Hey, We Elected Them!

I love this city.  Since moving to Seattle in 1973, there are few days that don’t amaze me with its beauty.  Yeah, the traffic continues to worsen, but we’re working on that and everything should be fine in around 245 years.  Patience.

However, I lost some respect for our city leaders this week when I attended a public hearing about a proposed homeless camp at 28th & Market Street in Ballard.  While we don’t live in Ballard, our social life is centered on the many events that take place in that part of town and when and we have lots of friends there.  So, when Victoria suggested we attend this hearing, I was all for it.

As we walked up, there was a huge crowd outside the VFW hall, which, if this camp becomes reality, would border the homeless camp.

The parking lot next to the site was packed

The parking lot next to the site was packed

Now, before we go any further, let me just say that the homeless issue has become very much like politics.  You’re either on one side or the other.  Both sides feel that if you start talking and aren’t reflecting what I feel, then you’re a cold, heartless person or a bleeding-heart idiot.

My feeling is this–the homeless need help.  Not enabling, help to make their lives better.  Some ended up there through bad life choices or bad luck.  They are human beings.  They should get our help.

The rest (and what often seems to be the majority) of them have substance abuse or mental issues and will not get better with a couple of bucks or a tent.  But there’s a sincere if not misguided group of people who feel if we cater to those sleeping on the streets, if we wait on them hand and foot, if we don’t expect them to change but accommodate their lifestyle, then we are doing God’s work. And, of course, it comes back to the point where if you disagree with that, you’re ignorant, afraid, or just aren’t of a higher intelligence.

That’s exactly what happened at the hearing last Monday night.  But let me give you the background of how we got there.

The city of Seattle has decided that a temporary solution to homelessness is to give them a chunk of city land and tents.   Then it proves to the world that Seattle cares.  Just a few of the cracks in the logic of that theory?

There are up to 3,000 homeless in Seattle.  This camp would house 50, as soon as September and for up to two years in a row. Then relocate for a year, followed by up to another two-year engagement.

So, of Seattle’s 3,000 homeless residents, which 50 are going to be lucky enough to get a spot in this little village? Is it some of the existing homeless in Ballard, or a fresh crop to add to the numbers?

Oh, did I mention that the land parcel being considered–owned by Seattle City Light–needs toxic waste cleanup, to the tune of $145,000?  Oh and because City Light owns it, the city would pay to rent the land.

And there was a tree there that mysteriously was cut down, despite an existing city ordinance that supposedly protects healthy trees. The councilman was under the impression that it was an unhealthy tree. But he probably wasn’t counting on that city arborist stepping up to the microphone and saying he felt the tree was healthy and there was no reason to have cut it down.

Unless, maybe, you’re planning to railroad through this plan to turn the lot into a tent city?

Mayor Murray apparently assembled a 19-person panel to select the possible sites for more tent cities, starting with 140 or so and whittling them down to 3 finalists and 4 alternate sites.

You have to wonder how 28th and Market Street was chosen as a ‘preferred’ site? Must be because of the families in the units on the hill above, who would be lucky enough to look down on it every day. Or perhaps the V.F.W. Hall whose parking lot bumps up against the lot. They have major concerns that hall rental income would be greatly reduce when potential renters realize their wedding or reunion guests will have to park right next to a homeless camp.

And did we mention how this site has a liquor store, a convenience store full of high-octane beer and wine and a marijuana store all a block or two away?

While the mayor and the council were invited to this gathering to explain their thinking, only Council member Mike O’Brien was brave enough to show up. Kudos to him. However, it’s probably because he lost a series of coin tosses and was chosen as the council representative to spout the city thinking: People act like this when they’re full of fear (we weren’t) or don’t understand what’s best for the homeless. (Oh, tell us, oh wise and all-knowing ones. We are but ignorant common citizens who cannot think of such clever use of vacant lots).

Dori Monson took on this topic the other day and asked a good question. Since churches have hosted homeless tent villages for years because they’re on private property, why don’t the council members including O’Brien, open up their front and back yards and allow homeless to camp there? In fact, here’s a question—Mr. O’Brien, how close is the nearest homeless tent village to your home? In Ballard?

The point was also made that the homeless have almost become a protected species. Very few are ever arrested for trespassing or public intoxication. The homeless advocates live in a world where people on the street are our fault. Again, I’m very in favor of doing things that will help them get better, recover from their addictions, find their way back. However, the majority of current steps are simply to perpetuate their lifestyle, not remedy it. Add to that, it seems as though word is spreading—come to Seattle and we’ll take care of you!

Instead of thinking that being homeless is unacceptable, it has become a lifestyle.

Let’s take them off the streets for a moment and make them a member of your family. So, Cousin Jake has developed a heroin problem and hasn’t had a job in years. So, the solution is to give him that extra bedroom, bring him food and let him live in your house with your wife and kids? You wouldn’t do that for a family member. So, why would you expect a community to welcome homeless camps with drug deals and God knows what else is going on in there?

Advocates who portray these tent cities as a structured second chance are kidding themselves.

It’s as if these people grew up thinking these people are the lovable hobos like Red Skelton portrayed. Again, there are serious, real hard-luck cases out there that deserve our help. But if Seattle is already spending $20-million a year on homeless issues and things are getting worse, not better, you might think our elected officials might consider a different approach to the problem.

I’ve spoken with several police officers who worked in a community that housed such a tent city. The drug deals, some fights, sex under the local school bleachers….the problems are real, not exceptions.

They need counseling, intervention, therapy AND housing. We, as a society, need to help, not enable. We need to be driven by concern, not political grand-standing and guilt.

For those who are interested, the vice-Mayor of Seattle is going to be at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard next Wednesday night for one more hearing on the topic. It starts at 6:30pm. The hall holds 500 people and I’m expecting it to be packed, so if you’re going, get there early.!

I’m also expecting everything said to fall on deaf ears. Through the back doors, I’ve heard this is a done deal. The camp will go in, regardless of who says what, because they know better.

And remember, we elected them.

Tim Hunter

 

 

 

 

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