Thursday, September 13, 2018

Martin vs Boise

What About the Trash?

What About the Trash?
By Scott Wagner

“I think we need to stop making excuses for them and encourage them to clean up after themselves, not do it for them.  Nobody has a right to litter.”

Yeeps that's a tough sentence for me. But even so, I haven't got a big complaint about it being said, per se. Like a lot of coarse, broad swipes at reality, there's something in there of use– but the implications and confusions they cause are also important. One thing that we do a lot in these discussions is smoosh together statistical and individual shoulds and is-es into a kind of fuzzy, frothy soup of ideas– then we can argue about what the soup is, using broad brushes and big language. This is a noted problem in philosophy called the is-ought problem, but with this stuff, that's combined with an undifferentiated relationship between statistical and individual reality.

Here's a few observations from the current encampment I visit that use this is-ought problem and our unconscious mashup of statistical and individual portraits.

1. Some individual unsheltered or RV people "should" be cleaner, in the personal responsibility sense of caring for their own health, neighbor relations and political optics that can boomerang on them individually. If they did become cleaner, they would be happier and make others happier. The statement “stop making excuses for them” seems to be saying that we should do what I do occasionally, when I go by and say, 'would y'all please clean up around your RV?' One can encourage individuals to be cleaner, and sometimes we should - sometimes we REELLY should. Are they responsible for their mess, in some ways? Sure. Can we ask them to help out with their own mess?  Sure. Is it a good thing to do sometimes, or with certain people, or at certain times?  Sure.

2. Is it a good thing to do all the time? Hell no. Even a lot of the time? I personally don't think so. Some individuals can't clean up after themselves; some won't clean up after themselves, but can sometimes be encouraged and helped along enough via example and cheery good neighborliness to take much more care with their trash eventually; some don't care much about the mess, and it won't get cleaned unless a volunteer does it, which might beautify the streets in an important way, like I was trying to do last Saturday on a sensitive spot. Some people come into the area and dump trash that isn't related to or isn't much related to the residents, and it's hard to teach those guys personal responsibility by watching those piles grow.

None of those various types of situations and homeless individuals are benefited best through the 'let's not do it for them' approach. Any simple rule like 'let's not do it for them' at the very least has important exceptions --- I will also say that volunteers picking up a lot of trash is appreciated a great deal, and that, for most, our example as volunteers tends to be followed, not depended on more. The overall emphasis on personal responsibility is an easy shibboleth with meaningful gaps in usefulness, and is often used to justify cruelty and withholding simple charity, like cleaning up a big mess you can clean up easily. That's one reason why some of us react to personal responsibility arguments poorly.  Even if it's great here and there, in its place, in the right dosages, it's an especially-often bullshit overall philosophy in a trauma-soaked population. Individually, seemingly easy or normal-seeming tasks can be gargantuan or impossible for the damaged. We shouldn't toss around our shoulds as enthusiastically as we do, and should think more about how "what is" dictates what happens.

3. The encampments where volunteers are working are getting cleaner and cleaner now, mostly through the efforts of the residents. We occasionally provide simple assistance and simple examples. That often feels supportive and right to me.  Many residents help clean the trash when we bring a truck and bags.  A LOT of personal responsibility happens in these villages, some of it through what we do to "do it for them." The dictum of “don’t do it for them” is of use for a relatively small percentage of homeless individuals, with a kind of opposite "do it for them" and "let them make messes without comment" at least as appropriate many times.

4. The unsheltered as a group (statistically) are messier than most, but that's because, as others have said, they have a harder time staying clean because of societal abuses. I think we absolutely should "make excuses", regularly and often, especially with officials. When NYC has a garage strike and after four days the curbs and streets are piled high with garbage of every sort, do people point at New Yorkers and say, "Oh what slobs you are; why don't you take care of the place?” Of course not, we understand the problem.

5. We don't have to decide which of these countervailing truths are "the most important" right now, the one we must emphasize all the time. There's no conflict when we think we should ask someone to clean up their mess, and when we cut them as a population slack, or they cut themselves slack.

