WSB guest opinion: “We can end homelessness, but …”

October 15, 2009 at 2:30 am | In Opinion | 23 Comments

With comments after every story, plus the Forums section, there are many channels for your opinion here on WSB. But sometimes, as happened last year with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, you have something longer to say, in the style of the print-media “op-ed piece.” After we recently wrote that WSB is open to “op-ed” pitches from West Seattleites, we received this, about the touchy, urgent, difficult topic of homelessness, from Highland Park’s Dorsol Plants:

Opinion: By Dorsol Plants

Within the last couple of weeks, the issue of homelessness has been one of the things at the forefront of the political activities going on in the city. This is fitting, since last week seems to have been the first signs of a cold winter. Even before the economic crisis, there were over 2,000 men, women and children counted sleeping outside on a cold January night, and with the effect of the recession still being so profoundly felt, we can expect this January’s One Night Count numbers to be even higher.

With Seattle’s shelter system already turning away people at night, what are we going to do? Is ending homelessness viable and is it something the city can do in 10 years as promised?

So far we have heard two sides to this argument, each trying to explain why the problem of homelessness is getting worse and not better. The stance that many homeless advocates have taken has been that the City isn’t doing enough in the way of funding for shelters and permanent housing. They say that if we are truly going to make a go at ending homelessness then we need to place more money into affordable housing and the burdened shelter system. The city’s stance however is that they are already doing as much as they can afford, and it’s time the County and other cities began to step up and handle their share of the problem.

There is truth on both sides of the argument. The city should provide more funding for human services, and if they were to look through the budget they could find ways to more efficiently provide more shelter with the money already in place. Yet the city is also raising a valid point. It is well past time for us to begin to discuss a National Plan to End Homelessness.

When you get right down to it, homelessness is about a lack of housing. Yes, there are a number of issues surrounding why someone is without a home. Those issues may include mental illness, job loss, or unexpected medical expenses. But all those issues are more easily worked while not fighting for your survival every night on the streets. There is no inherent reason why people who are experiencing these problems should not have housing.

The real problem is that there is no congruent plan. When it comes to affordable housing, funding from city, county, state, and federal levels all tie in at different points and various ways. To actually end homelessness, we can’t just try to throw together enough money to build enough houses or subsidize enough existing apartments. Rather, we need a plan — including timetables from the top down — that outlines the strategy for dealing with homeless at all levels.

This has to start at the Federal level so that from the State down to the Cities, funding and resources can be focused around need areas lacking in the federal plan. By clearly outlining and defining each role from the top down, one specific plan enables those plans under it to fill in the cracks left behind. This starts with creating a national chain of communication that breaks down the walls between Federal, State, City, Nonprofits, Faith-Based, and other homeless agencies.

This very idea came to several cities, and each drew up their own 10-year plans like the one we have here in Seattle. But it is unreasonable to expect cities to be able to work out this problem on their own, and that can very evidently be seen through the city’s demands for more help. Much as we wouldn’t expect the city of Seattle to be solely responsible for stopping global warming, we can’t expect that any real end to homelessness could come without looking at homelessness as a regional and national issue.

The change has to start somewhere; Seattle is in a good place to initiate it. For starters, Mayor Nickels has placed Seattle prominently onto the national stage on the issue of the environment and the next Mayor can use that to generate a conversation on the need to end homelessness. We must also correct the mistakes in our 10-year plan, plug the budgeting gaps and make a commitment not to remove any more funding until the crisis has passed.

Finally, we should set an example by allowing the sheer humanity of the issue affect the decision making process. We can do this by admitting there aren’t enough beds for everyone and allowing for the basic survival needs of all human beings. In part, this means providing Nickelsville a permanent site that will allow Nickelodeons to remain as a community until the cities of the region and the county have a chance to create enough shelter and housing to allow everyone to come inside.

We can end homelessness, but the only way we are going to be able to do that is by honestly reflecting on where we are as a city, by acknowledging that we won’t be able to do this alone, and by calling for a national movement to address this national issue.

Dorsol Plants is Homeless Veteran Employment Case Manager with the Compass Center (and a U.S. Army veteran himself). He also is former chair of the Highland Park Action Committee, and ran for Seattle City Council in this year’s primary. He is also Field Organizer for the Northwest Progressive Institute as well.

Got an opinion you’d like to share in a longer format like this? Send a note to bounce the idea off us: editor@westseattleblog.com

23 Comments

  1. dorsol, no mention of the housing levy? one of the best ways we as a city have dealt with the lack of affordable housing is the creation of the housing levy. on the ballot since 1981, seattlelites have chosen to renew it every 7 years since. VOTE PROPOSITION ONE on your ballot next week, RENEW the housing levy. because it is one of the best tools we have to ending homelessness here in seattle.

