Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sweeps Campaign. Time to Reassess.

One year after launching a campaign to oppose and reverse the city’s zero-tolerance policy of public camping, how does the landscape look? What has changed? How should the Real Change Organizing Project's strategy adapt over the coming year to current realities? Your feedback is welcome. Anonymity, if that's necessary, is OK and understood.
  • Over the course of our campaign, we have demonstrated deep public skepticism, outrage, and opposition to city policy on public camping.
  • Protocols have been created to guide the sweeps that are rendered largely meaningless by their own loopholes and the city’s failure to adhere to their own guidelines, particularly in the area of storage of possessions.
  • We have assisted SKCCH and Columbia Legal in documenting the City’s failure to follow their own protocols in preparation for a potential legal strategy.
  • We have found that insufficient political will exists in the City Council to hold the Mayor accountable regarding protocol implementation. Public Safety and Human Services Chair Tim Burgess has resisted attempts to create meaningful oversight.
  • CEHKC, the decision-making body for city policy on homelessness, has consistently refused to take a position on this issue. Claims of affordable housing and shelter with services as an alternative to camping and a “pathway” out of homelessness are consistently made by CEHKC in concert with the Nickels administration to justify the sweeps policy.
  • CEHKC’s Ten Year Plan strategy for ending homelessness has lost credibility due to their failure to meet housing goals, dismal prospects for future funding, and the increasingly apparent limits on internal democracy.
  • 70 additional shelter beds have been set aside to accommodate displaced campers. The extent to which these “extra” beds simply displace other homeless from shelter or actually offer new capacity is unclear.
  • Seattle Center has been opened as additional severe weather capacity in response to pressure regarding the survival realities of homelessness in Seattle.
  • The city has funded human services outreach to campers. The extent to which this outreach is backed by meaningful capacity remains very unclear.
  • The media narrative — that homeless campers threaten public safety and exist in conditions of disease, addiction, and filth — has been challenged by a counter-narrative of inadequate public resources for the destitute and, with the Nickelsville camp, of homeless people doing for themselves despite the hostility of city officials.
  • A report has been issued documenting that the city’s PR strategy on the sweeps is intentionally grounded in a “discourse of filth and contagion.”
  • Leadership in the faith community and the Church Council have stood up to city bullying to offer safe haven to Nickelsville.
  • Service providers witness daily evidence of the hardship and misery created by the city’s commitment to ongoing, routine sweeps, despite clear evidence of inadequate alternatives.
  • City PR strategy has focused on distorting the facts to reassure the public that meaningful alternatives exist, and that City efforts are carefully calibrated to offer the maximum possible response, and to stigmatize homeless campers as lawless outsiders who inexplicably refuse to cooperate in the city’s efforts to help,
  • We have, through our protest and efforts to provide material support to homeless campers, found that broad public opposition and skepticism exists regarding city strategy.
  • We have been largely unsuccessful in leveraging that support to create meaningful system change to stop the sweeps and offer meaningful survival alternatives.
  • Outside of one recent meeting between City officials and faith leaders, which ended in impasse, the City has consistently refused dialogue.

Strategic Questions for RCOP:
  • How do we most effectively continue to broaden opposition to the City’s zero-tolerance of public camping?
  • How do we effectively counter the city’s twin strategy of dehumanizing homeless campers and delegitimating their survival efforts with empty claims of reasonable alternatives?
  • City policy and human services response has narrowly focused attention on shelter and service availability. How do we effectively broaden the issue to address growing suffering in the face of a declining economy and growing inequality, affordable housing lost, inadequate public health resources, and issues of racism, criminalization of the poor, and declining civil rights?
  • A City frame has developed that says responsible and compassionate efforts to end homelessness and provide alternatives to public camping are underway, and opposition is “political” and driven by advocates who will simply never be satisfied. How do we effectively respond?
  • What is RCOP’s unique role within the broad spectrum of opposition and concern regarding conditions for homeless people in Seattle?
  • Where does power reside, and where are the leverage points to hold power accountable?

24 comments:

Dustin Cross said...

i'd love to see RCOP serve as a place for the very vast and diverse groups that tackle homelessness come together and set aside many of their own agendas and fully work together on a united front to stop the sweeps.

being relatively new to all this, i was very shocked at how few groups interrelate, much less even know of the others' existence and programs.

i think we need unity, and that's something RCOP could work towards providing

Sally said...

