Director’s Corner: End homelessness not with plans but equality
It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. In 2006, the year after it launched, I said the plan was “necessary but not sufficient.” The following year, still feeling relatively generous, I wrote that the plan was “a distraction from the real issues.”
By 2008, I was pretty much done with diplomacy and described the plan to a reporter as “a way of reframing homelessness to focus on the most visible and dysfunctional and easy to blame.” Another year later, I wrote that the 800 plans to “end homelessness” in existence at the time were “the mechanism by which the Bush administration has controlled federal funding for homelessness, co-opted the base and decided who speaks for the poor and on what terms.”
More recently, I’ve been saying that there is no real plan to end homelessness, only an ideology. Last year, in an op-ed on the Seattle City Council’s refusal to help Nickelsville, I said the plan “stands firmly in the way of meeting the needs of the unsheltered.”
But, hey. “Ending homelessness” is all about the data. What do the numbers tell us?
In 2006, the year after the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEHKC) formed, the One Night Count found 1,946 people outside during the pre-dawn hours of January 27th. This was the year that the federal government mandated that all one night counts would occur during the final week of January. Unsurprisingly, this created a drop from the previous year, when the street count was held in the more temperate month of October. There were another 5,964 people counted in shelters that night.
In 2012, we find 2,442 people outside, or a 25 percent increase from 2006. While this year’s numbers in shelter are not yet available, 2011 saw 6,382, or a 7 percent increase over 2006.
Quoted in a recent Crosscut article, CEHKC Director Bill Block asserts “a small decrease (around 4 percent) in the total count from year to year.” The article goes on go say that while Block “seemed unsure of how accurate the percentage truly was, he said he felt it was a sign of gains in combating homelessness.”
To quote George W. Bush, this is about as “fuzzy” as math gets.
It will be said that the street counts from year to year are not apples to apples, that count areas have expanded and that the numbers are approximate. All true. And yet, the approximate numbers these counts produce reveal a basic truth: we’re losing.
The idea that you can solve a problem that arises from nearly 40 years of growing radical inequality and federal disinvestment in housing with a more or less apolitical plan to end homelessness through smarter and better delivery of human services is worse than na
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