The Hellhole – week of 11/27

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Can't make no demands

About the header photo: Fox News’ Kennedy called Seattle a “socialist hellhole” in a July 12 broadcast. We wish!

Your Hellhole is back after a brief Thanksgiving break!

Under capitalism, we’re all victims to one degree or another. Most of us are lucky to make a dime while our boss makes a dollar; however, far too many of us have to sleep outside or in a jail cell because of the degree to which we’re victimized. Politicians will make empty promises about how they’re going to solve our problems (Hi, Jenny! You’re first on the list this week!), but it’s clear that they’d rather we just went away than find out why we’re going hungry. At least some of us were able to get a good deal on a new laptop this week! Welcome to the Hellhole.

Rapid De-Housing

In his last major appearance as Seattle mayor before Mayor Jenny Durkan’s taking the oath, anti-panhandling advocate and encampment sweeps supporter Tim Burgess announced the city’s plan for redistributing $34 million in funding for service providers on the frontlines of Seattle’s houselessness crisis. Promised a year ago, the plan noticeably cuts funding from outspoken organizations like SHARE/WHEEL (who provide needed emergency shelter for some of Seattle’s 4,000 unsheltered) in favor of organizations who better fit the city’s own metrics for success.

Among the new destinations for this money is an expansion of “rapid rehousing,” a program where rental vouchers are provided to qualifying unhoused Seattleites. Currently, such vouchers are good for 3 to 9 months of market rate housing – likely leased from a landlord with an existing relationship with the city. While counted in metrics as an exit out of houselessness, it’s rarely sustainable. Try making rent once the vouchers run dry, given even stably-housed Seattleites can’t always manage it.

Not unnoticed to our Marxist eyes, though, is the fact that a rental voucher program takes public funds raised via regressive taxation (hitting hardest those who make little or none at all) and deposits them straight into property owners’ coffers. These folks, who’d have you believe that property values are the true victims of this crisis, are then mollified by this steady source of city income, profiting off this human misery. There’s no stipulation that the vouchers must be used in Seattle, meaning rapid rehousing smells like fast-tracked gentrification and a systematic export of the unhoused. If property owners are cashing in on vouchers drawn on public funding, then the city is only aiding the consolidation of wealth, furthering income inequality and, as a result, increasing the number of unhoused Seattleites. It’s a win-win for the city’s moneyed and powerful. It’s a loss for everyone else and even death for those for whom emergency shelters (nor area overpasses) will no longer be available. 87 unsheltered people have died in King County this year, up from 62 last year. You might contact the City Council to tell them that you’re not buying what they’re selling.

To Suffer is Criminal

Bellevue and Poulsbo have recently criminalized houselessness, and the melange of neoliberal, bourgeois language they try to deploy in their own defense is sickening.

Real Change reports the Bellevue City council wrote this about their new ordinances: “These new tools seek to balance the use of infrastructure and neighborhood quality with the city’s overarching compassionate and regionally coordinated strategy on homelessness.” Despite the fact that this sentence requires two or three reads before you can get anything approaching meaning from it, if your plan is so bad you need to include “compassionate,” you probably should rethink it.

While in Poulsbo: “There was an anecdotal uptick in folks that were not just homeless, but were also involved in criminal activity,” [prosecutor and risk manager with the city of Poulsbo Alexis Foster] said. “We realize that being homeless doesn’t mean you’re a criminal, and that it’s not a crime.” This means “someone told us they thought that maybe some of those people were doing something potentially illegal, and since we don’t like them, we decided to take a shortcut due process and make all of them criminals”.

The first time the police contact a person caught in violation of the law, they are to issue that person a noncriminal notice for a court appearance. There, they get a copy of the ordinance and a resource list of community providers or housing, mental health and other services. If caught again, they can be charged with a misdemeanor … The city of Poulsbo is not required to provide those services under the law. If they don’t like how you look, Poulsbo cops force you to show up in court, where they hand you some pamphlets. If Poulsbo cops see you again, they’ll arrest you. If you don’t take time off from your job and lose wages to be handed pamphlets, they’ll arrest you.

Want to know why the prospect of houselessness makes people uncomfortable? It highlights that our system is unequal, and that anyone can be a victim. The rich and housed don’t want to confront that they might be next, or that they have something that others don’t have anything of, or that they’re complicit in a system that victimizes the vast majority of us for the benefit of a few rich oligarchs. They’d rather just arrest you.

