#CliffMass

Dear Cliff,

I hope you don't mind if I call you Cliff. I figure we could probably be friendly, and it's a good place to start. Might make this whole conversation a little easier. 

This guy thinks we should corral the poors into South Seattle industrial areas. I disagree. Photo Credit: Deep Green Resistance Seattle. Used without permission. 

This guy thinks we should corral the poors into South Seattle industrial areas. I disagree. Photo Credit: Deep Green Resistance Seattle. Used without permission. 

I recently read something you wrote regarding homelessness. Now, I get it - your interest in politics and public policy have been...well, they've existed. The whole math education bit that led to your termination from KUOW - that was rough for a lot of people. And your support for the Viaduct Park proposal that voters soundly rejected in 2016 must have been tough. The "NO" party was in the same building as Nicole Macri and Yes for Homes, and the amount of people that came to celebrate the loss of I-123 was actually pretty significant. 

But just because we make some questionable decisions doesn't mean we should just stop trying. And I always applaud people who want to come to the table with meaningful solutions. Folks who are willing to do the background work to better understand a problem, and then work with people impacted on what that solution might look like. 

But you didn't do that. So, as politely as I can say it - shut the fuck up on homelessness. 

The thing is that there are people who read your blog and trust you. The damage bad ideas can do is huge. Clearly you're not a regular reader of this blog (I still maintain we have five readers [and yes, I just referred to myself as "we"]). My regular readers would never write such drivel. But because you did, I want to go over your "ideas." 

1. Build large amounts of very low cost housing. Of course we need to do this. And Seattle has been doing this since the 1980's. The Seattle Housing Levy - which we doubled last year - has produced over 13,000 units of permanently affordable housing, with the majority set-aside for folks making 30% and below Area Median Income. Partnerships between the Office of Housing, the Human Services Department, and non-profit housing providers, have created "thousands" of units, and will continue to do so. 

But then you go on to qualify it, proposing the city build housing in "industrial south Seattle not far from a light rail line or bus service." This followed your attack on scatter-housing. I highly recommend reading "Show Me A Hero," or watching the mini-series on HBO. Scatter-housing is actually very good for improving health and education outcomes for all people impacted. What really hurts poor families: clustering them away from the rest of the community in an area with poor air quality (and probably some poisoning in the ground). 

And here's the rub - I'm not sure if you actually understand what it's like to have unstable housing, or if you know much about the populations we're talking about. I don't pretend to be an expert on homelessness, but my hot-takes come from extensive reading, talking with providers of housing and services and also (wait for it): listening to people experiencing homelessness. Folks who have jobs, but can't afford a place to live. Or aren't allowed in because of bad credit or a criminal conviction many years ago. People who lost a job, lost their home, and struggled with addiction because to cope, they did what everyone else does: enjoyed  vice. Your beer after a hard day - multiply your hard day by 1,000, and have that be every second of your life. I wrote about the trauma here (and that has links to a bunch of other in-depth writing on the subject).

You want us to cluster the very poor? How about Tolaris? It's near light rail, two hospitals, a grocery store. Or maybe in your neighborhood, which has fantastic bus-lines to necessary services, with fantastic parks and other amenities. Then kids who are transitioning from a tent to a "inexpensive modular unit" could come to you for help with their math and science homework. 

I am with you on the lack of need for "luxurious" housing. Because there is nothing I hate more than knowing that the units in Plaza Roberto Maestes are incredibly up-scale. They have insulation, windows to see outside, doors, working toilets. It's goddamn embarrassing that we are spending money on poor people to let them live in this luxury. Why the city isn't utilizing Hugh Sisley to help better manage our funds is beyond me. WE COULD CREATE SO MANY AFFORDABLE HOMES AND SAVE SO MUCH MUNNY!!!

That isn't to say there shouldn't be strong oversight of how dollars are being spent. But homelessness isn't a chart or graph. It's people, and each person has unique needs. So it's hard to quantify something that really is qualitative in nature. (I think I'm using those terms right. I'm no researcher, though, so probably not. But I'm also a white dude, so I'm assuming you'll give me a pass.)

2. Make it unlawful for any individual to sleep in public places such as under roadways or bridges, on sidewalks, parks, or other outdoor spaces. 

Go. Fuck. Yourself. 

Making extreme poverty illegal is about the most classist thing in the world. And even if we assume your premise that such an action could only happen "once sufficient housing is available," there's nothing to say when that will be. In fact, this mirrors language used by the Safe Seattle folks, who seem to believe we should put a wall around Seattle to keep the extremely poor out of our city. We got ours, so y'all don't need yours. 

But people are going to lose jobs. The economy will crash. People will find themselves experiencing homelessness, and some may end up finding safe shelter under a bridge. I'm not sure if you're aware, but all people need some basic things in life: sleep, food, drink, peeing, pooping. By your logic, if they do one of these in any publicly owned space (which, as taxpayers, they own, too), they should be arrested and hauled off to jail. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? 

I get it. You don't want to see extreme poverty while riding your bike from your nice, white, wealthy neighborhood to your job at the nice university. It is aesthetically displeasing. And we are in agreement that a city like ours should never let this just happen. 

But it did. We're making progress on low-barrier shelter options, and with Navigation Centers, hopefully moving away from expecting religious missions to handle emergency shelter needs. Moving toward more humane ways of addressing extreme poverty. You may not like Tiny House Villages, but what I'm seeing in them - when I am physically there, not just thinking about things - is folks quickly transitioning into the thousands of units of housing we have built in Seattle. Like the Marion West in the University District - close to health care, services, amenities, parks, a library. It's also near middle-income folks, and within walking distance of very wealthy folks. And it works

Homelessness is a very complex issue, Cliff. Clearly you don't really get that. My homies at Seattlish have a point - if you want to pop off, buy a domain and do it on your own blog. Clearly you're doing that. Unfortunately, you are calling for class segregation in Seattle, and worse, saying that the poors should be in an unhealthy part of the city, and poverty should be illegal. All because you bike to work and don't like what you see. 

Respectfully, you can go ahead and fuck right off. 

All of My Best,

Michael