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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Seattle, You Should Be Better Than This

Posted by on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 12:54 PM

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A small group calling themselves Women In Black held a silent vigil on Wednesday across from City Hall. For more than a decade, they've been holding vigils to bring attention to the deaths of homeless people in King County.

"We stand out here to acknowledge the fact that... their value as human beings is important to us," Elizabeth Iverson, who lives at Tent City 3 in North Seattle, told me. She said she's been homeless since losing her nursing job in 2010.

Homelessness is a big and complex issue, obviously, but the group says the most important thing right now is that winter shelters stay open throughout the entire summer. Normally they'd have closed by March 31, but last month, the city council designated $150,000 to keep them open through June 15.

"For [the city], that was a big concession—and it isn't nearly enough," Tim Harris, director of Real Change, told me. He said the shelter system is "radically under-resourced."

The shelters are "near capacity," David Takami, a spokesman for Seattle Human Services, confirmed. "There's definitely a need, and it's a question of whether we have the funding."

But as of now, the funding's not available. And winter conditions or not, the chronically homeless are four to nine times more likely to die than the general population.

So I called the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, expecting to hear about their efforts to keep the shelters open. Instead, what I got were a lot of long, awkward pauses, as Gretchen Bruce, the interim director who's been on the job about six months, struggled to say as little as possible.

"I'm not qualified to speak to the death count," she spluttered, when I asked her to comment on the spate of homeless deaths this year. Should the shelters stay open? "We are in conversation," she kept repeating. "We are trying to address it through the community." Whatever that means.

"It's above her pay grade," Harris said. According to him, the committee's governing board is engaged in an "intense debate" over spending on long-term solutions (e.g. creation and facilitation of affordable housing) versus immediate shelter.

That's the logic of austerity of speaking, though, not advocacy for the homeless population, which is what you might expect from something called the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH). "The challenges are going to be the shrinking resources and the continuing shredding of the social safety net," Bill Block, CEH's previous director, told the Seattle Times last year. Sounds like those challenges are continuing to go unmet in Seattle.

"'Without shelter, people die' isn't just a slogan," Harris said. "It's the reality." According to Women in Black, which credits King County Medical Examiners and Health Care for the Homeless for the data, 19 people have died outdoors or by violence in the past five months—matching the total for all of last year.

The group says of the last three individuals, who died in the last five weeks: one collapsed at a breakfast program, one died near a Bellevue doughnut shop, and one was shot to death while sleeping in his car.

Here's their full list of homeless dead so far this year. RIP.

Cause of DeathWhoWhenWhere
Acute Intoxication Byron Barnes, 47 January 2013 Ballard
Hypothermia Kathryn Ann Blair, 60 January 1200 bl Rainier S
Pending Brian Chambers, 59 January Renton
Pending Heather Pinney, 24 January 5th/Harrison
Burned to Death John Wallis, 59 January Harborview
Pending Patrick Dawson, 53 January East Marginal Way/Ellis
Acute Intoxication Joshua Walmsley, 28 January NE 92nd/I-5
Drowned Fernando Alonzo-Valencia, 25 January Kenmore
Pending LuAnn Bustamante, 56 February Elliott/W Lee
Suicide Kimberly Johnson, 49 February Tuwila/Int'l Blvd
Suicide Greg Zimmerman, 55 February 1300 bl S Dearborn
OD Erik Johnson, 46 February Federal Way
Anoxic Encephalopathy Daniel Garton, 49 February 5th/Harrison
Natural Causes Bradley Fernandez, 49 February Salmon Bay
Natural Causes Irvin Giesler, 60 March Redmond
Pending Michael Huntington, 37 March Kent
Pending Clinton Jackson, 28 April Bellevue
Pending Michael "Mikey" Hall, 56 April Ballard
Shot to Death Derrick Hargress, 50 May Rainier Valley


Comments (41) RSS

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Max Solomon 1
is seattle markedly worse, or better, than other cities? do we provide more shelter beds per capita, or fewer? do we spend more money, or less?

the CEH is on a fool's errand. REDUCE is a realistic goal.
Posted by Max Solomon on May 9, 2013 at 1:06 PM · Report this
With so many bleeding hearts in Seattle, don't you'd think they'd be enough couches to house the hobos?
Posted by Or do they think it's someone else's problem? on May 9, 2013 at 1:14 PM · Report this
Next week Seattle forms the "Committee to end Gravity".

