So one former short-term mayor, Bruce Harrell, would like to try it again for a full term, and while that’s going on, another short-term former mayor, Tim Burgess, is willing to pass on running for mayor. No, Burgess merely wants a city charter amendment passed to force the city to handle the homelessness crisis his way forever.
Reading his group’s Compassion Seattle Amendment, my first thought was, could we ramp up the Orwellian language, please?
Yes, compassion is good. So let’s require good compassion from our elected officials. Let’s list all sorts of ways the city council can show more compassion than ever before, but let’s not breathe a word about how it could be paid for in the amendment itself.
The amendment requires 1,000 units of new shelter or permanent housing in addition to those already funded. Twice. Maybe the Downtown Seattle Association, which has donated to the cause of getting the amendment on the ballot, could chip in and pick up the bill for a lot of that. He who wants it the most should pay for it the most, is what I always say. That’s just plain capitalism in action.
There is a whole lot of talk about behavioral health. The opening paragraph brings up this theme, saying the amendment would provide for actions “including mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services; establishing behavioral health field response capability.”
There’s apparently an epidemic of behavioral illness making the rounds of the homeless community, the likes of which the country hasn’t seen since reefer madness. The amendment calls for the employment of professional teams of behavioral health rapid-responders, at least for those with behavioral health problems who want to be rapidly responded to.
As usual, I can’t stop myself from personalizing this. Am I behaviorally sick? It’s the kind of question I always ask when a new disease comes to my attention. If I’m behaviorally sick, will I be rapidly responded to by behavioral health professionals? How much will they get paid an hour to respond to me? Couldn’t we just skip the professionals and have the city pay me what they were going to spend on them? I’m sure I’d be behaviorally well right away. Or, at least I’d manage to keep my sickness out of sight.
The city is called upon to “fund culturally distinct approaches to behavioral health services to individuals for whom those are effective.” Whoever wrote that passage should come forward between now and whenever this thing is voted on and unpack that phrase “culturally distinct.” What does that sound like in plain English? I’m picturing Village People costumes. I’m sure that’s not what it means. But it must mean something, right? What?
Here’s another passage I can’t make sense of, because it’s apparently not trying to make any sense: The sixth part of section 2 reads, “Provision shall also be made to include culturally competent services and workforce standards to address safety, appropriate compensation, and working conditions that allow contractors to recruit, retain and stabilize a diverse, skilled and culturally competent workforce.” Nothing at all in the sentence or the lead-up to the sentence or the follow-up explains what workforce or what contractors doing what work.
Are we talking about the contractors who are going to build all those shelters and housing? What about the recruiting that’s mentioned? Recruiting from where? Is the idea that diverse, skilled and culturally competent workers for this workforce are going to be recruited from the homeless community itself? That would be nice and certainly help explain where the cultural competence could come from, but it would be extra nice if it were not only true, but the amendment said as much.
If it is not true, then what does the sentence mean at all? Will someone please provide a version of this document with annotations and footnotes? We hunger for exegesis.
For all I know, from reading the sentence in context, it has nothing at all to do with the rest of the amendment and it’s about finding workers to build a new bowling alley in Ballard.
I know, I know, look who’s talking. I write disjointedly all the time. But this, what I write, isn’t a city charter amendment, OK?
Go ahead, call me a hypocrite. But I expect clarity and focus in the texts of ballot measures.
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 email@example.com.
Read more in the Apr. 21-27, 2021 issue.