Does “Our Best” Leave Black Girls Behind?

This piece originally ran in Seattle Magazine

In 2012, only 57 percent of African-American boys graduated from high school in Washington state, compared to 73 percent of their white counterparts.

The achievement gap for young black men goes far beyond their graduation rates. Nationally, African-American boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school as white boys, and are three times as likely to be suspended. In Seattle, African-American boys are nearly three times as likely as white boys to be referred to special education, and these students in general fall far behind their white counterparts on nearly every standard measure of success—from third-grade reading scores to seventh-grade math proficiency to graduation rates. In 2015, 56 percent of white Seattle Public Schools graduates ended up going to a four-year college; just 30 percent of black students did the same. This achievement gap has lifelong ramifications; nearly 70 percent of young black men who drop out of school will end up in prison, and one in three black boys will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

“If you look at discipline data or graduation data or just regular third-grade test data, you’ll see just a huge discrepancy in the gaps between black males and their counterparts,” says Dwane Chappelle, director of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning.

The achievement gap between black and white boys has been documented for decades, but the emphasis on programs targeted at improving the outcomes for black boys is a more recent phenomenon. Last year, after the City of Seattle’s first Education Summit, Mayor Ed Murray convened a 32-member advisory committee to come up with recommendations to close the gap. This year, to help accomplish this audacious goal, Murray organized a Youth Opportunity Cabinet, which includes African-American city department heads, such as Chappelle and Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, and announced a new initiative focused on improving young black male achievement, called Our Best. (“If they are given resources that others take for granted, our young black men are our best,” Surratt says.)

The city has allocated $300,000 for the first year of the program (with few details on exactly how the money will be spent), which is modeled after former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, but aimed at boys and youth between the ages of 14 and 24. A good portion of that money will support a one-year pilot project, which began in July, to double the number of black male mentors, by providing a clearinghouse and technical support for existing programs; the money will also fund a new special adviser to the mayor on young black male achievement.

Mentors, Surratt says, can give black boys the kind of positive role models they may be lacking in home or at school, and from experience can provide lessons on how to cope with challenges. “It’s not a cultural deficiency model,” says Surratt, referring to a model that says young black men are broken and need to be fixed. “It’s an asset richness model”—one that takes the assets that already exist in the African-American community and puts them to work guiding young men who may be struggling into responsible adulthood.

Our Best also includes a new mayor’s council on black male achievement, with the goal of increasing the number of black boys who graduate high school; providing young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 more pathways to “meaningful,” well-paid employment; and reducing the percentage of young black men entering the criminal justice system.

While the city’s renewed focus on young black male achievement is both admirable and necessary, some worry that male-focused programs like Our Best leave black girls behind.

Black girls are six times as likely as white girls to get kicked out of school—a racial gap in suspension rates that dwarfs the gap between black and white boys.

Like those of their male counterparts, black girls’ reading and math scores are at or near the bottom level, and four in 10 black girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the reason. Black girls who drop out may suffer greater economic consequences than black boys, largely because the jobs that are available for female high school dropouts pay significantly less than those available to male dropouts. Black girls are also far more likely to be single parents without other sources of support, which compounds the impact of lower wages. Little wonder, then, that the median net worth of single black women is $100, compared with almost $7,900 for black men and $41,500 for single white women.

Moreover, black girls experience harm at school that the standard “achievement gap” yardstick simply fails to measure, such as sexual violence, suicide, harassment and the consequences of single parenting, says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the founder and director of the African American Policy Forum and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University.

“There is a whole range of ways that girls are impacted by these environments that people aren’t even talking about because the point of departure is always the boy,” says Crenshaw. Much like health research that for many years only used male subjects, the data available on African-American student achievement is largely centered on outcomes that primarily impact boys, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, creating a feedback loop that leaves girls out. “It’s not just one gender that’s struggling, [but] the conversation up ’til now has assumed that the only students in crisis were boys,” says Crenshaw.

Proponents of Our Best say they’re aware that girls face specific challenges that boys don’t. “We all know that our young ladies need support as well,” Chappelle says. But, he says, “We have to get that infrastructure in place first, and then we will be able to provide the young ladies with support, too.” Supporters of Our Best also insist that by helping young men, the program will benefit young black women as well, by fixing systems that hurt everybody when they’re broken.

“The intent is that if you fix a demographic that is clearly doing statistically the poorest, you are in fact fixing the institutional problems for the other demographics as well,” says City Council member Bruce Harrell, an Our Best proponent. “In fixing a lot of the institutional practices that work to the detriment of young black males, I think young black females and even others will reap the benefits.”

Surratt adds, “Unfortunately, across almost every metric that you can imagine, every social, economic and health indicator, young black men are suffering the most, and so we wanted to tackle this part of the community first.”

Crenshaw, who criticized Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program for excluding girls in a New York Times op-ed piece, is less convinced, calling that theory “trickle-down social justice” that “doesn’t work any better than Reaganomics did.”

