Thursday, September 25, 2008

Email to HPN

The Homeless People's Network is an email list for homeless and formerly homeless people to talk about whatever, and share information. A lot of the posts direct attention to items in the news about homelessness. Yesterday there were two opinion pieces noted. One was this Seattle Times Editorial, the other was this Las Vegas blog. Both were outrageous and I immediately wrote this in reply, only to find that my email reply function wasn't working. I think I worked around it and the email should be posted to HPN soon. In the meantime, it's here:

I'm having trouble doing email replies in this account, so I'll just respond to the gist of the two posts yesterday regarding Seattle's "pink tent city".

There's some bullshit in both that needs calling out. Both refer to Seattle as one of the most liberal cities in the country with respect to the homeless. This is crap. Until a year and a half ago you could make a case for that claim. In spite of the fact that we've never had more than about half the shelter beds we have needed, we could claim to be liberal because food was easy to obtain and homeless people sleeping outdoors were not often harassed if they stayed away from downtown and away from residences.

But in the spring of 2007 our current mayor, Greg Nickels, SECRETLY initiated a draconian policy of sweeps of outdoor homeless encampments. Even though our One Night Counts have determined that there have been as many as 2600 homeless people in the city in addition to the number that can fit into about 2700 existing beds (these don't count car campers and people who scored couches that night; if you count them there are fewer than half the shelter beds as there are homeless people), even though the mayor has not been willing or able to challenge those figures, he has ordered "cleanups" of homeless encampments. These "cleanups" consist of ripping up tents, sleeping bags, mats, even blankets, and trashing them. People were left with no survival gear, vulnerable to the elements, and no new shelter.

Real Change, the street paper I work with, had to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what was happening. After we uncovered the policy, which had been hidden even from the city council, the mayor's office "revised" the policy to "take into account public concerns." The revised policy has the appearance of meeting objections, but the fine print contains major loopholes. We have already seen the loopholes exploited since the revised policy went into effect early this year. We have also seen safeguards advertised in the revised policy turn out to be lies.

The revised policy brought with it new shelter, that was touted as the place people swept could go. How many new beds did they provide for the more than 2600 at risk? TWENTY! Not even one percent of the need.

In the meantime, we already have had at least one confirmed case of a man who has died as a direct result of the sweeps. He was driven from a safe spot under a bridge and died from exposure soon after. The fact that they are continuing the policy in the face of that death, a death that was predictable and certainly not the last, is proof that Nickels is a criminal who must be stopped. This policy amounts to attempted genocide, and it has succeeded once so far.

The Seattle Times says Nickels is no Hoover. Given what he has been doing, he is worse than Hoover. He is engaged in nothing short of criminal, unconstitutional, harassment of the homeless population. He has attempted to carry out government policy changes without public view or legislative oversight, a violation of democratic principles of open government. There's nothing liberal about Greg Nickels on this issue, and if Seattle as a whole lets him get away with carrying out these crimes, then Seattle will have lost the right to call itself liberal, too.

As for the pink tents. They're temporary. The plan is to use them only until permanent structures can be built. As for whether they came from a breast cancer charity, I don't know, but I know that Real Change got them earlier from the Girl Scouts of America, and we turned around and gave them to the Nickelsville people. Maybe the Girl Scouts got them from a breast cancer charity, but it's not like a breast cancer charity handed them directly over to Nickelsville.

-- Wes Browning, Real Change News, Seattle

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