Anti-gravity proponents reckon with enough money, they'll have it licked in no time.
Posted by Acutely Intoxicating on May 9, 2013 at 1:17 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 4
Aren't we all going to die?

Posted by TheMisanthrope on May 9, 2013 at 1:34 PM · Report this
For people who are "chronically homeless" the better answer is improved mental health and substance abuse services, not places for them to shack up after they've knocked off their last Thunderbird of the night.
Posted by The CHZA on May 9, 2013 at 1:45 PM · Report this
@1, why would that matter? This isn't a competition with other cities. Would it be OK if less people died in Seattle than died in other cities? Should we tell the friends of people who died, "Hey, sorry about your loss but we're better than XX city"?
Posted by sarah70 on May 9, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
Um. You mean King County.

Not Seattle.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2013 at 1:59 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 8
@6: the UI is saying Seattle can do better. my question is, are we really doing poorly at "ending" something that is a nationwide, structural poverty issue? something that likely can't be "ended"?

i dont' think "we" (who's "we"?) are telling the "friends" of the dead homeless much of anything, and I don't know that "we" owe them an reason, either. look at that list. the only one that additional shelter space would have prevented is hypothermia. 2 drank themselves to death. 5 aren't even in Seattle.
Posted by Max Solomon on May 9, 2013 at 2:04 PM · Report this
I saw this post headline and photo and assumed it was about the obesity epidemic. Funny, that.
Posted by Confluence on May 9, 2013 at 2:52 PM · Report this
it looks like those gals may have eaten a few homeless people......
Posted by .....good thing black is slimming on May 9, 2013 at 3:00 PM · Report this
Any article bringing attention to this issue is appreciated, but despite the Committee to End Homelessness' ridiculous name, insinuating that they are somehow accountable for the deaths of homeless people is really, really irresponsible journalism.
Posted by sorryforbeinganasshole on May 9, 2013 at 3:08 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 12
Those ladies can’t even manage to all wear black. The fuck if I am going to listen to what they have to say if they are unable to fulfill the basic requirements of their groups existence.

Posted by Cascadian Bacon on May 9, 2013 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Womyn2me 13
As a nurse, it does kind of set me off to hear of a 'nurse' homeless and out of work.

Either that woman is not a registered nurse or LPN, for whom there are a plethera of jobs that pay really really well, or she was a technician or nurse aide, NOT a nurse. There is a big difference.

I wish I had some other comment to make, other than 10 years of silent vigil seems to be working as well as prayer does.
For myself, the combination of mental illness, substance use and outdoor peeing by street folks keeps me from ever being comfortable in downtown Seattle. Closer to Pioneer Square, the worse it gets.
I have no cure. I do have some NIMBY feelings. perhaps we could just roof over Pioneer Square Park and thus create additional housing where people are already living. Adequate programs and services could be made more available in downtown. but not in my neighborhood.

Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\ on May 9, 2013 at 3:19 PM · Report this
I'd say those women could feed a few dozen homeless for a month just by going on a diet. Remember: one pound equals 3,500 calories.
Posted by Unbrainwashed on May 9, 2013 at 3:23 PM · Report this
Derrick Hargress was a monster and got what he deserved.
Posted by meks on May 9, 2013 at 3:38 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 16

There's also the possibility she was fired with cause, for fucking up in some way or not being a very good nurse. I would hope someone fired under those conditions would find it difficult gaining new employment in the medical profession.
Posted by keshmeshi on May 9, 2013 at 3:41 PM · Report this
"The shelters are "near capacity,"

So there are empty beds then. Welcome to irony-free reporting.
Posted by Or do some hobos have homelessphobia? on May 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
Just Blue 18
@13, I knew a nurse who suffered a serious disability that rendered her unable to work, and she consequently became homeless.

