Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Homeless Sweeps As Media Spectacle

I got a call from a reporter yesterday asking whether we were doing anything to protest today's sweeps of lower Queen Anne over by Kinnear Park. The Mayors office has alerted the media that they'll be doing sweeps in this area from 7:30-10 am. Oddly, we didn't get the press release. Despite repeated requests, they've neglected to add Real Change to their press list for these sorts of notifications. They apparently prefer their media supine.

Lower Queen Anne is where this odyssey began for us. Last fall, crews went through this area destroying tents and throwing out belongings without posting notice, but left mountains of trash behind. This was repeatedly referred to by the Mayor's staff as a "botched" clean-up, but there was no mistake. The trash was left on purpose. It made a great visual for the press tours conducted since then by Parks Department and the Mayor's Human Services staff.

"Look at the garbage. Over here, we have condoms. Homeless sex. Icky. And look at all the beer bottles. Being homeless is one big party at taxpayer expense. And, oh god, what is that? I think I'm going to be sick. They poop too!"

I did the tour myself a few months ago. CR Douglas at the Seattle Channel invited me along. There wasn't much they could do or say to stop me from coming. His was one of the more critical takes. The City prefers it when the media just prints their press releases, and if Nickels understands anything, it's the importance of rewarding loyalty. Douglas got Human Services head Patricia McInturff in his studio and valiantly tried to pin her down on the question of where people are supposed to go. More than 2600 people counted outside last January, with 20 new beds added to accommodate those cleared from the greenbelts. A second grader can see through the math.

But McInturff wasn't having it. "Seattle has a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness," she kept saying. It's a ten year plan, not a two year plan. Blah, blah, blah." City talking points are designed to evade inconvenient questions such as his. He got nowhere.

There's a conveniently located vitamin supplement store where they always invite press to meet for the tour. We know this through our frequent public disclosure requests, which have resulted in reams of paper in our office that detail the inner workings of the Nickels media machine. When I was waiting, I had a nice chat with the built guy who runs the jock fuel outlet. He said the campers didn't bother him at all. They keep an eye out and clean his parking lot. His experience was of responsible people maintaining good neighbor relations. He wouldn't talk to CR on camera.

Today's show sweeps are, in all probability, the opening propaganda shot that marks a return to a more aggressive schedule of clearances. "Look," they'll say. "Icky. What else are we to do? And look! Notices! Outreach! We're consistent. We're humane. We're kinder and gentler."

Then they'll steamroll forward, secure in the knowledge that once the story's been covered on their terms, they've got a good window during which the sweeps will once again be yesterday's news.

Meanwhile, Operation Nightwatch is turning people out into the night with just a bus ticket and a blanket in record numbers.

This is where we get to the Big Lie. The one about the sweeps being OK because we're ending homelessness. We're not. It's getting worse. There are more shelter turn-aways than ever. One Night Count numbers are on the ascent. More people are dying.

We won't be out protesting tomorrow's sweeps. We're too busy organizing to kick the Mayor's ass on June 8-9 when we hold Camp4Unity, our third and largest encampment yet at City Hall. There will be time to get to know each other and build the relationships that sustain and deepen a movement. There will be a memorial service for the dead. Strong statements will be made. Groundwork will be laid. We are gathering force.

Download the flier PDF here, and the handbills here. Spread the word. The real trash is on the 7th floor of City Hall, and he wears a big empty suit.

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