Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Deconstructing Patricia

I had the rare treat of following Seattle Human Services head Patricia McInturff on KUOW's The Conversation today. Given that my cold is going bronchial and I'm running on about 3 hours sleep, I did OK. I said "you know" too much, but hit my basic talking points. The city lies. What they say and what they do are very different. The "there is shelter available" line is a lie. These phantom "outreach workers" she keeps talking about seem to only exist in some parallel universe that few of us have seen. And to consistently describe those who struggle to survive outside as diseased, drug addicted, waste-producing, vermin attracting, criminals is to stoke the engines of ignorance and hate. Even when you call it compassion.

If you listen closely, you can hear the moment I decide to ignore Ross Reynolds' very interesting question to spend my dwindling time undermining the City's credibility.

Few realize that, in the absence of an approved policy, the City is continuing to aggressively clear sites just as before, with little to no notice or accountability. Real Change vendors have come in the last two days in a row with reports of returning to camp to find all of their survival gear and other belongings gone. No notice. No retrieval of belongings. and certainly no "outreach workers" or "shelter referrals."

So let's look at all that unused shelter capacity of which she spoke so assuredly. According to her latest newsletter there's 75 severe weather beds at City Hall and 25 for women at the Frye. Our analysis of those numbers shows City Hall Overflow with an average of 9 beds being open, and the women's beds being, on average, at capacity. During very severe weather, she says, there's a no-turnaway policy. What this actually means is that they start packing people into the rec room at the Union Hotel as well. Cool.

Between 2:30 and 5:30 am the Morning of January 5th, more than 2,600 people were counted surviving outside. 140 were counted in the overflow beds, which seems to have pretty much chewed up all that "capacity" she keeps talking about. The notion that they're checking to see if beds exist before clearing a camp, which she actually said, is ludicrous. I mean, how would that work? They clear the camps during the day. No one knows what few beds will be available where until they show up looking for shelter that night.

Let's see. What else.

She did this really cool thing with the phrase "personal property," which to most people sounds like the property that a person has. Not so. It's ID. Perhaps photos. Eyeglasses. Prescriptions. When you get right down to it, the list is really quite small.

An Encampment Workgroup Memo that turned up in one of our myriad public disclosure requests is quite clear on this point. "Any sleeping equipment (sleeping bags, cardboard, tents) found in the ROW may be disposed of immediately." This is obfuscated in the final with some lawyerly language about disposing of any "soft goods" that "may be contaminated with unknown substances."

This remains my favorite phrase in the document.

Interestingly, she did not say that the City now handles reports of encampments on a case-by-case basis, as she told the City Council last month and recently re-iterated in a communication to Nick Licata. This is probably because she got the December 11 email from Customer Service Bureau Director Darby DuComb.
"I am worried that we are getting confused.

TC want us to respond to all clean ups requested by anyone from within the City or from external customers. We are NOT reviewing them on a case-by-case basis, we are responding as usual."
Thanks for clearing that up Darby. TC is of course Tim Ceis.

What else. She seemed positively shocked to hear that advocates discovered language in the proposal that would deputize anyone the city chooses with the power to hand out camping citations.

Let me help. It's on page 11 of 14 in the Rules document, in the Notices of Exclusion Section, under paragraph 6.3.1, related to "Delegation." The authorizing official may also delegate to others the authority to enforce on City Property these and any other applicable written or posted rules, and to issue notices of exclusion for violations.
Seems pretty clear to me. But I'm not a liar.

But the Big Lie is that the Mayor discovered that there were various departments with policies at odds with each other, and in his wisdom, directed his staff to seek consistency and compassion.

The internal documents clearly show that the Mayor's office had directed all City departments to aggressively clear encampments, and that the absence of a policy to guide this meant the gloves were completely off. It wasn't until their secret policy was uncovered that they bothered to consult City legal at all.

