Remembering Seattle’s Homeless

Yesterday was National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, and not coincidentally, Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year. This morning from 10 to noon, Real Change newspaper and the Finish Company gave away cold weather survival gear like coats, hats, socks and sleeping bags to the homeless at city hall. Then at 1 pm, Real Change, SHARE/WHEEL and Nickelsville issued a Declaration of State of Emergency in 2010 at New Hope Baptist Church. Then at 5 pm, the Women in Black held a candlelight vigil in honor of all those who have died on the streets this year.

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According to the flyer handed out by the Women in Black, “36 homeless women and men have died outside or by violence in King County so far this year.” 36.  They named them all.   36.  Another number – 48.  Homeless people die at an average age of 48.

Why are there homeless in the United States and in Seattle?  Homeless in spite of reading about nearly empty condos because the recession hit. The condos taking place of what once were rentals, and sky rocketing rents that ripple through the whole rental system are part of the problem.

De-institutionalizing people with mental illness, and not coming through with adequate funds for the community based programs that were to replace them are another. The streets and jails have replaced the admittedly not great mental hospitals.

I worry when I read that our state is now closing institutions for the developmentally disabled, with similar promises that there will be community based programs to help them; but without much sign of a plan or funds to follow through. Will some of them be ending up living on the street as well?  How Darwinian can our society get?

The Declaration of a State of Emergency by and for Homeless People in Seattle & King County tells the current situation of inadequate shelters and how their harassed on the street from the homeless people themselves. It’s a situation only getting worse with both county and state budget cuts. 

We are the working poor who have been set up to fail. Our low wages, work insecurity, lack of healthcare, overcrowded and unaffordable housing, and unreliable transportation leave us vulnerable to economic disaster.

We are the expendable, the dehumanized, the written off, and the devalued. We are the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the addicted. We are the too poor, too uneducated, too old, and too unemployable to matter. We are the human wreckage of a broken system that denies its responsibility and blames us for our existence.

IT SHOULDN’T BE LIKE THIS. Homeless people deserve and are entitled to the same protections as our housed brothers and sisters: a right to health and housing, freedom from violence and stereotyping, the ability to keep our families and loved ones together, and the tools to move ahead and thrive.

They have an 8 point plan:

HELP US TO SURVIVE AND SOLVE HOMELESSNESS:

1. EXPAND SURVIVAL SERVICES. Since the Ten Year Plan began, homelessness has grown while emergency shelter supply has held steady and funding for day centers has declined. Stop pretending and meet the need with clean, simple decent shelter.
2. SUPPORT SELF-HELP HOMELESS GROUPS (like SHARE). When we run our own shelters, we cost-effectively offer maximum dignity and community to residents. Stable city funding will help us built community-wide solutions to meet the growing need.
3. PROVIDE A PERMANENT SITE FOR NICKELSVILLE. We need a site big enough for a non-moving eco village of up to 1,000. There are over seventy sites in Seattle that will work and only one is needed.
4. COMPLETE THE HOMELESS REMEMBRANCE PROJECT to honor people who have died while homeless. The Tree of Life in Victor Steinbrueck Park and Leaves of Remembrance in sidewalks throughout the County will serve as reminders to us all that homeless lives have value.
5. STOP THE CRIMINALIZATION. Citations for trespass violations, panhandling, and sitting on sidewalks clog our courts and punish the poor with fines and jail time while denying us due process under law.
6. EXPAND TREATMENT. Drug and alcohol treatment services save lives and money. Punitive policies undermine public health goals and deepen the misery and isolation that often underlies addiction.
7. PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION. As downtown gentrification has pushed more services outside the free ride zone, access to bus transportation has become a barrier to overcoming homelessness. Homeless people should receive free bus passes.
8. SUPPORT AFFORDABLE HOUSING. Strategies to cost-effectively increase supply must be prioritized over big-ticket infrastructure projects and sports arenas. Encourage market solutions that don’t let excellent get in the way of good. We need housing. Now.

HOW TO GET THERE:
Listen to homeless people! We call on our new leaders to govern with progressive values: compassion, justice and common sense. We call on our fellow citizens to act in solidarity with homeless people. We call on voters to insist that human needs come before floating bridges, sport stadiums and arts.

Shelter is one of the most basic human rights.  We shouldn’t have homeless people, let alone 36 of them dying on our streets over the past year.

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