The Seattle Times is doing what they call Project Homeless, which “explores and explains the region’s complex, troubling problem of homelessness.” So this morning when I was trying to find anything to write about besides Harvey Weinstein and #metoo, I was fortunate to discover this Seattle Times headline floating on top of the interweb:
“The bottleneck in Seattle’s homeless shelters that leaves thousands on the streets.”
They’ve just started! And already they’ve found the answer to why all those people are living in doorways and tents, etc. It’s a bottleneck!
I really, really, did not want to talk about the Harvey Weinstein business. Thinking that in the back of my mind, I read The Seattle Times article to find out what the bottleneck was, and I learned so much. I feel confident now that going forward I can solve any societal problem using the same techniques.
The bottleneck concerns “long-term stayers.” Seven paragraphs of the article explain what a long-term stayer is by an example: one guy named David, described as having spent more than three years in shelters.
The article goes on to make this unjustified should-statement: “A single shelter bed should be available to about six people a year.” Then it contrasts that statement with this stunning statistic, which in combination with the previous assertion, pretty much tells you nothing is as it should be: “... about 9 percent of people in emergency shelters countywide used nearly half the available bed nights.”
Rather than say the long-term stayers are the bottleneck, they instead say they “help create the bottleneck.” So they aren’t scapegoating the long-term stayers.
The bottleneck is the thing that the long-term stayers help create. Which is a shortage of shelter beds.
You see, because the other homeless people who are currently living in tents and in doorways are going to be mostly of the non-long-term stayer type, right?
It’s just plain math mixed with standard BS. If 9 percent of current shelter clients are long-term, that means, by the law of the excluded middle, that 91 percent of the current shelter clients are non-long-term clients.
And by standard BS, whatever ratio between long-term stayer and non-long-term-stayer holds among current shelter clients must also hold for homeless people who are not current shelter clients.
Because they’re all the same, don’t you know.
That means 91 percent of all those people living in doorways, tents, etc., are going to be the kind who move through the shelter system the way people should move through it, with six of them per bed a year, each moving out of shelters at a rate of one client per one-sixth of a year.
One little detail, catch, whatever you want to call it: The six users per bed a year description doesn’t actually say that the users who pass out of the shelter pass out to better housing. At face value the description could just be telling me how many people get fed up with the shelters they’re in and go back to living outdoors.
But let’s suppose that all or most of those six-per-bed-per-year people are going on to housing. Because, if not, then we didn’t really identify the bottleneck, did we? Hah! If the vast majority didn’t go into better housing or if they went into temporary housing and then ended up homeless again within a year, say, we would have to conclude that the bottleneck really lies there, because the effect of that would swamp the lesser effect that we are focusing on.
So we must, in order to derive the conclusion we are aiming at, suppose the non-long-term stayers mostly have good outcomes, ending up housed.
So, to sum up what we’ve learned, all we have to do is house these problem people, these long-term stayers, a mere 9 percent of all homeless people. The others are by and large moving through the system without any hitch whatsoever, so everything will be great if we just did that.
You can see, can’t you, how this sort of thing is going to solve our problem of dealing with the Weinstein issue?
We’ll just find something relatively easy to fix, and call it the crux of the matter.
We’ll prove it’s the crux of it all by using math and standard BS.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time a math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his weekly column Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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