Chappelle points to the fact that at least one school in Seattle that implemented the My Brother’s Keeper program, Aki Kurose Middle School, has since added an analogous Our Sister’s Keeper program for girls as evidence that the program will probably expand—eventually.

“Once we get Our Best down as far as young black men are concerned, then I would anticipate we would figure out a way to make sure that we are weaving in the support we need for our young black women, and also other young women of color who have historically been marginalized,” Chappelle says. The question is, how long will it take? And will it be soon enough to help the latest generation of young black girls who are at risk of falling through the cracks?

Michael Roberts: I Support Safe Consumption Because I Don’t Want Other Families to Lose Their Children

This is part 3 in a series of interviews with advocates on both sides of the safe-consumption issue.

Earlier this week, a coalition of public health experts and people who have lost loved ones to overdoses announced that they are suing to block Initiative 27, which would ban supervised drug consumption sites throughout King County, on the grounds that public health decisions are outside the scope of the initiative process. The group, called Protect Public Health, argues in their lawsuit that under state law, King County and its public health department are responsible for making public-health policy decisions for the county, and “[i]t would be antithetical to this scheme to allow citizens to delay or override urgent action on a public health crisis merely by raising sufficient funds to qualify a referendum or initiative.” (You can read the full complaint here.)

Last week, the King County Elections Department confirmed that initiative supporters had collected enough signatures to qualify for the February 2018 ballot.

With safe consumption very much in the news this week, I thought it would be a good time to hear from some advocates on both sides of the safe consumption issue.

This final installment features Michael Roberts, the cofounder of Amber’s HOPE, an addiction awareness and prevention organization named after his daughter, Amber Roberts, who died of a heroin overdose at just 19. Since his daughter’s death, Roberts, who is in recovery himself, has worked to raise awareness of the opiate epidemic and promote substance use disorder prevention. Roberts says he supports safe consumption sites not only because they save lives, but because they provide connections to nonjudgmental treatment and help for people who may be filled with shame and self-loathing because of their substance use. I talked to Roberts by phone last month, just after the second anniversary of his daughter’s death.

Here’s Roberts:

My daughter Amber passed away two years ago. She was 19 and she was at her mom’s house, in her bedroom, and her mom found her in the morning.

When you overdose from heroin, what a lot of people don’t know is you don’t really overdose on one drug. We got the tox reports and there was alcohol and ecstasy along with opiates. But heroin is the one that puts you to sleep.

“This was the girl who I still had to take to the doctor to get shots because she hated needles so much.”

We knew for sure she was doing heroin two weeks before she passed. My birthday’s in June, and she always made time to spend the day with me or do something with me. And when she changed plans at the last minute, to me, that was a red flag. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, who was one of her best friends since the 7th grade, and I asked her why. She said he was too smothering. Well, he goes to college in Oregon. He plays football. He’s not around. So that was another red flag.

She started smoking pot around junior high, and doing ecstasy and drinking. I knew there was a trend there, so I always kept an eye on it. We always had what we thought was an open communication about drugs and alcohol. I was planning on getting her into detox and into rehab. I’ve been to rehab three times myself, and I’ve always been an advocate for recovery.

The first time I went was in 2000, and it was about 50-50 opiate-related and alcohol-related. Then I went in 2009 and it was like 70 opiate-related and alcohol was the minority. And talking to all these kids that were like a bunch of sports players that got injured—the next thing you know, they’re shooting heroin.

She loved to go to EDM shows and raves. And so she went to Vegas with all of her friends the weekend she passed, and I was planning on taking her to rehab when she got back from Vegas. By now, we knew she was doing heroin. One of her friends finally messaged her mom and said Amber told them. This was the girl who I still had to take to the doctor to get shots because she hated needles so much. So she goes to Paradiso on Friday, and by Saturday she’s calling her mom asking her to come pick her up at the Gorge because she was sick and wanted to come home.

“Sometimes we feel lucky compared to all these other parents who were just going through the struggle of addiction for years and years and years. But we would take that over anything. At least there’s a chance to save them.”

She texted me at midnight that night from her mom’s house to tell me she was fine, and probably died right after.

We found out after she passed that she first tried heroin in February of that year and she died five months later. Sometimes we feel lucky compared to all these other parents who were just going through the struggle of addiction for years and years and years. But we would take that over anything. At least there’s a chance to save them.

Amber was the most loyal person you could ever want as a friend. One of her friends told a story about her. It was like 3 in the morning and she had had a bad day. Amber lives up in Snoqualmie and this girl lives in Lynnwood, and Amber left and got her some candy and took it to her at 4 in the morning. Her laugh was indescribable. She had a great work ethic. She loved her family, her brothers. It was just one of those drugs we never thought that she would do.

When she died—she’s my only child, and now it’s just me. So it’s one of those questions: Either I’m going to go join her now or I have to find something to fight for, just because I don’t want any other parents to feel like this. My getting involved was a way to still work with her, I guess, or keep her name alive so I don’t go crazy. Her mom and I started a heroin and opiate prevention organization called Amber’s HOPE. The premise is to speak to communities and families and just bring awareness to the fact that it’s happening. I lived in Kirkland for all of Amber’s school year, and there were at least three overdoses at her high school in one year. Growing up on the Eastside—I grew up in Issaquah—there tends to be an attitude of,  ‘Not my child’ or ‘My child would never do that.’ I really wanted to sway that view. It takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of bullshit involved in it. I tried to deal with Lake Washington [High School] and it’s like pulling teeth.

