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Friday, August 31, 2007

Seattle 2007: Condos. Panhandling. Shit.

posted by on August 31 at 14:07 PM

Tim Harris, the executive director of Real Change, has a post on his personal blog that does a great job of capturing the zeitgeist in Seattle right now.

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.

Harris writes:

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.”

RSS icon Comments


I thought the term "feeding" was passe. (Feeding sounds like the homeless are babies or something.) Can we call it outdoor serving instead?

(Yes, I'm missing the point of the post; carry on.)

Posted by hmm | August 31, 2007 2:14 PM

I love my downtown condo and could do with less homeless. After two years in Seattle (Baltimore transplant) I share the frustration with this town needing to get bigger and more dense. Build more tall buildings and people like me will move here to patronize the restaurants and clubs. Homeless and jobless people are losers, let them move to Tacoma.

Posted by Jimbo | August 31, 2007 2:33 PM

@ Jimbo, well calling them losers is better than what Slog readers are wishing on Tony Snow right now.

But you know what Jimbo, I hope you get panhandled tonight. A LOT!!! And I hope you get to see a homeless child beg you for money, cause that is the kind of prick you are.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | August 31, 2007 2:40 PM


Go fuck yourself - preferably in Baltimore (where they presumably welcome yuppie assholes like yourself).

Posted by Yuppiessuck | August 31, 2007 2:50 PM

Some Seattle hostility? Growing into a big, dense, real city is not for everyone. But a big part of density is allowing a diversity of views. Seattle is too provincial. I'm proud to be part of the new wave of money and talent opening up this city to fresh ideas.

Posted by Jimbo | August 31, 2007 2:58 PM

One thing I can predict - more homeless people will move to Fremont, Ballard, and Wallingford as the Downtowners crack down on them - pushing them to the more residential neighborhoods.

Way to go, Greg!

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 31, 2007 3:00 PM

(not that anyone asked me)

I've been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately. Endemic homelessness is something that's sort of evolved in Seattle during my lifetime. My dad and I were homeless when we moved here from Oregon when I was 7 (1979), but it was a very different kind of homelessness than what I see on the streets every day these days. We lived in our car, camped in the woods, and my dad worked low-paying jobs until he had enough money to get us a place. When he died when I was 17 I spent some time between places, dumping my stuff in peoples' basements and couch surfing, working dishwashing jobs until I had enough money to move into a group house or something.

Then of course in the '80s Reagan kicked all the crazy people out onto the streets, and that created a class of people who were homeless but who were, pretty much by definition, too fucked-up to do the kind of bootstrap thing me and my dad had done. Those people are still all over the place, and I definitely think it would be not only more humane but also more cost-effective to have residential low-ratio mental health facilities that help people like that.

But this whole scene with people who consider homelessness some kind of lifestyle choice is something that started in the '90s and, frankly, I just have no patience for it. Gutter punks with their dogs and their attitude and their signs that say "Change for Beer" basically place small businesses in public places at a disadvantage against shopping malls and mega-chains. You know how everyone in Seattle is always bitching about how small local businesses get pushed out by national mega-chains like Urban Outfitters, the Gap and Starbucks? Gutterpunk panhandlers are part of the reason that shit happens. It doesn't have anything to do with a "war on the poor." That's just a lot of hype to obscure the reality that there really are people in the world how don't deserve our sympathy or our help -- and, contrary to what Stranger readers like to believe, they're not all rich white men.

Posted by Judah | August 31, 2007 3:03 PM

So, you don't want them either, Will?

Posted by Lionel Hutz | August 31, 2007 3:03 PM

It'll be sort of like New York, but without the people.

Well, thank God for that. Who wants a bunch of asshole New Yorkers here? As if Californians aren't bad enough.

Feeding is definitely a poor word choice. Let's please find a term that doesn't evoke livestock.

Posted by keshmeshi | August 31, 2007 3:05 PM

There is a lot of talk of "street feces" but is anyone checking to see if it's human feces? I realize the question itself is funny at least, but I'm sorry I see mountains of shit on the street and I strongly suspect it's from the vast variety of mutt and couture dogs with lazy owners who don't pick up after them.

My bets is all that "street feces" is from the condo owners who are too important to pick up after their dogs. Let's see some real ticketing on those guys (great revenue for the city;)) before we start pushing around the poor.

Posted by chuckles | August 31, 2007 3:19 PM

Jimbo: I can respect the money and the talent, but leave the arrogant, condescending yuppie attitude back east, please. Or take it to Bellevue.

Posted by Hernandez | August 31, 2007 3:19 PM

Have to agree with Jimbo. It is not the people in the ghetto, it is the ghetto in the people. Sorry but homeless people are not always cute and fuzzy. John Couey, the homeless guy who murdered Jessica Lunsford by burying her alive clinging a stuffed dolphin

Posted by Jeff | August 31, 2007 3:44 PM

You can take your "money and talent" and stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

Posted by Yuppiessuck | August 31, 2007 3:47 PM

Welcome Jimbo - I have no doubt you will help Seattle become more like Baltimore!

Posted by tomasyalba | August 31, 2007 3:52 PM

What is Seattle's problem? It's the Chicago transplants and others from back East that make this town. Get a real job and get over yourselves. Seattle is the only place in the country with real estate prices going up forever. That proves something.

Posted by Jimbo | August 31, 2007 4:00 PM


I'm not certain that homelessness as a lifestyle choice suddenly cropped up in the '90s, maybe here but not elsewhere. In San Francisco, for example, that attitude took hold in the '60s and '70s. It was only in the '90s when the city started to crack down on it.

Anyway, truly mentally ill or addicted individuals aside, there will always be people who can't deal with real life. It's just that most of them wind up living in their parents' basements.

