Monday, December 3, 2007
And She Once Showed So Much Promise ...
This morning's Mayor's Human Service staff briefing of the City Council on homeless campsite clearances was dispiriting to say the least. Parks Department staffer Cheryl Fraser began by depicting a horror show of rats, needles, feces, and trash, and complaints of intimidation, and ended by offering Nicole Brodeur's recent abomination of a column as supporting evidence. The clearances, she insisted, "are not a strategy to reduce homelessness in Seattle." Then Marilyn Littlejohn spoke of their great concern for homeless people, their efforts to belatedly create policy, and said "These encampments are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem."
She's half right. They are definitely not part of the solution. They are, instead, evidence of our collective failure to provide the services that are direly needed, and as Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness' Dan Wise eloquently pointed out during her testimony, these sweeps drive people deeper into seclusion and make them harder to find and serve.
But the main show was Patricia McInturff's testimony. As the Mayor's head of Human Services, she's the one who gets paid the big bucks to cover City butt, and lie, if necessary, towards that end. She wrapped up the truthful part of her presentation in the first few sentences, having admitted that they City has had no real policy for about a decade, and that they "botched" the clearances near the Aloha Inn. The following Ten Lies represent a partial list of the lies and distortions within the rest of her testimony, including lies of omission.
1. We all agree that people deserve to be notified and have assistance.
The City has said that they are continuing clearances, and there is no evidence that either of these goals are currently being adequately addressed.
2. Storage of possessions by the City is not possible.
Other Cities have accomplished this, sometimes by court order. Does Seattle have some bizarre storage limitation problem that is unique to our world class city status? I don't get it.
3. These are not things you would want to store.
One man complained in the Post Intelligencer story of having his only photos of his children disposed of by the City. When people live without possessions, what they do carry tends to be carefully selected and of enormous personal value.
4. This is not a strategy to reduce homelessness.
There was no acknowledgment of the documented fact that the Mayor's office has carried out a proactive policy of monthly sweeps since at least May, and that the selected list of sites has near complete overlap with One Night Count areas, many of which are purely urban and do not border residential areas that might complain.
5. We want to get these people the services they need.
Few if any services have been offered, although arrests have been threatened of those attempting to reclaim belongings.
6. I checked this weekend. There was room in our shelters.
On Friday night, one men's shelter turned away 86 people. Despite it being the first of the month when people get their checks and there is often a bit more slack from people renting hotel rooms, emergency and sever weather shelters were full over the weekend, and Operation Nightwatch made 149 referrals on Sunday night to people with nowhere to go.
7. DESC's Connections offers services to those displaced from campsites.
This program has limited capacity, and primarily serves those DESC clients who are looking for employment. Connections is not designed for or particularly open to those targeted by the City's campsite clearances.
8. We have no way of knowing how many people we are dealing with.
Our one-night count is a national model, and while numbers are approximate, it offers a pretty clear idea of the numbers. Last year, 1,600 were counted in the Seattle area alone who were outside of the at capacity shelter system. There are detailed breakouts of where and under what circumstances.
9. I would never be part of a response that didn't address these things.
These words were uttered in response to Peter Steinbrueck's insistence that the City policy be compassionate and show sensitivity and care.
10. I look forward to working with advocates to create new protocols.
The Mayor's Office has stonewalled advocates on this issue since last September. This morning she said that the city's goal was to develop protocols on their own by the end of the first quarter of 2008, and then they will offer advocates an opportunity to respond. Not exactly an open and collaborative relationship.
At 31 responses thus far, this blog's poll on whether Patricia McInturff is "High on crack" or simply "Has the Mayor's back" is running about even. There are three days left to vote. Make yourself heard on this important issue. As always, the poll is at top right.