You can’t do anything until you break that stigma down. Just look at what the King County Council did with safe consumption sites. [In July, the council barred funding for safe consumption sites through the county’s general fund and prohibited funding the sites through the county’s mental illness and drug dependency tax except in cities that explicitly vote to allow them.] They got scared shitless. They just decided, ‘We’re not going to fund anything.’

Growing up on the Eastside—I grew up in Issaquah—there tends to be an attitude of,  ‘Not my child’ or ‘My child would never do that.’ I really wanted to sway that view.”

If I had the money, I would build [a safe consumption site]. It builds connections. For me, being in my community and a recovering addict. that was the biggest hurdle. You already feel like complete shit. You have no self-worth. Maybe you’ve grown up with your family calling people drunks or junkies and saying, ‘Get a job,’ being judgmental. So are you going to go to your parents or family and go, ‘I need help?’ [A safe consumption site] builds connections and it saves people’s lives. That’s the bottom line for me. Once you’ve gone through what I went through, you will do anything for someone not to go through that.

When I speak at communities around Seattle, this is the idea that scares people. They think it’s going to cause crime. But that crime is already there.

I don’t think you’re going to be able to change people’s minds who think like that. They’re set. Unless something personal happens to that person, they’re not going to change their minds. So I try and be really nonjudgmental towards those people. All I can do is tell my story and explain why I believe what I do, and if they listen, they listen, and if they don’t, they don’t. Once you get into an argument or debate, you lose all credibility, because you’re just not going to win. You just have to go, ‘Okay, imagine if that was your child? How would you feel? How would you deal with this?’  My argument to them is, it could save someone’s life. I mean really, that’s what they do.

Today, just reading the numbers coming out about overdose deaths, we’re looking at 60,000 to 70,000 for this year. It’s not going away, and there’s a lot more even in the last two years. There’s a lot more talk about it, too. It seems like now that taboo  is breaking down more and more. Two years ago. the news barely even spoke of [the opiate addiction epidemic]. Now it’s almost a daily segment, even on the local news.

This is all I work on now. It’ll be 2 in the morning and I’ll go, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ because whenever I talk about Amber, there I am reliving it again. But I don’t mind it if it helps somebody else not have to go through what we went through.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

“I Do Not Care If These Druggies and Tweakers Have Homes”: Some Responses to Mike O’Brien’s RV Legislation

For just $5,500, the good life could be yours!

City council member Mike O’Brien has received hundreds of emails vehemently opposing his proposal to exempt some people living in their cars or RVs from the city’s parking scofflaw ordinance. (He has also received a handful of positive responses.) Currently, cars or RVs that remain in one place for more than 72 hours, or whose owners have too many unpaid parking tickets, can be impounded and towed, leaving people who live in their vehicles without even the inadequate shelter of an RV or car. Under O’Brien’s proposal, people who agree to participate in a new “vehicular residence program” aimed at putting them on a path to permanent housing would be exempt from most parking enforcement except when they pose a threat to public safety or block access to the public right-of-way.

The proposal attempts to accomplish a few goals. One, it acknowledges the fact that people who are desperate enough to live in their vehicles can’t afford to pay their parking tickets or, in some cases, get their vehicles up and running. Two, it effectively decriminalizes vehicular living at a time when there is nowhere close to enough permanent housing for the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. And three, it recognizes the plain reality that people are better off with some shelter than with none—homeless people living in their vehicles will not suddenly become housed people if the city takes their vehicles away; rather, they’ll just take their place among the thousands of people already sleeping outdoors, in tents, or on the floors of temporary shelters in one of the richest cities in the nation.

Anyway, from the emails O’Brien has been receiving—which I obtained through a public records request—you would think the city was proposing to open the jails and let the inmates roam freely through the streets of single-family Seattle neighborhoods.

Good God, it’s bad enough we are Freeattle are you trying to ruin neighborhoods and tourism? I do not care if these druggies and tweakers have homes. They don’t want to work, they just want to do their thing and you’re coddling them.

I just saw your latest bullshit. I am writing you as a citizen who will also be more than willing to file suit against you and the council for allowing methheads, heroine addicts and sexual abusers from living in derelict vehicles, dumping their trash and needles and precluding my children from being safely able to walk to and enjoy our city.

I am an honest, tax paying citizen. I work…I contribute to society and yet I have to pay when my parking meter expires. It almost makes a person want to quit their job, start shooting up heroin, start a meth lab, steal from neighborhood cars and the CITY WILL LET YOU PARK WHEREVER YOU WANT & THE AVERAGE PERSON BE DAMNED.

