what its policies are, nor has it permitted human services professionals or homeless advocates to review and comment on those policies.

Extensive protocols for responsible campsite outreach and clearance exist. They include on-going human services outreach to homeless campers, assistance in accessing emergency services, and provision of long-term housing. The City of Seattle has done none of these things.

We, the signers of this petition, call upon the city government to CEASE ALL CAMPSITE CLEARANCES IMMEDIATELY, and to take the following actions:

1. Create realistic housing and safe shelter alternatives for homeless campers.

2. Fund Outreach and Engagement workers to seek out homeless people who are not within the shelter system, and work with them to access housing and secure services.

3. Partner in good faith with homeless people and their advocates to create a fair and humane policy regarding homeless campers. This policy should include an outreach and engagement plan and the provision of real housing options.

Only when these actions have been taken will it be reasonable for the city to recommence clearing campsites.

The online version may be found here. A hard copy of the petition is available for download as well. Sign it. Circulate it. Hold them accountable.


Bill said...

About 50 people attended a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus Tuesday. Everything got talked about, to little more than sighs and groans as to possible change. I managed to include a comment about the sweeps of the homeless. I like your points, each one of them. But I go further. I want Gov. Gregoire to state, alongside with rebuilding the 520 bridge as she said a day ago, that "as of election night 2008, I (she) commit(s) to make available for those homeless - at minimum -- a roof over every bed." Every roof is more important than the bridge.

hylarious said...

There's good reason to suspect that the camps are being cleared more frequently and thoroughly than ever. One local reporter, not gonna say who, told me he visited the SPD's "Top 10" in the past week and didn't find a single soul.