The Mayor got flushed out on Nickelsville today on Steve Scher's Weekday. Phone calls from reporters have been unreturned, but Steve gets him for a standing monthly gig and was happy to press hard. The thing was so fucking entertaining I transcribed it, with commentary. The flattering photo is from today. I recognize KUOW's wall. They put him up against the wall and shot him. This is long, so I'll tell you now: the point is somewhere in the last three paragraphs.
Part The First: Only One Allowed!
OK. Some more questions. I'm going to let Shirley ask this question, to get me started. Shirley's in Everett. Hi Shirley?
Hi, I was going to ask they Mayor when he's planning to meet the people at Nickelsville. They're not on city property any longer, and in light of all the economic situations, we only know that the plight of the homeless is going to increase, and we also know that these people are anxious to help themselves. Their tents are easy to maintain, and they'd really like to talk to the Mayor about a permanent site that they can use to help people be safe and off the streets. Thank you.
Well, I have offered to meet with the Church Council, and also the funders of the shelter services that are available in Seattle and King County, and I think it's good that we're going to have a broader conversation about shelter. 94% of all the shelter beds that are in King County are in Seattle. And we think that it is long past time that this is shared more equally throughout our county and throughout our region because homelessness is not something that starts or ends in the City of Seattle. (What? Is this a slam on Everett? No. This is the standard city transferal of responsibility talking point, but if he does meet with the Church Council, it will be the first time the Nickels administration has ever met with advocates to dialogue on the issue of homeless encampments and the city sweeps. This makes it a bit of an occasion, and kind of a big deal, if it's true.)
We currently have an, um, ahh, agreement, a court approved agreement with the folks who have organized this encampment that says that there will be one tent city in the City of Seattle. And when they have lived up to their, uh, part of the agreement, then we will be happy to sit down with the advocates who are behind this protest (pronounces word advocates as though it tastes sour). But while they are still illegally encamping, whether it's on public or private property, we're not gonna engage directly with 'em. (What? He doesn't negotiate with terrorists? He doesn't negotiate. Period.)
Because, aghhh, you know, I think, we all respect the (pause) political process, the ability of people to commit civil disobedience. I don't think that that's the time you talk about these issues. You talk about these issues in a respectful manner while everyone is observing the rules that are in place. (There are points at which the interview veers into the surreal.)
I notice you don't want to call it Nickelsville. (Gets anguished chuckle from Mayor). Um, they're in our neighborhood. They're just down the street. Is there a place, in this modern time, for semi-permanent shantytowns?
Well, you know, the protests here are about what we have done in terms of the illegal encampments in greenbelts and in parks that we have been cleaning up. And it started almost a year ago when we took a look at the city's practices. The city's been cleaning up those encampments for years, and what we discovered was that there weren't any rules, there weren't any guidelines for how you do it. Each department kind of went out and cleaned up their own property and it was kind of hit or miss, whether everyone got noticed, or whether anyones belongings were kept, so I thought it was important that everyone understand what the rules are. We'll give 72 hours notice, we'll offer everyone shelter and services so that they can reconnect to the community, and we'll collect personal valuables and keep them in a central location for a period of time so that people can come and collect them. We thought that was much more humane than what had been going on prior to that. (Unreal. The city policy was about belated legal diligence and ass covering when they were called on systematically targeting camps for removal without notice, assistance, or accountability.)
So now, the argument is that we should allow encampments as a permanent part of our community. And , and, and I just don't think that it is humane to allow people camping out, ah, in that fashion. I think that we have a responsibility, certainly, for immediate shelter for human beings. And I am adding a million dollars to this budget on top of the fo-o-orty million that we put into homeless services.
We are building housing through the third Seattle Housing levy, and I will be leading the effort next year. We are particularly concerned about housing the people who have been on the streets for a long time. People who are chronic alcoholics, people who are mentally ill or addicted to other substances. And I think that permanent housing is the humane approach, and Seattle has been incredibly compassionate in that regard. (Grows agitated). I don't think that it is a good idea to have semi-permanent camps! In our parks or our other public places. (To the Mayor's credit, he actually answers the question in the last sentence.)
When we come back, I want to come back to the question of whether there is room for a controlled camp along the lines of tent city.
And there is one. One! One! And that's the agreement, and we're not going to negotiate beyond that, until people are following the agreements they made previously. (Yeah. You already said that.)
Okay, you and I will negotiate. We'll negotiate here.
(Break. Steve pitches the fund drive, and the Mayor gets all loose and cracks a joke about not wanting to encourage civil disobedience).
Part the Second: Would You Just Die Already?
Let me read you this email. "The homeless encampment Nickelsville is now located on a church lot in the University District. What's the city's stance on this? This affects me personally because my daughter's pre-school uses the parking lot they are in. We will be driving literally into their encampment twice a day." But I just want to get the philosophy here. What's the philosophy about what you're saying about not wanting people living in parks or public spaces? I go to a public space every morning to walk my dog, and every morning on the weekends, there's a guy sleeping in this one place, and he's got his little encampment and he's got his plastic bottles, and everything he wants to make himself a little home. Well, it's a public space, so I understand the reason why that's not really appropriate. But, if folks are saying, "we want to set up a self-governing institution within the city." Five of them. I'm just throwing out a number. Is there something philosophical to that, where, in troubled times, the federal government has abandoned much of its efforts, all of it's falling upon the cities, counties, state to some extent, is there something that says, "We need to work with these homeless to regulate themselves and also give them a safe, non-park, place to be?"