    Comment by kstineback — 7:17 am October 15, 2009 #

  2. As long as the POVERTY PIMPS continue their INSANE MANDATORY 12-Step Religious Cult’s “Absolute Sobriety for Life” nonsense the human misery & suffering will continue. How dare you label people mentally ill & alcoholic/addicted for drinking a beer after a 14 hour Labor Ready job!

    Comment by August — 9:57 am October 15, 2009 #

  3. The homeless veterans do not need another INSANE ASYLUM masqueraded as “Housing” with MANDATORY 12-Step Religious Cult conversion & the THICK layer of Evangelical Christianity poisoning in the air!

    Comment by August — 10:10 am October 15, 2009 #

  4. The homeless have ALREADY went through BILLIONS & BILLIONS of taxpayer dollars in ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS COUNSELING & LIFE SKILLS NONSENSE; Get the homeless REAL HOUSING, REAL TRADE/CAREER TRAINING, and REAL JOBS!

    Comment by August — 10:16 am October 15, 2009 #

  5. Theoretically, if the City of Seattle bought five 100 unit apartment buildings with two bedroom units, and each apartment housed four people (two people per bedroom) that would house our homeless population.

    Here’s the math. Even if this costs $35 million (avg. unit rate per apt. of $70K) and if you need 20 percent down that figure is $7 million to start. Many homeless people are or would be eligible for federal assistance and could pay rent. For $800 a month per apartment rent, that’s $200 per person. And let’s not forget that some homeless are already working but can’t currently afford housing on their own.

    This is completely do-able right now. They don’t need 10 years, they could do it in six months. When you’re an elected official and you push something 10 years down the road it makes it someone else’s problem, not yours.

    When people have some stability in their lives and simple things most of us take for granted – like a warm, safe place to sleep, a mailing address, a phone and a shower – they are much more able to address the issues that led to homelessness in the first place.

    Let’s do this sooner rather than later. Now is the time.

    Comment by Kate K — 10:16 am October 15, 2009 #

  6. NOT ONE PENNY OF THE HOUSING LEVY WENT FOR HOUSING; it went to prison-like programs where suffering people went through HORRIFYING CONDITIONS, FORCED TO CONVERT TO INSANE RELIGIONS, FORCED TO TAKE BRAIN-FRYING MEDS and all ZOMBIED UP, while the POVERTY PIMPS confiscated every penny of these people’s disabilty checks, leaving them ABSOLUTELY BROKE & DESPERATE!

    Comment by August — 10:27 am October 15, 2009 #

  7. Just search the internet for the Seattle housing Levy, and you’ll find all vegged-up people being interviewed and they all say the exact same thing “I’m in recovery, as long as I take my meds and attend meetings my 20 case managers all say I’m fine & doing well. I’m a 47 year old man that goes to Finger-Painting classes and group therapy daily. It’s amazing how I went from a successful business man, go sued by my ex-wife for everything one day….and the next day I’m a COMPLETE VEGETABLE according to the POVERTY PIMPS…I mean counselors.”

    Comment by August — 10:32 am October 15, 2009 #

  8. Kate K, that would ACTUALLY SOLVE THE HOMELESS PROBLEM…..Which means UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL THAT BE ALLOWED!

    The POVERTY PIMP must at all cost NEVER let these homeless people move on with their lives; there are still TENS OF THOUSANDS of other human behavior they have to get the PSYCHO-WACKOS to classify as diseases so they can MODIFY their 12-STEP RELIGIOUS CULT to them (Restless Leg Syndrome Anonymous, PMS Anonymous, Bleached Blonds Anonymous (girls addicted to bleaching their hair)).

    Comment by August — 10:42 am October 15, 2009 #

  9. Everything is a Disease now days that requires ABSOLUTE COMPLIANCE with the 12-Step Religious Cult and living in a prison-like horrifying shelter, supervised by the POVERTY PIMPS and their armed guards 24/7/365.

    Comment by August — 10:44 am October 15, 2009 #

  10. Yes people, the POVERTY PIMPS get HUGE BUCKS (taxpayer funded) “treating” anything they can get classified as a disease…ie. If you are a homeless 20 year old that has never drank alcohol EVER, and turn 21 and celebrate with a couple beers…..THE POVERTY PIMPS WILL LABEL YOU A COMPLETE STREET-GUTTER ALCOHOLIC requiring a lifetime of very expensive taxpayer paid (to them) treatment & 12-Step Religious Cult meetings FOR LIFE! Yes, after drinking two beers (even if you did not like the beers YOU ARE AN ALCOHOLIC NOW, and if you deny it, you will be labeled SEVERELY MENTALLY ILL AND “IN DENIAL” which requires more group therapy and meds)

    Comment by August — 10:57 am October 15, 2009 #

  11. I think this would be considered “spamming” by August. It hurts the normally great conversation we have on the WSB.

    Comment by wseye — 11:18 am October 15, 2009 #

  12. Only in the United States are the homeless automatically diagnosed alcoholic/addicted & mentally ill; the homeless anywhere else in the world are just poor.