This proposal is insanity at its highest level!!! How about ticket & tow for parking illegally (according to the LAW!),arrest the heroin addicts for illegal possession of a controlled substance, clean up the rolling meth labs, and make them clean up their own trash and feces and not the beleaguered city workers? I would love to see these rolling meth labs, heroin dens and filthmobiles roll up and park in front all your houses. Because according to this proposed ordinance they would be allowed to do it and since it can’t be towed or ticketed the RV occupants can stay there as long as they “seek help”? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

A lot of people threatened to do something that none of them will ever actually do: Sell their comfortable single-family houses and move into their cars.

What would prevent anyone from just buying a vehicle and living rent/hassle free because we are now allowing that (say a google employee buying a nice RV and parking in Fremont), because that’s what I would do if I was fresh out of college and moving to this expensive city for a job – why pay rent if the city permits long-term parking for the purpose of housing?

Go along the Shilshole ave yourself and see the disgusting RVs parked along the side of the road. Visitors to the city take these roads often and thats what they see. A run down, broken disgusting RV parked in premium locations around Ballard.

So if this horrible idea actually passes, what is stopping me from instead buying and over priced house in the area, buy a run down RV and just move it around the city to places like Golden Gardens, boat ramps, Alki Beach and maybe see how the people of Laurlhurst are doing, and enjoy nice views and never have to pay taxes again?

If this goes through, I’m selling my home and buying a top of the line RV and living on Alki or the best view areas in Seattle. I will also buy additional RVs and rent them out as AirBnBs.

Others did the thing Seattleites always do—they complained about parking.

All people wanting to avoid parking issues will sign up for the program.

If this proposal goes through, expect a class action suit against the city by all of those who receive parking tickets. Figure out a different solution, proposing discriminatory Laws will not help.

I’ve made a lifestyle choice too: I decided when I became an adult that I would take care of myself. I would pay my own rent, or own my own home. I would go to work every day to help support my family. I would pay my taxes, and vote for Democrats so that more citizens could benefit from all our tax money. I also made a choice NOT to live in an RV encampment, but in a modest, somewhat diverse neighborhood, which will not have a single parking place left if this scheme of yours goes into effect.

[Redacted] Street, my street, will be LINED with RVs, and we will listen to the sound of generators night and day. There will be no parking left for tax-paying residents, their families, or visitors.

Many seemed to believe that people who live in cars and RVs just prefer being homeless, despite the fact that in every survey, people experiencing homelessness overwhelmingly say what they want is a home.

I’ve been reading about this initiative and it seems you’re missing that most of the people who live in those vehicles live there because they want to, or rather, they are not willing to participate in the normal societal processes.

We should on the contrary, constantly make their life in the cars extremely uncomfortable and leave them just two choices — leave the city or actually work on their integration in the society. Those who are actually on down-low and want to re-integrate should be helped and will be willing to accept the help. The professional homeless, junkies and alcoholics should not be encouraged to live like this in our city.

Some argued that throwing homeless people in jail might teach them a lesson about paying their parking tickets.

This will attract RV’s and car campers to Seattle. The parking rules are fine the way they are. What they need is to really enforce them, people need consequences like maybe jail?

Others resorted to my favorite red-herring argument: If you think RVs are so great, how would you like it if someone parked one in YOUR driveway?

STOP SCREWING us hard paying homeowners. I don’t see any of you city council members take a homeless person into your home or letting them park in your driveway.

Why the f*ck should I have to have a homeless vehicle/person in front of my house harrassing my kids & wife, piling up their drugs/garbage and waiting for me to go to work so they can break into my house?????

Most of these homeless, even if they were drug free, don’t have the skills to earn enough to pay the ridiculous rents in Seattle.

STOP AND GRABBING MONEY FROM HOMEOWNERS AND JUST LET THE HOMELESS LEAVE THE CITY.

Really sucks when the city council rams the homeless down the throats of tax paying homeowners.

How about you guys adopting some homeless into your spare bedrooms and in front of Your houses??

And harrassing your childen and wife when they’re parked in front of your house!! YaH!!!

Lowering our lifestyle to cater to them harms us. Do you not see this? Would you tolerate an filthy, shabby RV parked in your driveway? Would you want to try to use the library or a playground by stepping over sleeping bodies with needles and alcohol scattered around them? I have personally experienced this along with foul language and drug dealing. This is truly an emergency! If DOT, the parks or police dept can’t maintain order then the National Guard should be called out. I am serious! I’ve heard from countless people who are visit Seattle and are so disgusted that they vow to never return to experience this filth again.

Finally, some saw the proposal as part of a larger conspiracy: drive down property values so that land can be sold cheaply to developers so that [???]. Which might hold water (actually, no, it wouldn’t) if single family homeowners’ property values had not doubled in the past five years, and appreciated 13 percent in the last year alone.

Perhaps you’re mining for taxpayers, or voters for 2019? Or perhaps you hope that a citywide Intentional Blight™ will free up more single-family homes for redevelopment? Or perhaps you’re just using hate-baiting tactics because you want to paint your district and beyond in broad strokes as folks who lack compassion for our homeless neighbors. Perhaps you have another upzone planned. You has just declared war on families and children. It’s a shame we’re not the demographic you’re looking for. There will be hell to pay.

