Last week I groused about a PowerPoint presentation (“One Table”) on the root causes of homelessness put out by King County and some of its governmental buddies. I quit right after the “behavioral health” section, and just before the “criminal justice” section. This week I intend to resume where I left off.
First I’d like to whine further about PowerPoint presentations in general. What are they good for? I’ll tell you.
A major clue is in the words “Power,” “Point” and “presentation,” featuring “P” three times. “P” is a puffy, ploppy, pooty, pompous, perverted, postverted, pumped-up letter. Unvoiced, it is passive-aggressive in its popping puffery. The sneaky PowerPoint user knows all this and uses PowerPoint to gain power over you. P-p-p-p-power.
Look away, if you can.
I can’t look away. I must continue reading. So here I am staring at the giant blue letters announcing “CRIMINAL JUSTICE” will be talked about.
Below that it says, “Familiar Faces.” And then, “Approximately 1,400 people who have 4+ bookings a year.” I had to read that juxtaposition of non-sentences three or four times before I correctly guessed that what I was looking at was a definition of “familiar faces.”
It resembles “chronically homeless.” The government prioritizes housing chronically homeless people because services for them cost the most. Likewise, preventing “the familiar faces” from ending up in jail is a priority, because if there were no “familiar faces,” then by definition no one in King County would be booked into jail more than three times a year. Math!
We’re told 94 percent of all familiar faces had a “behavioral health condition” and 58.6 percent were homeless.
So all we have to do is end behavioral health problems and end homelessness, and goodbye familiar faces? But then they go and point out the racial disparities in the jailed population and the fact that those disparities increase as you look at people with higher numbers of bookings per year.
And, what do you know, it turns out that jail time makes you more likely to be homeless, by a lot, because having been jailed makes it nearly impossible to land housing.
So you should probably be able to write the next line of the presentation: To say that those people of color who are more likely to be jailed are also more likely homeless than anyone else.
But instead they jump to a new topic, because all our attention spans are broken. “CHILD WELFARE.”
Under this category are listed two areas of concern. 1) Foster children who age out of the foster care system end up homeless in large numbers, and 2) Child welfare services disproportionately investigate people of color, especially Native Americans.
No mention of my biggest concern: that so many children are homeless. Also no accounting for the disproportionality of investigations. Could it be that homeless families are disproportionately investigated, and that would account for the racial disproportionality, because there is already a racial disparity in who is homeless and in who is incarcerated, driving who is homeless. How many Native American children end up in foster care because of all that investigating?
Couldn’t we use our Powerful Pointing to connect some of these dots?
No time. Move to “EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME”.
We’re told almost seven times as many people are poor as become homeless at any time during a year. And up to 30 percent of all homeless people work, and more want work and help increasing their income.
The presentation concludes with two bar graphs. One shows you can’t really afford to live here unless you earn the median income or more. The other shows if you’re a person of color you quite probably don’t make the median income.
Here’s my summary.
The main cause of homelessness is not being able to afford housing. The main cause of that is poverty, and the lack of housing in the price range of the poor.
The presentation makes a big deal about behavioral health problems and illicit drug use among the homeless population without addressing the same problems in the general population. The lack of comparison oversimplifies and stigmatizes.
Mass incarceration creates poverty and homelessness directly and indirectly in the affected communities, and racial minorities are hardest hit, and the consequent homelessness feeds the incarceration rates.
In other words, everything that’s bad gets worse. Have a nice week.
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.
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