One thing I didn't mention in my previous post that Nikkita Oliver said during The Shadow Council - calling out the trauma that is homelessness. Noting the difficulty she felt herself while living in a tent, by choice, protesting Standing Rock in North Dakota, she articulated the trauma associated with experiencing homelessness in a way I've never seen a politician do.
The four readers of this blog know how I feel about homelessness and the way we treat our neighbors. If you are unsure, I've written about it here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I've debated the issue on KUOW, KIRO Radio, and in front of groups of people. The Compassionate Biz Rolodex was derived to highlight businesses that aren't dicks to people experiencing homelessness. An overarching theme: Homelessness is both simple and extremely complicated. People experiencing homelessness are experiencing trauma on a daily basis. And because of this, I am uninterested in casting moral judgment or faulting someone for developing addiction as a coping mechanism to the trauma that is homelessness. Hearing politicians speak about the issue this way is heartening, and I wish more would have the courage to do so.
The importance of this lends to the solutions. The Milo/Trump loving Neighborhood Safety Alliance group loves to point to refusal of specific services, with an unwillingness to acknowledge that services rife with judgment are often not what people need in a time of trauma. While I appreciate what Union Gospel Mission and Bread of Life are trying to do, refusing services to people who are intoxicated, and/or forcing people to participate in your religious services, is akin to judging them as somehow failures for not refusing coping mechanisms, or for not sharing your religious beliefs.
Not to compare, but we see similar responses when it comes to rape victims opting out of reporting. Statistically, victims of sexual violence are not likely to report the same. Law enforcement - a male dominated industry - does not have the best track record of compassion or treating victims seriously (as evidenced by data and to which I can attest from experience). And even if a case goes to the court, the judicial system can be less than kind, and engage in victim-blaming.
Or worse, a failure to trust women on behalf of the judiciary, in favor of lecturing. Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals decided Duvall v. Nelson, reversing a lower-court refusal of a sexual assault protective order. Judge David Mann authored the Court of Appeals opinion, and it is a thing of beauty. He's up for retention this year. Vote for David Mann. Basically, the victim in this case, who was seeking a protective order against the perpetrator, was admittedly intoxicated, and cannot recall if she gave consent, believing she did not. The trial court didn't consider that good enough evidence to grant the order, allowing this woman's rapist to contact and harass her. The trial court judge, Judge Richard Bathum, went on to lecture the young woman about alcohol consumption, stating "Alcohol's not good, especially when you're a good-looking lady running around on campus."
It's no wonder women in college are some of the least likely to report rape and sexual assault.
But back on point - experiencing homelessness is an ongoing traumatic experience. The implication that there is a one-size-fits-all strategy is ridiculous, and I am glad that our city gets that, as well. Yet there remains a distrust of the avenues by which one might exit homelessness, thanks to the barriers we, the public, have put in place. Harassment by police, harassment by angry neighbors who grow unhinged at having to breath the same air as those experiencing extreme poverty, and a system that is designed to support only those who have overcome addiction and are at the rock-bottom of poverty - it's easy to understand the distrust of the system.
And when it is a system that moves people from one place to another, ostensibly until permanent housing can be found, only to sweep people from the place they were moved to with less notice than is required of basically anything else involving personal property, expecting immediate trust in that system is folly. "Why won't those people just take the help!" Because it's either shitty help, judgmental help, not real help, or when they do, they get shit on again down the line.
That isn't to say it's all bad. There is some amazing work being done to help people into permanent housing. LIHI, DESC, Plymouth, Solid Ground - all are doing fantastic work that is succeeding. But so long as we offer sweeps or judgmental, uncomfortable, family-splitting mats on a floor as the primary option, we shouldn't be surprised when people say "no." Exacerbating a trauma, and then being surprised when people decide to refuse "help" is an exercise is ridiculous thinking.
Ultimately, it is inspiring to hear politicians use language to describe the experience of homelessness for what it is. I believe this equity lens will produce strong positions on policy implementation and actionable proposals that will inject a vital set of conversations into the debate this mayoral cycle.