Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Drunken Brilliant Bessie

I'm reading Studs Terkel's Giants of Jazz, and his section on Bessie Smith mentions a 1929 short with her doing Saint Louis Blues. It's on YouTube. I love how the bar here is transformed by Warner Brothers into something akin to a 1920s bourgeois Black church. Is it blues? Is it gospel? Is it a show tune? You decide. Yet, through all the schmaltz of Hollywood, her greatness shines through.

Orphaned at 9, Smith performed in the streets as a child to earn money. Ma Rainey, the first great woman blues singer, took Smith under her wing when she was just 12.
Constantly, the older woman was teaching her the subtle art of blues singing. Tricks and techniques. How to turn a phrase. "Make one line go a long way Bessie. ... Just don't sing a word straight; make it your word girl. ... Let your soul do the singin'."
Her 1923 Down Hearted Blues sold more than 2 million copies that year and was purchased mostly by poor Blacks. By the mid-twenties, Smith was knocking back gin by the tumbler. The Warner Brothers film came several years into her reputation for unreliability. She was still brilliant, when she showed up. Bookings became sparse, and the clubs more rough. At some points, she was reduced to mammy roles on the vaudeville circuit. In 1937, she was killed in a car accident. While her birthdate remains unclear, she died at either 37 or 42.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Resources = Capacity = Power

Over the past year, life at Real Change has taken on new intensity. Reductions in local homeless drop-in center hours and increasing levels of need have meant more pressure on our staff. This year’s One Night Count found an 18% increase of unsheltered homeless in the Seattle areas that were counted in 2007.

The situation is dire, and we are stretched to the limit.

We are not alone in this. Every homeless service in the City is struggling to meet the need. Meanwhile, the fundamental brokenness of a system that produces growing wealth and poverty at ever more extreme poles has become more and more plain to see.

The City’s recent sweeps of homeless encampments have provoked alarm and uncertainty, both for the twenty-six percent of Real Change vendors who sleep outdoors and in the broader homeless community. The incredibly rapid gentrification of downtown Seattle has brought greatly increased harassment of the visibly poor.

At a time when Operation Nightwatch, Seattle’s nighttime shelter referral program, is seeing record turn-aways, there is an ugly pretense that, somehow, Seattle is successfully “ending homelessness.”

Over the past six months, the City has relied upon this comforting notion to legitimate the criminalization of outdoor survival. Seattle is not alone in this. In cities across America, the same dynamics of gentrification and repression can be seen. As the demographics of our cities shift toward upscale urban living, the visible homeless are increasingly unwelcome.

There is a deep sense within the homeless community of being under siege.

As we enter our annual summer fund drive, we find ourselves challenged by events and greatly in need of your support. Our vendor staff, our newspaper team, and our organizing project are each straining at the limits of the possible. We are over-extended, stressed out, and deeply pissed off.

And yet, more must be done. The limits of our capacity are just one more challenge to overcome. The work of educating, agitating, organizing, and building a caring community of resistance and authentic compassion has never mattered more.

Our organizing work is on fire. Real Change is about to hold our third major demonstration against homeless sweeps in six months. Organizing Project meetings regularly draw 20-40 people. Our last City Hall encampment drew more than 150 people overnight and another 50 to help with daytime visibility.

Many of these were our own vendors. As homeless people and others who are directly affected by growing poverty see us taking risks and speaking truth to power, they understand that we’re in this together, standing shoulder to shoulder.

Earlier this year, the Real Change Organizing Project held its first cross-class retreat. Eight vendors and nine staff and volunteers spent two days in Federal Way sharing our stories and exploring our mutual interest in organizing for justice. The understanding that gets created when organizing is grounded in relationships is truly transformational.

As we work toward a more just approach to poverty and inequality in Seattle, the regard we have for each other has deepened into something that looks and feels a lot like love. The barriers that keep us apart are gradually coming down, and a new kind of power is being built in their place.

Tremendous synergy exists between the organizing and the newspaper. We first broke the homeless sweeps story last October when public disclosure requests surfaced an email from the Mayor’s office proving what had been denied: the City was systematically targeting homeless encampments for destruction without taking any responsibility for unmet need.

The City’s recently released “final” homeless campsite protocols institutionalize this evasion of responsibility by severely and dishonestly limiting their own application.

As Mayor Nickels and his staff play games with people’s lives and pretend they are ending homelessness, we’re supposed to get tired and go away. That’s not going to happen. We have found that our truth-telling, envelope-pushing, bureaucrat-bashing role attracts activists like Hell’s Angels to a cold keg..

The number of homeless and very low-income people selling Real Change has risen from an average of 275 per month to closer to 300. Our readership has grown to match. We’re on track this year to match or beat 2007’s sixteen percent circulation increase. In a time when newspaper circulation is in broad decline, this is extraordinary.

Our secret is simple. We publish journalism that matters, and you don’t have to look very far to see how rare that is. With just two-and-a-half staff and a bunch of committed volunteers, Real Change offers smart, passionate, and accurate weekly reporting on the issues you care about.

Real Change is here to stay. As we approach our 14th year, we find that taking risks and telling the truth is a lot more fun and effective than playing it safe and becoming just one more tired and frightened institution.

Your support makes it all possible. More than 50% of our funding comes from our broad and deep base of grassroots support. Resources equal capacity, and the value of our work is measured by the strength of your grassroots support.

We’re out on a limb here, and we need you to climb on out with us. Your support is critical. We have until the end of June to reach a very big goal. $85,000 will sustain our work, and help to add the full-time organizing position we really need.

This is a big city. We have many supporters. With your help, we can do this. When each of you does what you can, amazing things can happen. Every donation matters. Please give generously. Make your gift to "Real Change," at 2129 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA, 98121, or click on the banner below to donate at the Real Change website. Thank you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Herons Come Home To Roost

One of our Real Change vendors once told me how she loves selling the paper in Magnolia. "All of the people are beautiful," she said. I asked what she meant and she gave me poetry. "All the men have pink skin and white hair and the most beautiful shoes you can imagine."

And, apparently, they don't want homeless people around. They might scare away the Blue Heron.

The eruption in Magnolia reported in last Saturday's Post-Intelligencer by Sanjay Bhatt isn't a surprise to us. Real Change's Cyd Gillis reported on the first of four neighborhood planning meetings concerning proposals for homeless housing at Fort Lawton three weeks prior, and the reaction wasn't much different then.

Along with neighborhood concerns over housing for Native elders and families who had experienced domestic violence coming out of transitional housing — could Girl Scouts, they asked, be assured safety while selling cookies door to door— Gillis reported that the various proposals on the table were moving past the selection process toward finalization.

United All Tribes ambitiously proposed a mixed-income housing development that includes a Native American College and 169 units of permanent housing for homeless seniors, families and single adults. DESC's proposal would have put 75 units of housing there for chronically homeless people. The watered down mix the City seems to now favor would work with United All Tribes and the YWCA to create a range of affordable housing that includes at least 66 units of housing for homeless elders and families who are leaving transitional housing.

The choice of 66 is interesting in itself. This is the number of Capehart Housing units that will revert to Discovery Park green space sometime after the last military family moves out in 2009. Councilmembers Peter Steinbrueck and Sally Clark strengthened some wimpy language in the final Capehart acquisition deal last September to ensure one-to-one replacement of the doomed housing.