Though people's comfort is significant, saving lives would seem more important. Also, it needn't be an either/or proposition: I live next to a building that had problem tenants for years. An endless parade of renters came and went that would blast music at 3am, shoot air rifles in the middle of a city where dogs and kids sometimes wandered, and engage in endless, loud arguments. When the building was bought by a new owner intending to use it for transitional housing for people with substance abuse issues, various neighbors seethed. And yet now the tenants are quiet, polite, and respectful - for the first time since I've lived here (about 6 years). Although this is clearly anecdotal, it does show that the presence of such services doesn't necessarily guarantee a disruptive environment.
Posted by Just Blue on May 9, 2013 at 3:55 PM · Report this
Womyn2me 19
Agreed @16 - but the implication in the story is that she lost her nursing job, not she was fired from job for cause and now she is homeless. Not as sympathetic, perhaps. Plus it's just that it annoys me as sloppy language to refer to 'people who work in health care areas' as nurses. I recall in my youth yelling at some season of 'Survivor' when they constantly refered to a contestant as a nurse, when she was a doctors office staff person, with no nursing education.

@18 - perhaps the laws are different here but transitional housing for people with substance use issues seems like a more rules/regulation/policy based as opposed to Joe who owns an apt building and just wants rents. I would expect an apt building to cause more problems in a neighborhood than a transitional housing facility. In theory, you use or cause problems, you are out of there. not so in plain old apt living. But homeless services housing, in all honesty, I would assume would be more on par with regular apt building issues, IE no one really holding the inhabitants to certain levels of social living skills.

People who cannot work due to disability that leads to homelessnes:. Yes, very bad. a significant hole in the safety net. Definatly a place where america can do better.

But that is not who is peeing off the wall facing SCCA while yelling at people. That is not the woman I walked by who stood in my path and panhandled me downtown and when I moved around her, grabbed my arm and yelled at me.
On the other hand, if they are that nurse, I'm not unhappy they are not working as nurses.
Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\ on May 9, 2013 at 4:18 PM · Report this
Reading the comments above, no, Seattle is no better than anywhere else. We still think it is fine for Bill Gates, et al to sit in their mansions with their piles of money rotting in bank vaults while other people starve.

Nothing personal against Gates (don't know him), but what do we have against sharing the resources of the earth more equally? He gets to be a "philanthropist" while the dead people above are judged as morally bankrupt basically for not having seized on a marketable idea.

Evidence for my position:…
Posted by Linda J on May 9, 2013 at 5:02 PM · Report this
Max Solomon, I am responding to your comments 8 in the hope that you post them because you are interested in having a genuine conversation. You say that only two of the deaths listed could have been prevented by shelter. First, there are a number of "pending", which often remain "undetermined", so there may be more that would meet your definition of preventable. But many of the others could have been prevented: the death by fire could have been as a result of someone trying to keep warm; at a shelter there are others to notice when you are having a medical emergency, and their calls to 911 may have prevented some of the deaths by natural causes or intoxication; suicide is usually an act of loneliness & hopelessness, and a person with shelter has a chance at community and hope. Plus, the stress of homelessness is hard on a body, exacerbating many health conditions, contributing to the young average age of death for people who are homeless. I hope that this information helps you understand better why we say "without shelter, people die".
Posted by Brigid on May 9, 2013 at 6:07 PM · Report this
we are never going to end homelessness. Lets just make that clear. There are tons of homeless people in even the most progressive, socialist nations. No policy, service safety net or anything else will eliminate the problem. A few more shelters will keep people from hypothermic death, some access to basic health care may eliminate a few of the pneumonia cases.

