Director’s Corner: When we treat homeless people like widgets in a poverty management assembly line, we are all diminished

Tim Harris, founding director

For a lapsed Catholic, I’ve been leaning pretty hard on Pope Francis lately. Last February. The pontiff weighed in on the border wall. Our challenge, he said, is “not to raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good.”

One month later, in an interview with Italian street paper Scarp de’ Tenis (Tennis Shoes), he said we should give to homeless people without judgment, simply because we have the privilege to do so.

Look them in the eye, he said. Touch their hands. “One can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or as if he were a dog, and they notice this difference.”

These things need to be said. We live in a time when real moral leadership feels like rain upon a drought-stricken field.

In erecting fences around places where homeless people frequently camp, Seattle has applied a morally bankrupt solution to a shameful problem and called it progress.

When we treat homeless people like widgets in a poverty management assembly line, we are all diminished.

When we treat homeless people like widgets in a poverty management assembly line, we are all diminished.

The 2017 homeless one-night count found that nearly half of homeless people in King County on a single night were unsheltered. That is, of the 11,643 counted on Jan. 27, 2017, 2,667 were in transitional housing. The shelters accommodated another 3,491 homeless people.

And 5,485 people were counted outside and in cars. That’s more than 47 percent of homeless people in King County not being served by our maxed-out system.

Over 2017, the Navigation Team made 675 referrals from unauthorized encampments to shelter. While no one has data on how many of those referrals actually led to people getting shelter, whatever progress that occurred was due to new capacity in authorized encampments and opening the new Navigation Center.

But now, there are more homeless people than ever, and those new resources are, once again, mostly maxed out. The referral pipeline from the street to greater stability is at a near halt.

Unsheltered people will seek their own survival solutions. If a mat on a floor isn’t available or doesn’t meet their needs, they will find somewhere else to try and be safe.

Overhead protection from the elements, within this world of terrible choices, is what’s called an amenity.

When you disperse unsheltered homeless people from the places that meet their needs, they become harder to find. Relationships become harder to build.

They are forced into even worse situations. Dispersion tactics such as fences and hostile architecture merely evade responsibility by making our public shame less visible.

The added risk of exposure is more hidden than solved. This is not “tough love.” It is a form of violence.

When we erect fences, topped with skin-shredding knives of steel, around the areas where people camp, we raise walls rather than bridges.

When we erect fences, topped with skin-shredding knives of steel, around the areas where people camp, we raise walls rather than bridges. We engage in evil under the guise of caring. We treat homeless people like dogs.

And when we become accustomed to this degraded morality, we become complicit in accepting the unacceptable.

This is the status quo that needs to be challenged, not the status quo of allowing homeless people to live under freeways.
There is no question that Seattle has a broken status quo when it comes to homelessness. And that this broken status quo exists throughout the nation.

Our broken status quo is a poverty management system that scientifically titrates limited resources to prioritize the “deserving” poor and systemically expensive, and largely disregards everyone else.

Our broken status quo is a poverty management system that scientifically titrates limited resources to prioritize the “deserving” poor and systemically expensive, and largely disregards everyone else.

Our broken status quo places impossible shelter exit requirements on shelter operators and threatens them with funding loss when they fail.

Our broken status quo punishes unsheltered homeless people with fences, property destruction, and harassment without providing adequate alternatives.

Our broken status quo has no real metrics to reward the reduction of unsheltered homelessness. What counts are exits from shelter, even if those are to the street, where 47 percent of homeless people already live.

Our broken status quo builds fences rather than bridges, and treats people like dogs.

And homeless people can tell the difference, even if we sometimes can’t.

source:-realchangenews.