Bhatt's article had numerous lovely details.
At one community meeting, some residents wondered whether homeless housing at the fort would attract wife-beaters, sex offenders and crack addicts. They rolled their eyes when city officials asserted that such housing increases property values. They worried about the impact on schools and scoffed at the idea of homeless people shopping at the closest grocery — which sells pheasant-and-rosemary pâté for $9.99 and ground coffee for up to $18 a pound.

"We're the ones who live here, and we want to have a nice, safe neighborhood to live in," Donald Raz, a King County deputy prosecutor and Magnolia resident, said later.

Like most affluent neighborhoods in Seattle, Magnolia doesn't have any housing for homeless people mainly because land is too expensive for social-service agencies to buy.

The quotes from Block and Quinn were especially interesting.

"What is it that makes homeless people different enough that they don't 'fit' in that neighborhood?" asks Bill Block, project director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, a coalition of agencies, businesses and churches. "Affluent people become homeless."
I suppose they ocassionally do. But mostly, in this economy, they become more affluent. I'm guessing that Bill's attempt to sell formerly homeless people as being just like the exfoliated folk of Magnolia went over about like a dead baby joke at a baptism. Is economic diversity so threatening we need to pretend it doesn't exist?

But the Buried Treasure Quote of the Week Award goes to Quinn.

"Fundamentally they [federal officials] understand that with homeless housing, you can't have so much out there that you can't sell the fair-market value housing," said Adrienne Quinn, director of Seattle's Office of Housing. "We're trying to achieve that balance," she said.

Did she really just say that? Did someone dose her Dasani with sodium pentathol? I mean, this is extraordinary.

Perhaps what she meant was that federal officials would not knowingly undermine property values by overly imposing homeless housing on any one community. But this is also a refreshingly honest take on the laws of supply and demand. If you provide too much housing for poor people, it undermines the market scarcity that drives up cost (or viewed from the other side, profit). It seems odd that anyone could believe we're anywhere near that point, but I guess one can never be too careful..

Is anyone surprised that Magnolia, which has fewer poor people and lower rates of charitable giving than most any neighborhood in the city, is afraid of the homeless? Given the City's recent media litany regarding homeless criminality on City public lands, we should expect reactions like theirs everywhere.

You can't stigmatize homeless people as drug addicted vectors of disease and moral decay on one day, and on the next say they're just like the top income-quintile folk of Magnolia. The cognitive dissonance will make people's heads explode.

The recent City propaganda campaign around homeless camping exploits fear that is there for the taking. Homeless people, in much of the middle-class imagination, symbolize much more than an implied absence of housing affordability. Peter Marcuse's landmark Neutralizing Homelessness essay dwells on this point. "The homeless are alienation incarnate," he says, and disturb our sense of the appropriately public and private.

Timothy Gibson, in Securing the Spectacular City, expands upon Marcuse's observation.
The spectacle of homeless citizens attending to themselves in public is disturbing in its own right. In other words, when the homeless are forced to attend to their private needs in parks, alleys, and sidewalks, public spaces begin to take on aspects of "home:" they now become places to sleep, to drink, to make love, to use the toilet, and so on. In modern bourgeois societies, this is activity "out of place." This activity inverts the distinction between public and private spaces that is fundamental to middle-class notions of citizenship and propriety. Such activities can therefore signal to urban residents the "order of things" has been unraveled—that is this place at least, things are falling apart. ...

For many urban residents, the homeless have thus become something of an urban "indicator species" for social disorder, "diagnostic of the presumed ill-health" of urban life and the need to gain control and rationalize urban public space.
The City didn't invent fear of homeless people as Other. In their quest to turn downtown Seattle into a squeaky clean vision of urban living — something akin to an upscale suburban mall but with better food and more atmosphere — they just used the tools at hand. When Magnolia gives in to irrational fear regarding potential strangers in their midst, it's a case of the Blue Herons coming home to roost.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paranoid, 1970

Another highlight of the Seventies. Ozzy Ozborne looks he's maybe 24 and rock bands need to have big psychedelic perpetual motion machines on stage to power up the equipment. Check out the microdot smile.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

For Those with Eyes To See

Revel Smith noticed this richly ironic convergence of themes a few blocks from her home near Pike Place Market and didn't rest until she got the perfect photo.

The pretentiously named Fifteen-Twenty-One — marketed to "the confident few" — is shown above rising into the sky while the slogan for the Seattle Art Museum's newest exhibit offers a lovely caption to the scene. The newly expanded SAM, along with Benaroya Hall and the picturesquely convenient Public Market form the core of the cultural amenities that, along with the upscale shopping and the stunning view of the Sound and the Olympic mountains, draw the uber-rich to Seattle's "Gold Coast."

Four new condo developments within this four block area will bring 505 new condos with an average value of $2.2 million each. Meanwhile the purge of visible poverty from Victor Steinbrueck Park and the downtown in general steamrolls along under the guise of compassion and "public safety." The playground is being cleared. The Empire is here, and for those with eyes to see, the conquest of the City is taking place right under our noses.

Maggotbrain Like Your Life Depends On It

Seventies funk blues anthems rarely age this well. Here's George Clinton and Michael Hampton of the Funkadelics burning through Maggotbrain in Silverton, Oregon last year. Be sure to go on to part two. The first video is just the warm-up.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Compassionate, or Humane?

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but I've noticed something. When the Mayor's office first released their draft policy last January, it was billed as "consistent and compassionate," and these were the words that Pat McInturff always used.

Now, it's become "consistent and humane." The "C" word, apparently has been dropped. Compassion isn't in the final protocols press release, but the word "humane" appears three times. The spin-masters at City Hall seem to have opted for the less loaded word. Here, for example, is the Mayor's press spokesman, Marty McOmber:
"What's new here is that we've developed a coordinated, humane, predictable approach that really sets the exact way that you're going to go out and do this."
Newly-elected City Council member Tim Burgess likes "humane" too. "I believe the rules are humane, recognize the complexity of homelessness, and reflect our long-term goal of eliminating homelessness." Great Tim. I'm glad someone thinks so.

Given how carefully this administration uses language, the subtle difference seems worth exploring.

The word compassion implies a certain amount of connectedness and having something at stake. The online dictionary says compassion is the "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it." Of the two words, it sets the higher bar. When I do a Google image search, here's my top hit.

To be "humane" is a little easier. The online dictionary says that's
"marked or motivated by concern with the alleviation of suffering." So there's "concern." And "alleviation." But pretty much everyone opposes suffering, and in the end, the concern tends to fade. The connotations are charitable and the word is more associated with children, animals, and other somewhat helpless creatures. In an image search, the top hit offers us this.

It probably isn't worth the trouble to get all exegetical on a City press release. It might have been just them wanting to avoid any unnecessary Dalai Lama associations. It's a small thing, but it was a choice. That's what makes it interesting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Doing What You Need To Do.

It was 1990. And a cold wind was beginning to blow. Things in Boston up til recently had been pretty good for homeless people. There were eight years of Michael Dukakis as Governor, and Ray Flynn, champion of the poor, was Mayor. The right to shelter was the well-established standard. If there were turn-aways, the supply of beds expanded.

But now Bill Weld was Governor, and he was about to go all Ronald Reagan on the state budget. We knew it was going to be bad. I was at Jobs with Peace organizing homeless people and their allies, and our direct action group had a phone tree going to get to the Statehouse for the budget announcement and do our thing. Our plan was to disrupt the press conference to the point of shutting it down when he announced the human services cuts.

