Solid Ground believes that effective, enduring solutions to homelessness will only come by following the lead of people who’ve experienced it. That’s why we asked Kirk McClain, a Solid Ground Residential Case Manager and member of the Lived Experience Coalition (LEC), to share his thoughts about recent proposals and the importance of lived experience in shaping public policy. Here’s Kirk’s take, in his own words.
The leaders of Seattle and King County have been trying to find a solution to homelessness since the first shacks went up in Hooverville during the Great Depression, and it’s supposedly been a top priority for our local government since 2006. That’s 15 years of promises of change and solutions from non-profit leaders and politicians, and millions of dollars spent – yet the homeless population has increased steadily to this day.
It is clear that Seattle and King County governments have failed in their attempts to solve the region’s homelessness issue. Everyone who lives here would like to solve homelessness, but there are differing opinions on how best to do it. Some say Seattle has been throwing way too much money at the problem and it hasn’t worked. Others say we should make more laws that criminalize the homeless.
Of the many wrongheaded methods that Seattle has employed to solve its homeless problem, the latest has come from a group of downtown business owners and wealthy real estate developers who have decided that permanent sweeps of all parks and rest areas to remove the homeless is the answer we’ve all been waiting for. Their proposal was called Charter Amendment Measure 29, ironically also known as Compassion Seattle.
“At the heart of proposals like Measure 29 is the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with homeless people; that skyrocketing rents, social systems and institutions – and a severe lack of affordable housing – have no connection to the causes that keep people living on the street. This shows a basic misunderstanding of homelessness and its root causes.” ~Kirk McClain, Residential Case Manager and Lived Experience Coalition member
Fortunately, a judge has blocked Measure 29 from appearing on the ballot this fall, but we are likely to see more proposals like it if we do not chart a different path toward a real solution. At the heart of proposals like Measure 29 is the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with homeless people; that skyrocketing rents, social systems and institutions – and a severe lack of affordable housing – have no connection to the forces that keep people living on the street. This shows a basic misunderstanding of homelessness and its root causes.
I believe it is a mistake to leave the solution to homelessness in the hands of wealthy white people who have never seen a day of homelessness in their entire lives, and would never lower themselves to actually get to know a homeless person.
Other communities have tried to criminalize homelessness as well. In April, the Auburn City Council voted to make it a crime to camp on public property and imposed penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for those charged under the new law. Backers of the ordinance said people living in city parks would be offered housing options, but the truth is the city has only 39 beds in its emergency shelter and an estimated 350 people experiencing homelessness. The city has not yet said how many people it has jailed for the crime of not having a home.
“I believe it is a mistake to leave the solution to homelessness in the hands of wealthy white people who have never seen a day of homelessness in their entire lives, and would never lower themselves to actually get to know a homeless person.” ~Kirk McClain
The business interests behind Measure 29 don’t understand, nor do they care to understand, what criminal justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin said: “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” In this instance, that means people with lived experiences of homelessness should be consulted when looking for solutions to homelessness.
The Measure 29 campaign did not consult anyone with lived experience, nor did they want to. This was no small oversight; it was very intentional because they knew they would not get our support.
The Lived Experience Coalition – a group of formerly and currently homeless people seeking a REAL solution to homelessness – supports the work of the King County Homelessness Regional Authority, which was created to address the problem of independent service providers whose services were fragmented and unconnected. This resulted in variations in service eligibility requirements, and left the door open for racist, unfair service policies. The old homelessness policies (and many current ones) amount to the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing on a county-wide scale.
“People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.” ~Sheila McKechnie, Scottish trade unionist
“Homeless people need to be helped, not removed from sight.” ~Kirk McClain
I am a member of the Lived Experience Coalition. The basic difference between the LEC and the backers of Measure 29 is that we actually care about our homeless brothers and sisters.
The Measure 29 campaign simply sees us, and all homeless people, as a “problem” that needs to be dealt with in a way that somehow makes us just disappear from their view. They think that if we just go away, the problem would be solved. Homeless people need to be helped, not removed from sight.
The LEC has already made a public statement in opposition to Measure 29, and we intend to use our resources and voices to continue to fight against the racist and inhumane policies that its backers tried to force upon the Seattle City Council. The LEC’s approach to solving homelessness necessarily includes acknowledgment from the City and County that institutional racism is a major contributing factor in keeping minorities from getting and staying housed, and that all public policies related to homelessness be centered in Racial Equity. We oppose moving homeless people from one situation to another based upon the whims of people in power and those who have wealth.
Our position on homelessness can best be summed up by a quote from Scottish trade unionist Sheila McKechnie: “People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.”