Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Weekly's Swamp Buggy Girl

If I ever start reading the Seattle Weekly regularly again, it'll be Aimee Curl's fault. About a month ago, she took the community organization SAGE to task for their pathetic waffle on the Multi-Family Tax Exemption. This looked like an activist alert to testify at a hearing, followed by an email asking members to NOT testify. Some thought there was some sort of quid pro quo happening with the Mayor, but that's probably too simple an explanation. My guess is that it had more to do with complicated alliances and strange bedfellows in the community and on their board.

I know it's wrong, but I have to admit to a certain amount of evil glee in watching SAGE Director David West twist in the wind that week. These quotes pretty much had me rolling on the floor.
"The common assumption is that we're just rolling over to the powers that be," he says. "But it's actually more complicated than that."
Alrighty then. This brings up certain images I'd prefer not to have in my head. And then there was this:
"Chances are that we will be in a position in the future that maybe we won't agree with the mayor. That's quite possible."
Ya think? Jesus Dave, don't go too far out on a limb there!

But all of that is last month's news. This week, Nickelsville is on the cover of The Seattle Weekly, and Curl has written a surprisingly in-depth piece on the cracks in the Ten Year Plan and the 2,600 or so people who have fallen though. It being in The Weekly, I sort of expected it to suck, but Curl rises above. She's like one of those big-tired dune buggy drag racer monstrosities that bubbas race through the fetid swamps of Florida. The environment of total suckiness seems to have little hold on her.

Since she managed to write 4,400 words on the protest of Seattle's homeless sweeps without mentioning Real Change — the group that has already held three high profile encampments on this issue — I can only assume The Weekly's still pissed.

Yet, overall, she got it right. For someone who has attended just two Nickelsville organizing meetings, she captured the disturbingly grassroots tone of the group admirably, and raised some compelling doubt as to how successful this enterprise might be. She notes that the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness isn't, and asks the hard questions that too seldom arise outside the pages of Real Change. Bill Hobson at the Downtown Emergency Service Center and Alison Eisinger of the Coalition on Homelessness get in some solid hits. The usual Greg Nickels toe-suckers defend their boss and castigate Nickelsville organizers as off point. A few advocates and allies — who I'd hope might better understand the usefulness of finding a consistent target and then polarizing — graciously let Greg off the hook as well.

The whole Portland digression was sort of weird, but Curl apparently has a thing about that, so we'll forgive her. The point of comparing Nickelsville to Portlands Dignity Village when SHARE/WHEEL has successfully run a Seattle tent city for about a decade was lost on me. This, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise fine piece.

To answer the question that the article sets up, of course it's fair to hold Greg Nickels responsible for the City's failure to adequately address homelessness. He's sold the city to developers, made affordable housing an endangered species, and declared war on homeless campers while hiding behind a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness that's clearly failing. She should have just asked me. It's not a hard question.


Deb said...

Tim, when I read how she mentions that Bush is behind the 10 Year Plan, I felt I could hear a huge collective, "OHHHhhh! THAT's why the 10 Year plan isn't working, Bush is behind it."
Hang in there, Deb RC Vender

Bill said...

Not to over-defend ten year plans, but Bush ain't behind it. Like everything else, the dummy took cuts in the let's-take-credit-line and re-wrote history. This corrective is easily proven by facts, but also by asking Bush to count to ten,.. something he cannot accomplish.

Tim Harris said...

Deb is referring to this paragraph from the story:

"Spawned by the Bush administration, the initiative gives local governments that have adopted 10-year plans a better shot at McKinney-Vento dollars, competitive federal funds named for the late Reps. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.) and Bruce Vento (D-Minn.). Most local jurisdictions rely on these funds to pay for transitional and permanent supportive housing for the homeless. King County in 2007 received more than $20 million in McKinney-Vento dollars. The objective is to build 9,500 new affordable and low-income units by 2015."

Ten Year Plans have a slightly complicated patrimony, but my sense is that if the Bush administration wants to take credit, we should consider that a reveal and allow them to do so.

This stuff began with Dennis Culhane's research and was developed into a 4 point approach to "ending homelessness" by Nan Roman and others at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The Bush Administration, however, gave it legs and elevated it to being a requirement for McKinney funding.

Bush came into office with his faith-based initiative in full swing. The 10YP stuff dovetailed nicely. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness was created, Philip Mangano was hired, and the NAEH became their front organization to bring homeless advocates in line. NAEH's budget quadrupled that year with a big fat Fannie Mae grant. Cooptation has its rewards.

Now more than 300 cities have 10YP's. If they want federal funding on homelessness, they have to. As I've said elsewhere, this isn't a social justice movement. It's a bureaucratic response to a federal funding requirement.