There was a time when I believed in what I’ve come to think of as Seattle Exceptionalism. This was the belief that while other cities around the nation become upscale islands of affluence that pursue the interests of the most affluent at the expense of the most desperate, we, here in eco-obsessed, liberal, and excessively polite Seattle would never go there.
Within the largely depoliticized, often victim-blaming framework through which homelessness is commonly understood, it’s easy to miss that the modern period of homelessness is largely a product of economic restructuring. Since 1973, inequality has only widened. This trend has accelerated most precipitously at the very top and the very bottom.
The urban landscape has changed. The logic of deindustrialization and the two-tiered economy has spawned a widespread reinvention of the city. Urban centers now exist as centers of upscale consumption and culture for those who can pay the price. Those who have been left out of the economy altogether are widely viewed as unsightly and dangerous indicators of social disorder. This victim-blaming ideology has become the common sense of our time.
With this, certain strategies have become typical. Most cities now have “urban ambassadors” who move the homeless along. Panhandling ordinances have proliferated. Sweeps of homeless encampments are commonplace. Feeding people in public is widely outlawed. Public toilets are defined as vectors of crime and removed. The meanness keeps getting meaner.
And yet, even as cities from Los Angeles to Boston and Dallas to Tampa continually upped the ante on attacking the very poor, I thought Seattle was different. I was wrong.
The Mayor is fond of trumpeting Seattle’s commitment to “ending homelessness,” even as he ruthlessly attacks homeless campers without providing viable survival alternatives.
This pig is wearing a lot of lipstick and eyeliner, but it’s still a pig.