October 31, 2012
Vol: 19 No: 44

Director's Corner

Occupy CEHKC pays off

By Timothy Harris / Executive Director

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Last week, our Occupy CEHKC campaign paid off. On Oct. 24, the governing board of the Committee to End Homelessness reaffirmed the commitment of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness to “interim survival solutions.”

This pithy little phrase is bureaucratese for keeping people alive while the big-picture folks solve homelessness by building housing.

Last January, 2,594 homeless people were counted outside after the shelters were full. That’s on one night.

Let me tell you about just one of those people.

I met Doc at our Westlake Center protest encampment. He’s not a drinker or a druggie. If he’s mentally ill, and he doesn’t seem to be so, it’s only because he’s been on the streets way too long. His teeth and jaw and shoulder are all fucked up because someone took a baseball bat to him on the waterfront 10 years ago. He’s been mostly outside since and says the streets are getting meaner all the time.

He said he was an Army Ranger for 30 years, and when you look into his face and eyes that seems likely to be true. Doc is dying from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related form of lung cancer, and he doesn’t expect to make it another year.

This is a man who is among those that I’ve come to think of as “the merely screwed.” As in, this person is not an expensive problem and not a woman with kids and is therefore merely screwed. Like a lot of people who sleep out and value their independence, Doc is mostly off the radar. So, no housing for him.

At the completion of the Ten-Year Plan in 2015, CEHKC projects 5,130 units of housing for homeless people will have been built. That’s a lot, but it’s well short of the plan’s 9,500-unit goal and won’t make up for the federal government’s abandonment of housing that began three decades ago.

Meanwhile, over the past three months, CEHKC has counted 175 new families and about 1,000 others who became homeless in King County for the first time.

So, one can see how the math of solving homelessness through housing solutions alone might not pencil out.

Since the Ten-Year Plan began in 2005, proposals to expand survival services have been largely rejected because CEHKC has said “housing, not shelter” is the solution to homelessness. The “Without Shelter, People Die” campaign has changed that conversation, and proposals now in front of the city council for a homeless day center, new hygiene services and expanded shelter have the green light from cehkc.

That’s big, but it’s only a beginning. We look forward to partnering with the policymakers at CEHKC as they examine the huge issue of unmet needs, and how they might creatively and compassionately rethink the plan. Last week’s governing board meeting was a critical turning point. When good people all start pulling in the same direction the possibilities are endless.

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