Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Law In Its Infinite Majesty ...

forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread"
— Anatole France

I just took my first run at the City's new draft policy on homeless encampments. There's 14 pages of legalese and five pages of city procedures that essentially extends the parks exclusion ordinance protocols to all public property of any sort everywhere, deputizes pretty much anyone the city chooses with authority to issue progressively onerous citations, and gives permission to summarily destroy any property that looks like its worth less than twenty-five bucks on Ebay, isn't clearly marked with name tags, or is deemed "hazardous." The definition of hazardous gives one the feel of the document:
Hazardous items may include blankets, clothing, sleeping bags, tents, or other soft goods that may be contaminated by unknown substances that may pose a risk of harm to members of the public or cleanup personnel who come in contact with the material.
May be contaminated by unknown substances? Nickels should give whoever thought that one up a raise. What, exactly, would that definition leave out?

Does this policy live up to the "Consistent and Compassionate" label it has adopted?

Hardly. There's talk of outreach, but no clarity on how and by who or where the funding is, and help arrives with police back-up. Yeah. That'll work. It mandates a minimum of 48-hours notice, which is an improvement, but with no real alternatives being provided, that's cold comfort. And then there's some language about "additional interim/overflow shelter beds, as necessary, for occupants of unauthorized encampments," whatever that means.

The public comment period runs from Jan. 14-31. There's a public hearing January 28th, 6-7:30 pm at Seattle Center's Rainier Room. Call (684-0253) or email Human Services Department Public Information officer David Takami for your copy of the "administrative rules" (the legalese that tightens definitions, extends the parks exclusion ordinance, and delegates enforcement authority), and the "updated procedures" today. Force yourself to read it. and then ask yourself, "with 1,600 homeless people counted outside in the middle of the night late last January, is this compassionate?"

See you January 28th.


Dr. Wes Browning said...

We've already heard cases on the streets of the police enforcing the parks exclusion ordinance outside of the parks and now the city wants to make a policy of it.

If the parks exclusion ordinance contains language that allows it to be applied outside of parks then it was sold to the public fraudulently. If it doesn't then the police and now the mayor's office are guilty of creating policies outside the law.

When the mayor does it, it's grounds for recall now, and criminal civil rights charges later.

The police are already committing civil rights violations under Nickel's watch.

The business about declaring people's blankets (for their own use, not meant to be used by others!) as hazardous substances (if they were left alone who would they be hazardous to?!!) is taking us beyond civil rights violations into a realm of diseased thinking that will poison the very soul of the city. That is the most disgusting perversion of power I have seen in Seattle in my lifetime.

I am sick of this city's administration. Nickels has no decency at all.

Anonymous said...

Sally said...

As far as infection is concerned, you have a much greater risk of developing MRSA or some other draconian infection merely visiting your loved one in a local hospital than by touching a blanket that's been in a greenbelt. This City administration is trying to get rid of the homeless, pure and simple. Since the City won't spend money on more shelters to keep homeless people alive, maybe we should them tell we don't want our tax dollars spent on causing homeless people even more misery than they have now. I don't want to pay a cop to tell someone they can't sleep in a park. The money angle is the only thing the City responds to.

Donna said...

This is from Rick Reynolds' 1/10/08 blog entry (his emphasis noted with stars below): "It's getting scary. The police department is cracking down on homeless people. I didn't realize how bizarre things had gotten until last night.
I was out late with a group of college students visiting from Greenville, Illinois, a village about 90 minutes from St. Louis, out in the cornfields. We walked a bit downtown, and saw several weird things, to me:
First, there were no people sleeping under Yesler street at 4th Avenue. This has been a homeless camping area for 20 years.
Second, there was not a single soul in City Hall Park at 8:30 at night.
Third, there was a chaotic queue of homeless people along the Jefferson Street side of the King County Administrative Building, waiting for the opening of the County-funded winter shelter for men run by Salvation Army. Why they think lining up, first come/first served is a good idea, I don't know.
We walked up 4th Avenue. Across the street homeless people waited for the opening of the severe weather shelter at City Hall (Behind the Red Wall -- sounds like a great book title).
It was 9:00 p.m. The doors were still locked.
Cold sleet and wind. But maybe not cold enough?
City of Seattle workers didn't think so.
****I think any night that the severe weather shelters are closed, the following day they should shut off the heat in all City offices. It's only fair.****
It was a miserable night watching homeless people milling around with no place to go."

"Uta" Urban said...

"Hazardous" and "Unknown" are Fed and County Health Department terms with definitions and implications. The City ought not fuck around with language like that.

By their lame definitions - all people must be "soft" items as well, because non-homeless healthy people everywhere carry MRSA on their skin. Tourists move bacteria around and bring viruses to restaurants and malls. How about any bus rider and what they pick-up on their belongings as they share seats and poles with the world?

How far do the local powers-that-be really care to take this? It could be a real headache for them, figuratively speaking.

In a practical sense, it's about concentration, contact, vulnerability. Homeless people are a terribly vulnerable population. To crowd people who are homeless into additional beds at existing full shelters creates the health hazard they imply exists with their stuff in open spaces. It might also violate maximum occupancy limits, at the very least.

So open more shelters, at least, and do everyone including the health department a favor.

This report sounds fat with legal logical fallacy. Thanks for the link. I'm going to chew-on-it then respond. But there must be some bigger legal heads who can see the weak points for what they are and use them to negotiate for better treatment. Civil justice not withstanding. What do you know?

Anonymous said...

It may seem ludicrous to term blankets or personal items as hazardous. But think of the community service worker who is charged with the clean-up. How much risk is he or she to assume? We leave this clean-up work to others who are likewise in need of some healing when it is done by individuals serving court appointed community service hours.
We think that we are assessing risk and minimizing harm by labeling concerns in this manner. But it tends to increase fear of the poor dirty crazy folks. On the other hand - have you ever had to deal with a lice or other vermin infestation in your own home because of a lousy job or strange desire you have to help those less fortunate than yourself?