We had helium balloons that said Tax the Rich - Don't Kill the Poor. We sat in the front row. There were about fifteen of us. There were homeless people, politicized shelter line staff, an MIT professor and her daughter, some Catholic Worker people and a few other God-types as well, and as soon as I gave the signal, we would all begin to shout "Tax the Rich. Don't Kill the Poor. Don't Cut the Budget, Anymore."

I think it was supposed to rhyme. Sometimes it's hard, I guess, to be disruptive without running some risk of sounding like an idiot. But that was our plan, and in its way, it was a good one.

The Governor's Press Secretary was at the podium. As he was working his way through his statement. Sue Marsh, the Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless came up beside my chair and knelt to talk.

"We just had a meeting, and things are in process. We might have a deal. Don't do this now."

OK, I said.

The list of cuts was read. It kept coming at us. People looked to me and I shook my head. We sat.

In the Statehouse parking lot afterwards, Sue was surrounded as she explained what she thought she had and why she asked us to do what we did. People weren't happy. Daria, who had worked for JwP to coordinate Housing Now! buses and had some history with Sue called Sue a bitch and Sue started crying.

This was not a day of proud moments.

The cuts kept coming after that. I don't know that disrupting the press conference would have changed anything. I kind of doubt it. But I do know that we missed an opportunity to make a very strong statement when it needed to be made.

Less than a year later, I'd watch Sue literally throw her body against a wall of cops to get into a room and force an arrest at the Statehouse. I loved her in that moment as much as I'd ever loved anyone in my life.

I forget how many were arrested that day. A dozen or twenty or so. There were two big CD actions that year at the Statehouse, and we worked closely on both of them.

At the press conference, Sue did what she needed to do. In her world, from her point of view, it made sense. We were allies, but we had different roles to play. The thing I learned that day and never forgot was that others need to do what they need to do as well.

We could have both been right that day, each of us in our own way, doing what we needed to do.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Criminalization Flowchart

For those of you who remain confused about the Mayors new sweeps protocols, the city has helpfully provided a flowchart in response to a documents disclosure request. As you see, all camping is clearly unlawful. Got that? In case anyone missed this, it's Against The Law.

We see that some unlawful camping rates notification, outreach, and services, and others do not. Where there is trash, some possibility of drug use, or someone thinks these were the guys who broke into the garage, there's just a direct police response. The whole notification/outreach thing won't work if there's trash around. Or if people use drugs. Just send in the cops, throw their shit away, and get on with things.

Beyond this, we see that the unsociable types who don't hang out in bottle gangs are pretty much screwed. No notification or outreach for them. They were probably loners in high school, and nobody liked them then either. Losers.

We see also that once Unlawful Camping reaches the magical threshold of becoming an Unlawful Encampment, then notification and services will be allowed, as well as some half-assed attempt at resource referral on the cheap.

Unless, of course, encampments reoccur within the area three times within 60 days. Then it gets permanent posting, and anyone who goes there to sleep is a criminal who has no rights, and will either have their stuff tossed without warning or be cited or arrested. Within six months to a year, more or less everywhere in the City that homeless people camp will have reached this status.

I added the indirect red line to more accurately reflect written policy. The astute observer will note that just one scenario in five is a potential path to "services and shelter."

So a year from now, where exactly will these protocols that define City responsibility be applied? Nowhere.

The Mayor had an opportunity here to move to higher ground. City rhetoric, which has been all about compassion and ending homelessness, has taken the high road. Their actions, however, have taken the low road of covert policy formulation, consistent media manipulation, and shameful avoidance of responsibility.

The Dalai Lama speaks of compassion as being more than some squishy idea that’s up for grabs by anyone capable of forming three consecutive syllables. Compassion, he says, is a verb. It is action. This action is informed by empathy and driven by personal responsibility.

The Mayor’s policy, which exempts the City from taking responsibility by denying services and basic rights to the majority of homeless campers, falls far short of this very useful definition.

Baracky: The Sequel

This morning I'm sitting alone at the kitchen table reading the news and found myself talking out loud to my laptop. I said, "Oh fuck you Hilary. Fuck you." The offending line was where she said "I am in this race to fight for every one who has been counted out." Yeah. Right.

It's a good line, but it has no meaning. And that is her entire problem.

I'm starting to hate her almost as much as I hate Bush. No. That's not true. I really, really hate George Bush.

Pennsylvania means the pit bull is still in the ring, demeaning hope, arguing for accommodation, lowering expectations, and doing damage in general. But Barack is still ahead. He still has twice as much money. And he's still three times more genuine than Hilary. Here's this, because this morning you need something to make you laugh.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mesmerized By Uncertainty

Tonight I decided to celebrate the new strings on my guitar. This came together in a couple of hours. I made up a slinky sort of a blues groove, played a lead over it, and then somehow got inspired to add King's Riverside speech to the center of the mix. It worked better than I'd hoped. This might evolve into an epic, multi-song, sort of project. It's a long speech.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Daily Dose of Dread

Thanks to my friend Revel for turning me on to this. These are from a parody of the disaster preparedness site. Apparently, these cool little signs (click to enlarge) were once posted there with advice for idiots and small children, and the tech geeks over at Slashdot amused themselves by writing alternative captions. The UK disaster preparedness parody site makes the point more clearly. This is from their homepage.
“The Emergency Planning Society believes that this booklet provides valuable and common sense advice for the public, just in case they're stupid and can't work it out on their own.”
Debbie Spargo, Chief Executive of the Emergency Planning Society, who doesn't look like Anthea Turner at all.

The Government is working hard to make sure that the UK is as prepared as it can be in the event of an emergency, and it is important that you are ready too.

No, that's a lie. I'm sorry, I can't keep it up. The Government is working hard to get re-elected, and to give themselves more money. Your safety's maybe number ten on the priority list, just below stopping Euan Blair going on another drinking binge and keeping George Bush from blowing the world up again.

This booklet will tell you how you can help yourself and your family in emergencies, because we're not going to do it ourselves. First chance we get, we'll be off to an undisclosed location, hopefully leaving Gordon Brown behind.

If you need alternative language versions or formats, get someone to translate them or LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH. ARE YOU UNDERSTANDING THE WORDS THAT I AM SPEAKING?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dog Latin

I don't do kids' music. My thinking is that Twins A&B seem to like everything. They'll sing and dance to my guitar and the likes of Elliot Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, and David Thomas Broughton, so why torture myself with Raffy? While the subject matter can be rather adult (It's too darn hot!), they hear it all through a five year old's frame of reference and seem none the worse for it.

This morning we listened to Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light over warm buttered biscuits and orange slices while Twin B did interpretive dance in her ballerina outfit. This is the ethereally beautiful and utterly overwhelming oratorio written for the 1928 landmark French silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Lyrics, sung by Anonymous 4 and backed the the Netherlands Radio Choir, are in Latin and mostly drawn from the writings of various early mystics. I never tire of listening to this, liner notes in hand, comparing the English and Latin. The film, for me, represents in shorthand the epic ongoing struggle between good and evil; the biophilia that glues the world together and the necrophilia that tears it apart.
" ... Evil is rendered more believable by putting it together with good to make it more respectable ... "
— Christine de Pisan
The clip below offers a glimpse of why French stage actress Renee Jeanne Falconetti's portrayal of Joan of Arc has been described as perhaps "the finest performance ever recorded on film."

The third track, Interrogation, which draws from early feminist writer Christine de Pisan and Saint Hildegaard von Bingen, has the male chorus singing "Homasse! Homasse!" This sounds like Ho-maah-SUH!, and is a medieval slur that means "masculine woman."

