Friday, October 3, 2008
The Shell Game
The city line on homeless shelter for displaced campers is becoming slightly more clear under pressure. The interactive video above, however, still adequately demonstrates the basic theory, especially at the more advanced level. Those who are displaced by encampment clearances will be privileged to a bed for so long as they need it, say city spokespeople. Should the numbers of those seeking these beds expand beyond the number of beds set aside, then more shall be provided.
What's wrong with this picture? For starters, Operation Nightwatch is regularly turning people away at the end of the night with a blanket and a bus ticket, and the bad weather hasn't hit yet. The theory is that shelter for sweeps victims will not displace other beds, but the reality has been less clear. A recent story by Linda Brill on King5 flatly contradicts that claim.
Even if it were true, why shouldn't NightWatch be able to refer their turn-aways to this newly expandable to order shelter system? Should emergency shelter be a contest, where the prize of a mat on a floor goes to the swift, compliant, and officially messed with?
Are the mats on the floor til 5 am that these people are being offered a golden ticket to the gilded promise of Housing First? Doubt it.
A look at the 2007 Safe Harbors Report, which summarizes information from Homeless Management Information System data for the first six months of that year, tells us a lot about what we already know. The numbers are mostly a testimony to how deeply fucked it is that we're micro-obsessing over obvious data, and that the homeless biz is mostly about fixing broken people, with little more than empty words being done about the broken system.
37% of single homeless people and 48% of homeless family members are African American, compared with 6% of the overall population. The 2008 one night count shows an even more dismal picture in that regard, with the percentage of African American homeless going up, and the overall representation of Blacks in King County going down. Dying canaries in a decaying empire, where inequality just keeps rising faster.
Representation of homeless women is rising as well, but that hasn't been news for awhile either.. Vets are represented by roughly double their numbers in the overall population at 19%. They get screwed. Etcetera.
Those homeless who came from outside of King County are counted at 25% for single adults and at 20% for families. The city, under fire for the inadequacy of emergency shelter in Seattle, is making much of this right now. A recent press release from the Mayor plays to Seattle's put-upon taxpayers by inflating that number to 46%. It's a lie. Tax payers should be a lot more worried about Paul Allen, or the downtown luxury condo developers who are about to bilk the public out of subsidizing a world-class amenity, so their air-people future tenants will have a properly spruced up Market to buy their fresh fish, bread, and flowers.
Oddly, the city claims to be pulling their numbers from the same set of data. They limit the the universe to shelter in Seattle, so 9% is added by the non-Seattle King County homeless flocking to our fair city, but that still leaves a big gap that I don't understand.
I'm always impressed by how these people — who claim to live and die by the neutral arbiter of scientific data — consistently manipulate the numbers to suit their political ends. As the saying goes, there's lies, damn lies, and statistics.
So here's a good question. Safe Harbors asks questions about age, race, gender, vet status, where people came from, and more. All very useful. The not inconsiderable cost might be better spent for services, but, hey, it's nice to know. But here's what they don't document. How many people are the shelters turning away?
One would think this would be a useful bit of information to have.
I've always been a little amazed at how blithely the question of why this information isn't collected is dismissed. Common responses are that shelters lack resources to do this sort of documentation, and that there are insurmountable methodology issues.
Well crap, at least we could try. Even Safe Harbors has big gaps in the methodology. Approximate would be better than nothing.
One can't assume that the folks showing up at Nightwatch are anywhere near the whole story. Nor are the handful of people who stick around the encampments to get in line for services. Funding of survival services in Seattle is pathetically inadequate. Campsite clearances in the face of this forces the issue, and all they're offering is sleight of hand, misdirects, and pie in the sky while homeless people die.