6. The unsheltered have a double-digit percentage of them who need mild-to-major counseling about hoarding. This may be higher than in the housed population but that is not certain.  With hoarders, “don’t do it for them” is extremely problematic. People equate hoarded goods and trash, when these items come about in two nearly separate ways, with two entirely separate cures. These people have to be treated clinically, and village life has to accommodate their presence, probably in uncomfortable compromises. Again, simple dictums are sometimes useful, sometimes problematic.

7. "Nobody has a right to litter" is another kinda-sorta truism. Sure, it's always illegal to litter - but many such "shoulds" have to disappear when you don't have trash service. Shoulds are harder to suss out clearly when no one is helping, one pile is the same as another (and piles is all you get to do), there’s no regular garbage pick up, and when you're traumatized, trained out of the habit of cleanliness, stressed, distracted, and otherwise fucked. Also, when society treats an entire group of people as pariahs, some of those people will not care much about the greater good of society.  Again, we hope for greater individual personal responsibility. These two ideas can co-exist; I think they must, with a natural tension between them respected.

8. I think any such broad-brush contention would better serve with these kinds of offsets and healthy contrasts mentioned at the same time, or at least alluded to.

9. The city has a 'live in your own filth, you pigs' sanitation policy which we oppose at every opportunity.  But if we set that aside, we might be surprised how hard it is for damaged, weak, and/or hounded people to buy and keep trash bags, or get their septic tank to stop leaking, or find trash receptacles, or keep dogs out of trash, or keep neighbor's trash under control, or avoid having drunk friends and neighbors add to piles. These are not trivial exceptions to the urge to "stop making excuses for them...[don't] do it for them." We don't get to choose to ignore these deep offsets to any call for personal responsibility. We get to take both perspectives as appropriate, and weigh out sensibly in the moment when one is important, or when the other is not.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sonoma Affordable Housing For All Expo


On Sunday, October 14th, low-cost affordable housing advocates, city and county staff, and members of the public with questions will the ___________________________.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Moving into Homeless Housing

The recent interest and funding to build homeless housing with supportive services has resulted in many questioning what the most effective building and service partnerships which should be formed.  I’d like to share what I believe.
Long ago, when community groups providing supportive services reached out to housing developers to house our clients, we helped each other gain new skills.  Service agencies learned about housing development, and housing developers learned about needs beyond a place to live.  The partnerships strengthened each, and a significant number of our homeless community were helped into stability and housing.  Those fleeing domestic violence, being flushed out of state mental hospitals, and struggling with addictions received new hope. 
But while the joint development of housing was certainly a bold and successful addition to our community’s assets, it was the recognition that forming a supportive community of those sharing the journey that made the lasting impact.  Remembering that most of those being targeted had only limited experience alone on the streets, our solutions were focused on fulfilling their desire to transition to traditional family housing lifestyles.  Even so, success was greatly dependent on how effectively we helped build a new intentional supportive community around them.
In the interim, those left behind in our efforts have built communities of their own anywhere they could.  Our unwillingness to push beyond the socially acceptable homeless has not deterred those out early and pushed out consistently from turning their anger and resourcefulness into survival strategies.  The failures of our society to deliver the basic components of upward mobility to most of our citizens has soured many of them on whether it will ever be so.
In the work we will face over the next two months to create a county response to the millions of dollars being offered by the state for homeless supportive housing, we need to talk about what the housing and supportive services which are needed by the long-term, un-housed homeless.  Experienced in living in shelters, vacant houses, buildings, tents, sleeping bags, and shadows – we need to work with them to learn what they need to build stability and a willingness to reach out to us.
We need to also recognize that this new group of long-term homeless may only be able to transition if the route is through small communities that give each other support.  Many of those small communities have been cobbled together using less thsn traditional housing models, and the supportive services provided to each other are not available through existing housing designs.