Just decide which tiny piece of the puzzel you're willing to pay to fix, and we'll get to work on that...but know what we can and cannot do.
Posted by Chris Jury on May 9, 2013 at 6:09 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 23
@20 um, Bill Gates doesn't live in Seattle. Neither does Paul Allen. Nor does Ballmer. They do live in King County, but they don't live in Seattle. Nice try.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2013 at 6:13 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 24
My guess is that she is unemployed and homeless due to drug diversion issues and her licence is no longer valid.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on May 9, 2013 at 7:15 PM · Report this
Just Blue 25
@19, Where I currently live, there isn't any housing for the homeless. However, in Eureka, CA, the housing units had zero-tolerance for disruptive behavior. I imagine the policies vary significantly from place to place.

Last I studied the stats in Seattle (admittedly it was years ago), there was absolutely no correlation between the size of the homeless population and violent crime over a period of several years.

I've had my fair share of unpleasant and occasionally aggressive encounters with homeless individuals (in multiple cities). But the most harrowing, truly threatening situations involved gang members and, at least in one case, frat boy types. Generally, it seems most complaints regarding homeless individuals are of the public nuisance variety. Personally, I find people who text while walking down a busy sidewalk (or at a crosswalk), more of a nuisance. And yet if I tried to launch a campaign to have such people harassed by police, arrested, and transported to other neighborhoods in the hopes they'll stay there, most people would find it absurd. Yet for many years that's exactly what cities across the country have been doing to people who are homeless.
Posted by Just Blue on May 9, 2013 at 7:25 PM · Report this
Chiming in to say that an RN who is unemployed is doing something wrong, possibly on purpose Period

Now yes we need more affordable housing, we need more shelters and we need more than what we are doing for our brothers and sisters.
Posted by more awesomer on May 9, 2013 at 7:53 PM · Report this
"Bill Gates, et al to sit in their mansions with their piles of money rotting in bank vaults while other people starve. "

Bill Gates wealth is in stocks and bonds, money invested in businesses that hire people, buy services and materials. It's not 'rotting', it's working. I know some liberals are as dumb as rocks, but you don't think he has his $60 billion, in cash, stuffed under his mattress do you?
Posted by Sugartit on May 9, 2013 at 8:07 PM · Report this
""Bill Gates, et al to sit in their mansions with their piles of money rotting in bank vaults while other people starve. "

I'm so shit-faced, I'd eat his money to end my stomach pains!
Posted by The Stumbling Hobo on May 9, 2013 at 8:11 PM · Report this
" we need more shelters"

Really? Apparently there are beds empty every night....

"The shelters are "near capacity""
Posted by Hobo Hilton on May 9, 2013 at 8:13 PM · Report this
deadrose 30
Got to love those "natural causes" deaths. Natural causes is when you're 95 and don't wake up one morning. In these cases it sounds more like there was nothing obvious and they couldn't be arsed to do autopsies.
Posted by deadrose on May 9, 2013 at 9:52 PM · Report this
The city, the community are complicit in the deaths, complicit in the incarceration of youth for minor crimes, complicit in hunger, complicit in houselessness, complicit in police brutality when it turns its head away.
Posted by soul source on May 10, 2013 at 8:07 AM · Report this
Sugartit, I'm not a liberal. Nonetheless, you say I'm dumb when you are the one who doesn't get the point. Money invested in stocks and bonds might be "working" in your opinion, but my point is the resources of the world are unfairly distributed so that the rich have way more than they can use and other people starve.

