The most entertaining news this week is that people as far away as Australia, Alabama and, I’ll bet, Austria have been using the Seattle city government ‘Find It, Fix It’ app to report seeing tents in Seattle. In many cases, the tents are reported as being seen inside REI or accompanied by stock photos found online of tents just anywhere.
On the Seattle.gov web page promoting the ‘Find It, Fix It’ app, there’s a list of suggested uses. Report an abandoned vehicle, a clogged sewer, a dead animal. Report a runaway monkey, an unleashed mime, a clown making balloon animals, a man wearing white socks and sandals in public, police horses pooping. Report graffiti, illegal dumping, overgrown vegetation, parking concerns, potholes, damaged traffic signs, malfunctioning traffic lights, streetlight failures and “other inquiries or requests.”
Somebody saw an opportunity within that “other” category to use the app to bring attention to homeless camping in Seattle. They put posters up all over the place saying “See a tent, report a tent” and declaring that it was inhumane for homeless people to be living in tents, so it would be for their own good that you report them. The poster doesn’t go so far as to say, “then the city will sweep the encampment,” but any fool with half a brain knows that’s what the author of the anonymous poster certainly hoped.
There’s nothing humane about the intention, it’s a clear ploy to encourage homeless haters to inundate the city with ‘Find It, Fix It’ reports about tents, to change the problem from “There’s too much homelessness in this city, let’s find housing for people” to “Let’s get rid of the tents and further harass the people living in them, make their lives a living hell, and maybe they’ll finally just bog off to Pittsburgh or the Australian Outback or go live under a rock 10 miles outside of Sequim.”
There are twice as many homeless people in Seattle as there are shelter beds and there is no amount of outreach that’s going to get them to double up two to a mat.
Besides, the shelters are inadequate even when they aren’t overcrowded. They’re great places to get contagious diseases, be robbed and be separated from loved ones, or prevented from being able to find a job (due to shelter hours).
You want people living in humane conditions? Build housing for them.
Anyway, the fun part of the story is that various activists decided to play the homeless haters own game. Whoever designed and put up the posters was trying to command the attention of the city. So activists put out calls on the internet for fake ‘Find It, Fix It’ reports of tents, and people from all over have answered the call. In one week, the number of service requests through the app increased by a factor of more than 20. Back in my youth, we called this sort of thing “pranking the system.”
The whole thing is, of course, hugely inconvenient for poor city of Seattle workers, who have to sort through the requests via the app and separate the hoax requests from the legit ones.
But you know, it might be nice if the mayor’s office took some credit for the inconvenience all around. What about the inconvenience of having to sleep on the streets without a tent?
I like that the city cares about wheelchair access on Seattle sidewalks. I do too. But I also know that the reason people have been tenting on sidewalks is because they’ve been driven off public lands where they weren’t blocking sidewalks. If you drive people out of places where they aren’t obstructing right-of-ways, where will they go? Down the street on a sidewalk as far out of the way as they can get. Who is being most inconvenienced in all that? The city, or the homeless people who are being chased all over the place?
And why won’t the city take responsibility for having driven homeless people into places where they would be in people’s way?
A simple solution, given that there’s not enough shelter even if people wanted to use the shelters, and practically no housing, is to let people go back to pitching tents on public land, where they are not in anyone’s way. That’s not hard to do. It just requires a change of direction.
Decide where the tents can be and instead of removing them, help people move them to sites where they won’t be obstructions. And then leave them alone.
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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