A place for new ideas to settle.

14 December 2016

"Thou didst prevent me, I had peopled else this isle with Calibans..."


I attended my first community meeting today. Or rather, a "homeowners heckle a City representative" meeting, but I suppose that's par for the course. But what was the stated root of all this anger? Homelessness. And drugs. And drug-addicted homeless people coming for your children and valuables.

You see, the City is proposing to lease a privately-owned lot for 1-2 years as a site for up to 50 "tiny houses," which will then be used as "low-barrier" housing for up to 70 homeless people who maybe can't get into a traditional shelter; one such "barrier" is drug use.

In other words the City is shoving down the throats of the homeowners dozens of drug-maddened freaks not two blocks from a school (no, five schools!) where they can abduct, chop up and eat, fuck to death, experiment on, sew together into a second-grade-centipede, feed to their chained beasts, sacrifice to the Old Gods... our children!

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I may seem hyperbolic and sarcastic. That's because more than a few people in attendance were. Openly. Backed by more who didn't necessarily speak up. I finally understood, viscerally, what "siege mentality" means.

And, of course, here's the thing:

It's not a "done deal." The lot is just on the final short-list of places where the City wants to move forward but there's a lot left to decide.

The lot is private property (same, I might add, as the disgusting low-rate motels that are an Aurora Ave fixture) and will become a permanent low-income housing facility in the next three years or so pretty much regardless of what the neighbors want. Private. Property.

 "Low barrier" refers to any homeless person who would not be admitted into an existing shelter. This includes (1) single men, for whom there are no shelters in North Seattle (it's all women's shelters or rehab); (2) couples or families; (3) people with animal companions ("pet" often doesn't fully describe what the animal means to the person); (4) people with too many belongings; (5) people with drug problems, up to and including a full-blown addiction. These are not mutually exclusive categories, either.

Left undecided are (1) which categories will be prioritized (i.e. women and children first? Clean over using? etc.); (2) how many people will be admitted from the local area versus brought in from other parts of the city; (3) the exact rules about where and if drugs can be used.

Two of the schools are already being built two blocks from Aurora Avenue, which, as everyone at the meeting was fully aware, is a hotbed of drugs and prostitution and other crime. There should obviously be coordination between the Housing Department and School District, but if the School District wasn't already planning for the Aurora Ave status quo (with extra security officers and so on) that fuckup is theirs and a long time coming. It's not at all clear that shelter will worsen the problem.

Moreover, this isn't a fire-and-forget operation. The (private!) organization that will build the permanent housing has experience with "tiny house" encampments and assigns caseworkers to the sites. Too many of the people in attendance had a fatalistic attitude towards the homeless (left unspoken was a demand to just "round them up and get them away from here" which, fuck off) and weren't trying to see compromises or weigh (say it with me now) relative risk.

And there was so, so, so much argument-taken-directly-from-rectal-cavity being made. One guy near me confidently asserted (to the general air around him I guess) that "85% of the people on the street" can't be helped, and when challenged, tried to make a distinction about the "True Homeless" and whatever the fuck. Of course, he asked me if I'd ever talked to all the homeless people, but dude, I didn't make sweeping claims.

The biggest thing, of course, is the assumption that homelessness or drug addiction in themselves are some sort of moral failing. I really don't see how to jump to that conclusion other than by the "grace" of an extreme individualist philosophy or else a petty religion. I doubt most in the crowd were Objectivists but it's a safe bet that many attend churches, and many of those participate in charity outreach. And that's good... but implicit in many religious messages to the needy is a subtext about who deserves and who doesn't deserve help. Who sins and wishes to walk again in the Light, and who is unrepentant in defying the will of the Supreme Being.

But while there's a definite barrier to advancement out of homelessness (and kudos to the City rep who valiantly tried to reiterate this point) the barrier against homelessness is thin and flimsy indeed. I don't know any people who are homeless but I know people who were on the street or had to live out of their car for a while. And I don't get out much.

Moreover, the "moral failings" that seem to define the "unrepentant" homeless person in no way stop at the homelessness line. Plenty of people, unto the richest and privilegedest, commit crime (even petty crime!), exhibit tremendous drug habits, maybe make some money on sex webcams, I dunno. How many of the homeowners considered what sort of deviant behavior gets gotten up to in the homes and apartments in this neighborhood?

And finally, I'd love to unpack people's experiences and impressions of how crime happens around here. How do we know who's committing the crimes? Obviously the prostitutes stick around (I care about busting the pimps though) but is the guy sleeping in his trash-bag-packed van also the guy who's been prowling the vehicles on the street? I believe that break-ins violate one's sense of safety and trust, but it's a bad idea to extrapolate that feeling broadly across time and space and circumstance. Same with one's experience with drug addiction―there was a woman with valid anecdotes about dangerous drug addicts, but apparently for her this generalized to all drug users. And she works with the homeless... but is this an immutable fact of nature or a sort of social adjustment to expectations?

Now, it was interesting that many of the "zomg drug freaks" crowd were also seemingly supportive of a safe-use facility―their main concern seemed to be keeping drugs (literally) off the streets, out of the alleys, off the doorsteps, but they seemed to be willing to tolerate drug use in a safe space as one element of a pathway to recovery. Hopefully such a facility can be built; Aurora needs it.

Hopefully these views can be changed and the moral crusade abated; our humanity requires it.

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