Who remembers the 2017 One Night unsheltered count? Let’s time travel back to the last Friday morning in January, in the hours between 2 and 5 a.m. Average low temperatures that week were 35 degrees. The weather was wet.
Homeless sweeps were in full post-holiday gear, and Seattle City councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess were enjoying the fruits of their labor.
The two had just successfully tag-teamed with Mayor Ed Murray to defeat homeless sweeps protocols reform legislation. Bagshaw, as chair of the Human Services & Public Health Committee, engaged in one dilatory maneuver after another to delay council consideration.
Meanwhile Burgess worked overtime to inflame the opposition. Their efforts resulted in an angry mob of largely White and privileged homeowners converging on council to hate on homeless people.
At that point, the more faint-hearted supporters of the legislation collectively peed their pants. Murray was left to revise his own slippery protocols, which in effect meant leaving them more or less alone.
Now it’s May. There’s a war on car campers going on, and the Lincoln Towing lots are filled with RVs that were once people’s homes.
No-camping notices have proliferated throughout the city and shift at will. A permanent posting means that no notice of sweeps is required, and campers, at best, get a courtesy half hour to collect their stuff before it gets thrown away.
Do you recall how many unsheltered people were counted in 2017?
Of course you don’t, because this year, for the first time in the more than 30-year history of the count, this shameful number was not released the next day. Or the day after that. Or at all. Until now. The results of the 2017 One Night Count will finally be released at a press conference on May 31.
Expect a higher number than last year’s 4,552. The 2015 count showed a 19 percent increase. The unsheltered count in 2016 rose by 21 percent. Trend lines like that don’t turn on a dime.
Flat or declining incomes for poor people and the fastest rising rents in the nation equal accelerating rates of homelessness. It doesn’t take a physicist to understand. Another physical fact: People need to be somewhere.
Chasing them around and throwing away their stuff just costs a lot and stresses everyone out. Desperately poor people insist on taking up physical space, despite all city efforts to the contrary.
The failure to release the unsheltered count numbers this year did not stop Real Change from hosting our annual City Hall gong-ringing event. The morning after the count, we were there, sans count results, to bang a gong for the greater part of the day anyhow.
Then we popped up to the seventh floor to deliver a giant calculator to Murray’s office. We thought it might be helpful in generating a ballpark number.
Why, some wondered, were we harassing the mayor and not the county? The county, after all, was more responsible for the secrecy and delay.
There’s a simple answer. The county isn’t declaring war on unsheltered homeless people while pretending to be the second coming of Dorothy Day. That would be Ed Murray’s thing.
King County and All Home merely wanted time to dress up the rise in unsheltered homelessness to look like progress. The mayor, on the other hand, is actively doing harm.
Here’s what you can expect when the unsheltered count gets released at the end of the month. Despite having smaller teams counting larger areas this year, pretty much everyone assumes the number will rise.
And, that number will be swaddled in reports of success on other fronts. Homelessness, as the mantra goes, is becoming rare, brief and one-time. Rare, brief and one-time. Rare, brief and one-time.
You are getting very sleepy.
You can also expect Real Change to be back at City Hall with our gong. On June 1, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., take a few minutes to come be there with us. Bang out your five-minute turn with the mallet, and remember that each ring resonating across City Hall represents a person. Some people seem to forget that.
Tim Harris is the founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded the Spare Change homeless newspaper in Boston in 1992 while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Read the full May 24 issue.
Count Us In replaces 37-year-old One Night Count in 2017
New Math: 2017 homeless count