Refreshingly, Tacoma calls their sweeps policy the Encampment Elimination Program. At least this smelly city to the south doesn't leave you guessing as to what they're about. For the first time in the history of print media, my core concern with the chronic homeless focus actually made it into someone's story. You'll never see this in the Seattle Times.
“The thing that I keep struggling to get my head around is how distant appearances and reality are when it comes to city policy around homelessness,” says Harris. “Everyone has embraced the rhetoric around ending homelessness, but I see very little of it in terms of what is coming to prevail. What this really comes down to is reducing visible homelessness. ” ...After decades of advocates stressing that homelessness has many faces and most people don't fit the stereotype, federal funding priorities and local development-driven imperatives to hide poverty have combined to make homelessness all about the drunks, addicts, and crazy people. And the major media is always willing to toe the city line: We're sick of their unsightly misery, and we don't have to tolerate it. They're service-resistant vectors of criminal activity. So screw them, in a compassionate Seattle sort of way.
“I don’t think people understand what the 10-year plan is all about,” he says. “Why would the (federal) administration that seems to be (the) most hostile to poor people in 70 years take on this task of solving homelessness? The answer is that it’s not really about solving the issue. Truth is, the chronic homeless make up a very small percentage of the overall population. This is really about visible homelessness. You have this federally backed strategy that is essentially a template for a very sophisticated propaganda model. It’s a way of reframing homelessness to focus on the most visible and dysfunctional and most easy to blame.”
That is one of the most damaging aspects of the 10-year plan, says Harris — it makes the homeless easy to dismiss. Once you stigmatize a population, “it’s pretty easy to do whatever you want to them.”
Speaking of screwing homeless people, the Downtown Seattle Association's long-held dream of shutting down Seattle's public toilets may now come to pass. This has been on their agenda for at least two years, but Tom Rassmussen, citing the lack of evidence that this is really a problem, gave them no traction with City Council. Well, things change. The Department of Public Utilities has generated the report they need to make it into a problem, and they've got Sally Clark on board and a new, more compliant, council. The panhandling legislation can't be far away. See Sharon Chan's Seattle Times story, which also gets my problem with this right.
Apparently, the plan is to somehow get local businesses and government buildings to staff and more prominently feature the availability of their toilets. Yep. That's the plan. And it will cost just as much as keeping the ones we have.
Tim Harris, executive director for homeless-activist newspaper Real Change, wants the city not only to keep the automated toilets, but also to add portable toilets. Removing toilets would force people to relieve themselves in streets and alleys, Harris said.
"If you don't provide alternatives and viable alternatives, then it's not fair to blame people for activities that they have little choice but to engage in," he said.
I actually went into this whole conspiratorial rant about how they'll take the toilets away, and then when the whole downtown smells like a Belltown alley on a hot summer day and there's shit on every doorstep, we'll hear all about the filthy, disgusting, homeless people who are too lazy to even find their way to the bathroom.
But for some reason she didn't use that.
I had high hopes for the Seattle Metropolitan story on the Seattle sweeps that came out in their new April issue, but it turned out to be a rather bland overview and to offer little new.
McInturff said she was "moved" by the three hours of entirely one-sided testimony at January's public hearing. They may tweak the 48-hour notification, and rethink the $25 limitation on goods they're willing to store. Wow. Look at those big-ass crocodile tears running all down her face. They apparently chose not to hear the "throw this heinous piece of crap out, start over, and listen to us this time" theme.
Seattle Metro, having the luxury of magazine-style journalism, should have been the ones to do something in-depth. But instead they accepted the city's frame and pretty much went brain-dead from there, as is standard media practice. I'd link, but they kept it off their website.
Finally, my friend Silja Talvi got a great piece into the April In These Times that covers the Seattle sweeps issue as a stark example of national trends and linking it to the development boom. She calls it a homeless eradication program. Nice phrase. I'd like to see it stick. They didn't have the story online when I checked, but maybe they will sometime.