Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Inconvenient Math

My friend over at Whitney's Corner offers this homely urban scene along with his typically stunning nature photography this week. It's the Crisis Clinic suicide prevention sign, posted at either end of the jumper magnet that is the Aurora Bridge. He points out that the Crisis Clinic declined to be listed as the resource referral point for homeless campers on the very excellent grounds that no "resources" exist to which those displaced might be referred, and that this means you have better odds of being helped if you're a suicidal bridge jumper than a harassed and homeless camper. A reporter I recently spoke with tidily described this as the "inconvenient math" of the homeless encampment issue.

Since I flunked algebra twice in high school, I should probably get Dr. Wes to help with this, but let's try to render the equation. More than 2,600 people surviving outside during a recent One Night Homeless Count translates as >2,600. The number of full shelter beds that night are still being tabulated, but we do know that the emergency overflow capacity of about 100 beds was maxed out at 140 occupants. So max capacity might be represented for now as x + 140. So (x + 140) - >2600 = ->2600 mathematically demonstrates there are more than 2,600 people who were counted on one night surviving outside of a maxed out emergency shelter system.

It's almost painful to watch Patricia McInturff dodge C.R. Douglas's dogged line of questioning regarding this problem. She trips over her victim-blaming rhetoric as she visibly struggles to evade the obvious. No simple thing to do in public. No wonder she's retiring. Having spent whatever credibility she has telling transparent lies in service of the Great White Whale, a lanai in Hawaii must be looking pretty damn good.

Back to the Crisis Clinic, we have an email to the City from their ED Kathleen Southwick. If the City puts their number on the signs, she writes, displaced campers "will just be mad at us and we won't be able to help find their stuff and most likely won't be able to help them find shelter. ... I know the City's goal is to keep people off their property, but people are living there because they don't have anywhere else to go."

It's that inconvenient math thing again.

But Community Service Bureau Director Darby DuComb didn't have this problem. She just followed orders and listed their number. What's she have that the Crisis Clinic doesn't? Outside of a different boss?


Dr. Wes Browning said...

To pare your math argument done to its bare bones, were not talking about anything as hard as 2 + 2 is 4. All you have to be able to do is know that 2 is 2, and that the same is true for any other number. For example 2600 = 2600. If you look away from 2600, and then look back, it will not be a smaller number. You don't have to be able to add or subtract to do these math equations. You just have to know how to be honest. The number is what it is and all you have to do to get full credit is to say so.

Diane Nilan said...

Hey Tim,
I never knew someone else flunked algebra twice. Welcome to the club!

Why not post a bunch of signs for people to call if they lose their stuff in the sweeps? How about the mayor's number...

Just in case readers think you're making up stuff about undercounting, here's a link to HUD's report to Congress, http://www.hud.gov/news/release.cfm?content=pr07-020.cfm

"The Count" has morphed into a sacred number that HUD uses to assure Congress that homelessness hasn't grown a bit.

If they'd look in communities beyond metro areas they'd find lots more, but adding that to the totals would be difficult because their math skills might suck worse than yours and mine.

And, they don't even get into the fact that we're raising a bunch of kids to be homeless adults. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder about so many things. Once I called the crisis clinic when I was in dispair, feeling unloved and unwanted and unwelcomed. The contact person suggested I go for a walk in my neighborhood to feel better. She didn't know that a walk through my neighborhood looking at the empty spaces where working class bungalows once stood and the new wonderous huge houses springing up were the very source of my discontent.
I know that this is off your topic thread line. Thank you for letting me speak though I choose to do so anonymously.

Tim Harris said...

Thanks for the story Anonymous. Sounds like pretty random advice to me. Why not, "have you tried watching more television?" Probably just luck of the draw.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, When I spoke up to the contact person she didn't want to understand, she responded in a manner that implied my dispair was irrational and that there must be something else going on. Luck of the draw - my foot. What I felt could not be medicated away, or change in diet modified. I had taken all personal responsibility for what I could control and the blackness remained. Not that I wanted her to join me in darkness, but it doesn't take much to admit tht we have an upside down economy, and that the only sane response at time is to admit how lousy this world is. Sometimes it is these front line service providers that struggle the hardest to maintain the status quo.

Tim Harris said...

What I meant by "luck of the draw" is that the Crisis Clinic lines are staffed by volunteers. But yeah, well said. It's not just line workers though. It's almost everyone. People act is if they opened themselves up to the true fucking horror of this world for three seconds their heads would explode. So it must be your fault, because the world can't really be like that. 2600 people literally on the streets? They must be lying. Or too irresponsible to go get one of those readily available shelter beds. A bloody unending war for oil? Oh it's much more complicated than that. And so forth.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a crisis center once. They suggested I draw pictures. So I drew a woman overdosed on heroin. Then she suggested I take walks. I said to her, that's how I saw the overdosed woman. What she ment to say was walks in her neighborhood, I'm sure.