And then there's the other commenter who wants to parse exactly where Gates, et al. live rather than reflect on the fact the world economic system encourages us all to tolerate this unfair distribution of resources.
Posted by Linda J on May 10, 2013 at 8:26 AM · Report this
Without Shelter people do die! I myself was once in the homeless community in Seattle, I was one of the lucky ones. I came to Seattle on a greyhound bus from Holland, Michigan, I was younger and chasing a stupid idea, it didn't pan out so my second day in the city, I wound up with no place to go. A friendly woman on the Aurora bus told me about Mary's place and how to get there, just for a time reference it was February 2003. The first night there I ended up going to the Women's Referral Center, I was scared out of my mind, the WRC sends women out to different night shelters around the city, I got sent my first night to Angeline's, the staff was kind and tried to settle my fears, but I stayed up all night. The next two nights I spent over at this gym, I forget the street where it was on, and it was much better but by my fifth night I was in the Salvation Army and no longer had to drag all my possessions around the city with me. I got involved with Women in Black myself and stood Vigil with them, and saw how Mayor Nickles and the City Government was just treating the homeless issue like a fly and kept swatting it off. After being in the Salvation army for a few months, I got placed in Transitional Housing out in Magnuson Park out in Sand Point, it was beautiful there, and some of the most fondly remembered times of my life were while I lived there. Like I said, I made it, I was one of the lucky ones, there are so many there that are not. The needlessly ignored Homeless issue needs to be addressed, the government can no longer treat this like an insect and brush it off. How many more lives is it going to take before they finally notice and take action?
Posted by Sara Hane on May 10, 2013 at 9:40 AM · Report this
Sara, ever think about getting a job rather than having, as you call them, stupid ideas?
Posted by Sugartit on May 10, 2013 at 10:30 AM · Report this
"my point is the resources of the world are unfairly distributed"

Stocks aren't resources. They're investments.
Posted by Sugartit on May 10, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Report this
" live rather than reflect on the fact the world economic system encourages us all to tolerate this unfair distribution of resources."

Move to North Korea if you want equal distribution of wealth.
Posted by Sugartit on May 10, 2013 at 10:58 AM · Report this
@32 explain to me in detail how would distribute Bill Gate's wealth. Force him to sell off his MSFT holdings? Have the government confiscate some and give them to the po'?
Posted by Sugartit on May 10, 2013 at 11:14 AM · Report this
To comment on post number is not always about substance abuse or mental health. It is also about people losing there jobs or not being able to find work do to layoffs or what ever. It is even sometimes about finding a community that you feel you fit in with. Some times homelessness causes the substance abuse or the mental break. So maybe the answer is first helping them by giving them shelter and having people not be so prejudice and educating the prejudice people.
Posted by Frieda LaFever on May 10, 2013 at 7:47 PM · Report this
What amazing speculation and generalization in these comments! How ever do these people manage to leave their lofty palaces and commune with the plebs, I guess I’ll never know.
Posted by riot gorl on May 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM · Report this
I work in the City of Santa Ana, CA, the Orange County Seat, and the homeless population are a significant problem here. They get fed regularly in the civic center - free food, and they have congregated here because of it. There are some homeless that are mentally ill whom have nowhere to go, and I genuinely feel bad for them - they need counseling and medication, but many have been on meds, and then refuse medication, even though they get free evaluations through the County or nonprofits. They talk to themselves out loud, and expose themselves regularly. Then there are the junkies, which are the MAJORITY of the homeless. They abuse drugs openly, and have no problem sharing drugs openly. They often have dogs with them, and they also often exchange sexual favors for drugs. They are easy to spot - their teeth are rotted by meth use, or they have no teeth, and they compulsively check their possessions, which are surprisingly large. They often have several square feet of territory complete with a cot, table, pillows, and radio. They hang out in the civic center, and in the parking garage - where used hyperdemic needles can be found. HOW DO WE HELP THEM IF THEY DON'T WANT TO BE HELPED??? I see church groups, nonprofits, and government reaching out to these people, but they prefer to be homeless and use drugs. How do we help them???
Posted by Hally_s on May 10, 2013 at 11:09 PM · Report this
#34 - I am disabled and unable to work or I would. Besides, I am stable now and my life is good, I'm no longer in Seattle chasing a stupid dream.
Posted by Sara Hane on May 11, 2013 at 9:05 AM · Report this

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