Tell me, is this the following intention true or false?

IT IS ALL ABOUT PASSING THE $469 MILLION HOMELESS TAX Mike O’Brien and the homeless services advocates who wrote the vehicular residence legislation have 1 goal: make homelessness worse in Seattle so they can pass the $469 million King County homeless tax.

Interestingly, the most contentious element of O’Brien’s proposal inside city hall may not be the provision exempting homeless people from parking tickets that has his constituents so worked up, but a separate “safe parking program” that would designate between 30 and 50 small lots across the city as safe havens for between 300 and 500 vehicles. Apart from the practical challenges such a widespread, highly decentralized program would present, council member Tim Burgess says he and other council members are concerned that such a “policy of accommodation” might conflict with the city’s new push to move people into housing as quickly as possible rather than allowing them to stay on the streets.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Safe Seattle’s Harley Lever: Safe Consumption Sites Can’t Scale to the Size of Seattle’s Heroin Problem

This is part 2 in a series of interviews with advocates on both sides of the safe-consumption issue.

Earlier this week, a coalition of public health experts and people who have lost loved ones to overdoses announced that they are suing to block Initiative 27, which would ban supervised drug consumption sites throughout King County, on the grounds that public health decisions are outside the scope of the initiative process. The group, called Protect Public Health, argues in their lawsuit that under state law, King County and its public health department are responsible for making public-health policy decisions for the county, and “[i]t would be antithetical to this scheme to allow citizens to delay or override urgent action on a public health crisis merely by raising sufficient funds to qualify a referendum or initiative.” (You can read the full complaint here.)

Last week, the King County Elections Department confirmed that initiative supporters had collected enough signatures to qualify for the February 2018 ballot.

With safe consumption very much in the news this week, I thought it would be a good time to hear from some advocates on both sides of the safe consumption issue.

Today, my conversation is with Harley Lever, one of 21 candidates for mayor in the recent primary election and a leader of the Facebook group Safe Seattle, which organizes on policies related to homelessness and drug addiction. Safe Seattle has been vocal about their opposition to proposals that would reduce penalties on people who live on Seattle streets, in tents, or in their cars or RVs, and in favor of more frequent and punitive encampment “sweeps,” in which homeless people living in tent encampments are forced to move from place to place. Safe Seattle says it supports increasing access to shelter and services and providing treatment on demand, but that people who refuse to leave their encampments or RVs and relocate to shelters or treatment should be fined, jailed, or forced to move along. Most recently, they have opposed legislation proposed by city council member Mike O’Brien that would give people living in their vehicles immunity from some traffic laws and fines if they enter a program that puts them on a path to permanent housing; the proposal would also enable the city to set up potentially dozens of small “safe lots” around the city where vehicle residents could park without punishment or parking fines. Arguments against the legislation range from “I have to follow the law, so why shouldn’t they?” to “if RVs become legal everywhere, I guess I’ll just sell my house and go live in one tax-free.”

Safe Seattle has also been supportive of Initiative 27, arguing that safe consumption sites will increase crime and open drug use in the surrounding neighborhoods, and that they will only enable drug users to keep using instead of seeking treatment. Many of Safe Seattle’s writers and commenters have argued that forcing people into drug treatment is an effective way to get people into recovery, and that if Seattle does allow a safe consumption site, IV drug users will congregate around the property and use (and overdose) outside, littering neighborhoods with needles and the bodies of overdosed addicts.

Lever, however, he says opposes safe consumption sites for more complicated reasons: He doesn’t believe they can scale up to the size of the city’s opiate and heroin problem. He says he’d rather see the city spend its money on widespread access to naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, and detox and treatment on demand, than on sites that might save a few lives but won’t effectively address the underlying epidemic. Like King County Public Health’s recovery division deputy director Brad Finegood, Lever’s knowledge of the toll drug addiction takes on users is personal: Two of his brothers have been addicted to heroin, and one is currently homeless and living with active addiction in Boston. I talked to Lever by phone last month; his comments have been edited for clarity and to remove the names of his family members.

Here’s Lever:

Image result for harley lever seattleOur story is the same story that’s happened to scores of people from my hometown, as well as throughout Boston. People just started using OxyContin recreationally. You have a couple of beers, have a Xanax, and it makes you feel really good. No one ever contemplated the level of addiction that it would create. Before the city or state even realized what was happening, we started seeing break-ins at pharmacies and crime spiking, because Oxy 80s sold for 80 bucks on the streets, and as people got progressively more addicted, they started stealing. It just skipped my high school class by about nine years.

The state of Massachusetts and a lot of pharmacies started smartening up about what was going on and did everything they could to restrict access to Oxy, and as it became more difficult to access, people started switching to heroin, and my brother was one of those. He got off heroin temporarily, but he went into the Army, where he started thriving, which was good. The only problem was, they made him a medic, which is a stupid thing for person to do who has documented addiction disorder. He did really well for three tours in Iraq, and then he went to Afghanistan and we think our cousin started sending him OxyContin, so he came back addicted.

