NO to Tent Camps for Seattle homeless, Times editorial urges FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 21 Mar 1999 12:44:30 -0800 (PST)


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The advocacy group, SHARE (Seattle Housing and Research Effort) is a
respected organization, he [Seattle Deputy Mayor Tom Byers] explained.
SHARE's goal is to help homeless people help themselves. So, despite what
he acknowledged as "high skepticism" over [SHARE'S proposed legal homeless]
encampment idea, he said the city was willing to give it a look out of
respect for SHARE. -- from article below

http://archives.seattletimes.com/cgi-bin/texis/web/vortex/display?storyID=144852
&query=homeless
FWD  Seattle [WA, USA] Times : Opinion/Editorials : Sunday, March 21, 1999

     COMPASSION NOT ENOUGH WHEN MAKING PUBLIC POLICY

     By Mindy Cameron

LET me get this straight.

In Seattle, we think ads are unsightly, so instead of well-designed public
toilet facilities financed with advertising we get ugly,
construction-grade, baby-blue porta-potties plunked onto busy sidewalks.

In Seattle, we believe no one should sleep on our streets, so we ponder
creation of tent camps to shelter the homeless.

This in a city that aspires to be world class?

Life in Seattle is like living in a room with a picture that is catawampus
on the wall. A pretty picture, but slightly askew. You keep trying to
straighten it out and it keeps drooping, spoiling the overall effect.

This city's problem is deeper than aesthetics; it is the chronic inability
to juggle competing values, to align one quality-of-life factor with
another and arrive at a sensible place.

So we have Seattle officials dinking around for most of this decade with
those ridiculous porta-potties simply to prevent more street advertising.

I happen to think the anti-billboard sentiment in Seattle is pretty silly,
especially when carried to such an extreme that it makes lawbreakers out of
people who post flyers about missing cats and garage sales on utility
poles.

Or when it results in regulations that prevent ads that could pay for
public toilets at little or no public expense.

Likewise, this city's compassion for the homeless.

(I know this is dangerous territory. Be honest now: How many readers are
ready to label me a cold-hearted shill for downtown business, convention
and tourist interests?)

Compassion is a wonderful trait for a human or a city to possess. But
compassion alone is not enough when it comes to public policy. It must be
matched by a commitment to careful analysis of likely outcomes.

At the individual level, it's the difference between dropping a buck in the
beggar's cup and buying a copy of Real Change, the street paper produced by
homeless persons.

If compassion as public policy creates an urban culture that attracts new
homeless to the city streets, what has been gained?

According to recent surveys in Seattle, 28 percent of teenagers living on
city streets come from outside the state. The last permanent address of
nearly half - 46 percent - of adult homeless in Seattle was outside the
city.

Last week's news that the city would study a proposed new tent encampment
to serve adult homeless men seems long on compassion and short on common
sense.

What happened to the no-encampment policy firmly established under former
mayor Norm Rice and reiterated last year by Mayor Paul Schell?

No change, Deputy Mayor Tom Byers told me last week. "We can't give over
the public realm," he said.

Well, that's reassuring, but what about his public statements a few days
earlier that a proposed encampment by a homeless advocacy group would be
taken "very seriously"?

The advocacy group, SHARE (Seattle Housing and Research Effort) is a
respected organization, he explained. SHARE's goal is to help homeless
people help themselves. So, despite what he acknowledged as "high
skepticism" over the encampment idea, he said the city was willing to give
it a look out of respect for SHARE.

Respect is one thing, handling with kid gloves is another. If Byers, when
pressed, will say that the no-encampment policy is firmly in place, why
isn't that commitment reiterated to SHARE and other experienced and
dedicated advocates for homeless people?

Failure to do so results in confusion about what the city's homeless policy
really is.

For the record, here's the official policy as Byers stated it last week: to
restore homeless people to full participation in the community and to
prevent future homelessness.

That means services and support for helping individuals move beyond
homelessness, not just counting beds in an endless chase to provide more
beds for more homeless.

It's a policy worthy of support, but support won't come unless it is
clearly and continually reiterated, especially to the most compassionate of
advocates caught up in the short-term reality of too few beds for too many
homeless.

Lack of clarity leads to confusion, which is what we've got today.

Similar confusion resulted in years of delay over public restrooms in
downtown Seattle.

Council President Sue Donaldson acknowledged the dilemma over competing
values - public restrooms and sign regulation - but now is optimistic that
the long stalemate can be ended. Allowing ads on bus shelters and handsome,
self-cleaning toilets now in use in cities around the world, including San
Francisco and Paris, would cover the cost of purchasing and maintaining the
toilets.

It shouldn't be that complicated. Yes to public toilets and ads to finance
them. No to tent camps for homeless.

END FORWARD

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