The King County jail is opening up an unused wing as a 40-bed men’s shelter.
We’ve come a long way from those heady days of what I used to call the Ten Year Plan to Plan Ending Homelessness, when it was seriously proposed that all the planning to plan was so sure to work great that Seattle would soon need only around 250 shelter beds.
The idea was, we’d get out so far ahead of the problem that as new people became homeless, we’d need to shelter them only a short while before we’d put them in one of the many new housing units that our planning planned for.
The board of the Coalition to End Homelessness in King County was so sure that they would succeed, they scheduled a reduction of shelter beds in the city and county to such low numbers.
Then, someone familiar with this planet noticed that for every new housing unit coming into existence and available for low-income people, two units of housing were being destroyed. So there was no way we were getting ahead of the problem. To get rid of all but a few hundred shelter beds, as homelessness was bound to increase rather than decrease, was bat-spit insane.
As things stand right now we have roughly half the shelter beds we need in Seattle. That’s only “roughly” because even though there was a point-in-time count two months ago we don’t know how many unsheltered homeless people there are. Because the numbers won’t be released until May.
Think about that. Look how hard it is for them to even open their mouths and tell us a number. What are they waiting for, a breath mint? A “pretty please with sugar on top?” A monogrammed silk hanky to wipe the bat spit away?
Well, we know from last year’s numbers that there’s roughly the same number unsheltered as sheltered, even though the shelters are almost full.
People often ask, why is it one half of all homeless people uses shelters, while another half doesn’t? What’s the difference between the two halves? Why doesn’t the second half do what the first half does? Is the second half lighter between the temples?
NO! First, the second half can’t do what the first half does, because the first half takes up all the shelter beds. Second, the second half is the half that is most averse to shelters.
How could anyone be averse to shelters? Isn’t not having a roof over your head awful? Why would anyone turn down a roof?
The answer is, not all roofs are equal.
For example, hypothetically, someone might say, “Oh, I see you are homeless. Well. I have a snake pit you can crash in. It’s full of snakes, of course. But it has a roof and it’s warm. Come on in.”
I think it would be rational for someone to turn down an offer of shelter in a snake pit.
Down in Pierce County, county councilmember Pam Roach heard that the county jail system wasn’t using nearly 700 beds, so she is proposing they be used to shelter homeless people.
She came up with the idea after being horrified by alternate proposals to allow tiny house villages. She said they would be too flimsy: She could kick the walls in, herself.
Hey there, all you homeless people sleeping outside. We’ve got nice cozy jail cells you can stay in! These aren’t snake pits! We’ve checked, and there’s not one snake! And Pam Roach will never be able to kick the walls in!
In my times being homeless I never slept in a shelter, but I got a chance to see what I was missing when I was hired for a while to clean one. The shelter I cleaned had maybe 20 mats on the floor about 8 inches apart lining two walls. I can see why some people might prefer Pam Roach’s offer of jail cells.
Here’s a thought: Pierce County paid about $60 million to build their new jail in 2003 that Pam Roach has her eyes on. If they had built 700 fewer beds, the cost would have been $40 million less.
That money could have been spent building permanent housing for 700 people. Not shelter beds. Housing.
Why can’t we ever get our priorities straight?
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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