After sitting through what feel like countless meetings about density on the one hand (no renters in MY neighborhood!) and homelessness on the other (no tents/unsheltered homeless/RVs in MY neighborhood!), I’ve started to come to some conclusions about the “sides” in the debate between a small but vocal contingent of homeowners who want to return their neighborhoods to an imagined halycon past and everyone else. Here’s one.
For people who believe they should not have to look at homeless people with visible problems (addiction, inability to fix up their vehicles, lack of receptacles for their trash and human waste), no action by the city short of banning RVs and, ultimately, arresting everyone in them (because let’s be real: People with absolutely no money cannot pay the fines homeowning residents consider minor inconveniences, and jail is the ultimate punishment for that), will be satisfactory.
And, though they may yell (yes, yell) that they want the city to “fix” the problem of homelessness, any talk of new taxes to make inroads toward that solution is met with even louder yells and jeers. This is not my opinion; it’s my experience, based on what I’ve seen at meeting after meeting about “fixing” the RV “problem.” What is demanded of city officials, again and again, is that they (and we, as a city) behave with less compassion toward our homeless neighbors–that we act more like Shoreline, or Mercer Island (two areas held up as exemplary at recent meetings) in our attitude toward the homeless, with the aim of shoving them somewhere else where we don’t have to look at them.
Property crimes are a real problem. When I had a car, parked on the street on Capitol Hill, it got broken into all the time, and now that I have a scooter, my trunk and tank area get rifled through on a regular basis. Trash is a real issue: I see used condoms and needles and bottles on my street and in my neighborhood all the time, and I don’t want them there. Drug dealing is a huge issue in my neighborhood, so I sympathize with the concerns of Magnolia residents who are now starting to see it in the industrial areas near their neighborhood. Human waste is a real problem, although I would argue that the human waste produced by 300 people living in RVs in a city of 600,000 is hardly the imminent threat to salmon some concern trolls would have you believe.
But what gets lost in complaints about car break-ins and needles and trash on the street are the human beings that are the source of those issues, human beings whose humanity gets lost in discussions that often equate them to animals, or actual garbage. I’m starting to believe, unfortunately, that there are some people, mostly property owners, who will simply never acknowledge their common humanity with the people they would have arrested or sent out of town (big cheers for that notion last night, as well) simply because they suffer from visible addiction, or because they can’t keep their tabs up to date.
(One sign that the housed people who applaud and yell at these meetings acknowledge their homeless neighbors’ humanity would be understanding that homeless people, like housed people, have autonomy and desires, and those desires may not include being herded into camps and told to follow special rules, like curfews and bans on alcohol consumption, that housed people are welcome to ignore.)
I applaud the city for continuing to show up and serve as a firing squad for people who are only there to yell at them, but I encourage policymakers to consider the actual size of this uncompassionate contingent when making decisions that impact our homeless population. There were, on the outside, 300 people at last night’s meeting. According to the latest One Night Count, there are now nearly 5,000 people sleeping outside in King County in the winter. Which is the larger constituency?