News Seattle 2007: Condos. Panhandling. Shit.
posted by August 31 at 14:07 PMon
He’s got a summary of all the glitzy condo development that’s going on downtown—The Escala, the Cristalla, the Four Seasons, 1521 Second Ave.—quipping, “It’ll be sort of like New York. But without the diversity or the people.” Then he talks about that in the context of (as he posits) a coming war on poor people.
Some things we know. The DSA will drive toward the criminalization of panhandling, the elimination of outdoor feeding, and the removal of public toilets. While the political will for such steps does not yet exist, they’re working on it.
I’ve got a call into Harris to see if he’s got a beat on any legislation that the DSA (Downtown Seattle Association) is pushing at City Hall. However, I talked to the DSA’s council lobbyist, Ryan Bayne, and he says he’s not working on panhandling or outdoor feeding issues.
As for outdoor toilets, Bayne says the DSA has always been against the public toilets. “We were against them when they went in. I don’t think anybody would argue that those have been a success.”
DSA stats compiled by their downtown patrol—they clean up shit from the street, among other downtown ambassador duties—has actually found that human waste collection on the streets has gone up since the toilets went in. “Now, obviously I’m not saying the toilets have increased waste on the streets, but they’re obviously not being used for their intended purpose,” Bayne says. “They’re a haven to shoot up. A great place to shoot up.”
Bayne thinks maybe Harris is talking about DSA’s “Have a Heart/Give Smart” campaign, which encourages downtown employees and tourists to donate to homeless service organizations rather than give money directly to panhandlers.
“Sounds a lot like Real Change,” Bayne himself quips. Here’s a PI article on the program, including a quote from Harris, characterizing the program as a “war on the poor.”
According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, City Attorney Tom Carr is thinking about regulating panhandling. I can’t seem to link to the PSBJ article, but Harris quotes from it in another recent post from his blog:
Other cities have taken more extreme measures. This year Tacoma made it a misdemeanor to panhandle in certain places—near ATMs, bus stops, building entrances, and other public areas. The city also outlaws panhandling before sunrise and after sunset.
Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said people have a constitutional right to beg on city streets. But [Carr also said] establishing time, place, and manner restrictions—as Tacoma did—is a way to protect free speech while combating undesirable behaviors.”
I respect Harris and Real Change. I don’t know Harris well, but I’ve read his editorials and followed his activism over the years. He is neither dogmatic nor orthodox. He’s loaded with common sense, nuanced analysis, and endless dedication. I also like the DSA a bit more than I used to—mainly because I thought their Director, Kate Joncas, provided a smart challenge to Mayor Nickels’s nightlife clampdown. (Although, I think their anti-union rap regarding downtown hotels is off base.)
This is all to say, as 2007 has blossomed into the year that Seattle is actually and finally wrestling with the issues that have been germinating for much of the decade—our transition into a bigger city—I think the scrap between Harris and DSA is one to watch.
Harris got in touch to let me know he’s at home sick, but also to tell me that he’s not aware of any specific legislation that’s pending. However, he recognizes a pattern. He says DSA first announces its “Have a Heart—Give Smart” campaign—a good faith effort to deal with panhandling—bet then a few months later DSA comes out to say panhandling is increasing dramatically, 38%. Harris, it seems, is implying that the DSA is cynically setting the stage to play hard ball after first making a show of trying to deal more humanely with the problem.
He could be onto something. Although, Harris himself was part of the original show. He was quoted in the original DSA press release about the “Give Smart” campaign.
From the January ‘07 DSA press release:
The brochure also suggests alternatives to giving to panhandlers such as purchasing a Real Change newspaper or donating to charitable organizations. “Giving to panhandlers is like scratching an itch that always comes back,” says Real Change Director Tim Harris. “It feels good, but it doesn’t really change much. We should all feel called to do more.”