Until a phone conversation a few minutes ago, Leslie Smith, interim director of the Pioneer Square Community Association, didn't know who Tim Harris is. Which is surprising considering that yesterday afternoon she sent an open letter to the mayor's office, city council members, and the Seattle Police Department asking their help in blocking Real Change from moving to Pioneer Square.
When asked about her motivation for sending the letter, Smith asked where I got it. I explained that it came from Harris.
"Who is Tim Harris?" she asked.
"Tim Harris is the director of Real Change," I replied. And Real Change is a business that publishes an advocacy newsletter that poor people sell for $1.
Not knowing who Harris is seems particularly disappointing considering that Smith has been such a strong advocate of open dialogue among parties. In her letter, Smith complained that "representatives of this organization have not approached the Pioneer Square Community Association nor have they conducted any outreach within the District." She asked the city to intervene before doing exactly the sort of thing she expected someone else to do.
"I'd like to start with a conversation [with the city]," Smith explains when asked about the purpose of the letter. But why not approach Real Change directly with neighborhood concerns? "I'd be happy to talk with Real Change," she replies. But she's been busy. With meetings. And listening to people's concerns. She says everyone in the community—business owners, residents, even social service providers—is nervous about the move. I ask how many people have expressed their nervousness. There is a very long pause. "Lots," she says. "We have a formal moratorium on getting more social services from coming into Pioneer Square."
But as Harris noted, Real Change isn't a social service provider—it's a nonprofit business that happens to employ poor and homeless people. "It doesn’t change the perception that people who live and work in Pioneer Square have of one more organization attracting more homeless people to this area," Smith says. She adds that the community is on "really good terms" with all of the social service providers in the area.
Smith's next step is to set up a meeting with city officials to "explore other options." It's unclear what good this will do, given that Real Change doesn't receive city funds. The mayor's office is still reportedly "exploring" the letter. I expect a call back from them this afternoon.