Those of us who aspire to bring about new resources which meet the needs that are defined need to commit strongly to work together.  We need to re-imagine both what supportive services and homeless housing are, and our roles in bringing it about.  I am dedicated to bringing an open mind to that work, and I invite others to join with me in doing so.

Gregory Fearon
2040 Elizabeth Way
707 230-1198

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Three Requests
1)  Bruce Pearson is going to canvass Mercury Way at some point tomorrow.  If you have a few hours, it would be great for him to have a partner.  Also, some of those who got our notice who will come looking for a way to return the completed form or pick up blank ones.  Call me 795-2890.

2)  Consider becoming a "Buddy" with one person next week, to help them get their home/vehicle smog-ed, registered (and repaired if necessary).  Call me 795-2890.

3)  If you can help get a vehicle where Sara was living out of the tow truck lot, email Michael immediately at

As many of you know, on Monday morning we got word that the police were in the R.V. area off Corporate Center Parkway with tow trucks.  Homeless Action! people put a sign on the door of our usual Monday meeting and joined the CAC people who'd come out to help.  They towed a van, Sara's PT Cruiser and one other vehicle.  Albert B. was woken up by a cop who said his van would be towed as soon as the tow truck arrived.  He had less than 40 minutes to gather his things by the side of the road.

Gregory, Gail, Bruce, Michael T., Victoria, Eileen, Colleen, Thomas, Anita, Adrian S. and I supported people, did legal observing and whatever else we could do to help.  Kathleen called the Press Democrat repeatedly until she reached a reporter.   We gave Albert support all the way to making up his bed at Sam Jones -- getting some of his property back along the way.  We also continued work on a survey of those who are living there.   Someone made a video.  Would you please "reply all" to this email and send us a link?

Michael is trying to raise money toward getting Sara's PT Cruiser out of the tow truck lot.  It costs $200 plus $55 per day that it is in the tow yard. So we are looking at about $365 if we can get it out on Wednesday. So far we only have $165.  If you can help, email Michael immediately at

Many people have left the area.

Gregory, Julie Combs, Jack Tibbetts and Jennielynn Holmes all talked to "People Who Decide" about leaving the residents alone as long as they are working with us on their registration and/or working with the HOST people through Coordinated Entry.

The Press Democrat did a front page story on Tuesday morning:

On Monday afternoon, we knew that we will have a donor for $15,000 toward registering and getting many of vehicles up and running.  That was very energizing.  We particularly want to save the R.V.'s and Trailers which make a home for many of these folks.

We began offering a Request for Funding form.  So far, 25 people have filled out the Request Forms. It's likely we'll have more than 30 by the end of the week.   We are going up and down the streets, usually in pairs, and talking to people one by one, and filling out the forms.  We've done all the streets but one.

No one was towed today.

We've begun putting the attached sign on special orange paper on the vehicles who have filled out their Request for Funding forms and are working with us on their registration.  But, we have no agreement from the SRPD that they will honor this sign.

There's a meeting on Thursday at 2 pm among "People Who Decide" about what do to.  Capt. Craig Schwartz is in charge of the police actions.

This is why I asked you to  "Buddy Up" with one person to help them get their home/vehicle smog-ed and registered (and repaired if necessary)  If each of us takes one person, we can do this smoothly and quickly, with joy and happiness for all.

TOMORROW (Wednesday)
There are a lot of stories and much hardship.  I'd like to tell you about some of the people I talked with today but I think it's better to protect their privacy.  Any of you who have done interviews at any of the camps know how your heart both opens and breaks as you talk with people.

I'm taking a day off from the camp tomorrow, so I can straighten out the paperwork and get it all in order.  You can catch me at home until about 1 pm.  795-2890


Monday, August 13, 2018

Fighting Toxic Homelessness Statistics and Reporting

The article tone illustrates the inanity of leaning enthusiastically into the one homelessness statistic that is looked at by far the most by government. We have no clue from that number, or from anything the article says or shows in its cool graphs, whether these Seattle shelter and village programs are saintly or destructive.

