When I was younger, I would regularly delight in “reading” your cartoon in the P-I. Well-drawn, and typically invoking a biting point about an issue of the day, I was admittedly sad when I heard you were leaving for Los Angeles.
But now you’re back! And I’m beginning to wish you would have stayed in Los Angeles.
Taking a look at your recent cartoon published in the Seattle Times, I was dismayed at how you portrayed a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion overturning a law in the City of Boise. Much like Danny, it appears you are focusing on elevating the dissent for a rehearing en banc, and I can only conclude that you either didn’t read the actual opinion, or that you have decided blaming those living outdoors is easier than holding elected officials accountable to actually invest in solving the crisis.
Maybe you are part of the crowd that crows about how “those people” should rethink their “lifestyle choices,” placing the blame at the feet of people living in extreme poverty. Maybe you, like Eric Johnson, believe that what we see and most often associate with homelessness - people in mental health crisis or in the throes of addiction - is an accurate representation of all people experiencing homelessness. Maybe you, like David Preston and Mike Arst of Safe Seattle simply believe that taxation is theft, and that there really is a “final solution” to homelessness that involves doing nothing but aggressive “public safety” approaches - approaches that are proven to fail, are unconstitutional, and, frankly, a waste of money.
Think about it: the per-day cost of 1811 Eastlake, a Housing First supportive housing project operated by DESC, is about $46.70 per day. For inpatient treatment, the costs range from $56.50 to $302.20 per day (for agencies with which the city contracts), yet any intensive service is more likely to be undone if we don’t have housing available at the end of a stay. But the very thing that the 9th Circuit said cities cannot do - implement a criminal penalty (or civil) for the mere act of doing what we all do involuntarily as human beings - is generally the least cost-effective thing Seattle can do. To wit, for each booking at the King County Jail from an Seattle Police Department officer, the City - you and I - pay an initial feel of $85.14, plus a minimum of $184.19 per day. To the extent there are medical or psychiatric needs of an admitted person, that cost goes up.
But then again, what do I know? Maybe you, unlike me, don’t require sleep. Or rest. Or ever having to use the bathroom. To the extent that is the case, bravo to you, David!
But let’s go back to the case that you so wittily described in your comic. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, because if you did, you would see your characterization is 100% untrue. First, I would direct your attention to footnote 8 (in law, footnotes are pretty great, and can contain some of the best nuggets for real-world application of a holding):
“Naturally, our holding does not cover individuals who do have access to adequate temporary shelter, whether because they have the means to pay for it or because it is realistically available to them for free, but who choose not to use it. Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations may well be constitutionally permissible. So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures. Whether some other ordinance is consistent with the Eighth Amendment will depend, as here, on whether it punishes a person for lacking the means to live out the “universal and unavoidable consequences of being human” in the way the ordinance prescribes.” (citations omitted)
I would also suggest taking a look at footnote 9:
“In Joel v. City of Orlando, the Eleventh Circuit upheld an anti-camping ordinance similar to Boise’s against an Eighth Amendment challenge. In Joel, however, the defendants presented unrefuted evidence that the homeless shelters in the City of Orlando had never reached capacity and that the plaintiffs had always enjoyed access to shelter space. Those unrefuted facts were critical to the court’s holding. As discussed below.” (citations omitted)
You see, David, there is nothing in the opinion that simply allows camping anywhere people damn-well feel. Rather, Martin v. City of Boise simply holds that a jurisdiction cannot criminalize the simple act of being human in a public place absent providing somewhere for being human to be legal.
Now, does this mean we can round up everyone sleeping outdoors and ship them off to Terminal 5 (as some have suggested)? Would that pass constitutional muster? Maybe. But would it be good public policy? Not at all. I highly recommend, David, that you engage in some good conversations with frontline service providers at DESC, and learn more about the challenges of their work, and why clustering hundreds of people in crisis in a single location is a bad idea.
I get it, David. You’re frustrated seeing people in tents on sidewalks, in medians, and in parks. So am I. Our region’s failure to adequately invest in the social safety net is a travesty, and we should all be ashamed. Our governments have failed to present the case for ramping up investment. And where elected leaders have tried (real leaders), The Seattle Times has succeeded in spinning the lie that we “have enough money” to do anything meaningful. We don’t. I touched on some of that last Friday, in the event you want a better idea of what the total cost of inaction - as well as action - is.
But aside from leaders actually leading and putting together a strategic plan and funding package for voters to consider, I would also suggest, David, that we could pressure our local jurisdictions to hold our State accountable for its failures. I would go so far as to suggest that the City Attorney and County Prosecuting Attorney look to Article XIII of our State Constitution, and whether there is a clear or implied duty of the State to fund and operate adequate supportive housing for our neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness. Or maybe pore through federal statutes, and see if we can identify a cause of action to litigate against the federal government for failure to adequately invest in public housing in King County.
See, here’s the thing, David - I would posit that we don’t need more snark that lays the blame at the foot of those living outdoors. I’m not sure if you know this, but the overwhelming majority of people experiencing homelessness hide their poverty. The Everett Herald recently reported on this very issue. And when people like you characterize homelessness as skeezy dudes who may be harmful for children, you put a target on the backs of all people living outdoors. What happens when people like you, David, dehumanize and make villains out of people living outdoors is that they become targets, and people murder them.
Ultimately, I expect better of our local “paper of record.” It is a shame that the Seattle Times allows such dangerous tom-fuckery to be printed, but that’s the world we live in. It saddens me, David, to see that you have entered this realm of demagoguery. You’ve become a Safe Seattle comment thread printed in the paper, and our region deserves better than that. What’s worse, you have completely misrepresented not only the case itself, but who should be held accountable for our region’s failures. It is shameful.
I can only hope you’ll be better, and wish you all of my best,