According to a new poll (Crosscut/Elway), homelessness, together with the need for social services, is the main concern these days of people all across the state, not just in Seattle. I don’t know what that means. Are there really a lot of homeless people in Twisp? Sedro-Woolley? Sequim? Really? Doesn’t anyone hitchhike anymore?
People are always saying that homeless people come to Seattle for the social services. So why do they move to Sedro-Woolley? If for the same reason, then why is the access to social services any answer to why one place over another?
The annual point-in-time counts across the country will be conducted next week, counting homeless people all at once over one night, inside and outside of shelters. In the past I’ve obsessed over the King County results just because I live here. But now that I hear the rest of the state is getting so alarmed by the crisis, I’m going to start watching the data come in from all the other counties.
Maybe the other counties will get their results within a reasonable period of time, instead of having to wait like we do here for months. What was it last year — June? We had to wait almost five months for the bad news from the crack professional company that King County has been having do our annual counts. Our tax dollars hard at work!
It has only just occurred to me that I might take some of the edge off that five-month wait by digging through homeless stats in other counties. I am so guilty of provincialism. I should spend more time studying homeless stats in other states, and other countries too. Does London have an annual point-in-time count? How about Shanghai? There’s a whole world of bad news out there that I have just been ignoring, blinded by the bad news down the street from me.
At least I’m not homeless anymore. The times when I was homeless, the only homeless count I ever thought about was the one that started and ended with one. I was provincial in the extreme.
The reason we have homeless counts is because people like any excuse to get outside and away from late night TV for a change. No, I lie. It’s because the federal and state governments decide how much money to toss and where to toss it, to try to alleviate the crisis. Sort of like how, when a row of houses on a block are burning down, the fire department waits for experts to measure how hot each house is before deciding how much water from water hoses each house should get.
There’s no point in giving any county in the nation more money to ease homelessness than just the right amount that will barely help. You want to keep the problem just smoldering. If you solve the problem once and for all, then all those institutions you created to channel the money to the services will collapse for lack of need.
If you have a personal medical emergency and you go to an ER, at some point the doctor will ask you how much pain you’re going through on a scale of one to 10. If you say “10” they know you’re either lying or you don’t understand the scale. (“10” means you’re on the floor writhing in agony, incapable of speaking. If you can say “10,” your pain isn’t a 10.) I don’t think nines get taken too seriously either. If you say “eight” while gritting your teeth and grimacing, that might get you somewhere.
But when the state and federal governments want to know how much pain homelessness is causing in King County, King County won’t get anywhere by saying “eight on a scale of one to 10.” No amount of grimacing will earn points.
We can’t even point to the Crosscut/Elway poll and say, “Look! 31 percent of our citizens consider homelessness our worst problem. Please send us money!” The governments just answer back, “You know, all the other counties say the exact same thing.”
Something I’ve always found remarkable is that in the weeks before a one-night count, some of the communities in King County will increase their homeless sweeps apparently with the idea of driving their numbers down.
Think about it. They’d rather have a lower homeless count, for — I don’t know, bragging rights? — than a higher count to secure higher funding for social services.
Human beings are truly perverse.
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. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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