Well, I agree with at least part of that. I think we do have an obligation as a society to give people shelter. I think that is absolutely true. Self-governing communities of shantytowns or tent cities or what have you, I don't think that is the right direction. I think we have an obligation as a community to welcome people back into the community and open the door back into the community, as opposed to having separate and unequal communities. They don't have power, they don't have water. We have standards set for our buildings for a reason, and that is health and safety. (Did he just pull opposing the discredited concept of separate but equal out of his ass as the philosophical underpinning of his policy? How noble. Oh, and it's the building codes. Tent cities don't meet building codes, and therefore must be illegal.)
But you know that that they say I don't want to go into a shelter because it's crowded, it's dirty, I get harassed, I get attacked ...
Well, there are people who don't want to live in homes, in structures. Those folks I don't think are particularly the challenge we face. They can make their own choices and their own decisions, and I don't think that we need to give them license to do that anyplace they care to in our city. I do think we need to keep the door open to anyone who wants shelter. And that's why when we go out and enforce on these encampments, we offer everyone shelter. We guarantee them shelter. And particularly, we need to be moving people from shelter to permanent housing. (I think he just said, the choices here are to either go into one of our filled past capacity shelters, or die.)
Are beds left empty at the end of the night?
(audible squirm) Ahhh-um, sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. And that's why on really cold nights we open up additional shelters. We have more beds that are available, and we go out and we seek people, so that they're not outside in dangerous weather conditions. uhhh-ahhh, there are some, there are some, some, places we have holes in the system, and that's why one of the things I have in this budget which believe the council will approve is a voucher system, so that if a police officer runs into a family with children, there is a voucher for a motel room so that no child s sleeping on the streets of our city, ever! (Ok. So, how about if you don't have a kid on hand? If the Mayor is unclear on the shelter availability situation, maybe he could start reading Rick Renolds' blog. There's bigger "holes in the system" than this.)
You said that you support the renewal of the housing levy, but you're never going to be able to build enough shelters for all the people who are homeless, are you? I know there's a goal: 2016.
There is a goal, and I think there is the political will to achieve that goal. It can't just be on the City of Seattle though. (I'm beginning to see signs of pathology in Nickels' adherence to the 10YP Belief System.)
Does it feel like it is?
It does feel like it is! (I believe!)
If I call Nickelsville, will I find that those people are from all around Puget Sound?
Well certainly! In the news articles you'll see that people have moved here to get a job, maybe getting a job but not having shelter. So, yeah. You have people from all over, not just the county and the state, but all over the United States who you will see in these circumstances. That doesn't mean we can't reach out our hand and help them to find appropriate shelter, but I think this country, as wealthy as it is, even though it doesn't seem that way in the last two or three weeks perhaps, has an obligation to have a roof over every body's head. (The dodge, again, and the unbearable emptiness of words.)
Lynn in Northgate wanted to know about the toilet facilities in the outdoor camps. Like who cleans them and looks out for them?
Well, again, they're not authorized, there are no regulations that guide that, when we sent City crews into what's called the Jungle, the greenbelt along I-5 in Beacon Hill, we ended up taking out tons of garbage, um, syringes, human waste, gallon jugs of human urine, and, in addition, in the Jungle, when they were cleaning up in mid-September. they found a human body. A fellah that had been murdered. That's the third homicide we have had in those encampments in that area. And we had a very serious rape in June as well, so these are not safe, regulated places. These are not appropriate places ... (The correct answer to the question would have been, "The Honeybucket people." But instead he delivers the standard dehumanizing hypodermic/feces/urine trinity city talking point.)
But you're not equating that with the tent cities, or even the Nickelsvilles, are you?
(Nickels makes a sound here like he's trying to dislodge a piece of pork fat from his trachea). The protest is against what we have done with encampments, which is to set up criteria, and standards, and rules, and then go about enforcing those. So that's the genesis of it. Now, the activists involved in this want to take that a step further and have the city agree that we're going to have these self-governed camps in public properties around the city. (The city line on Nickelsville from day one has been this is a "protest" by "activists," and to dismiss the notion that some people might actually need shelter.)
What's your plan for this one that's now settled at the University District church?
Mmmmm! They moved there, I believe it was Friday afternoon. We'll be having conversations with the church and well be having conversations internally as to that status. I don't have a ...
But you don't want it to stay there? You said there's one legal one?
We have an agreement, and we want to see the proponents of this, the advocates for this, live up to the agreement that they entered into.
So, so, do they have a time frame?
Ahhh, we have not yet set a time frame. We will. We need to go over our, um, what the status of this is on church property. We, I, we don't have an answer for that. (This really is the beauty part. Will the city cross that line? They're still deciding.)
I can't imagine you want to be going in there with police and arresting people again.
We don't want to be doing that at all. We don't want to be doing that at all. We would like this group to, ahhh, live up to the agreement that they entered into, the uhh, dissent, uh, decree.
(He actually said this. I listened twice to be sure I heard right. The dissent decree. I believe he meant to say, "consent decree," which was the agreement the City made with SHARE/WHEEL in 2001 to allow a tent city so long as there would not be another. It seems to me like seven years later might be a good time to revisit this decree to see if it still makes sense. But maybe decrees are for life? I don't know. My decree experience is rather limited.)
At which point, Steve changed the subject and tossed a few softballs about dodge ball leagues using city parks and Seattle's vanishing crosswalks, which a palpably relieved Mayor fielded with aplomb. Steve gave him a big plus for his crosswalk work near Green Lake and ended on an up note heading back to the KUOW fund drive. "we'll let the Mayor escape. ... Some people are saying I'm getting punchy ..."