I have become bitter. And that’s not good. The awareness of this has been dawning since last week, when KUOW called for a quote.
The occasion was the first anniversary of Mayor Ed Murray closing The Jungle, the large homeless encampment less colloquially known as Seattle’s East Duwamish Greenbelt.
This is the area bordering Airport Way that has been home to hundreds of unsheltered homeless folks for at least three decades.
Once the mayor declared The Jungle closed, most of the 400 estimated current residents just went somewhere else. The city offered services to the 80 or so who remained. A minority of these accepted, and an even smaller percentage were housed.
I almost forgot to mention. The first day of the announcement, a Seattle police officer shot a homeless guy down in The Jungle like a goddamn dog. The man had a cheap paring knife.
After that, The Jungle mostly cleared out on its own.
So, the city and the evangelical human services agency that performed “outreach” while accompanied by police thought The Jungle clearance a huge success. KUOW asked me what I thought.
I frothed. I foamed. I ranted and raved. I went off topic to decry about five other ways this mayor has pissed me off. Then I went outside and smoked three cigarettes in a row.
The story turned out fine. Somehow, they found the 10 seconds that made me sound sane.
The next day, Real Change showed up at Seattle City Hall for our annual gong-ringing event.
This is where, every year, we ring a gong once for every unsheltered person found during the homeless one night count. Last year, that number was 4,505 people, a 19 percent increase over 2015.
This year, we don’t know, because All Home is running the count instead of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. For the first time in more than 30 years, the number isn’t available the next day. That number won’t be available until All Home releases a full report on King County’s point-in-time count in May.
So, instead, we banged the gong at City Hall the day before the count. We banged it 4,505 times. It took about five hours.
A City Hall security cop told us people were working and that we needed to bang more quietly. We ignored him.
And then we delivered a giant calculator to the seventh floor along with our message to the mayor: We want this number now, not in the spring.
People are sleeping outside now. In the cold and rain. It’s important to recognize that.
No one except Real Change reported on that either. I suppose it looked like some sort of inside baseball tantrum. We need to get this data right, people said. They’ll release the number in May. Calm down.
I am not feeling calm.
This morning, I watched a video of a homeless couple being cleared from The Jungle last weekend. Washington State Patrol officers arrived without warning and gave them a half hour to move their belongings.
Anything remaining, they were told, would be thrown away. And that’s exactly what happened. By the mayor’s sweeps protocols, no notice at all was required. The trooper was being generous.
The couple scrambled and made piles of things to take. The rest was thrown away. This was the second time their camp had been swept in a week.
I watched that video three times. It still makes me angry.
A couple of things come to mind.
The first is a bit of wisdom from legendary organizer Si Kahn. We must be both fire and ice. The fires of our passion for justice must be tempered with calm, cool reason. When we let our rage consume us, they win.
The other is a bit of advice that’s useful when flying and in times of constitutional crisis: Put your own air mask on first. Breathe.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but these don’t always come easy.
If you’re not careful, the fire starts to melt the ice, and next thing you know, you’re ranting at some poor reporter who just wants a serviceable quote for three minutes of radio. And that doesn’t help anyone.
Fire and ice. Put your own mask on first. Breathe. Altogether now.
New Math: King County embarks on new methods and calculations to tally the number of homeless people living outdoors
For whom the gong tolls: Annual gong ringing shifts its focus to protest Count Us In timeline