    Comment by August — 11:23 am October 15, 2009 #

  13. How come the 4,000,000 refugees in Africa just don’t get over their villages destroyed & families burnt alive to a crisp by war-lords and go get a job?

    Comment by August — 11:25 am October 15, 2009 #

  14. If the Homeless Veterans REFUSE to convert to the 12-Step Religious Cult, the VA writes in their medical records they are “Treatment Resistant” and THROWS THEM TO THE GUTTER ON SKID ROW!

    Comment by August — 11:27 am October 15, 2009 #

  15. Look deeply into all the homeless funding, not one penny every touches a homeless persons finger…It all goes for the POVERTY PIMP’S paychecks, benefits, pensions; NOTHING TANGIBLE TO THE HOMELESS!

    Comment by August — 11:34 am October 15, 2009 #

  16. Years & Years, Billions & Billions in taxpayer funding, and the homeless problem IS EXPLODING BEYOND BELIEF!

    100% of homeless funding HAS TO GO FOR HOUSING, NOT POVERTY PIMP PAYCHECKS!

    Comment by August — 11:36 am October 15, 2009 #

  17. Hey Dorsol, Can the Veterans in your programs go to a Mariner’s game and have a few cold beers with their friends, enjoying the day of NORMAL MALE BONDING, without being thrown to the gutter if they do?

    Comment by August — 11:40 am October 15, 2009 #

  18. Wseye, thanks, I am reviewing this comment thread. Including a violation of our rules for the same person to post under multiple names in the same thread. So it’ll be trimmed shortly – TR

    Comment by WSB — 11:48 am October 15, 2009 #

  19. How can Dorsal say we need “honest reflection” on homelessness and then purposely not include substance abuse as a cause of homelessness. Just lost any crediablity.

    Comment by Laurie — 11:58 am October 15, 2009 #

  20. August, honestly thats difficult to say without speculating. I would invite everyone to try an experiment: leave your wallet at home, dress down, and head downtown. Hang around for about 4 to 5 hours and see where you can use the restroom or how long you can sit in certain areas before being asked to move along.

    Laurie, there were a couple of reason I didn’t specifically spell out substance abuse issues. 1. from the comments in this thread its clear that many people have already drawn that conclusion. 2. Substance abuse is a problem for many different social-economic classes and isn’t confined to the homeless, we just seem to pick at it more. 3. While substance abuse is one cause of homelessness it quickly can be used as a scapegoat and the real issues are ignored. Often times an individual turns to drugs or alcohol after living on the street or to self medicate themselves for an untreated mental illness.

    In truth, there is an infinite number of reasons someone can end up homeless not just drugs and alcohol. If we continue to focus on the one portion of the problem then we are failing to assist 1,000 of others who need our help.

    Comment by Dorsol — 12:54 pm October 15, 2009 #

  21. Amen!

    Comment by WSEvelyn — 8:57 pm October 15, 2009 #

  22. Great points, Dorsol! We need a more streamlined, “top-down” approach focused on getting folks indoors and stable before addressing other issues.

    We need to realistically address the crisis in mental health services–many of our emergency shelters are housing people who will need intensive supervision/case management for the rest of their lives. It should not be possible for someone to be released from Harborview psych directly to a doorway. It’s morally wrong and unsafe for the individual and the general public.

    There also needs to be better coordination between law enforcement and social services. Dept of Corrections should coordinate with agencies to secure housing before release. No one under DoC supervision should be homeless–it’s a setup to re-offend and it creates public safety issues.

    Substance abuse should not be either a barrier to entry for shelter/housing or a requirement. As Dorsol mentioned, many people begin abusing drugs seriously after they become homeless. Failing a drug test should not be grounds for eviction.

    Getting warm, safe, and stable makes it a lot easier to be motivated to deal with other issues.

    Comment by Melissa — 8:19 pm October 16, 2009 #

  23. I have an idea – why don’t you rent out a room in your house for a homeless person as an experiment Dorsal. And then get back to us on the causes of homelessness, gee maybe you will find that some people are just plan not houseable due to their lifestyle that in about 99% of the cases is due to their addiction.

    Comment by laurie — 11:52 am October 18, 2009 #

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