“[My brother] is homeless. Fortunately, because he’s a veteran, he can get access to VA help. He overdosed four times last year, and every time he was saved by a person who had naloxone.”

My cousin eventually got arrested and is currently serving a five-year term in federal prison, and his family’s pretty much been tossed on their heads. Both of his kids were born addicted to opioids. They still have developmental delays and issues even now. His wife still struggles with opioid abuse disorder. And then, most recently, in August of 2016, my cousin’s ex-husband died of heroin overdose. So just in our immediate family, we’ve seen a lot of the devastation.

On a larger scope, I have a lot of friends who are either dead or are actually still addicted to heroin or in prison. This is an ongoing problem in our community.

[My other brother] has totally turned his life around. There are a lot of stories like this too, where people went down the wrong path but were able to get out of it and stay out of it. He went down dark path, but you would never know it looking at him. He went cold turkey. I think that he realized the path he was going down was not a good one. We’ve never talked about it, but I assume that, like many people gripped with addiction, he hit a rock bottom and he turned his life around.

“I don’t necessarily think a safe injection site will make the situation worse. My issue with the safe consumption site, in the context of Seattle, is that it can’t scale to the size of the problem.”

[My brother] is homeless. Fortunately, because he’s a veteran, he can get access to VA help. He overdosed four times last year, and every time he was saved by a person who had naloxone. He’s been on suboxone, methadone, and Vivitrol. I think the problem with him is, he’s done it for so long that his impulse control mechanism in his brain is really shot. He’s been in this constant cycle of being in treatment, getting sober, living in sober living—and then almost every single quarter, right when he gets his [benefit] check, he goes and spends it and he’s back in that cycle.

I don’t necessarily think a safe injection site will make the situation worse. My issue with the safe consumption site, in the context of Seattle, is that it can’t scale to the size of the problem. We have 23,000 opioid-addicted IV drug users in King County. On average, they inject three times a day. So you have 69,000 injections a day. The two [proposed] safe consumption sites can only supervise 500 injections combined, so we have choices. Either we can scale up and offer [274] other facilities to supervise all the injections, or we can do what saves my brother consistently and have widespread distribution of naloxone and layperson training. For the $3 million it will cost to fund these two safe consumption sites, we could literally give every single one of the 23,000 addicts 47 prescriptions of naloxone. What we should be doing is having a CPR crowdsourcing model, where we teach lay people to reverse overdoses.

“[Canada] and other countries that have these systems in place have government-run health care. They can provide access to detox and rehab on demand. We don’t have that.”

I don’t think they really ever contemplated fentanyl. It used to be that you could use black tar heroin for a long time and not risk overdosing like you see with fentanyl. What I fear most is that we’re going to die our way out of this epidemic. Fentanyl is not as prevalent here yet as it is on the east coast or up in B.C., but it’s going to make its way here. I just fear those 23,000 opioid addicts we have here are going to die and never get a chance to recover.

We have to actually look at the recovery system here in Washington State. We don’t have access to detox or rehab on demand. One of things I hear a lot of proponents talking about is how they do all these great things [at Insite in Vancouver and other safe consumption sites around the world], but [Canada] and other countries that have these systems in place have government-run health care. They can provide access to detox and rehab on demand. We don’t have that. We might have a bed available to you in nine to 12 weeks, which is a lifetime for detox. We’re also looking at months for rehab. We need to fix that structure. I think that’s a critical component.

“The compassionate side of me says we shouldn’t be [banning safe consumption sites]. The strategic side of me says, yes, we should, because we should be focusing on better solutions than safe injection. “

They do have HIV testing and hepatitis C testing. I think that’s absolutely a great point. But we also can do that with our navigation teams. I was talking to Daniel Malone from DESC and we both agree that if we have a mobile van where they can meet with opioid addicts where they reside, that would be a more strategic, cost-effective approach [to dealing with certain health problems common to opioid addicts].

The compassionate side of me says we shouldn’t be [banning safe consumption sites]. The strategic side of me says, yes, we should, because we should be focusing on better solutions than safe injection.  I recognize that a lot of people do it out of hatred towards drug-addicted people. What I always say to someone who hates an addict is: You are going to have an addict in your family. And once you do, this whole mantra of ‘They chose to stick a needle in their arm’—well, they did it under the influence of withdrawal and pain and sadness and different types of trauma.

Some people say, ‘I had to hit rock bottom. I had to be threatened with jail. I had to have these pressures.’ I think [tough love] absolutely works with some people. I think it would be silly to say that only tough love works, because there’s some very stubborn people out there. I’d probably be one of them, because I’m a bit hard-headed at times.

