A little more than two months ago I had fun reading a PowerPoint presentation about homelessness in King County. It was created by One Table, “a comprehensive effort made up of [approximately 80] business, service providers, health care, faith community, philanthropy, labor, academia, community members and people who have experienced homelessness.”
Now, they’ve moved past the PowerPoint stage and put out a draft paper listing priority actions for addressing homelessness in this county, no fewer than six of them, and I am bubbling with ecstasy because it gives me something to talk about besides our president.
The six priority actions put forth are really excellent in terms of their, you know, Aristotelian essences, their quiddities.
Recall that an essence of a thing is the opposite of an accidental or contingent property of the thing, and you begin to know what I mean when I say these are wonderful draft priority actions, essence-wise.
Even the way the actions are presented kick accidental properties down the road. To permit us to easily see there are six actions proposed, they are conveniently numbered. But we are told in a footnote, “*Numbers are solely for reference and do not denote prioritization.” The numbers are not part of their thingness.
If these priorities were prioritized, the prioritization would dilute the essence of each priority, qua priority. I think everyone should be able to see that clearly.
The No. 1 priority action, to “provide affordable homes for 5,000 households over three years,” is only accidentally No. 1. It could have been any number. Its essence would remain the same. Nothing in the text of the draft plan explains where the funds to implement this accidentally No. 1 action might come from. Thus, it is an action plan that is of the purest essence, uncontaminated by dollar-amount quibbles and quillets.
Allison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, happens to be a member of the affordable housing workgroup of the One Table task force. She talked about the plan to provide housing for 5,000 households this way: “When I think about being bold, when I think about being strategic, when I think about being realistic about what this region needs, 5,000 falls short. … Good thing that it is only a draft.”
However, when you understand its purity of essence, the proposal is beyond bold and beyond realistic. Is there anything in this proposal that prevents the county from providing housing for 10,000 households? No! It even allows for the housing of nonexistent people. Since funding is left out of the discussion, only the essence remains — that bold and stark and realistic essence of a priority action — provide housing for 5,000.
My favorite of the six actions is the one accidentally No. 3, namely this: “Provide on-demand behavioral health treatment that is racially, ethnically and culturally appropriate, flexible, person-centered, mobile, peer-focused and trauma-informed.”
I have wanted behavioral health treatment that was centered on my person, but also mobile, my whole life. Preferably on roller skates. But, it could also come in a van. That would be OK, I guess.
The point is, they aren’t going to say whether it should come on roller skates, or in a van, or by Segway, or on bicycles, or by horse-drawn wagons. Because they are sticking to the essence of the thing: It’s going to be mobile; it’s going to be on-demand; it’s going to be racially, ethnically and culturally appropriate. It’s going to be flexible, like a leather strap or a rubber band, either one or both. It’s going to be peer-focused, with lasers, with magnets — we don’t care. It’s going to be trauma-informed. The rest is accidental details.
Do I need to mention that the draft plan discussion of this priority action to bring on-demand behavioral health treatment of such nature does not touch on funding? Of course it doesn’t! The purity of the conception forbids it.
It’s not true that funding is ignored altogether in the draft plan. For instance, priority action No. 2 would “create a housing stabilization fund to achieve 0 exits into homelessness (including 0 inappropriate evictions), with a focus on those with the most acute need.” So, in fact, the very essence of the action accidentally numbered the second is to create a fund.
But again, the beauty of it all is, no specific way to create the fund is offered.
So we can be peer-focused on the pure essence of the fund-creation proposed, undistracted by ugly contingencies.
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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