The National Weather Service put out a weather warning for the Seattle area; we might have some snow this holiday season. While their website proclaims “Primary Impact will be slippery roads”, anyone who’s walked through downtown or SLU lately can probably guess the real impact for our neighbors sleeping outside. If rampant holiday capitalism hasn’t drained you of all your extra time, energy, or cash yet, consider sharing some of it with the houseless. You’re not the only one dreaming of spending the winter season somewhere warm. Welcome to the Hellhole.
Cutting Corners Kills
By now, you’ve heard about the horrific Amtrak Cascades 501 derailment, which cost at least three people their lives with many more injured. Initial reports point toward speed as a determining factor in the tragedy, with the locomotive leaning into a curve at over 50 mph over its rated speed limit. This was the inaugural voyage of the Cascades line along the Point Defiance Bypass, a railway project intending to shave transit time between Seattle and Portland, dedicating the former railway—the one with the gorgeous view of the sound—as freight-only.
What you may not have heard is that the Washington State Department of Transportation aggressively moved ahead on the bypass project originally slated to open in 2019 in the interest of collecting federal stimulus money available only if completed this year. With such scarcity imposed, what corners are cut? Positive train control; an external safeguard which would have automatically slowed the train approaching the curve.
In this country of immense wealth, three people are dead in part because of an artificial scarcity imposed by a government with an impoverished imagination of how to serve the public and with designs, instead, on enriching the ruling class. With the passage of the GOP’s horrendous tax bill on Wednesday, our infrastructure will be starved further in the interest of vacuuming public wealth toward people and institutions already hoarding most of the nation’s wealth. They’ll use the resultant poor service and safety hazards to justify further cuts. We deserve—and can do—better.
The Faces of the Head Tax
In grand neoliberal tradition, instead of actually doing something, Seattle City Council members voted to form a task force to investigate the proposed head tax, and some familiar faces are on it. We’re excited to see Kirsten Harris-Talley and Katie Wilson on the list, and Sally Bagshaw must be ecstatic that gentrification king Ian Eisenberg of Uncle Ike’s fame is on the list. “Finally!” Sally shouts, “business is at the table! The Prophecy is coming true!”
We’d prefer that this task force was formed two years ago when Murray declared a state of emergency, but that was a different series of task forces for apparently different things. We’d prefer that instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a task force, they actually built housing, but we understand that land is expensive, and political campaigns don’t underwrite themselves.
You Don’t Get A Home, But You Can’t Stay Here
Turns out that if you want to make your houselessness numbers look better, you don’t even have to help anyone—you can just make those pesky people someone else’s problem. Many American cities are just offering the houseless one-way tickets out of the city rather than examining the shape of their city to identify how people end up houseless in the first place.
Even more infuriating:
- In some cities, any houseless that come back after leaving are permanently blocked from services.
- In some cities, they don’t actually verify that the houseless have any place to go— as long as they’re gone, that’s good enough.
- In most cities, they count those people as “exiting” houselessness, effectively reporting them as permanently rehoused.
These are the solutions that most politicians prefer—papering over the problem, generating “data” to “prove” they’ve succeeded, and completely, almost sublimely, failing to care about what the problem actually is.
Statistics Over Solutions
Now we turn to news about people who actually do things for the less fortunate: SHARE/WHEEL, who recently had a ton of their funding cut as part of the Seattle City Council’s attempt to increase (?) funding for houselessness programs. After Meg Olberding of the Human Services Department took to the press to downplay the effectiveness of groups like SHARE/WHEEL, the group proved that they were, in fact, moving people into permanent housing.
Let’s step back for a minute, though, and interrogate some assumptions that the HSD is apparently making:
- Work with the houseless apparently isn’t valuable unless it’s moving people into housing immediately. Of course, unless you’re a task force convened by the city council to study the formation of a body that will convene at some point to examine the houselessness problem, or whichever level of neoliberal nonsense we’re on now. You could spend that money and time on, y’know, housing, but who’s counting anyway?
- Work with the houseless apparently isn’t valuable unless it produces oodles of data. Check out this fawning article at Government Technology about Seattle’s “efficient, effective”, and taxpayer-funded database for tracking the houseless to see if they’re receiving services. It’s got “even more nuanced data!”
- Work with the houseless apparently is better when it’s not the houseless themselves organizing. If you were working smart, you’d involve the houseless when you were trying to find a solution for their problems, and SHARE/WHEEL is organizing and organized by houseless and formerly-houseless people. HSD apparently prefers to work the Seattle way, which is to collect data and throw their hands in the air for another year, without creating or identifying any new, permanent housing options.
If this makes you tired to read, you’re not alone! The Seattle DSA prefers to be hands-on help rather than passive observers, and we’re trying to spread that strategy to City Hall. Join us, won’t you?
Merry Christmas from Bobby Fergs
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson—who we don’t want to fawn over too much but boy, would we love to get a beer with that guy—has been busy this year. Here are a few of the entities he’s announced lawsuits against in 2017: Uber, Northwest Detention Center, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and neurotoxic pesticides, Betsy DeVos and for-profit colleges, President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the FCC, an onion-packing plant and of course, Comcast.
Ferguson announced the $100 million suit against the universe’s worst company in August 2016, but new information released Thursday shows just how terrible they are. The suit centers around Comcast’s Service Protection Plan (SPP), which “protects you against charges for service visits to diagnose and repair” to Comcast equipment, according to the company.
The new information released by Ferguson’s office reveals Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent, or outright lied and told people it was free when in fact the company charged a monthly fee (bonus points because the AG’s office points out the company had the nerve to increase the price of the bogus service from $4.99 to $5.99 since Ferguson filed his initial suit). In other cases, customers outright rejected the program but Comcast signed them up anyway.
“This new evidence makes clear that Comcast’s conduct is even more egregious than we first realized,” Ferguson said in a release. “The extent of their deception is shocking, and I will hold them accountable for their treatment of Washington consumers.”
Now Fergs is extra mad, and he’s seeking “substantially more” on behalf of all 1.2 million Comcast subscribers in Washington state. See you in hell, Comcast. ??
Class Enemy of the Week: Seattle Department of Transportation
Once you become familiar with the concept of “hostile architecture,” you’ll see it everywhere. There’s “leaning benches,” where one can stop—but not sit…and certainly not sleep!—while waiting for transit, awnings that give some cover from rain and also spikes or superfluous components on surfaces preventing one from conceivably sitting down to enjoy a public place. City of Seattle email records show that homelessness program funding was used to purchase and install staple-style bike racks under the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Belltown to encourage the use of the public space for a “different active public use.” Of course, what this means is that the city government banked on general, “progressive” regard for bike transportation in its weaponization against the houseless; where once the unsheltered could get some help from Alaskan Way in staying out of the rain, camping is now virtually impossible with the addition of these metal structures. As though sleeping on the street weren’t hard enough, Seattle’s roughly 4,000 unsheltered have SDOT to thank for the extra strife.
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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA communications team. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.