When I called my friend Israel Bayer — the director of Street Roots, our sister paper in Portland, Oregon — we were supposed to talk about supporting other street papers in North America, but the conversation quickly turned to more immediate issues.
“Did you hear about the bombing of a homeless RV this morning?”
I hadn’t. The news was just breaking. Jeremy Patrick Kidwell, a 46 year-old family man from Portland, had placed a pipe bomb under an RV in his neighborhood. The owner of the RV recovered the device and confronted Kidwell.
Police searched Kidwell’s home and found PVC pipes, hobby fuses, gunpowder and literature about booby traps. They placed the man under arrest.
The Hoekstra family, who lives in the RV, confronted Kidwell after he placed the device. KATU in Portland reported a conversation between them that went like this: “Are you that aggravated with homeless people? I’m so sorry that we live on this street and obscure your view of whatever!”
Kidwell later told the police that he did it because he was tired of homeless people.
“Things here have gone nuts,” Israel told me. “The neighborhood bulletin boards are fanning the flames, and I’ve never seen this much hate. It seems like this is happening everywhere.”
“You’ve been doing this for like 30 years,” he asked. “Have you ever seen things this bad?”
I have not. While homelessness in much of the country is on the decline, white-hot real estate markets on the West Coast have made basic housing inaccessible to more and more people every year.
And this has led to frustration on many fronts. When that frustration is aimed directly at homeless people, it can get remarkably ugly. We’ve seen how heated this becomes here in Seattle as some neighborhoods have organized against homeless campers and car and RV dwellers.
You’d think it was the end of civilization itself.
And yet, at the same time, I see more understanding and sympathy for homeless people than ever. As their numbers continue to rise and we confront the inadequacy of both our long-term and emergency responses, good people are coming into action in ways I’ve never seen.
Homelessness consistently polls as a top issue that concerns people in Seattle. Our city just doubled our low-income housing levy and is experimenting with creative responses such as safe RV parking, authorized tent cities and safe injection sites for addicts.
We are beginning to provide sanitation and other harm-reduction services to hundreds of people living in our greenbelts. We are beginning to grapple with the depth of our crisis and the realization that things likely will get worse before they get better.
Since the last housing market driven economic meltdown, public understanding and sympathy for homeless people has grown. People are making the connections between homelessness and their own economic vulnerability.
I considered all of this as I tried to frame a less despair-laden response to Israel’s question.
“Change sometimes looks ugly from the outside,” I began. “It mirrors the national mood, and what we’re seeing in this election.”
“We’ve had eight years of a Black president. There have been reforms to the justice system. There’s a new civil rights movement that is putting race front and center, and now we have a national election that’s basically a referendum on White privilege.”
When progress is being made, that’s when churches start getting bombed. We saw this during the last civil rights movement. Where there is progress, there is backlash.
All the ugliness, in a weird way, is really a sign of change. We need to just keep pushing. We need to keep showing people how homeless folks aren’t any different from the rest of us. That the threat that some of us feel is a reflection of our own fears and insecurities.
In September, an ordinance will make its way through the Seattle City Council that increases notification, outreach and services to homeless campers and vehicle dwellers, extends legal protections to their belongings and provides harm-reduction services to existing encampments.
The ordinance, at its most basic level, is about extending the same constitutional protections to homeless people as everyone else, and building the respectful, humanizing relationships that can improve lives.
Be a part of the change. Find out more at homelessinfo.org.