There’s this rumor that the reason this city finds itself “suddenly” flooded with unhoused people is because it has great services. As someone who works in social services and as someone who requires social services, this is an utterly bizarre story that indicates just how far from reality we’re willing to allow ourselves to get. Are we so committed to denying the housing crisis that we would rather cling to a narrative that is demonstrably untrue than push for accountability of the businesses that are currently holding our city hostage? Why is it easier to continue to blame the poor?
Saying that people come to Seattle for our great services is blaming the poor. It’s perpetuating the idea that the poor just want handouts, are lazy and don’t want to work, want others to take care of them or are choosing to live without any certainty about how their basic needs are going to be met.
I work in social services on the front lines of Seattle’s housing crisis, and I have not yet met a person who wants to be homeless. Have you ever wanted to be homeless? That we wouldn’t use this basic level of empathy shows how deeply the disease of individualism has penetrated our culture.
My work is one reason I know that it’s not true that people are coming to Seattle for great services. Not only has no client ever reported moving to Seattle for that reason (and we see a lot of new arrivals), but Seattle doesn’t have great services. I struggle every day searching for appropriate, accessible resources for the clients our facility serves.
I struggle every day searching for appropriate, accessible resources for the clients our facility serves.
Other service providers are difficult to get a hold of as they carry huge caseloads and probably need more vacation time than they’re getting (turnover in this field is sky high for a reason). When we do reach them, their waiting lists are often long, leaving us in the position of having to tell clients they need to wait for a safe place to sleep. We have to tell clients — many of whom wouldn’t find themselves cycling through ERs, shelters and interactions with the police if they had a place to go every night — that it may take up to a year to get housing, which is unacceptable as housing is a human right. Yet many in the social services industry have resigned themselves to this and stopped trying to do anything about it.
We have to tell clients that it may take up to a year to get housing, which is unacceptable as housing is a human right.
As someone with a disability, I’m a service user myself and have struggled to find the support I need to reach my goals. At the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the staff member (a supervisor) who I was told would be my point of contact while my counselor is away on a three-month leave is herself going on leave until August. That’s not coverage.
That has the potential to set me back at least a semester in terms of getting my prerequisite classes, which has the potential to set me back at least a year in terms of making application deadlines for programs.
The Seattle City Council gave in to the propaganda and lobbying of big business and killed a bill that would have finally held these businesses accountable for some of the havoc they are wreaking on our city.
But even if we did have great services or had the political will to move funding toward getting them, the increase in homelessness is not all due to people moving here for our alleged abundance of services.
Many of the people finding themselves without housing are people who have lived here for many years and can no longer afford living in the houses in which they grew up. If we aren’t going to protest the radical deprivation big business is inflicting on more and more residents of this city as a matter of course, at least we can tell the truth about why our streets are lined with signs of desperation as opposed to signs of indignation.
Megan Wildhood is a behavioral health case manager and a regular contributor to Real Change.
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