Monday, October 6, 2008

The PI Weighs In

This morning's Nickelsville PI Editorial, Ending Homelessness, A Broader Effort, gets a lot right, and the haters have already lined up to comment. Homelessness is a far larger problem than Seattle, based in three decades of rising inequality, bad federal housing policy, and growing economic insecurity for the majority of Americans. And, much could be gained if the Mayor and his people actually talked in good faith with Seattle's homeless advocates. Over the past year, their "dialogue" has brought a steady stream of victim-blaming rhetoric, political stonewalling of advocates, and systematic attacks upon those engaged in outdoor survival activity in the face of an inadequate emergency shelter system.

The Mayor's latest response to Nickelsville, which threatens all real and perceived allies of the encampment with fines, will only worsen an already poisonous situation, where unaccountable power does it's damnedest to crush a growing grassroots response to an unacceptable situation that is both dire and deteriorating.

Where they get it wrong is in dismissing Nickelsville as "posturing" by protesters toward the end of scoring "publicity points." This misunderstands the real need for a safe haven for the outdoor campers upon whom the city has declared war, and the equally real need, in the absence of any real possibility for productive dialogue, for poor people to fight back by any means necessary. Nickelsville is about survival, and for those of us who have been dehumanized and swept from visibility, the stakes could not be higher.

The federal and regional solutions that the PI editorial board calls for are essential to any real effort at solving homelessness, and the macro-economic causes of growing poverty must become a far higher priority for policymakers and advocates. No authentic progress on ending homelessness can occur without broad economic reform. The lip service these complex issues routinely receive must be replaced with strategic alliances that target root issues of racism, poverty, and an growing trend toward state-sponsored repression of the poor through increasingly brutal anti-homeless policies and mass incarceration.

In a declining economy, things are likely to become much worse for poor and homeless people. When concerns with Seattle's policy on homeless sweeps is routinely met by the city with hardball tactics and dismissive gestures, advocates are left with little alternative than to fight back with whatever pressure politics we can muster. We'd all be a lot better off if some middle ground might be found, in which the larger issues could be jointly addressed from a place of unified political power. This, however, isn't where we find ourselves. Anyone who's ever been in a schoolyard fight knows this much to be true. When a bully is on your back and your nose has been shoved into the dirt, your first priority is to turn the tables and get back on top.

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