Seattle City Councilmembers have decided that there will be no new areas of the city where group homeless encampments can be sited, giving me something to complain about this week.
City councilmembers mean well. Some of them mean better than others, and some of them are just mean, but they all mean well. No one wants to see people living in tents or shacks. That’s just harsh. There needs to be a law against that. How about a law that says you have to live where the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) sends you or sleep in a doorway?
Sure, this makes sense. We have a secular government, religious freedom, freedom of conscience from churches — until we’re homeless. And then the city can demand you stop being homeless based upon the terms of a religion-based, nonprofit mission, going so far as to pay the mission funds to facilitate its demands?
I wouldn’t mind if UGM had an established, parallel, secular organization to administer such projects. But it doesn’t. Every single one of its programs integrates Bible studies. In all its projects UGM has imposed religious views and expectations upon participants. The city has no business handing $500,000 to such a religious organization to administer any official program. Ever.
We are hearing of couples at Nickelsville being denied shared housing by UGM because they aren’t married, or are but can’t prove it. We’re hearing that residents are being told that they have to choose between pets or housing.
Such is the failure of UGM’s staff to advocate for the values of the people they would serve. UGM has only ever cared about imposing its narrowly conceived values upon the recipients of its largesse and never given any thought as to whether clients may have their own legitimate values or, at the very least, the right to establish and pursue their own values. So city councilmembers hand the mission half a million dollars to foist values on people who have been served an eviction notice by the city, who have no place else to go. Isn’t that an insult?
A little voice in my head says, “Whoa, Wes! Settle down! What the hell?” The little voice has little hands that reach around me and pin my arms to my side and pull me back, and I hear, “Don’t do anything you’ll regret, man! It’s not worth it!”
OK. OK. Deep breath. Count to 10, slowly.
No, really, it’s not that bad. I’ve exaggerated. What harm can UGM do? So far as I know, it’s only found housing for around 20 Nickelsville residents, and the vacancies they’ve left have filled up. This, apparently, was not anticipated by the city.
It turns out city councilmembers had supposed that the 125 people staying at Nickelsville have always been the same 125 people, and there would be no others waiting in the wings. But in fact, the council’s policies have forced as many as 2,000 individuals into inadequate, small, isolated encampments and doorways and alleys throughout the city, and vacancies at Nickelsville look good to them.
So, thanks, city council, for paying UGM to help Nickelsville create much needed vacancies. Forget everything I said about you and the mission: You all do good work. Keep that money rolling in. UGM is going to need another half million in a few months, no doubt, to find housing for the next 125.
Maybe this is the way to solve homelessness after all. Given the $500,000 UGM received, the average cost for the mission to find housing or buy a ticket to Kansas comes to $4,000 per person.
At that rate they could do everything the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County was supposed to do: Housing for 9,000 people in only 24 years would cost $36,000,000. Since the Ten Year Plan, as it’s proceeding, is going to take an eternity and will only rack up more costs the longer it lasts, that’s a decided improvement.