The girls heard it a little differently. This morning Twins A&B sang along together. "A dog shit! A dog shit!" Very cute and very funny.

The words for the first part of this scene are below in Latin and English, and are from Hildegaard von Bingen.
habundat in omnia
de imis exellentissima
super sidera
atque amantissima
in omnia
quia summo regi osculum pacis

overflows into all things,
From out of the depths to
above the highest stars;
And so Love overflows into all best beloved,
most loving things,
Because She has given to the highest King
The Kiss of Peace.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

George Carlin on Class in America

"They don't want a bunch of people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and talk about how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fuckin' years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers. ... The table is tilted folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. Good honest hard working people - blue collar, white collar - good honest hard working people, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cocksuckers who don't give a fuck about them. They don't give a fuck about you. They don't give a fuck about you. They don't care about you. At all. At all. At all."

Friday, April 18, 2008

From Today's Mail ...

Hi Timothy Harris:

I just mailed this letter to the PI when I picked up the current Real Change and read your update on Nickels, et al, continuing to foul up.

As the U.S. keeps wading the Big Muddy of illegal and immoral wars and occupations, another Depression, Real Change will be ever important.

Enclosed is $10 to keep the pot boiling.

Peace and Justice,
Lyle Mercer
Letter to the Editor,

This 1930s youngster vividly recalls Seattle's waterfront Hooverville (one of many nationwide named after the then current President), a large hodgepodge of crammed shacks, built with discarded lumber and inhabited by hundreds of jobless and homeless men - and a few women. To survive they scrounged for food and cooked it in cast-off pots.

Such deplorable human neglect vanished after World War II when 16 million of us donned uniforms, were fed and housed at no personal expense. The two front conflict totally wiped out unemployment.

Today, with more and more Americans being driven out of their "subprime" homes by crooked money lenders, other workers worry about escalating oil and food prices as the economic crisis deepens.

As Angela Galloway reports, our local governments have yet to eliminate the suffering which forces Seattleites to sleep in doorways and under bridges.

With some 50,000 millionaires thriving in these parts, why are we unable to eliminate homelessness as we did in wartime 1940s?

With only a small portion of the taxes being poured into the Bush Cheney oil war, we could easily shelter the shivering in this late spring.
I will answer Mr. Mercer's question. The massive homelessness in America that began with Civil War demobilization and the painful economic restructuring that accompanied the advent of the factory system of labor was not solved by wartime employment alone. This did indeed empty the Hoovervilles, but things could have returned to the pre-war status quo.

Instead, the GI bill delayed the shock of demobilization by providing higher education to large numbers of white GIs and was the largest engine of class mobility this nation has ever seen. The 1949 Housing Act was passed, promising decent housing to every American family. A suburban housing boom was made affordable to large numbers of people with low-interest FHA loans, and huge public works projects provided continued employment to many (women and minorities didn't fare as well). And, an agreement was forged between government, big business, and the civic sector (labor, churches, civic organizations) to look to the common good. This lead to steady economic growth and declining rates of inequality up to 1973.

Then came globalization and another painful round of economic restructuring. Deepening inequality has been institutionalized within our economy and our political system, and has become the "common sense" of our time. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, forever.

As more and more people experience the increased economic vulnerability that this system creates for nearly everyone, we are coming to realize that this "common sense" is nonsense, and that we have a mutual stake in deep systemic change.

The letter was accompanied by two five dollar bills and a typed quote at the bottom:
But remember always, Dante, in this play of happiness, don't you use all for yourself only ... help the persecuted and the victim because they are your better friends ... In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.
- - - Nicola Sacco
Mr. Mercer, you are loved. Thank you.

Squirrelman's Treehouse

Dan Csaky is already becoming the stuff of folk legend. Here, Seattle singer/songwriter Dan Samples, aka Cool and Dark, performs Squirrelman's Treehouse. It has a bit of a Woody Guthrie feel to it. Under the new protocols on homeless camping, Csaky would be excluded from any City obligation to notification, services, or storage of possessions. Those camped alone or in pairs, said outgoing Seattle Human Services Director Patricia McInturff, "are welcome to go to a shelter, but it doesn't trigger me calling an outreach team to go out to a neighborhood and post advanced notice for one person."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Accordionation Defined

Your time to vote for your favorite political strategy is running out. Choices at top right of the blog are Revolution, Amelioration, Accommodation, or Accordionation. A friend said I should have included Capitulation as well. Maybe next time. Revolution and Accordionation have been running neck and neck for two weeks. Recently, Amelioration got a few votes. No avowed Accommodationists as of yet.

I asked my friend Bruce Triggs, the idiot who suggested this poll, to tell us what Accordionation is, since people seem to like it so much. In reply, he sent me a link to this video from Kimmo Pohjonen's website. Here Pohjonen plays with Kronos Quartet. It's subtle, epic, and gorgeous. Bruce does an accordion music radio show ("ruthlessly pursuing the belief that the accordion is just another instrument") in Vancouver, BC, and you can listen to shows at Accordion Noir. The PSAs are very funny. That's him doing the voice.

Bruce had a streetpaper fling about a decade ago when he ran the Tacoma distribution of Real Change from Hospitality House, the Catholic Worker center there. It didn't work out. That was back when homeless people in Tacoma owned the downtown because, other than the government workers, they were pretty much the only ones there. There wasn't anyone to buy the paper. After awhile, we gave up. Now, the downtown is thriving and they've kicked the homeless out. How times change.

Accordionation edged out revolution 17-14, but I refer to think that it's not either/or. That we can have revolution and accordions. Amelioration, understandably, got two votes. I'm hoping those people voted for revolution as well, since amelioration on its own isn't much of a long-term strategy. Accommodation, despite being a state that all of us live in to one degree or another, received no votes. Perhaps a little too close to home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Smart, Brave, and True

Just when I was beginning to despair that no Seattle reporter would ever really get the sweeps story right, along comes Angela Galloway in today's PI with Seattle Homeless Camp Policy Under Fire: critics see loopholes in rights protections. Galloway deserves major props for taking a second shot at a story the City buried in last Saturday's paper and hitting all the right points.

Broad exceptions to the application of the protocols mean that campers will be evicted without the benefit of rights or process.

This plan has little or nothing to do with ending homelessness, and is punitive and arbitrary.

And then, my favorite quote. Alison Eisinger, on the unfortunate sartorial habits of the Emperor: "It is facile in the extreme to pretend that the 10-year plan is a solution to a problem that affects thousands of people tonight."

Thank God someone finally said it. Anyone who's really paying attention knows that the plan holds few immediate solutions, and that its long-term prospects are dicey at best. To hide behind the Ten Year Plan while criminalizing survival activity is the height of lying hypocrisy.

Eisinger goes on in her reasonable way.
All homeless people have the rights to shelter and services. Further, some people might unwittingly set up camp in recently swept locations, she said.

"When the city puts forward a protocol that is supposed to be designed to help people get off the streets, what we expect to see is a protocol that doesn't punish people for going places where they believe they will be safe," Eisinger said.

Whenever a Nickels administration person gets called on the inconvenient math of very limited space for a large number of unsheltered homeless, the answer runs something like this: "Well, we have a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, because we believe that housing connected to services and not shelter is the answer. It's a Ten Year Plan, not a Two Year Plan. Seattle spends more than $40 million annually on housing and homelessness. 1811 Eastlake ... Plymouth ... blah blah blah. We're committed to ending homelessness and believe we're on track."

