In my continuing quest to take the ‘law’ out of law school, I signed up for an independent study. This independent study is completely policy-based: it focuses on Seattle’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. Those of you who know me in real life know how passionately I feel about homelessness and housing, and that I believe homeless people are both actively and passively discriminated against. Also, housing is not just what you get for being a good middle-class worker bee - it’s a human right.
This plan is, from what I can tell, a complete crock. I think it’s mostly for people who want ‘Member, King County Committee to End Homelessness’ on their resume - you know, so they can look all concerned about social justice and shit.
The 2006 Progress Report highlights some of my misgivings. The contents of the report mostly fall into two categories: 1. reassurances that the committee is doing important stuff and achieving many goals! But that’s pretty much all they can say about it, they can’t give you specifics. 2. Touching Stories about someone who used to be homeless.
It’s hard to explain exactly why the Touching Stories about people who used to be homeless stick in my craw. I think it’s great that Sheila, or Joe, or whoever, has housing now. It’s just that when you tell 10 of those stories, you are not showing that you have ended homelessness or changed anything systemic. In fact, I would argue that you are actually doing a disservice to homeless people who are still homeless - after all, if Jana could get housing, why can’t Eddie? It reeks of the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, god helps those who help themselves mentality. Also, many of the stories feature subjects who are part of a group - such as veterans, chronic alcoholics, domestic violence victims, or teenagers - who are eligible for special assistance that is not available to everyone. (’Everyone’ meaning those who aren’t part of the nobly suffering ‘good’ homeless crowd that has a societally approved excuse for homelessness, and don’t think they aren’t getting the shit end of the stick as well.)
The Touching Stories are also problematic because they will be touching, and moving, and then end with some complete crap. Take, for example, the story of Dave, found on page 5 of the report. Dave is a chronic alcoholic, and was taking frequent trips to the emergency room or detox center because he couldn’t take care of himself - services paid for by the city. He would start drinking at 7 a.m. every day. Dave is now in supportive housing (also on the public’s dime), he has cut his drinking in half (he doesn’t start drinking until cocktail hour now) and wants to get sober! All because he has housing and people who care. Quite touching, eh? Yet this charming vignette ends thus:
Not only is Dave stable and protected, but the cost of housing him at 1811 is significantly less than the cost of emergency room and detox services.
You see, we should feel good about Dave being in housing - but not because someone who was drinking himself to death, spending most of his days disoriented until he passed out in an alley now has housing and is doing really well - but because it costs less for us poor taxpayers! Hooray! Let’s all get behind this plan, so long as it doesn’t cost us too much.
I guess homelessness is only a problem because it costs taxpayers money, not because it is a travesty that people are homeless in a nation this wealthy - or because most of us view homeless people as less than fully human.