The wheels on the bus (don’t) go round and round (when you don’t pay people enough to live)

Yellow bus drivers for Seattle Public Schools demanded access to what should be basic human rights Wednesday by participating in a daylong strike.

The strike comes after First Student, the company that operates the bus service, failed to reach an agreement over healthcare and retirement plans for drivers with the Teamsters Local 174.

The union released a statement Wednesday morning saying the strike “will protest First Student’s unilateral change and implementation of an inferior medical plan for its employees.” The union’s statement also notes that none of the 400 drivers have an “adequate retirement plan.” Union spokesperson Jamie Fleming told KOMO News that 374 of roughly 400 drivers can’t afford healthcare while earning $18 an hour and working 25 to 30 hours a week.

“This company has shown over and over again that they do not value our members, and quite frankly, they do not value Seattle’s families either,” Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks wrote in the union’s statement. “They have left us no other choice.”

Participating in a strike is not only financially risky, but it also opens strikers up to potential bodily harm. A KING 5 reporter captured footage of a bus nearly running down a striking driver (thankfully, no one was injured).

 

 

The Teamsters said the strike would only last a day but could go on longer if their demands aren’t met. If you’d like to learn more about unions or organizing at your own workplace, attend a Seattle DSA Workplace Organizing Collective meeting. Meetings are every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at All Pilgrims Church on Capitol Hill.

These Must Be Those Seats at The Table

Following last month’s shameful business owner-penned letter of protest against a life-saving head tax that would address the housing crisis, Mayor Jenny Durkan visited Elliott Bay Book Company to announce her formation of the Seattle Small Business Advisory Council. Small businesses already have outsized sway in local government, so much so that they are largely untouched by Seattle Democrats’ self-congratulatory labor policies, such as exemptions from a $15 minimum wage and secure scheduling, nor would they have been touched by the HOMES tax, even in its original proposal. Regardless, the Mayor’s priorities during her first day on the job should not go without comment. Shoutout to the IWW General Defense Council Local 24 activists who risked assault and arrest to remind the gathered entrepreneurs and the press about the Mayor’s involvement in prosecuting two men groomed for involvement in a terror plot and other authoritarian acts as federal prosecutor.

“Setting the Table;” Please Kill This Metaphor

An estimable Silicon Valley lobbying firm, Internet Association, has opened an office in Seattle. Our guess is that, with unions able to organize rideshare drivers, Attorney General Bob Ferguson suing Uber and the Seattle City Council taxing AirBNB, giant corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon (don’t these two already own The Table?), Google, AirBNB and others, see a need to stop much-needed regulation that’s attempting, to protect consumers ahead of rapid technological advances. Despite mind-bending amounts spent on electoral campaign contributions, these corporate behemoths must feel like they need a… seat at The Table.

Kidnapped for Profit– Twice

First, Bengally Fatty was a victim of labor trafficking– brought to the US to work for pennies, and threatened with deportation if he protested. Now, he’s being held against his will in a for-profit prison, which is currently being sued by the state attorney general for essentially using inmates as slave labor. This is the America we live in. Fuck ICE.

Class Enemy of the Week: “Nuanced Approaches”

It’s a little abstract for an enemy, sure, but it’s just as pernicious as any Trumpland talking head— the voice that says things aren’t as easy as those grumpy activists (read: constituents) make them out to be.

That voice is amplified this week in a commentary piece in The Stranger that sings the praises of a “nuanced approach” to houselessness outreach efforts. The Stranger piece focuses on a Seattle Times report that takes stock of the effectiveness of current efforts in Seattle to house the houseless. While they praised the efforts of the individuals in the Navigation Team, they wondered about how effective they would be at their current level of funding, and whether they’d have any way of knowing they’d be effective. We’re worried about the same things!

In reality, the current situation turns the poor into couriers for their rich landlord’s monthly allotment of city money, and a “nuanced approach” says “it’s working!” when the number of current victims climbs ever-higher. A “nuanced approach” puts every program on a provisional budget that enables it to accomplish nothing, and then terminates the program when it accomplishes nothing. A “nuanced approach,” frankly, just doesn’t get anything done sometimes.

And what’s more, in case you got fooled by this piece into believing Seattle actually cares about the houseless, don’t forget the city is spending $1.1 million this year to fence out unhoused residents from where they’ve been living. We’re tired of reading the same take over and over again, and we want to try something else. To solve houselessness, we want to put people in city-owned housing, with no strings attached. Seems pretty uncomplicated to us! But who will pay for it? A public bank would.

 

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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA Communications Committee. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.