Honestly, I don’t think my brother will ever recover. My mother has said the same thing I’m just waiting for the call. We wish it was different. It’s been 15 years and he’s been so very lucky to survive, but we know, based on just the trajectory and frequency of his overdoses, he’s on more than borrowed time.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Brad Finegood, King County Opiate Task Force Member: Safe Consumption Sites Will Save People Like My Brother

UPDATE: Today, a coalition of public health experts and people who have lost loved ones to overdoses announced that they are suing to block Initiative 27, which would ban supervised drug consumption sites throughout King County, on the grounds that public health decisions are outside the scope of the initiative process. The group, called Protect Public Health, argues in their lawsuit that under state law, King County and its public health department are responsible for making public-health policy decisions for the county, and “[i]t would be antithetical to this scheme to allow citizens to delay or override urgent action on a public health crisis merely by raising sufficient funds to qualify a referendum or initiative.” (You can read the full complaint here.)

Last week, the King County Elections Department confirmed that initiative supporters had collected enough signatures to qualify for the February 2018 ballot; a last-minute effort backed by Republican King County Council member Kathy Lambert to put the measure on the ballot in November was unsuccessful.

With safe consumption very much in the news this week, I thought it would be a good time to hear from some advocates on both sides of the safe consumption issue. First up: Brad Finegood, a drug policy expert at King County with a mouthful of a title: Assistant Division Director, King County Dept. of Community and Human Services, Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. As deputy director of the recovery division, Finegood was a member of the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, which released a set of recommendations for addressing the opiate addiction epidemic last year. Those recommendations included promoting safe storage and disposal of prescription medications; wider access to treatment for opiate addiction, including medication-assisted treatment with drugs like suboxone and comprehensive treatment on demand; and wider distribution of naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug.

But by far the most controversial recommendation the task force made was that the county open two supervised drug consumption sites, where users could consume their drug of choice—heroin, meth, cocaine, whatever—under medical supervision. The intent, the task force wrote in its report, was to reduce drug-related health risks and overdose deaths; provide access to treatment and basic health care, reducing drug users’ use of emergency services; and “improve public safety and the community environment by reducing public drug use and discarding of drug using equipment.” Many communities didn’t buy the task force’s logic for recommending the sites (which have been common in many European countries for decades) and have passed city-level laws banning them; in February, King County voters will have their say on Initiative 27, which would prevent the county from opening a supervised consumption site anywhere, including in Seattle, where some communities especially hard hit by the heroin epidemic, such as Capitol Hill, have been open to the proposal.

As a King County employee, Finegood can take no official position on I-27, and we didn’t discuss the initiative explicitly during our conversation. But his longtime support for supervised consumption is no secret. For Finegood, the issue is more than political—it’s personal. A longtime drug counselor who worked extensively in the criminal justice system, he lost his own brother several years ago to a heroin overdose, and believes that a supervised consumption site could save the lives of people like his brother—both by preventing and reversing overdoses, and by reducing the stigma and shame that keeps drug users from reaching out for help. I talked to him at his downtown Seattle office last month.

Here’s Finegood:

Image result for brad finegoodMy brother and I were three years apart and we were always really close growing up. We grew up in a lower-to-middle-class neighborhood with two very hardworking parents and we both had really good educations. We both went to college together at Michigan State. I saw him every single day. But I never knew there was an opiate issue. That was really hidden to me and my family.  I would say, looking back, that there were probably some telltale signs. I’d go over to his house at noon, one o’clock, and knock on the door and he wouldn’t be awake. But I always figured, he was in college, he went out late, it was summertime and he didn’t have school or work.

Then he got married and went off into the working field, and there was a lot that I didn’t know, that was hidden. Some telltale signs of drug use would be marks on people’s arms or track marks or baggy eyes, and I never really saw any of that, so there was no reason to be concerned. A lot of stuff was obvious in retrospect. His wife wanted to gain some space from some of the people that he was involved with, so they moved to the East Coast to get away. Then they ended up getting a divorce and he came back to town and ended up connecting with a person who also had opiate use disorder but also hadn’t used in a long time. So when they connected, they started sharing stories, and saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we could get high together?’ She was in a different city, but they would rendezvous and go see music and get high.

That happened a couple of times. Then they got together and went on a three-day party binge for New Year’s, and he didn’t wake up on New Year’s Day.

“He cared a lot about his family, and didn’t want to let us down. There’s so much stigma that goes along with having opiate use disorder.”

We didn’t even know there was an opiate problem. And then he passes away and we meet this girl who he had been friends with, and she tells us some stories about what happened. His ex-wife then started telling me stories about past seven years of his life, when I had seen or talked to him every single day, and we started to piece together all these pieces.

It was just utter sadness and a ton of guilt—the guilt of being that close to my brother and not knowing. I was working in a clinic that served people with opiate issues, and I didn’t even know my brother was using under my nose. I think a lot of that was not wanting to let people down. He cared a lot about his family, and didn’t want to let us down. There’s so much stigma that goes along with having opiate use disorder. There was a picture that had been taken maybe two or three months before he died where he just had these raccoon eyes, and I thought, ‘Oh, that makes sense now.’ There was a lot of family system disbelief and denial that that couldn’t happen to us—’not in our family.’

