Monday, March 24, 2008

Extending Homelessness

I cleaned my desktop icons last week and came across this. It made me all nostalgic and got me thinking about what these players all have in common.

Last October, I took a PDF of some things coming up into Photoshop and rewrote the parts that spoke to me, and then republished a document that looked much like the original. Most people thought it was great and had a laugh. But these people freaked.

This is the Terrible Thing I did that caused my Board President to quit, caused three tables of United Way people to NOT ATTEND our Annual Breakfast a few days later (they paid), and had Sandy Brown half a hair from threatening legal action?

All on the same day.

The fire the Out-of-Control founders-diseased asshole faction was also well represented that day in the comments section of the Sandy Brown post.

I posted Sandy Brown's voice mail demanding that I remove the Church Council logo from an already widely distributed image. Some people said that was unethical. A breach of some sort of implied confidentiality. I think some people just don't like surprises, and would rather I have more "discretion."

The love is basically gone with United Way as well. They used to at least talk about giving us money. Now, even Vince barely returns my calls.

Street Roots down in Portland's feelin' the love from their United Way. If Vince got me $60K, I'd of at least called him before I put out the flier. It's enough to make you think twice.

But I can't even get these guys to buy an ad. When we went activist a few years back, they ran scared.

None of these guys have had a damn thing to say about the Seattle homeless sweeps unless they're for it. This is a bad thing, because they are the institutional players, and the City knows that if they're on board they can do whatever they want, because the rest of us, when it comes right down to it, don't really matter all that much.

Bill is scrupulously avoidant of the sweeps issue. As is United Way. The Interfaith Task Force is on the right side and has helped with the organizing, but the Church Council has gone dark, unless you count Bill and Sandy's bland neutralities to the press about the City being on the right track.

"What's being proposed is a big step in the right direction. I'm glad to see that the city is responding out of a sense of humanity toward people who are in encampments," said the Rev. Sandy Brown, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He and several other advocates for the homeless were briefed Thursday on the protocol by city officials.

Brown's main concerns were that the city have outreach workers available to notify and refer homeless campers, and that shelter beds be available for those losing their campsite.

That's actually not a bad position to have, if you back it up with negotiation, transparency, oversight, and action. But none of these guys are getting involved in anything like that.

At the briefing referred to above, advocates were told that their role in shaping policy would be limited to participation in public comment. Apparently, that's OK with United Way, CEHKC, and Church Council, because their participation in and support for efforts to oppose the sweeps has been Zero. They and the City, so far as it appears, are on the same page.

They shouldn't get to just go dark. They should either declare their support for the city's policy, or come on board with those of us who want a real discussion of what it would take to address homelessness in Seattle.

Then, at least, we'd know what's what. They have important, complicated, and powerful relationships to maintain. We understand. It's a powerful feeling, we imagine, being on the inside.


Sally said...

Not to worry, United Way is out there working on homelessness: they've hired an anthropologist to study it. Yup, see the following link to a P-I article, one of the weirdest, most confounding articles written about homelessness yet. In case the link doesn't work, the article's by Murakami and is titled "New Study Probes Downtown Homelessness".

The dreck just keeps coming.

Tim Harris said...

I thought the article was pretty good. Much better than the four Seattle Times that reduced the report to "downtown homeless are alcoholics, dug addicts, and mentally ill people."

The ethnography is definitely worth a close look. My sense on a quick first read was that Boyer is basically saying "Housing First isn't enough to fix a fragmented profoundly broken system. Homelessness and poverty can't be separated. There is no magic bullet. But I haven't really digested the report yet. It's available fromUnited Way.

Tim Harris said...

I had a blogger burp in the last post. That first sentence was supposed to read "better than the four paragraphs in the Seattle Times."

Tim Harris said...

I just noticed that McInturff's press statement in response to our last encampment echoes Sandy Brown's endorsement of the sweeps a few months earlier.

Patricia Mcinturff, Seattle PI, March 14, 2008:

"I think the new protocol is a giant step forward" with its inclusion of outreach, storage options and additional shelter."

Sandy Brown, Seattle PI, January 11, 2008:

"What's being proposed is a big step in the right direction. I'm glad to see that the city is responding out of a sense of humanity toward people who are in encampments." ...

Brown's main concerns were that the city have outreach workers available to notify and refer homeless campers, and that shelter beds be available for those losing their campsite. (end PI quote)

Until we hear differently from Sandy, Bill, and Vince, the assumption should be that they and the City are basically allies on the sweeps strategy.

Trevor said...

Excellent point about the fact that socalled homeless advocates aren't showing up to challenge the criminalization of homelessness. This lends credence to the idea that the city is engaged in charity about 10 year plans to buy cover for harsher forms of policing-- something that academics have already documented in Seattle and other cities in relation to the civility law movement of the 1990s.

One follow up question. You write, "If Vince got me $60K, I'd of at least called him before I put out the flier. It's enough to make you think twice." I think United Way and others grossly overreacted to your parody. But the three tables at the RC fundraiser weren't enough to earn him a call from you?

Tim Harris said...

Maybe it's the journalist in me, but I have what I think of as a built-in firewall between taking risks as an advocate and organizer and my role as a fundraiser, and try to keep those things compartmentalized. Also, truth be told, I never anticipated the major freakout that the flier caused. In hindsight, it wasn't surprising, but I didn't expect it at all.

Bill said...

