Friday, January 25, 2008

The Numbers Game

Yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer brings excellent news for those who are concerned with homelessness in Seattle. Apparently, our City's 150 shelter beds are more or less adequate to the need, and last Tuesday, one shelter even had 18 open beds available. Here's the lead:
More than 150 homeless people stayed in Seattle shelters Tuesday night and even more are expected later this week, a spokesman for the city's human services department said.
Nowhere does the article state that these are the emergency overflow shelter beds that are opened during extreme weather conditions to supplement the 2,368 or so regular beds that are more or less always filled past capacity.

This has the odor of City of Seattle pre-emptive message management on the eve of the one-night count. Which begs the question, is the PI being intentionally misleading here, dumb, sloppy, or some pathetically craven combination of all three?

Nor does the PI refer to the fact that, on average, these overflow shelters operate at capacity. Real Change's analysis of the numbers provided by the City shows a handful of open beds on some nights, and that on others extra people are shoehorned in. This basically involves a space on the floor with a blanket.

75 men's beds have 9 open spots on average. 25 women's beds are, on average, exactly at capacity. Bottom line: claims of unused shelter capacity are exaggerated at best.

Meanwhile, last night's count, organized by the fabulous (as opposed to confabulating) Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, found 2,631 people surviving outside. 140 were counted within the City's "overflow" system.

Here's one way to think about shelter availability. According to the P-I, the odds of winning the Washington State Lottery's Mega Millions game are 1 in 43. The odds of winning at Lotto are 1 in 27. The odds of finding an open shelter bed, should everyone staying outside make the attempt, are no better than 1 in 292.

No wonder people don't bother.

Last night's one-night count of homeless people in King County brought out an astonishing 925 volunteers to scour the streets, buses, and back lots of King County last night in search of the unserved. This is a 25% increase over last year's record 735 volunteers.

This morning's one night count press release described a landscape of dire and growing need, and a community of highly motivated volunteers who are united in pushing back on recent anti-homeless City policy.
Many counters cited changes recently proposed to City of Seattle regulations regarding the removal of homeless people and their belongings from city property as their motivation for joining this year's effort. Count organizers urge concerned community members to attend a public hearing (download flier here) on the new rules, scheduled for this Monday, January 28, at 6:00 PM at the Rainier Room in Seattle Center.

Volunteers returned from the Count full of stories and observations.

"I didn't see people where I expected to, in parks and places like that. I found them in loading docks."

"We counted someone on the premises of a building, and the building security guard said 'oh yeah, I let them sleep here. I just tell them they have to get out in the morning, even though I know that building management doesn't want them around.'"

"One guy had his electric blanket plugged in at a construction site. That was pretty smart."

"I didn't think I'd see many people, but when I finished I counted 32 people spread out through the area."

Experienced counters observed continued changes in the local landscape, including construction and gentrification, that may make it harder for people to find shelter in more densely populated neighborhoods. The number of people observed across the county living in cars, vans, and campers continues to increase, according to these counters.
One-hundred-twenty five teams of counters spread out through the county in the pre-dawn hours to find 2,631 people surviving outside of an at-capacity emergency and "severe weather overflow" shelter system. Yet, according to the P-I, City efforts are adequate to the need.

In other news, I am hereby forced to rescind my earlier judgment that the PI's John Iwasaki is a "hack." He merely wrote one poorly researched article that was vaguely hackish. Iwasaki completely redeems himself with this morning's one-night count reporting here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I should have left this comment on the PI site, because it is a comment about how PI readers framed the issue. The first responder's question included a desire to understand what the housing trust fund was in addition to a comment along the lines that government funds enable homeless people to continue to make poor choices. No one took the time to discuss the housing trust fund.