Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tokens at the Top

The online list of members of the King County Governing Board of the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH) may be out of date. But we can use it as a rough indication of the Governing Board's makeup.

Let's see, the list includes: Ron Sims, Greg Nickels, Tom Rasmussen, Mike Lowry, Dean Robert Taylor, Norm Rice, Blake Nordstrom, and OK now I'm tired of typing these names, but so far I haven't found any dimwits.

Likewise, a similarly scientific half-assed glance at the Interagency Council, which implements CEH policies, didn't turn up more than a couple of hollow headed chair warmers, too few to significantly lower the group IQ of the IAC.

So why, given that, has the CEH outsourced its brains?

"Wes," you say, "there's no way they've done that! You are surely making that up!"

It's a fact! I found it out like I find out everything I know about the CEH. I go to meetings, get the handouts, then find out from someone else. Two weeks ago I learned through people in SHARE/WHEEL that the Consumer Advisory Council (CAC), yet another CEH subcommittee, would be forming a speakers bureau. The CAC consists of "consumers", i.e. consumers of homeless people's services, i.e. homeless and formerly homeless people. So who better to form a speaker's bureau, to go out and tell the people of King County what homelessness in King County is all about?

Leadership Tomorrow, that's who! The very same day I found out about the speakers bureau plan, the same people in SHARE/WHEEL who told me about it also handed me 15 pages of stuff with the CEH logo on it including a Q&A about homelessness and a guide to a slide show about homelessness. The Q&A part of the handout SAID on its own page one it was "a sampling of questions posed to [CEH chairperson] Bill Block and his responses" and that it may "serve as a guide for managing the Q&A portion" of the slide show.

The contents of the Q&A and the commentary for the slide show included real genuine information mixed with misleading statements (about the one night counts, for example) smashed up with opinion masquerading as information (propaganda) such as whether the tent cities are really about shelter, or how panhandlers ought to be dealt with, or whose problem homelessness is, the cities or the suburbs.

Normally you think that when people are solicited to form a speakers bureau in accordance with their experiential expertise on a subject, you do not tell them what to say. So those of us at Real Change who subsequently read the 15 page handout could be heard all the way from our offices in Belltown to the Exchange Building shrieking and hooting about it, like monkeys in the jungle that just saw a big gnarly cat.

Well, Bill Block heard our hoots and he reassured us. No, no, no, he said, that handout wasn't for the CAC homeless speaker's bureau, it was for the rest of the CEH. And it wasn't written by him, he told us, it was put together by Leadership Tomorrow. Why did it have his name on it, I wondered. Would heads roll? Not likely.

So my question now is, who the freak are Leadership Tomorrow and when did they get to be the brains of the CEH? Whatever happened to "Leadership Today", the big geniuses that were appointed to the Governing Board and the IAC because they were such hot and sweaty kick-ass leaders?

Does the fact that Leadership Tomorrow is doing the thinking about homelessness for the CEH mean that not only are all the homeless and formerly homeless members of the CAC and the other CEH subcommittees just tokens, like we all knew, but so are Norm Rice, Lowry, Sims, Nordstrom and all the other big names on the top committees?

Is Greg Nickels just on the Governing Board for show?

I sure hope so. That's funny.

[Right: Just another pretty face?]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Criminal Song Requests Rampant

Last week, the P-I ran a story titled "Solutions sought at crime-plagued Steinbrueck Park". The story had a picture of a shirtless man bending forward talking to a woman holding a map. It looks like he's giving her directions, but the caption says he was a homeless man and was persistently yelling at the woman, who was a German tourist. It said he was demanding that she sing a song for him on his guitar.

The article also had a nice chart, which showed how the number of park notices handed out in the park have increased 1997. It said that according to the police there has been an increase in the total amount of crime, which has been mostly non-violent and similar to that of other cities!

[Above: Other charts that the P-I did NOT use tell a radically different story, however.]

The title says solutions are sought. Let's solve these problems in this column!

The problems: The yelling man. An increase in park notices, and in arrests for mostly nonviolent crime, similar to that of other cities! (Aren't Sodom and Gomorrah other cities?) Plus, homeless people coming back to the park, even after they've been told to leave and not come back! Plus, how does a homeless man get a guitar, when he should be saving every dime to move into a room? I'd like to be able to lie around all day shirtless, making Germans sing for me. Wouldn't we all?