Posted by keshmeshi | August 31, 2007 4:24 PM

I think we should do more to help people suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. If had affective treatment for those we could eliminate a huge percentage of the homeless population. Unfortunately I think that means involuntary confinement. A schizophrenic refusing treatment is not exercising their rights, there suffering from a disease. Lets fight the problem instead of the symptoms.

But, I have no desire to support the beer and pot habit of some listless 20 year old who wants to fight the man by harassing people on the Ave. Being lazy is not a political statement.

Posted by Giffy | August 31, 2007 4:27 PM

Real Change "vendors" are nothing more than glorified panhandlers. I am sick and tired of being harassed by the "vendor" who is on the corner outside of my place of work all day, every day. Why would I want to purchase a paper whose writers and readers desire to vilify me for working hard, earning a living (that doesn't involve harassing people), and living in a nice building in downtown?

Posted by adam smith | August 31, 2007 4:28 PM

"What is Seattle's Problem?"
--ohh I'm sure you'll tell us, what with all that talent and money you have, what Seattle's really problem is.
"It's the Chicago transplants and others from back East that make this town."
--o.k. if you say so.
"Get a real job and get over yourselves."--
---thanks for that advice, but ummm no, not if it means becoming like you.
"Seattle is the only place in the country with real estate prices going up forever."
---and thats good for the people who live here and don't want your self important lifestyle, how?
"That proves something."
---sure it does, that there are always those that want to come into an area and muck up a good thing, if there is money to be made.


Posted by hipsterlite | August 31, 2007 4:37 PM

There are no homeless in Baltimore?

Posted by genevieve | August 31, 2007 5:04 PM

Jimbo has proved conclusively that money and talent can't buy class.

Posted by Mr. X | August 31, 2007 5:16 PM

I'm positive that Jimbo is speaking in troll and that he is somebody who actually agrees with most of the people in this thread.

Posted by sniggles | August 31, 2007 5:18 PM

I agree with the Reagan-era comments. Mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed to just fend for themselves on the streets. That's inhumane and dangerous to the public.

Posted by me | August 31, 2007 5:27 PM

@17: But, I have no desire to support the beer and pot habit of some listless 20 year old who wants to fight the man by harassing people on the Ave. Being lazy is not a political statement.

A-fucking-men! You have enough money to get a new tattoo but not enough money to feed your dog on a rope? It's called prioritizing, people. Lay off the ink and feed your pet.

Posted by Jessica | August 31, 2007 6:24 PM

seattle won't begin to get it's act together over thissue or any other issue until city council members are elected by district - until each elected officiial has a group of people they HAVE to answer to. no more of this everybody at large foolishness.

Posted by uncle stupid | August 31, 2007 6:27 PM

Greg Nickels is building a city for people who don't live here - they may not even exist. He's content to just lie on his back and let developers rub his tummy, so long as that gravy train keeps a-rollin' and they keep filling up his dish. He's betrayed you, Seattle.

Posted by Flea | August 31, 2007 7:21 PM

Hey Flea - Ummm... those condos that are priced outrageously... are selling. That means there are buyers, real buyers that actually exist oustide of the ethereal plane, buying. Freaky, no? And please explain the "gravy train" that Nickels receives on behalf of Big Labor... er, I meant to say developers.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | August 31, 2007 8:32 PM

"seattle won't...get it's act together...until city council members are elected by district - until each elected official has...people they HAVE to answer to."

What he said.

Posted by Sean | August 31, 2007 9:43 PM

Districts wouldn't do a damn thing. Panhandling would still get ignored, districts or not.

Posted by no | August 31, 2007 11:03 PM

I must admit, I went to Seattle and was sort of homeless there for a couple of weeks. I slept on the streets or rather mostly wandered around them for awhile until I found a youth hostile to crash at. I was wondering what all of those honeybuckets were for. I just used other public toilets. I don't think I actually begged for any money. I did give someone $20 once. But I hadn't yet run out of money. I was there, because I sort of fell off my medication. I was on the wrong stuff and then I quit taking everything, so yah, I was completely psychotic. Sometimes happens when you have schizophrenia. Aside from pretty much being invisible while I was "homeless" it wasn't a horrible experience, but I was mostly lucky that I didn't get killed or raped or mugged or something. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life...being up there and wandering around. Not rushing to go anywhere, just sitting around in places or wandering around. So, yah, I guess I should say that not everyone who is homeless panhandles or shits in the street. Is that my point? I have no idea. I just don't think that being homeless should make you a criminal and panhandling shouldn't be a crime. Aren't the jails full already? Or giving fines to homeless people? That makes a lot of sense. They already don't have money, so now the city wants money from them? Seriously. The city should work to have more programs to take care of the homeless instead of finding ways to fine them. Anyway, thanks Seattle, you were a great place to be while crazy and homeless...well, for the most part. And @16: yes, I live in my parents' garage, but that doesn't mean I can't deal with real life. I like living in my parents' garage. In fact, I get nice perks, like my mom just made me a smoothie. I have to go get it. Bye!

Posted by Kristin Bell | September 1, 2007 9:34 AM

People, people. Jimbo is the new name for an old troll who used to post exactly the same rants under the name "Condo Owner." I have no idea if he's a condo owner or not (and, hmm, he resurfaced at the same time that Issur, formerly used to post under a name I can't recall, has, supporting my theory that they're the same individual - and probably the same person as Charles Mudede nemesis "Student" aka "Ignorant Gay Cracker") but he writes this stuff to get exactly what you're giving.

Posted by Matt from Denver | September 1, 2007 9:49 AM

Duly Noted.
No more troll-y snacks from me.

Thanks Matt.

Posted by hipsterlite | September 1, 2007 11:38 AM

@32: haha...troll-y snacks...very funny.

Posted by Kristin Bell | September 1, 2007 5:13 PM

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