This is the rhetorical equivalent of fairy dust. Just a small sprinkle magically makes homeless people disappear.

The key issues of when the protocol applies are now out in the open, and the city is defending their right to take people's stuff without offering warning or services.
Patricia McInturff, director of the city's Human Services Department, said the rules were intended to apply to encampments that hit a "critical mass" of people, not small groups or single individuals illegally camping.

"Certainly, these people are welcome to go to a shelter," said McInturff, who is leaving the department this week. "But it doesn't trigger me calling an outreach team to go out to a neighborhood and post advanced notice for one person."

"How we deal with individuals is something that can be discussed in another setting -- and may or may not be," McInturff said. "But this policy is about encampments."

This is all quite clarifying.

Tim Burgess appears to have closed ranks with the Mayor on this one, despite the fact that none of the issues that once concerned him have been resolved. At least we now know where people stand.

McInturff''s retirement begins today, and her quotes are those of someone who is a) tired of lying, b) a good soldier to the end, and c) already ceasing to really give a crap. Most people I've talked to think there's a straight line between her taking the heat for Greg on this policy and her precipitously announced retirement plans. Many think that the good stuff that exists in this plan is her work, and that she stood up to the face of true evil, as represented by Tim Ceis and Marilyn Littlejohn.

As Patricia heads off into the sunset toward her Hawaii lanai, it scares me to know that, at some deep, carefully submerged level, she was what passes for an ally in this administration.

Serendipitously, the story appears online next to the Dalai Lama photo gallery.

Galloway got it right. She is my new hero. Journalism with integrity lives at the PI.

Sweeps of Compassion?

When the Mayor appeared on KUOW’s Weekday last Monday, Greg Nickels had just given the Dalai Lama the key to the City and taken a brave stance in favor of compassion. While the show was supposed to be about Key Arena and the new grocery bag tax, the convergence of the Dalai Lama and the new protocols begged for comment.

Host Steve Sher pressed him hard.

Why only twenty new beds when your own staff says there are 100-300 homeless campers? Couldn’t Tent Cities be a solution? Isn’t this a shortsighted quick fix? Aren’t these policies punitive? Where’s the compassion?

Unfortunately, Sher chose to confront Nickels with a statement I made to Sharon Chan at the PI after the City blindsided us with the release of the protocols.

The City released paper versions of the protocols to the press two hours before making them available to advocates. Chan was scheduled to call me at 4 pm. The documents were released at 3:30.

Taking no chances, they buried the story in Saturday’s paper with a late-Friday press release.

It took me about ten minutes to find the stuff they were hiding. All camping on public property was illegal and subject to citation or arrest. No surprises there. This was in the draft and no one expected that to change.

But the City was now making a distinction between “unauthorized camping” and “unauthorized encampments.” Camping is to erect any equipment that a reasonable person would assume is for the purposes of remaining when the property is closed. An encampment is three or more structures, any of which is within three-hundred feet of the next.

In a lawyerly bit of work that few people would catch in a quick reading, the protocols are written to apply to “unauthorized encampments.” Yet all camping is illegal.

So, do those who are camped alone or in pairs rate notification, outreach, and access to shelter and services? The answer would appear to be no.

Also deeply troubling is the new recurring encampment clause, which says that sites will be monitored once cleared, and if encampments re-occur three times within a 60-day period, permanent signs will be posted and belongings will be cleared without notice.

Given that just twenty new shelter beds have been provided, and more than 2,600 people were found outside during last year’s count, one can reasonably assume that encampments are likely to return.

Call me cynical, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where within 6 months, every key site in the City will have reached this status.

There is also a provision in the procedures document that says anyone who already has a citation will not have the right to enter posted areas to retrieve possessions. The more expansive administrative rules document — which details the legal framework behind the procedures — clarifies that the previous citation rule is site-specific.

But I didn’t get that far before the press called. Everyone in the world, it seems, was trying to get the twenty-megabyte document from the City server at the same time, and the download was like molasses in January. There was no time for detailed legal analysis, and none of this was in the easily digested press release.

So when Sher asked if something I overstated to the PI was true, I was surprised to hear Greg say he didn’t know.
Sher: There’s a little bit of punitiveness in this though. If people camping on a site have been cited elsewhere they won’t get the 72 hours notice to vacate and they won’t be allowed to retrieve their belongings? Is that the rule? Is that true? That’s what Tim Harris, the Executive Director of Real Change said. He was looking at the rules and said, still seems to be punitive?

Nickels: Well, the intent is not to be punitive. The intent is for people to understand what those rules are and to provide the help that they need to be able to avoid this kind of, uh, inappropriate shelter.

Sher: But is that true though? That if they’ve been cited somewhere else they won’t get the 72 hours notice? They don’t get their belongings?

Nickels: You know, Um, Um, I don’t know.

Sher: Well, He’s quoting your rules. So, if it’s wrong you’ll tell me.

Nickels: There you go.
Then Nickels goes on to promise that everyone in the encampments “who needs services will get services” and blow smoke about how everything will be great once we’ve ended homelessness.

I was wrong, but it was still a sweet moment.

If the new policies on campsite removal were limited to the good news in the City’s press release — expanded notification time, contracted (but underfunded) outreach services, better provisions for storage, and twenty new shelter beds — we’d have grudgingly declared victory and moved on to focusing on oversight and accountability.

The Mayor’s Office has fatally undermined the legitimacy of the new protocols by sneaking in provisions that exempt those camped alone, in pairs, and, eventually, in any of the City’s key sites, from the rules. The rules are that much of the time there will be no rules.

It should surprise no one that a policy that began in secret would, after six months of process, arrive at a self-justifying set of protocols in which the secret exceptions are hidden in plain sight.

There are no provisions for independent oversight of any sort.

This brings us back to exactly where we started, with the City removing most encampments without notification, services, or storage of belongings, operating without accountability, and lying to cover their tracks.

This is not acceptable. A compassionate policy on campsite removals requires the following:

The hidden exceptions must be challenged and removed from these protocols. Otherwise, the three-camp definition and the recurring encampment clause will render the policies meaningless by greatly limiting their application.

Outreach needs to be consistent, relationship-based, and adequately funded. The zero-tolerance for campsites approach outlined in these protocols undermines the capacity to do real outreach by needlessly chasing those who are often already resistant to services from place to place.

The City Council needs to press hard for oversight and accountability. We should know how many people have been removed from encampments and where they went. If the exceptions that exist were applied, this information would offer a very limited picture of what's really happening.

While strategies and tactics still need to be worked out, this much is clear. These protocols are unacceptable.

It’s always embarrassing to get something wrong in public. I find solace in knowing Mayor Nickels gets stuff wrong too. In the space of twenty minutes on KUOW, he said he didn’t know what was in his own policies, that there was enough shelter for everyone, that homelessness would be solved by 2014, and that the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness was “on-track.”

Were these the mis-statements of a bumbling, under-informed public servant who goes on the radio without having his facts straight? Or were these the calculated and often-repeated lies routinely offered by power to justify the unjustifiable?

While you’re deciding, we at Real Change will be organizing a response. We hope you will join us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fuck You Nicole Brodeur For Making Me Cry

Nicole Brodeur's column today on the homeless man who was killed trying to cross I-5 to get to his camp made me cry. It's a lovely piece of writing that almost redeems her for the sensationalist piece of crap she wrote several months ago on homeless encampments. If anyone sinks low enough to use this tragedy as an argument for campsite clearances, I'll have to remind them the Dept. of Transportation already has two dead homeless people to their credit this year and doesn't seem to be helping matters.

