Depending upon your source, the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Seattle/King County is succeeding, or failing. This week, the Committee to End Homelessness (CEHKC) released their 2007 Annual Progress Report. “By December 31, 2007,” reads the report, “we had opened 1,449 units with another 1,411 in the pipeline.”
Having reached the thirty percent mark in less than three years, we can presume that homelessness will end on schedule.
This is pure, unadulterated spin. Plan benchmarks call for opening 950 units of housing and subsidized rentals annually over ten years. Units “in the pipeline” don’t count. On the other hand, units in the pipeline prior to the plan are counted as units opened. At least they’re being consistent.
The sad reality is that CEHKC, a public/private sector consortium of business, government, philanthropy, churches, and non-profits, is falling short on meeting stated goals by nearly half.
One need look no further than their own Governing Board minutes of last April to see the truth.
“The Ten Year Plan has a goal of creating 9,500 units of housing — 4,500 units through new development and 5,000 from the use of existing housing through master leasing/rental subsidy. Our current rate of 500 units per year (approximately 300 new construction and 200 subsidized rentals) is double the pre-Plan pace, but still less than that needed to reach the Plan’s proposed ten-year average of 950 per year. To achieve our goal, we need to increase our production by 450 per year.”This progress came during a time of state, county, and city budgetary surplus. We now face a contracting economy and budgetary shortfalls at all levels of government. According to CEHKC’s own numbers, sustaining current housing production rates will cost a total of $55.6 million annually. To produce the units required to meet plan benchmarks and cover the current shortfall will take another $67.8 million each year.
Worse, the 2008 One Night Count of homeless people in Seattle/King County documents a 15% increase in homelessness over the previous year. This should surprise no one. Rental vacancy rates are at an all time low and the cost of housing is at an all time high. Several times the number of affordable units produced have been lost to condo conversion and other market forces.
The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness has no mechanism to re-assess benchmarks in relation to affordable housing loss and increased homelessness. The 950 units produced annually target is a static number that exists within a dynamic landscape of growing inequality.
Bottom line: The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is in deep trouble. Proposed solutions include greater efforts to leverage federal resources, and a stronger push for state and local resources. In a time of contracting budgets, prospects here are dim. We are hitting the wall. Laughably, the plan for “increasing political will” rests largely on a revision of the CEHKC communications plan.
Newsflash: Building the political will to end homelessness cannot be separated from building a broader movement for economic justice. This includes addressing issues of responsible development, tax fairness, growing inequality, racialized poverty, and broadly felt economic vulnerability.
Homelessness cannot be ended without the confrontation of power.
Ending homelessness, you may be thinking, is a goal that is both audacious and difficult. At least they’re trying.
No. They are not. Trying takes courage. It means stepping on a few toes. It means sincerely giving a crap about the condition of those who are on the street tonight, and not deferring the solution to the full implementation of some half-assed plan that is clearly failing.
Seattle’s homeless sweeps are making the City safe for the most affluent at the expense of the most desperate. Over nearly a year of intense community opposition to City policy, CEHKC has offered only silence. City officials routinely hide behind the Ten Year Plan, even as they dodge the critical question of where people are supposed to go.
“Thank you for your comments about illegal encampments,” begins the Mayor’s standard reply. “For too long, society has viewed homelessness as a problem that can only be managed, not solved. I disagree. … Allowing people to live in tents and under tarps in greenbelts without water, sanitation and hidden from police is neither a safe nor humane approach. We can do better. Working with local partners, we have created the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness ….”
Homelessness cannot be ended at the expense of meeting immediate survival needs. To say that more shelter beds are not the answer and that outdoor survival is illegal when 2,631 people were counted on the street — outside of an over capacity emergency shelter system — during the cold dead of a single January night, is a dodge at best.
This is not courage. This is hypocrisy, the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
Across the nation, more than three hundred municipalities have adopted Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness. This is not a social justice movement. It is a bureaucratic response to federal funding requirements.
In most of these cities, certain similarities can be seen. Urban living is in for those who can afford it, and visible poverty is a problem to be managed. Extreme and growing inequality defines the urban landscape, and quasi-governmental bodies have implemented various strategies to manage the contradiction. This typically looks like the repression and criminalization of those on the street, and “homeless advocacy” that ignores the broader issues of poverty, inequality, and declining human and civil rights.
The modern era of homelessness has everything to do with the question of power. Cui bono. Who benefits? In the global economy, private capital has eclipsed the power of an increasingly deregulatory government. Profits are privatized, risk is socialized, taxation is regressive, and those who are written off by the new economy are largely abandoned.
You don’t end homelessness with a better communications plan. You end homelessness by challenging power and fighting back like it matters. As billionaire investor Warren Buffet has said, “There’s class warfare alright, but it’s my class — the rich class — that’s winning.”