I’ve been reading a lot lately about the escalation of homelessness in Seattle and a few neighborhoods waging war on the people who’ve ended up living rough near them. I’m saddened and ashamed at neighbors calling for police to increase rousting of people, while no one seems concerned with providing services to the people living in tents and cars. My neighborhood is using fear-mongering and hyperbole to get residents to cough up money for private security patrols. They want to turn our neighborhoods into militarized zones of zero tolerance for the less fortunate. They would rather pay to push the poverty out of their view than to deal with the harsh realities of what’s happening to our city economically.
Twitter, neighborhood blogs, and the NIMBY-filled nextdoor.com are pushing people towards selfish negativity, getting eachother worked up, scapegoating the most visible groups of people (RVs), and blowing things out of proportion. One thing is certain, homelessness is up. In a recent count, a sweep done by volunteers to count people on the streets estimated that homelessness was up 39% in the past two years. But there is no proof that the people living in the RVs or bushes are the ones stealing things. Or that theft has increased over last year.
The main issue that people seem to be circling around is car prowls. These well-to-do folks in nice areas park their very nice cars on public streets, often left full of their awesome rich-people stuff. Someone walks by and sees this horrible inequity, a car full of things they can’t afford, and breaks the window and takes all the things. I’m not defending the action of the prowler. Stealing is wrong. But so is having a bunch of fancy shit and showing it off and not sharing. Ditto on hiring people with guns to threaten the lives and well-being of other people just to protect a bunch of fancy shit that some rich person bought and cared so little about that they left it out on a public street for everyone to see. The person has a conniption that they weren’t allowed to leave their personal belongings unattended on a public street and have them guarded and safe all night. Guess what folks, maybe if your overconsumption of everything wasn’t so rampant, you’d be able to fit all your nice shiny things inside your house, and your nice shiny car inside your garage or at the very least in your driveway, off the street which does not belong to you. There is a lot of entitlement about what liberties you get to take with public streets and what level of security you are guaranteed there. If these people would park on their property and not keep cars full of enticing things, how much longer would this area remain a viable target for car prowls? But no, I’ve seen their garages, piled high with things bought and forgotten. This is a cultural sickness, a capitalist sickness. Hoarding things you don’t need while others starve.
No one seems to be asking the tent and RV dwellers how they ended up here, what happened that landed them on the streets, or asking what they need to get back into jobs or housing. I’m not seeing any neighborhood coalitions to gather food or donate needed supplies, or to help in any way. I think it would do us good to remember how lucky we are, to live in houses in lovely neighborhoods and own cars that you can drive around and fill with nice things. Poverty used to be sequestered in pockets of the city where well-off middle class residents never had to go, see, deal with, have empathy for or provide any assistance.
Now we have poverty everywhere, and we have to look at it, we have to deal with it, but we choose how to deal with it. We can choose to be a bunch of selfish shits who throw a tantrum and demand these people be thrown to the wolves, or we can choose to be kind adult people and come together to find solutions for everyone, even the most poor of Seattle’s residents. If we can afford to dig a tunnel under our city for a fancy toll highway, we can afford to help people who were tanked with the economy or taken down by mental or physical illnesses. If we can afford to send troops overseas, and pay to rebrand the police department and replace all of their cars and uniforms, we can afford to find a place for the displaced.
Don’t make me sad, Seattle. Look for your generous and empathetic side. Imagine finding yourself homeless due to some unforeseeable terrible tragic thing. How would you want your neighbors to respond?