1. Our homelessness programs aren't primarily rated on customer satisfaction, or stability provided (however we define giving shelter, safety, consistency, physical health, or access to services.) No service outcomes hit the top evaluative indicators. Not even key metrics on housing preparedness, or job or drug or credit or child reunion success, or mental health.

Set aside the difficulty of gathering good metrics a moment, an understandable and constant problem in human services. Stats of people "exiting" to "permanent housing" are gamed. The games are rarely discussed, because they are revealing, and most parties involved are motivated subtly by self-interest and inertia and politics to overlook various bits of bad or embarrassing throughput. So, instead of struggling with the family of statistics that we need to measure usefully the complex processes of qualifying for, finding, winning, and then keeping permanent housing, we gloss and dumb down and game it. 

One number, exits to permanent housing, rules all. Our friends are shoved in motels for three days, and then thrown out– but not before they can be counted as a success. People are thrown in shelters and then thrown out for statistical purposes. They visit their mom or their tribe for a week- cured permanently of homelessness!- and return to the street. People go into one-month programs, 6 month programs, 2 year programs, and are permanent successes, as they make marks on the wall, counting the days that remain. People hit the max time at their only option for shelter and get kicked out; they get kicked out of other programs, or they walk;; they get kicked out of supposedly "permanent" housing, out of villages, out of shelters. They fall off the statistical ends-of-the-earth, the Artist Formerly Known as a Success, sometimes because the system needs to foist a new someone as a success in their place. People "refuse" to accept housing, victims of tricks of procedure, or language, or labyrinthine skits that avoid reasonable accommodation of disabilities.

Think about those leaks in the system. We don't know what "exit to permanent housing" means. We know that permanent housing usually doesn't last long, but we don't know much about the averages, or the reasons for variation, or what to do about it. The sin isn't that we don't know those things– they are hard things to know. It's that we pretend we don't have to know, that we just need one number to judge success.
Let's move on to the arcane kingdom of "transition". The doublespeak conventions of Housing First force us to talk about transitional housing that can't transition to much more than the system leaks denoted above, because there's little to transition to. We stand around like we're in a gulag in Soviet Russia, practiced at mouthing lies, turning these simple statistical dumbdowns over and over in our hands, pretending together, cluck-clucking about how some transitional programs aren't getting people into permanent housing well. We do this because we literally have nothing else to talk about. All that matters is that one number. The pertinent information, about the pipelines and bottlenecks to housing, are hidden, obfuscated, or downplayed for political purposes.
Transitional small homes and communities are the only housing that can be rapidly developed, the only realistic hope for most of getting out of the cold and abuse until many years from now. Such homes can be as permanent and safe as any renter's lease, as well-built and long-lasting as our sense of charity allows. They can save lives and minds while we wait for an uncaring world to right itself. Yet villages are a foster child we keep manacled in a back room. We get funding, murmur about emergencies, then shun and dismiss villages as unworthy. The pogroms continue on the street, in twos and threes and tens.

As a team, let's please take the time to refute in our minds the points in the article, and get used to doing so, so we can clearly and cleanly name the distorted  mindset we are enduring. 

Here are the only 4 sentences of the article I could find that are of any use: 

"...[nonprofits are] protesting how “exits” are being calculated after a recent change in methodology. Their concern is that they are being penalized for people who spend nights in shelter whom they cannot immediately move into stable housing, or who decline offers of help [typically for good, albeit unintuitive, reasons] ...Even when shelter clients are mentally, physically and financially ready to move into housing, there often isn’t a place for them to go, Giovengo said. More than 8,300 households are on the county’s centralized intake list for homeless housing."

We can't let the kind of critical, gossipy, and simplistic dialogue of most of this article go on locally. So much propaganda and obfuscation is tolerated by everyone, feeding our officials' and the public's abuses. Pretending that the mission of the Continuum of Care is solely 1) build permanent housing, 2) 6 month human warehousing, and then 3) managing the emergency room expense fallout, is what has created this cynical merry-go-round of ours.