Re: Seattle Homeless ID

Anitra Freeman (anitra@speakeasy.org)
Sat, 16 Oct 1999 20:34:22 -0700 (PDT)


This was my response to a discussion of this ID number business,
elsewhere:
--
These are some of the reasons that all homeless groups and a majority of
homeless service groups in Seattle are objecting to the City Council's
plan:

1) Over the past two years in Seattle, we have accomplished a great
expansion of services and successes by cooperative efforts between
homeless people, service providers, and government agencies.  The "Safe
Harbors" proposal was a giant leap backwards in this cooperation,
originated by the City Council with extremely limited input and totally
surprising all homeless people in Seattle and almost all service
agencies, none of whom were allowed to make public comment before the
City Council vote on the proposal.

2)  Everyone in the United States has legitimate reason based on
experience to be leary of the risks of computers for invasion of privacy
and for sheer screw-ups.  Seattle government is telling us that we can
trust them to design a system that will protect privacy and won't screw
up services even worse, and that we will have input in the design to
insure that. How are we expected to trust such a promise, on the basis
of the "process" so far?   Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck showed us a
"Safe Harbors" proposal months ago -- it was a one-page document of
resolutions affirming the commitment of Seattle to provide for the needs
of homeless and low-income people and to treat them with dignity equal
to any other citizen!  We have been shown nothing at all since.  The
Safe Harbors proposal voted on October 4th bore no relation to that
original document at all.  We feel blind-sided; in all honesty, we feel
betrayed.  This is not a good point to tell us to "trust the system."
 
3) Some things are meant to be computerized, and some things aren't.  In
our own experience as homeless and formerly homeless people, every
single one of us who made improvement in our lives did so with the help
of live human beings who related to us as human beings -- not with the
aid of computers, as wonderful as the darlings are.  Improvements in
communication between people and agencies, and removal of roadblocks,
will make a major improvement in delivery of services and increasing
successful outcomes, without the risks inherent in computerization of
sensitive data.

4) Whether it is justified or not, it is a fact: a majority of homeless
and low-income people in need of services are terrified of "being on the
computer".  A computerized system risks locking out large numbers of
people who are only willing to share their history -- including
homelessness, sexual orientation, mental health diagnosis or other items
considered shameful in mainstream culture -- with a human face.

5) It is over-soon to be concerned about efficient delivery of services,
when we already *know* we don't have anywhere near enough services to
deliver.  Work on coordinating the pieces of the system when you have
enough pieces to coordinate. The $90,000 scheduled to be spent to study
the possible design of a possible computer system that might possibly
improve delivery of possible services six years from now, could have
kept 250 men and women alive in shelter this winter (based on the
bed/night cost of SHARE).  NO money was allocated to Winter Response
shelter.  The amount of shelter this winter will be lower than the
amount last year.  We have already had more homeless people die this
year than ever before, and it isn't even winter yet.  From the viewpoint
of the life-and-death issues we're facing, the Council's priorities
suck.

6) If this computer system is supposed to be for the benefit of homeless
people in Seattle, homeless people in Seattle shopuld have been
consulted about it.  The fact that only bureaucrats seem to have been
involved in the decision indicates that the true purpose of the system
is to serve bureaucracy.  Again, from our own perspective, we'd rather
keep people alive than crunch numbers.
--

The City claim sthat this system has been implemented elsewhere with
lots of input from other homeless people, so we should be happy with it,
and besides we will get lots of input on design. This is what I told one
reporter (who used the quote):

"It's as if my doctor told me 'Lots of women your age are getting
hysterctomies, so I'm going to give you a hysterectomy.  But you get to
tell me how you want me to do the operation!'"

The bright side, as far as I can see, is that this bureaucracy is so
screwed up it's going to take them at least five years to even begin to
implement this system, and then so few peple are going to cooperate with
it that it will never work.  But in the meantime, it's eating up dollars
that should be helping human beings.

Write On! / Anitra L. Freeman / http://www.speakeasy.org/~anitra/
"Never doubt that a small group of imperfect people can improve the
world--indeed they are the only ones who ever have." Not Margaret Mead