[New Orleans: Yet another "other city" we don't want to be!]

We need to know a cause, and one look at the chart and I knew what the cause was. Me!

That's right. I stopped being homeless at the end of 1997, and thereby deprived the streets of my good example! None of this trouble ever happened when I was on the streets. People even wrote it on their backpacks. WWWD: What Would Wes Do? Would Wes take his shirt off and tell a lost German to sing for him on his guitar? Duhhh... No! No, he would not! So we won't either!

OK, that was today's irony quota. Ha, ha, no, that was just stupid.

Let's try to find some other "real" or "intelligent" explanations. I mean, this is serious business. "I want to hear 99 Luftballons! Now!"

My first clue as to what has been going on was to look back at when the Parks Exclusion law was passed. Hmm. It was passed in 1997. Aha! So the number of park notices has dramatically increased ever since there was a law to give them out! Damn those homeless people, getting laws written against them!

Then I remembered that Real Change, the people who print this crap, are putting on a book sale and that hundreds of books will be sold at Trinity United Methodist Church in Ballard at the end of the month. As a result the office is packed with donated books. I cracked one open. It was a psych book by some Dr. Phil or Dr. Jesus. I opened it to a random page and it said if something someone does annoys you, you might think how their actions mirror yours.

So the idea is, we look at the yelling shirtless man, and ask if we ever did anything to him or people like him that was similar. That might be the key to his behavior.

And I had it! Throughout the 90s, we took almost away all the public benches downtown, and made it so he couldn't lie on the ones that were left. In 1994 we passed a law that prohibited people him from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks, and by 1997 that law was out of litigation and began to be enforced, by armed men.

[Right: "Cease lying down, or I shall be compelled to take all appropriate measures!"]

So we want to create laws that use the police to yell at the homeless for us and drive them from "our" sidewalks and benches into parks. Then we want to moan that there's a homeless man at Steinbrueck Park who drives tourists from "his" end of the park to the other.

The solution: Arrest the mirror?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Be Silent, Consume, Die

[The title above was on the first Real Change T-shirt]

I'm a Consumer of Homeless Services. I'm not homeless now, but I was homeless, ten years ago, for so long I moved far down a waiting list for housing and I got housed. You don't hear that happening much anymore. Anyway, that means that just by virtue of having asylum, I am now a Consumer of a Homeless Service, until I'm evicted, move, or die.

[Right: Politicians invented "Consumers" originally as a substitute for the more problematic concept "Citizens".]

Homeless people are now all called Consumers of Homeless Services, even if they don't consume any. When I was homeless I never consumed any, except for food stamps. I've done all my homeless-service consuming post-homeless. But if things were then the way they are now, I would have been called a Consumer anyway.

A couple weeks ago I finally figured out why the service providers love to call us Consumers. It defines us relative to the service providers. It means that our meaning, our purpose in being, our purpose in being talked about, is entirely attached to our role as users of homeless services, which they provide.

What a great way to assert power over people! Don't even acknowledge their being except to note their dependence on the services you provide! Impressive. Most impressive. They are well on their way to becoming formidable Jedi.

I am trying to think of ways to return the favor. I want to call them something that says they barely provide services and have no other significance to me. I've thought of Stale Rice Cakes, but it's too metaphorical. Maybe someone can help me come up with something more straight-forward.

Speaking of stale rice cakes, I'd like to share my intercom story.

When I attained this asylum run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), it had an intercom so I could cry for help in emergencies. I didn't think about it at all.

Then one day, after I'd been here four years, I was told my intercom had never worked. I said, no problem, I don't need it. They said, "Problem! You need it for emergencies". I said, I haven't had an emergency for four years, I don't need it. They said, "We're fixing it."

They fixed my intercom against my will. Immediately, I got called mornings for free breakfasts. I got weekly messages, "It's Bingo night, come on down!" 10:30 pm alternate Saturdays I heard, "There's pizza in the community room!" One random night every month, around midnight, it was "The church group has sandwiches out front, hurry down before they're all gone!"