I echo what Dustin said but I don't know if RCOP could provide such an "umbrella" for groups that tackle homelessness because I think the problem exists in the very reason that there ARE so many groups: territoriality. Literally dozens of groups centered in King County are at least peripherally involved in homelessness/poverty issues, and their number has grown over the last several years. They are separate groups because their leadership/membership have different takes on the causes of/solutions to homelessness, because they're spawned by differing religious entities, because their leaders are battling with leaders of other groups, because they as organizations are covertly or overtly backed by differing political entities ... because-because-because. The question is: how can we get past the human need to have hegemony over a certain group or a certain issue or a certain interpretation (i.e., to protect our "property") so that we can present a united front in the face of clear danger from those who don't care about what we care about? I wonder how much worse things have to get before organizational pride and personal ego become less important.

Anonymous said...

This has to be addressed as a political campaign, which these days means a public relations effort, as much as a grassroots organizing one.
Editors, news directors and, ultimately reporters are one of the primary target audiences for this type of effort, as they are the gatekeepers for a great deal of the information that reaches the public.
At the same time, a concerted, direct-to-public PR campaign is needed to change the perception of "the homeless" as "hobos and bums."
Projects like Tent City and Niskelsville, while having the twin benefits of providing aactual services and autonomy for the homeless, and rallying the troops of the already convinced and committed, do little to alter the broader public's perceptions.
The numbers of homeless families, the fact that moving from camping or shelter into permanent housing is a) expensive and b)fraught with problems of availability and requirements for references and a "clean" credit and rental record should be points of emphasis, along with the ratio of available rental housing and the costs are all areas that need to be addressed in a public information campaign that reaches beyond those eho are inclined to care.
The mortgage/foreclousre crisis presents a rare opportu ity to frame the issue as one that could affect "ordinary middle-class people".
One such approach (just as an example) is to pose the issue as a question -- if foreclosure or eviction forced you out of your home, where would your children sleep? --The idea being to personalize the problem and move it out of the realm of The Other.
As long as most people see homelessness as something that happens to other people and a fault of moral lapses, the political will to address the underlying problems will not develop and actions like the aweeps will be easily framed as public health and safety issues.

Bill said...

started a comment and the web site froze,...hmmmm. In any case, pieces of each comment make sense, but,... Consider: Recent snow battle in Seattle. Mayor opts to use salt next time. Why? People spoke up and out. REAllY SPOKE! Spoke to press too, who spoke up and out. I really have little faith in staying put and planning the campaign; it happens "out there." How do we bring change that doesn't depend on creating strategic designs behind closed doors? I don't see change happening that way, for the powers-that-be who say they/we will end homelessness (OK, mostly they keep the doors open and just close their minds), nor for us who seemingly are politically correct but almost as useless,... self included too often. Out there, where the ice forces buses to slide to the edge of the freeway,... what about homelessness looks like that? (I know you know). I have many parallels and I think many of us do. Cogent and helpful analysis is good to keep history clear but it doesn't make or change the horrific history we are making. Let's make history by ending homelessness hereabouts,... Speak up and out: my frame offering. Adaptable eveywhere,..

Mike said...

With the Mayor's quick commitment to salt the roads, next time, I think it reveals a pattern to his way of thinking: too much ice must be neutralized with salt; shootings are countered with a gun ban; and visible homelessness is answered with removing the things that make it possible for people to sleep outside. From his point of view they are sophisticated responses. He wants to remove the one critical underlying condition that makes an undesirable thing possible. We also see that his responses are swift, singular, decisive, and he never retreats from them. I'm feeling increasingly certain that -- short of defeat at the poles -- such an insular, autocratic process can never be significantly altered or influenced.

In the end, it may be only the unyielding forces of nature that can disrupt his process, and even end Greg Nickels' developer-capitalist reign. As my neighbor, Bryan points out, Chicago's first and only woman mayor, Jane Byrne lost her bid for reelection following a record snow storm that the city was unprepared for. With his affection for Chicago politics, it would be a little poetic justice.

Sally said...

So who's going to run against Nickels? He's not going to change, no matter how much he gives us after-the-fact "We'll use salt next time IF etc." bargaining. Same kind of non-change there that we saw with the sweeps ordinance. He's getting the city he and his friends want; why should he change?

Someone has to run, and win. Al Runte got more than 30% of the vote. That means a goodly number of people don't like Nickels. But we need a possible replacement whom all the disperate and desperate concerned groups roiling around poverty isues can get behind and push into City Hall (along with some new City Councilmembers like David Bloom).

Who?

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