But here's the thing. The gloves are still off. Nothing has changed. This is their pathetic attempt to bring the law in line with existing practice, not, as would be perhaps more typical, the other way around. The painting up top, by the way, is by Rose Greenway, and is called The Liar comes bearing illusions, which we bear willingly.

But all in all, this was a good press day. In addition to a good airing of the issue on KUOW, The Stranger's Erica Barnett gets all weepy over Monday's hearing, and the Seattle PI's Editorial Board made some people I know positively giddy today with their take no prisoners 48 Hours to Scatter.

The urge to clean up parks and other areas serving as de-facto squats is an understandable one. No one likes to be faced with the misery of others. Hygiene and public safety issues with the living conditions of the homeless are certainly credible. But there's got to be a better way to address those concerns without making already-suffering human being feel like refuse. ...

City leaders should come up with a plan that focuses on making life for the homeless more, not less tolerable while building more shelters and housing for them.


positivelygiddy said...

My favorite part is the part where they think that people should label ALL of their personal property with name and contact information.

Also I like that Customer Service Bureau hours are 8-5 Monday-Friday. And when you call after those hours you get the voice mail (it is nice that they have Spanish and English on the message and offer interpretation services). You can leave a message on the CSB voice mail -- so they can call you back M-F 8-5, except that, well, it's kind of hard to call back people who are homeless and usually don't have answering machines and cell phones and stuff. Imagine how helpful that will be to someone desperate for shelter because all their stuff is gone.

Sally said...

Great show, Tim, especially for being bronchitic and sleep-deprived.

One of McInturff's inanities was her distinguishing between personal property, such as photographs, which could be identified as belonging to someone, and things like blankets. I don't know too many people who mark up their family photographs with their own names and contact info on the back, probably because most people actually live somewhere and can reasonably expect that no one's going to come in and take their photos away. Nor do they label their blankets, for the same reason. Maybe that's the key to the City's thinking. If these homeless people just lived in houses like they're supposed to, they wouldn't have to lose their belongings or be trespassed out of their place to sleep on the ground. Kind of solipsistic, isn't it.

"Uta" Urban said...

Exceptionally good, Tim. Clear, intelligent and to-the-point - and passionately human. Unmistakable (as was McInturff's pat spin and thinly veiled anxiety).

I understand refraining from legal jousts on their mushy turf, but I'm glad you simply explained their diabolical methodology - and refuted some of McInturff's lies with real information.

Explaining why some people can't withstand a chaotic overcrowded shelter environment was good for all of us. Not only is it a tangible reality, it bridges into health and disability issues and human rights. More on that later, but know it's big fat sword even she shouldn't care to fall-on for Nickels.

intheknow said...

a no turn away policy? that's a lie. on one very cold night recently, the city hall shelter was turning ppl away, the frye was full and the union wasn't open. one guy i know was forced into the er at harborview just to stay warm. mcinturff lies. she ought to run for mayor.

Anonymous said...


Google "Patricia McIntruff". Then, check the images. Go to page two of the images, and look around for the only recognizable face.


Anonymous said...

I read and read and read every year the same, the same, the same stories!
This mayor is disgusting, as is Ms. Mcintruff, and I am being very polite as I have had contact with her re: abuse of elders by city employees.

This town has turned into a soul less city filled with zombies living high in there cubs so they can't see the poor, disabled, homeless.

But Seattle is rated a wonderful place to live...yeah it use to be when your aveage peron could afford to live her with some respect.

Where is the OUTRAGE.....this city leaders are liars, decivers and the social services agencies are bottom feeders who earn alot of money to do nothing to help the poor. All City, County and State agencies who are there to "Help the POOR" have lesser case loads than a teacher has in her classroom. Check out all the agencies in the State of washington. A bunch of bottom feeding paycheck collecting soul less human beings....Its become all about "THEM" not the people. Yet no out rage....I mean real out rage from the so called caring Seattle comunity. LOL BAFF