LA: Ground Zero in War on Poor

I received an alert yesterday from one of our sister organizations in the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a coalition of west coast groups that organize from the bottom-up on issues of poverty and homelessness. While each of our organizations is dealing with the effects of rapid gentrification and increased repression of the visible poor, LA has always been ahead of the pack.

Long-time readers of this blog may recall the LAPD's uniquely sci-fi approach to data collection on homeless people, where officers would descend on the downtown tent city in the pre-dawn hours to wake people for a bi-weekly count, and then feed the GIS coordinates of the homeless into a GPS system in order to produce lovely color-coded maps of the homeless problem. You can follow this link to see LA's Cartifact Project for yourself. The animation of homeless migratory patterns under conditions of intense police harassment should set any thinking person's hair on end. The practice was halted last August when a judge ruled that people could not be prevented from sleeping downtown when no suitable alternatives are available.

Yet the harassment of the mostly Black downtown street population has continued. Organizers from LA Community Action Network were recently cuffed and beaten after documenting an illegal search by LAPD. The photo above is one of their organizers, surrounded by LAPD plainclothes. Here's the full press release.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Pete White, (213) 434-1594 or (213) 228-0024

Community Organizers Opposed to Downtown Gentrification Arrested for the 2nd Time in Two Months

Just minutes after intervening in an unlawful search of an African American woman, three African American organizers are detained at gunpoint; Two are assaulted and injured; One is incarcerated

On Thursday April 10, 2008 at approximately 9:30 PM, community organizers responding to a report of police abuse in downtown Los Angeles find themselves victims of police brutality and illegal arrest.

LA CAN community organizers received a call Thursday evening reporting that an unidentified African-American woman was handcuffed and being searched on 5th and Los Angeles streets. LA CAN operates a CommunityWatch program that monitors police abuse and compliance with court injunctions against LAPD in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Thomas and Steve Richardson took cameras to the scene and Herman Jones arrived in his vehicle. The woman was released and she explained that LAPD had just jacked her up for nothing, saying they were looking for drugs.

Thomas, Richardson and Jones then left the scene by car to investigate and monitor police activities because historically poor, Black residents have been mistreated by police in an attempt to keep them away from Downtown’s trendy ArtWalk, which was happening that evening. LAPD officers followed them and conducted a "felony stop" while the car was simply stopped at a red light - meaning guns were drawn and all three were cuffed and searched, although no crime had been committed.

After the three were handcuffed, Thomas was dragged down the street and hit by officers and Richardson was brutally choked and held down by multiple officers. When witnesses with cameras arrived on the scene, the officers stopped the illegal behavior and uncuffed Jones and Thomas, instructing them that they were free to go. Richardson was arrested on the charge of "resisting arrest" and was incarcerated. The arresting officer stated that he grabbed two fingers of one of the officers while he was being held down in handcuffs and that was the basis of their charge. Both Richardson and Thomas sustained injuries to their fingers, wrists and necks and received medical treatment for these injuries.

There were 10 to 15 officers on the scene when additional witnesses arrived, the majority in plain clothes without badge identification. Officers were asked for their names, badge and serial numbers, which they are obligated to provide pursuant to Federal Consent Decree, on multiple occasions and all but two officers refused to give witnesses their information. The ranking officer was asked to provide information for identification purposes later at Central Division Headquarters and he again refused. This refusal was recorded via camera phone.

This incident underscores an alarming and ongoing trend of police officers illegally arresting LA CAN organizers performing perfectly legal police monitoring duties. Just two months ago, Pete White of LA CAN was also arrested by Central Division officers while documenting a raid in a Skid Row residential hotel. The charges against him were later dismissed in the "interest of justice" and a federal civil rights lawsuit was subsequently filed. Community organizers have not been exempt from the widespread abuses under the Mayor’s Safer City Initiative, but the impacts reach much further to the thousands of poor and mostly Black residents targeted by the Initiative. The Inspector General has assigned a special team of investigators to monitor the large number of complaints.

Victims, witnesses, photos, and relevant video footage are available upon request.

LA organizers have asked supporters to let their Mayor's Office and Police Chief know that these events are being watched and followed outside of LA. I encourage you to email them with brief statements of concern. Here's the letter I sent yesterday.
As a leader of a Seattle community organization that works with homeless people in a similar context to that of LA-CAN, I am gravely concerned with recent reports of police harassment and abuse aimed at this organization. The tactics I have heard described remind me of those employed by the likes of Bull Connor during Freedom Summer.

As you recall, these tactics were not successful, and only succeeded in mobilizing vast numbers of allies who were appalled by what they saw.

Increased repression against the visible poor is one of today's key civil rights issues, and police brutality that is strategically directed toward those who act and speak in solidarity with homeless people is an extremely serious matter that will not be tolerated in any manner.

I am writing to let you know that we in Seattle are following events in LA closely, and are prepared to do all that we can to support LA-CAN and others who dare to stand up for the poor.
Please direct your emails to:
Mayor’s office staff that received LA-CAN's original letters and met with them after Pete’s arrest:

Police Commissioners Anthony Pacheco, John Mack, Andrea Ordin, Robert Saltzman, and Alan Skobin:

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Sexiest Hippy Ever

This clip of Led Zeppelin doing Stairway to Heaven is amazingly perfect. Jimmy Page totally shreds the world's most famous electric guitar solo while Robert Plant is pure fucking Dionysius. Check out how his jeans are frayed around the crotch. His bursting manhood can't be contained. Either that or woman have just been gnawing on it. And the psychedelic effects toward the end? Awesome! Were the 70's really this cool? I don't remember.

I Have A Rare Genius ...

For being an idiot. I crushed my thumb Sunday and probably couldn't duplicate the maneuver if I tried.

I'd been at Craig Rennebohm's Pilgrim Church reading and decided to treat myself to Than Brothers on the way home. I left my book and jacket on the chair and hit the head. As I headed back to my table, I heard a crunch just as I noticed that my thumb was caught in the back hinges of the closing bathroom door. My strangled scream followed by the word "shit!" caught the attention of a nearby table.

I looked at the deep red indentations on both sides of the offended digit. "I think I might have just broken my thumb in the bathroom door," I offered apologetically. "I heard it crunch."

"Ice it right away," said the helpful diner.

A bag of ice came with my medium number three. The pho smelled delicious. I felt the minor shock begin to set in and considered my options.

"I think I just broke my finger in your bathroom door," I said to the waitperson a few feet away. She gave me a blank look and said something in Vietnamese to the person next to her.

"No wonder we won the war," she probably said.

I held up the thumb and gestured to the untouched soup. "I can't eat this now. Are you going to make me pay?"

The answer was no. I thanked them and walked to my car with an ice bag wrapped around my hand. I was at Safeway and Ed McLain was there, selling his Real Changes.

"Want to hear a good one," I asked? "I just broke my thumb in a bathroom door. Think I should go to an emergency room?"

"They ain't gonna do a Got-Damn thing for a broken thumb. It's like breaking a toe," he said. Can you move it.

The thumb wiggled. The first knuckle was fine. The second one moved a bit, but the swelling had already limited movement to maybe twenty degrees.

"It ain't broken," he said, "and they ain't gonna do a Got-Damn thing!"

Maybe they'd at least give me a pain killer?

"Sheee-it," Ed laughed. "They ain't gonna give you no pain killers for that! Just keep it on ice."

