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Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Lesson for Legislators from the Harps Murder

posted by on January 31 at 13:16 PM

This bill in the state legislature—which seems to me like a thoughtful piece of civil rights legislation (scroll down on the link to “another important housing bill”)—has stumbled into a potential minefield: The Shannon Harps murder.

The bill would bar local governments from passing rules that prevent landlords from signing leases with special needs providers—such as nonprofits that provide housing with services for former felons, people with drug problems, and mental illness.

The housing is known as “service enriched housing” —buildings with special in-house services (like homes for battered women). Currently, cities including Tacoma have regs on the books that tell landlords who they can and cannot rent to.

That type of legalized neighborhood lynch mob discrimination may have gotten a boost from the Shannon Harps murder on Capitol Hill: James Williams, her murderer—who attacked her randomly—was living in temporary housing, the Curben Hotel, on Summit Avenue. Obviously, this could be used as fodder to snuff the bill.

However, Harps’ murder actually makes the case for special housing even more urgent. The state releases 9,000 people from prison every year. They have to live somewhere. If service providers are discouraged from setting up housing—housing that provides help for tenants to deal with their problems—people like Williams would end up living in unmanaged housing or under a bridge. The Curben Hotel, in fact, was not service-enriched housing.

More housing with services would mean that tragedies like the Harps murder will be less common.

RSS icon Comments


I'm all for more housing with services. But get it away from residential neighborhoods. Put it downtown in the business district or in industrial areas, where the streets are empty at night.

Posted by pablocjr | January 31, 2008 1:20 PM

I have met a few ex-con's and housing employment and a medical care (if needed) is VITAL to ensure what happened on Cap Hill on New Years Eve does not happen.

The reality is many ex-cons (and America is great at locking up people compared to the rest of the industrialized nations) have no family, no friends and no nothing to go to when they get out of prison. Washington State litterally takes them to a bus depot with a ticket and says "you are on your own: good luck with that safety net that does not exist"

And we are shocked that they go back to a life of crime?

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 31, 2008 1:22 PM

The guy who killed Shannon Harps should have been forced to stay on his meds and off other drugs, or else be locked up. He needed more than somebody looking in on him every week.

Posted by elenchos | January 31, 2008 1:27 PM

I think we should have the lockups be where the population comes from.

The suburbs.

Yup, just look at the stats of where the families are.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 31, 2008 1:32 PM

This James Williams guy should not have been released from state supervision given his history of behavior. Linking him to the housing issue is a bit of a stretch.

Posted by stunk | January 31, 2008 1:40 PM

Yes, Pablo, putting HOUSING in RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS -- that's crazy.

Posted by Fnarf | January 31, 2008 1:42 PM

@3 It's incredibly difficult to get a court order for medical compliance. The illegal drugs are easy, but there are huge civil rights issues that are not only legal, but ingrained in the official ethics and practices of psychiatrists. It can be really frustrating. Until recently, I was dealing with a kid who wasn't med compliant, and even his probation officer didn't wanna bother trying for a court order, and this was in light of two suicide attempts, several domestic violence convictions, a number of times running away, and several probation violations.

This is just one more area where protections for the majority enable a few horrible people to do horrible things.

Posted by Gitai | January 31, 2008 1:45 PM


Then we need to roll back at least some of the protections for the violently mentally ill. As I've mentioned before, it's ridiculous that we have to wait for them to kill someone before we can do anything about them -- in which case they often get sent to prison which is not an appropriate accommodation for someone who is truly crazy.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 31, 2008 1:52 PM

Touché, Fnarf.

The point I was trying to make is that the importance of public safety far outweighs the need to integrate the James Williamses of the world into dense residential neighborhoods. NIMBY-ism perhaps, but I'd rather have murder-prone psychopaths roaming the streets of SODO than hanging out in the parking lot behind Madison Market.

Posted by pablocjr | January 31, 2008 2:05 PM

@8 It's a bitch, yes, but remember, the second we do that, we'll get a cluster of horror stories of people who really shouldn't be on meds being forced to take them, perhaps 16 year olds that write violent fantasies, but would never hurt anyone, and then you'll be screaming about greater protections.

Back and forth, back and forth, rushing into action, reaction, and counteraction based on the notoriety of events. Instead, let's do some quiet deliberation.

Posted by Gitai | January 31, 2008 3:07 PM

Ohhh, if only it were so simple. I double, triple dog dare you to define "violently mentally ill". Do remember that, for better or for worse, you are about to legislate away a persons rights so please make sure you cover all the edge cases. Remember that groups like the ACLU will come out of the woodwork and pick holes in it. Remember whatever bill you create will have to stand up to state courts and quite possibly even the supreme court.

If it was easy as easy is "force medicine to violently mentally ill people", we'd be doing it already.

BTW, this is actually a similar issue to registered sex offenders. Does the government have the right to restrict your rights even after you are released from "the system" (i.e. jail)?

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | January 31, 2008 3:21 PM

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