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.


Anonymous said...

Even though I don't agree with your methods for social change, I do agree that Real Change plays an important part in the community.

I'll make sure the Mayor reads your blog.

Mike said...

Desperate times call for brave, forthright actions from those who would make things better. Real Change and its mighty, little staff is confronting todays desperation like no other.

When people (with apparent access to power) vaguely criticize "your methods" and can't even muster the courage to use their own name.... Well, the contrast would be laughable if things weren't already so bad, and promising to get much worse very soon.