My thoughts turned to the half bottle of codeine cough syrup on top of my fridge. For months I'd been saving it for a special occasion. This, I decided then and there, was it.

I thanked Ed for the medical consult and drove home with my right hand on the steering wheel and my left in the ice bag on my lap.

I've noticed since that when I type, about the only thing this thumb does is to occasionally hit the shift key. It still works for that. Playing my guitar, however, will probably have to wait.

And I just put new strings on yesterday. Got-Damn.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where We're Going To

A friend who lives near Astoria, Oregon sent an email yesterday asking how spontaneous I felt. "If you get in your car by 1," she said, "you'll be here around 4:30 and can BBQ with me and my neighbors in this great garden. There's a creek just behind the garden and we can walk to the beach." I felt spontaneous. I girled up the twins with dresses and clean hair and we drove. The beach near her house was spectacular. You could see Haystack a few miles down the coast, jutting up out of the water like some sort of a forbidden island.

As we drove through the neighborhood, she pointed out some of the large, beautiful, and seasonally occupied homes owned by the wealthy while she described the hard scrabble existence of many locals. It was an apt metaphor for an economy where the top 5% bask in excess while most of us work harder and with less result just to stay even.

A recent state-by-state report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the acceleration of income inequality confirms what anyone can see.
Low- and middle-income families have reaped few gains since the late 1990s, despite the recent years of economic prosperity. Average incomes actually fell by 2.5% for those in the bottom fifth of the income scale and rose by just 1.3% for those in the middle fifth. Meanwhile, incomes climbed 9% for those in the top fifth.

“Before the recent downturn hit, our economy was generating solid income gains. The problem was that high levels of inequality meant these gains failed to reach middle- and low-income families, whose living standards stagnated or even declined,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the report. “As we head into an economic downturn, these families are ill-prepared to weather the storm.” ...

Within the top fifth, the lion’s share of the income growth of the past two decades went to those at the very top. In the 11 states large enough to permit this calculation, the incomes of the top 5 percent of families rose by more than $90,000 on average. This is greater than the income growth of the top fifth of families as a whole in these states — and dwarfs the income growth among the bottom fifth of families in these states. The average income of the richest 5 percent of families is now more than 12 times that of the poorest families.
Since the 90's in Washington State, average income for the bottom quintile fell by 4.2%, while the top quintile's income grew by 11.8%. Income growth for the middle is stagnant.

Measured over the last two decades the gap is even more striking. While incomes rose for the bottom fifth by 5.5%, they rose for the top fifth by an incredible 41.3%. These numbers are adjusted for inflation and do not include capital gains income. The real picture, then, is even more extreme, especially when you look at incomes for the upper range of the top 5%, which are growing faster than anyone's.

These are just statistics. Where you see the real damage is in places like Astoria, where prime real estate gets snatched up as an investment/amenity for the rich while locals struggle with the resulting inflation. Or Seattle, where a downtown condo boom has sparked a war on the visible poor in this once liberal city.

My friend was right about the drive. It took about three and a half hours to get there. Going home, I wasn't so lucky. I took a wrong turn in Astoria and wound up driving to Seattle by way of Portland. At around 2:30 a.m., a major accident on I-5 near Tacoma brought all five lanes to a standstill for more than half an hour. Rich and poor alike sat in their cars, watching a sea of flashing lights as one ambulance after another crept by in the breakdown lane.

As a State Trooper finally waved us through the single lane that eventually opened, I pondered the accident as overly-stretched metaphor for the middle-class. Here we are, bystanders on a road that seems to have no exit. Unspeakable horror looms. The girls slept in the backseat, unaware of what was ahead. And meanwhile, there we all sat, resigned and stuck in place, not going anywhere ourselves.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bad News Always Gets Buried

Anybody who's been around for more than ten minutes knows governments release bad news late on Friday. The story then runs on Saturday, when newspaper circulation is lowest. This is best accomplished by releasing a blizzard of paper at the last possible moment. A brief press release and "fact sheet" are helpfully provided to frame things for the reporter in a hurry.

We thought the City was going to do this last week. Reporters were expecting the new protocols on Friday when the City unexpectedly postponed the release. The Mayor's executive order, which includes the procedures document, was filed with the City Clerk the following Monday. The 20-page administrative rules document, which backs up the procedures wth more detailed legalese, were signed by all the affected department heads on Monday as well.

So, why then did they wait until four days later and at the last minute on Friday to release the news? Sharon Chan at the Seattle Times had a paper copy at 2:00 pm, as promised by the City Friday morning, but had no electronic copy to forward. No one else had the documents until the City uploaded them to their website an hour and a half later, which left advocates less than an hour to absorb forty-some detailed pages of material and formulate a response.

How's this for a process? Create a unilateral policy with a two week period for public comment. Respond to the comments with some concessions, but then put a whole bunch of other bad stuff in there that no one's ever seen before. Release the policy at the close of a Friday and call it a done deal.

None of the bad news was in the press release. This spoke of meeting the "thoughtful" concerns offered by advocates with another day's notice, additional time for outreach, and twenty new shelter beds at the Compass Center with improved policies on storage of possessions.

That doesn't sound so bad. One could even say this was a win for advocacy. Their opening position, after all, was that storage was out of the question, that 48 hours was sufficient time for outreach, and that there would be no new shelter.

It seems like they've come a long way.

The new stuff, however, makes it even worse than before. Here's the crap that floats to the top.

The Threshold of Three
A distinction is drawn between "unauthorized camping" and an "unauthorized encampment," which means three or more people within 300 feet of each other. The protocols apply to "unauthorized encampments." Yet, all camping on public property is illegal and subject to issuance of an exclusion notice or arrest for criminal trespass. This means that the procedures don't apply to campers who are not in groups. The City could have evicted Treeman and destroyed his property with no notice and have been in compliance with their policy. This is very bad, and it is new.

The Recurring Encampment Clause

This is also new, and very, very bad. Once a site is cleared, it will be monitored for a recurrence of campsites. Should an area have three recurrences within a period of 60 days, it will be placed into a new status, where no outreach or notice is required before issuing citations and destroying belongings. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where, within six months, the majority of key sites have been cleared for automatic removal without notice.

Any campsite that is identified either by a city employee or by a call to the Community Service Bureau is immediately slated for removal. The issue of whether any problems are being caused is immaterial.

One Citation = Vulnerability to Arrest

Anyone who has already received one citation anywhere has no immunity to arrest when trying to retrieve possessions or access outreach services from a site that has been slated for removal. Also new. Also very bad.

So, lets review. Less than three campers and the City has no responsibility to warn, hold belongings, or help. More than three documented instances of encampments within 60 days, and the City can also do whatever it likes.

So sleeping on your own means you have no rights. But after a while, sleeping in groups probably means you have no rights either. And, if you have received one citation already, you have no rights. Do you see where this is going?

This is a compassionate policy designed to help people? I don't think so. This is a lawyerly means of criminalizing survival while evading the responsibility we have to offer help. Were it possible for me to be more disgusted with the Nickels Administration, this would have done it.

Both the Seattle Times and Seattle PI put up brief stories on their websites Friday afternoon that merely summarized the City press release, but Sharon Chan and Angela Galloway offered good ink to advocates in their Saturday stories. Sharon's is actually quite good, and I'm not just saying that because she quotes me. Galloway uncritically accepts Marty McComber's line that nothing's changed, this has been happening for 15 years, and we're just making life better for homeless people.

It's an appalling lie, but a very useful one.