There is no volume control, it was permanently on loud. They said if I snipped the wires to the speaker they could tell downstairs. I doubted that but decided on the direct approach. I went down to the front desk every time they woke me up and told them I wanted them to shut themselves up.

I complained to higher-ups. They repeated my complaints to me to show me they heard my pain. But nothing happened, because the conflict resolution course they took only talks about talk. Doing things is a whole different course.

So I got a notebook, set it by the bed, and took down times and dates my peace was interrupted by intercom. Within a month the first page was full. I took it to the management and read off instances in which I had been woke up at midnight and then again at 7am the same morning. I said does this mean that I'm officially only allotted 7 hours of sleep per night in a DESC building? Because if that's my ration, I need to plan for day naps. Might I be allowed to sleep siestas? Would they let me have 2pm to 4pm each day?

It worked! Within days we had an agreement that no calls would be made 10pm to 8am. I would be allotted a full ten hour window of peace every night!

Because of sarcasm, I sleep better, and my health has improved. I recommend it to everyone!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Do the Wes!

Last week for all of ten minutes you could have thought Real Change was a cult. Almost all us "staff" showed up around the big table for the monthly staff meeting. We're collectively reading Class Matters, a book about class and class-activism by Betsy Leondar-Wright, and working through the discussion questions. That's like Number 5 amid the Top Ten Signs you are in a cult.

[Above: Typical Real Change staff meeting.]

We were pretty much in agreement about everything, talking about identity politics, when the illusion that we were a cult was shattered by an exchange that condenses to: "White People don't have a culture," "Nuh-uh. Do so," "Like what?" "Give me time, I'll think of some." I won't say who any of these people were, because it would only distract me from my goal, which is to (figuratively) dance around the question raised, gesticulate at it, and run away laughing insanely.

I wasn't going to do it, but then Saturday I saw the AP story about the 5 high school students in Galesburg, Illinois, who were denied keepsake diplomas at graduation because their friends and family cheered them too much. And I read that the 5 consisted of 4 Blacks and 1 Hispanic.

Now, there's no evidence that Galesburg is unusually racist. Within two years of being settled, the first Illinois anti-slavery society began there, and it became a stop on the underground railroad. Also, Carl Sandburg was born there, who never owned a slave, unlike George Washington, who had 364.

Still, it makes you pause. You've got a population that's roughly 84% White and yet it's 5 non-White students that get denied diplomas. The odds of that happening at random is around 1/100th of 1%. What up?

The first thing everybody did was ask themselves if the problem was that the White People of Galesburg weren't taking the cultures of Black People and Hispanics fully into account. Here's where I do my weird dance, where I fling my hips out, fly off the ground and land on my head (figuratively) and say, no, they aren't taking White People's culture fully into account. I say it's White People culture that says everybody should be quiet and respectful while the names of the graduates are read off.

Think about it. They say it's a matter of not being able to hear the names read out. But why should the ceremony be set up so you have to be able to hear? Why couldn't they have some clowns or mascots or whatever run around the stage holding up big cardboard signs letting people know who's who? Then they could play music through the whole thing, people could cheer and shout all they wanted and dance in their seats and in the aisles, and you'd have something to remember.

They can't do that because they're too White, that's why. So, yes, Virginia, wherever there are quiet boring ceremonies that drag on forever and put you to sleep, White People Culture lives, in our hearts, in our souls.

Now for the running away laughing insanely part. I can't resist pointing out that racism is a cultural artifact. So to the extent White People are overtly racist, that's culture. Conversely, take that overt racism away, as has genuinely happened in the 57 years of my lifetime, and you create a big void. So the fact that Whites are seen as cultureless can be a good thing.

Oppressed People's Cultures always seem richer. This is usually explained by saying that being oppressed makes your people more interesting somehow. So, Christians got interesting by being martyred. Blacks got made slaves, so now even I listen to Hip-Hop, it's so interesting.

I say, rubbish. The truth is, Christianity took hold because Rome had became mind-numbingly boring as soon as it was politically-incorrect to throw Christians to hungry lions.

If your culture is largely about social domination, then as that piece falls away, it leaves a vacuum. Anything looks better than a vacuum!

[Right: Me, looking better than a vacuum, a quarter-century ago.]