Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Less Spin. More Courage.


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.”

5 comments:

Sally said...

After Sharon Pian Chan wrote a semi-puff piece last week in the Seattle Times, Bill Kirlin-Hackett and I wrote a letter which didn't get published saying:
"The Seattle Displacement Coalition reports that in Seattle alone, 1,774 units were lost in 2007 that were affordable to households with income less than 50% median (about $30K for a family of 4). Seattle also lost units affordable to multiple income levels via condominium conversion of existing rentals: 2,836 lost in 2007 and 4,920 lost in 2006. These numbers don’t count demolitions, speculative sales, and rental increases, because they are harder to track. But even without those numbers, the plain fact is that we are losing considerably more than we are gaining for income levels at or below 80% of median income (approximately $49,000 for a family of 4). For families making 30% and less of median income, the loss of units is catastrophic."
Chan's article gave one quote from Alison Eisinger. I'll bet Alison said some other stuff which didn't get into the article.

Tim Harris said...

Q: Why release a progress report containing less than great news to the press before its date of publication?

A: Because it catches the opposition, who hasn't seen it and can't properly respond, off guard and kills the story for later on.

These people do things for a reason. This was a strategic decision.

John Sulmonte said...

Sally and Tim, as much as I and my partner realize how close we are to being on the streets. I just don't know why the larger community at large do not see and understand the powers that be here in Seattle. WE have no representative government here in Seattle. The City Government Grows and Grows as does the County and (LOL) the State

Government is out of control. There is plenty of money coming from the Feds, down to the State then to the Counties and Cities. This does not include monies from STATE, COUNTY, CITIES AND THE SO CALLED "Seattle Displacement Coalition" and were is Paul Allen when you need him or Bill Gates?

This town has (overnight)(scarily) been turned into a heartless, soul less city. I read all your post and so few comments. More has to be done and people must be organized in much greater numbers. As you suggest Tim. BIG Truth must be spoken to power in a big way. There are so many people in Seattle, and even most people I know who are talking about this problem but yet they feel like they have no power. I actually know two couples who have left the State.

Which is something that truly scares me here in Seattle, who use to be in the forefront of working to ensure people had affordable housing. Now we have Pig Nichols and his cronies and a pitiful City
Council who are cowards and we find ourselves with another Bush attack right here in our own back yard. Were is the State and our Governor, I have not seen her face on the screen since last elections or and when here dog died. (we have a dog so I love animals)Were are our State reps like Murray and how about Sims, haven't seen nor heard from him in any real way since the last elections. What is going on with all the levels of government involved in Housing and all the funding to all these NON profits. This Seattle Displacement Coalition, why can't we hold their feet to the fire.

There are Thousands who are dealing with this situation everyday, but they are not YET homeless so they just keep quiet. My frustration RE the Seattle Housing Authority who seems to be working in unison with Pig Nicholas by not funding Section 8 Voucher at current market rents. As they themselves are telling people to leave Seattle and go somewhere that is affordable. They understand very well (as their upper management makes 6 figure salaries)that the more people who leave the Seattle Area the more money for themselves, as goes the way of most (NOT ALL) non profits who are in the poverty business.

I call this Current Phenomenon "The Soylent Green Syndrome", (1971 Charlton Heston Movie) They all feed off the poor and disabled and as they clollect their fat paychecks all they can tell you is ...I am so sorry but we just don't have any money to help you" But they have enough to make payroll for Thousands working Just in this city alone who are in the Multi Billion Poverty Business.

Since they don't actually eat people as in the movie, they just feed off their Carcusas.

They make themselves look good as if they are doing something of great importance and like the Seattle Displacement Coalition, their reports are bull and they make themselves look good. If you look at many of these .orgs in the proverty industry and look deep they are doing the same thing, fabrcating information, misstating, and supplying information with omission, to intentionally deceive.

Warren Buffet is right, the winners are the Rich and we are losing and will lose because Seattleites have turned into a bunch of cowards who let the city (lol) leaders destroy our City. There must be a large showing of support from many Thousands before anyone even raises their heads. (Like in Olympia before the elections) Your attempts Tim to educate are truly great. But once the story is shown, as your City Hall Story a couple of weeks ago. Its already forgotten!!!! Were are all the other orgs. who care about the homeless situation and the fact most are hanging on by their finger nails? I never see or hear from them, except be asked form Monies for people in Africa. And as much as I may sympathize with their horror, I believe the world community should be addressing that. Not people like (I think their called) Poverty Action in Fremont. A bunch of young kids afraid to even address what is happening in their own back yards.

Please tell me if I am wrong, but are there others out there like your group Tim and Sally that are trying to bring BROAD attention to this horrible situation we find ourselves in here in Seattle?

If so we all should unite and bring more people into the action out side of just the Few who actually put in writing that they care.

John Sulmonte said...

I just got off the phone with a very nice and VERY young lady at the Statewide Poverty Action in Fremont.

She is going to to first convention in LA in Sept as they address poverty ETC. I tried not to burst her bubble but I told her there have been Conventions and conventions and conventions about AIDS, Poverty, Homelessness, Health Care and as in the AIDS area nothing has changed other than the .orgs have grown and grown but they have no monies to help. But keep hiring new staff. Anyway, I suggested to her that many .orgs get together and go to Olympia to protest all the above since they are all connected in some way or ways. She told me they are Statewide and because of their Funding. I stopped her right there and said, I was just suggesting that divided they win and together we all win.

Not on their agenda at this time. So Tim how do we as a community wake up the rest of the community??

We are increasingly becoming down hearted and thinking we may have to move next year to a city that does provide housing for the poor. And they do exist, we will hate to leave Seattle. Sigh ....John and Nick

Waprog2 said...

The Mayor's form letter to the Progressive Party of Washington, in response to our resolution opposing the omeless sweeps started, "Dear Progressive;"
Wonder what the salutation to the 36th District Democrats was.
Linde Knighton