Both stories accepted the City's frame, as the largely supine dailies almost always do. "City listens to advocates and softens policy." Galloway's lead quote is McInturff saying how "delighted" she is. Few of us share her enthusiasm.

A more accurate frame would be "City sneaks broadly undermining loopholes into final protocols in preparation for all out war on poor."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Craig Rennebohm Reads This Sunday

While Souls in the Hands of a Tender God, the remarkable new book out on Beacon Press by Seattle mental health chaplain Craig Rennebohm, won't be available in stores until May 15, you can get your copy now.
The book "tells stories of the search for home and healing on the streets, drawn from Craig's ministry over the years, and explores an understanding of God active in our lives in support of persons, neighborhood, and the creation of a compassionate human community. Souls gives expression to the faith and values at the heart of our life together."
Craig will do a reading and signing this Sunday, April 13, at 2 pm at Prospect Church, 1919 E. Prospect St., 98112. I wouldn't miss it. Here's the best part. Reading circles are being organized.
The Chaplaincy has made a bulk purchase of Craig's new book for use by reading circles in local congregations and organizations. Hard-cover copies are available at a cost of $9.60 each. You may order them either by emailing or calling Lori at (206) 322-6030. The Chaplaincy has prepared a conversation guide for small groups to use in discussing the book and its themes of hope, help, and healing neighborhood. If you'd like assistance or advice in setting up a reading circle, e-mail David Paul.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

This Makes Me Feel Like I'm On Acid

Finnish rock & roll band the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir doing Sweet Home Alabama. Thanks to my friend Alix for telling me of this. My life wouldn't be the same.

The Rehabilitation of Dow Chemical

I was at the New York Times website yesterday and saw this banner ad for Dow Chemical. "Bhopal," I thought. It seemed an odd choice of images and a subject one would expect them to avoid. I clicked on the ad and was taken to a page that cycles through three ultra-slick videos trumpeting their deep sense of corporate responsibility. Dow Chemical, who has also blessed the world with napalm, Agent Orange, and numerous toxic waste dumps for which they continue to evade responsibilty.

Above is the Yes Men's famous BBC interview on the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, in which a Dow Chemical spokesperson — Jude Finesterra — announces that Dow will liquidate Union Carbide and use the $12 billion to compensate each of the victims, clean the site, commit to transparency, and fund full research into all Dow Products. "We do not want to be a company that sells products that may have long-term negative effects on the world." Brilliant.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Learning From the Treeman

Mike Lewis' Seattle PI story yesterday about David Csaky, the treeman of Eastlake Ave., made me very sad and very happy. I love that this man exists. I love that he has found creative ways to survive and carve out spaces that become his own. I love that he lives with the animals and makes good friends with squirrels. I love that his neighbors like him, want him around, and care whether he's happy. I love that a reporter took this amazing story and did it justice. I love that just as the City is about to release their new policy on homeless encampments, we have a poster-child for Homeless People Who Should Be Left Alone.

I'm sad that desperate people have to make their homes in the out of the way spaces where no one else goes. I'm sad that this man, who is bothering no one, can't just be left alone. I'm sad that this man, who has built something of which he is deservedly proud, is going to have it taken away. I'm sad that there is so little room in this world for the David Csaky's. Those who don't bend to the world the way it is. Who don't fit our ideas of how people should live and be.

"I'm tired," he said. "I just want to be left alone. I'm not hurting anyone."

Csaky was basically screwed from birth. Mom was a whore and dad was a drunk. Foster homes. Unemployment. Bare survival. For a time, he climbed into the lower rungs of the working class, but a few major setbacks later he lost his grip and it was back to the underclass. The invisible many, who drop out of the bottom into the shelters and prisons and jails and ghettos and all the other spaces the rest of us seldom see.

That's lesson one. People who have lived lives of pain and trauma need a lot more than a job offer and a clean shirt to bounce back. And as a society, we're not offering. Mainly, we're making things worse.

His neighbors want him around. He looks over the neighborhood and makes things safer. People like him. But one complaint was lodged, and the city is evicting. It doesn't make sense.

That's lesson two. Poor people will do what they must to survive, and given that the system has and continues to fail them in a colossal way, it should at the very least just leave them alone when they're not bothering anyone.

Social workers came by on Friday to tell Csaky that he'd get 48 hours notice Monday to leave the home he'd built with his own hands and the community that had embraced him. He was offered shelter he can't use and treatment he doesn't need.

Lesson number three. Offers of help that come with a great big stick in the other hand are unlikely to be well-received. There is probably some solution that would work for the man in the tree, but no one took the time to talk to him about what that might be.

The message to David Csaky was not "we're here to help." The message was "go away."

Waiting To See Where The Devil Lives

We anticipate that the Mayors office will release their final protocols on “unauthorized campsite clearances” this week, although we still prefer the term “homeless sweeps” for pure descriptive accuracy.

From what we’ve heard the policy is an immense improvement over January’s draft protocols. The devil, however, is always in the details.

The new policy should address a number of issues to be considered adequate. Is the trigger for sweeps a single complaint, or a pattern of problems that demand action? Will outreach come with adequate resources to offer meaningful alternatives? Does notification allow enough time to build relationships, or will it simply chase people around and make them harder to find and help?

These are but some of the key questions we’ll be looking at closely.

The larger issue is whether the ticketing of homeless campers, a process that effectively criminalizes survival activity, will proceed as originally planned. In other communities, this has resulted over time in warrants that leave already desperate people at risk of court involvement and jail.

The Mayor’s policy will be what it is: a unilaterally imposed policy that circumvents City legislative process and the accountability and transparency that would bring. The issue of oversight and accountability is likely to be the next phase.

For now, it appears that our long months of intense advocacy on this issue — groundbreaking investigative reporting, two overnight encampments at City Hall, three public protest rallies, a packed hearing that presented more than three hours of one-sided testimony, two petitions, and work to bring allies on board — have shifted a horrendous policy to one that is merely problematic.

And that, while not being the end of things, is progress we can be proud of as we consider next steps.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jonathan Raban on Seattle's Goblin Merchants

Annoyed that Seattle tourists had the gall to bitch to the press about the eyesore of "transients" in this city, author Jonathan Raban decided to take a homeless guy to lunch. He found Real Change vendor Fred Spruitenberg, and the result was a column in Sunday's New York Times. Fred, he found, was a real human being, with thoughts and interests and aspirations and imperfections, just like the rest of us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a really nice piece of writing.

Fred mentioned Goblin Market, a Christina Rossetti poem that helped Raban frame just what needs to be said about Seattle at this particular moment in time.
Like Fred, Seattle has been a longstanding client of the goblin merchants. The city is littered with expensive toys and baubles, like Paul Allen’s grand folly, the Experience Music Project, a globular, multicolored extravaganza designed by Frank Gehry and known as “the hemorrhoids” by employees of the public TV station that overlooks it, but which now appears to my eye as a cornucopia of goblin damsons, figs and pomegranates.

Likewise, the new $52 million, 1.3-mile streetcar line, a pet project of the mayor, which runs from downtown to the giant construction site of South Lake Union, and whose shiny red, orange and purple cars are cute, quaint and eerily underpatronized. This is the city that a couple of years ago came within an inch of spending $11 billion (including the cost of debt service) on a new monorail system, cool as an iPhone but of doubtful utility.

As the faint breeze from the east strengthens into the frigid wind of recession, Seattle will have to reckon with its weakness for the goblin stuff. A chastening reading of Fred’s favorite poem might be a good place to start.