I'd like to adjust Trevor's brief suggestion that those to whom Tim points and whom Tim is quoting are "homeless advocates." The homeless advocates are present at City Hall Plaza sleeping out and/or are tethered to those who do quite sufficiently, since not everyone can sleep out, such that there is no question that this is about those who are homeless and ending their being homeless. We've built a remedy within a window of time -- 10 years -- that allows the magnetic attachment of posers and folks who love the "brand" their words can bring, all-too-often to raise money to, got it, end homelessness. Some don't raise money, just resume bullets. What I see are folks leading our (sic) effort who take all their vacations and then some, get paid awfully well for being in or attendant to the nonprofit sector, still attend the theatre via season subscriptions, hobnob prior to meetings like golf buddies off the course, who love another systemic study - another similarly-out-of-touch consultant in lieu of an actual forward-moving decision, who are not the rich and are certainly not the poor yet who turn their backs more quickly toward the latter than the former, who quote great mandates and sacred texts without knowing that in time and space the singular act of a great quote/text is lost without dedicated and even sacrificial attention and action, who can leave all this standing-with-the-homeless and ending- homelessness behind for "what makes life meaningful." These descriptions andmore like these describe in part or full the leaders we have gathered to end homelessness. These are not homeless advocates. That is why this will only change from below, from the ground, at encampments, under bridges, in cars and motor homes not in a driveway, everywhere there is a voice, as one sacred scripture says, "crying in the wilderness," and everywhere one of us goes to hear that voice and act. Who is listening? And to whom? That better answers who is a homeless advocate.

Trevor said...

I forgot to add the name of the academic study I was thinking of when I said that academics have already documented how city governments use their funding of shelter services partly as PR to distract from more aggressive forms of policing.

Just as the United Way has been teaming up with an anthropologist, a UW political science grad student-- now professor-- used his experience at Real Change to partly inform his analysis of homelessness.

See Leonard C. Feldman's Citizens Without Shelter, which I reviewed for Real Change a few years ago (the link is currently broken or I'd link it here).

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill...

I guess you missed this in one of Tim's last posts.

"We need to embrace each other as soldiers in the war on poverty. Take chances together. Care for one another. Envision a different world together."

Apparently your idea of working "together" doesn't really include everybody (especailly those people who, god forbid, take vacations).

This issue is bigger than any one group or entity. Unless we pull together - rich and poor, homeless and housed, advocates and government - we will never have a chance to make a significant difference. The politics of division, as practiced by either the right or the left, will keep us from ever fixing a profoundly broken system.

It is time that we stretch beyond our comfort zones. United Way needs to learn to ally with Real Change and Real Change needs to learn to ally with the Committee to End Homelessness and so on. And while we may not be able to agree on everything - we all can agree that homelessness and sustained poverty are among the greatest injustices ever perpetrated on a people.

Tim Harris said...

Let me tell you a story, Anonymous. I'll write at a first grade level, so you can keep up:

Bill and Jon are famous homeless helpers. They are on TV and in the news. Everybody loves Bill and Jon.

Bill and Jon know the Mayor. The Mayor is a bad man. See Bill and Jon shake the Mayor's hand. Bill and Jon want to eat ice cream with the Mayor.

See the Mayor do a very bad thing. See the Mayor take blankets from homeless people. The Mayor does not let homeless people sleep. Homeless people are mad.

See them go to jail. See them have no bail. See the Ten Year Plan fail.

The Mayor is bad. Homeless people are sad.

Where are Bill and Jon? Are they under a rock? Did they go for a walk?

Where are Bill and Jon? Are they in a tree? Are they eating brie?

Homeless people are mad. The Mayor is bad. Bill and Jon eat brie in a tree.

Bill and Jon shake the Mayor's hand. Bill and Jon eat ice cream with the Mayor.

Homeless people are mad. The Mayor is bad.

Where are Bill and Jon? Bill and Jon eat brie in a tree. Bill and Jon go for a walk. Bill and Jon are under a rock.

Bill and Jon eat ice cream with the Mayor. Homeless people have been had. We are mad.

I hope that was helpful. I know this business of who is on who's side can get pretty complicated, but there are some basics. When the people you are supposed to be helping are under attack, you say something. That's what allies do.

Bill Heath said...

Has Tim ended homelessness yet? No, because he can't even show up for his own events.

Has Tim ended poverty yet? No, because he is too fond of his little blog. When did your ego become more important than creating real change, Tim?

What has Tim done? He has picked fights from the safety of his computer. Oh how brave.

Bill said...

It is rather amazing someone has the gall to say, "stretch beyond our comfort zones," and then posts anonymously. What a riot! Lectures like yours are for honey buckets when it is about "can't we all get along." The reality is every night people, too many people, suffer the indignity of homelessness. I am one of the few idiots who spent part of every day of my last vacation staying at least remotely on top of keeping things moving. Not asking for a medal, but trying to point out there is not time for AWOL advocates, and the anything-you-do-and-anything-goes-as-long-as-you envision is a pile of manure. You just don't get it, do you? people see it everyday. They are even offended enough to say, "wow, people shouldn't have to live in tents!" But it takes a lot of gumption to move from making statements like yours to action. It is hard work to partner, to ally, to collaborate. WORDS will not do it alone. Go bang your head on the wall and experience some blood, because this is about life and death, not good and evil.

Tim Harris said...

Bill Heath's post reminds me once again of my ability to inspire the best in people.

Bill. A truly ego-driven organizer would have gone to the event while sick and exhausted, as opposed to knowing that other leaders are perfectly capable.

And it's not like the blog is all I do. It's what I do in my spare time, and say what I think.

Otherwise I run Real Change, the most successful street paper in North America and having a bigger impact all the time. Along with the other things I do.

So, um, fuck you. For a guy who has a problem with my ego, yours seems mighty thin and mean.