One of my first jobs coming out of college was as a substance abuse counselor. I wanted to be able to help people, but I used to look at it from a criminal justice standpoint. I thought of the criminal justice system as a primary intervention for people, because I thought, people can get arrested and their drug issue could be brought up. I used to say that my brother’s biggest problem was that that he never got arrested. I had worked with so many people in the criminal justice system, and I saw that it could sometimes have a positive effect on people, if they were treated in a therapeutic environment.

You take folks who are struggling with [addiction] issues, and you put them in a confined area with other folks who are struggling with the same issues, and you don’t provide any therapeutic interventions around—then there can be some negative consequences.

I realized some of the unintentional harm that incarceration can cause people when I was working with somebody who had alcohol use disorder. He drank and got a probation violation, so the judge was going to send him back to jail for the weekend. And so I was like, ‘Hey, buddy, let’s make this an intentional experience. It’s lousy that you have to go back to jail for the weekend, but let’s get something good out of this, and you’ll come back next week and we’ll talk about it.’ So he came back the next week, and I was like, ‘So how was it? Did you learn something? And he goes, ‘Yeah—I learned how to make meth!’

That moment has stuck with me, because you realize that even the most well-intentioned intervention might have negative consequences. You take folks who are struggling with [addiction] issues, and you put them in a confined area with other folks who are struggling with the same issues, and you don’t provide any therapeutic interventions around—then there can be some negative consequences.

I was sort of raised [professionally] in the drug court world. Drug court was really the first idea that said there could be a therapeutic approach to working with people that have behavioral health issues. It’s harm reduction compared to sending someone to jail for a long period of time, but on the spectrum of harm reduction it’s not full harm reduction. That concept has evolved very much over the past 15 years to understanding that we have to be able to treat substance use disorder with a public health approach. Our partners in the criminal justice system will be the first ones to tell you, at least most of them, that criminalizing people with substance use disorder has been really unsuccessful.

“In my almost 20 years of working in this field, nobody that I’ve ever met who has opiate use disorder likes having opiate use disorder. They almost always know the risk, but they use anyway.”

The evidence [about safe consumption sites] tells the story, and the evidence is that people do not die when using those facilities. The evidence also says that when people have access to a caring environment,  they’re more likely to be able to move along the path [toward recovery]. When you provide an environment for people to feel safe, where they can come to without stigma, without prejudice, and they know that they can use on site and not die, then they’re going to continue to use that resource.

In my almost 20 years of working in this field, nobody that I’ve ever met who has opiate use disorder likes having opiate use disorder. People with substance use, especially opiate use, disorder use despite the risk of possibly overdosing. They almost always know the risk, but they use anyway. It’s a neurochemical brain disease. My brother is proof of the fact that you can be clean and sober for quite a period of time and that lure to come back is mighty difficult to fight. If you are consistently waiting for people to hit rock bottom, they’re gonna be dead.

“I think that stigma against people who have drug problems is really prejudice and discrimination against people who have drug problems.”

I think that without a doubt my brother would have benefited [from a safe consumption site.] Do I know if he would have used it? No. But do I know that there are people out there who need it and are willing to use it. Our survey from the needle exchange tells us that a significant number of people who use needle exchange services —the vast majority—would use it. And if they are willing to use it, then that means they will not be using it primarily outdoor, often by themselves, in a vulnerable situation. I know very little of the intricacies of my brother’s use, but if there was ever a time when he could have used it to make himself less vulnerable, I would have hoped he would have used it. Does it mean that my brother would be alive right now? No. But one of the things that I can say is that I believe that my brother had a lot of shame associated with his disease, and I believe that shame was because of how we as a society look at people with substance abuse disorder. I used to say, I wish my brother would have become involved with the criminal justice system. Now I wish my brother wouldn’t have felt shame. I think shame killed my brother. I think shame of having a heroin problem and having a drug problem killed my brother, because it kept him from ever wanting to ask for help. It kept him from ever admitting that he had a problem. And it kept him only trusting people that had the same problem. I think that stigma against people who have drug problems is really prejudice and discrimination against people who have drug problems.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Rapid Rehousing Didn’t Work Out. Now Lisa Sawyer May Face Eviction.

Image via Facing Homelessness.

Five years of living on the street takes a toll on a person.

You get used to little indignities—constantly being told to move along, a lack of safe places to use the restroom after 5pm—as well as big ones, like the total lack of privacy, or having all your possessions stolen while you sleep.

For Lisa Sawyer, a Real Change vendor and advocate for homeless services who testifies frequently at Seattle and King County Council meetings, the past five years have been a constant struggle against hopelessness and despair. Rejected for housing over and over by landlords who took one look at her bulky pack and street clothes and decided she wasn’t worth the risk, Sawyer finally signed a lease earlier this year. At $1,350 a month, the one-bedroom apartment in Greenwood was more than she and her boyfriend, a veteran who works as a contractor, could afford, but they had made ends meet despite daunting odds before.  They decided they could make it work. Anything was better than sleeping outside.

Eight months later, Sawyer is once again at risk of ending back on the street, this time with an eviction on her record—a  black mark that would make it all but impossible for her to find housing in the private market. Last month, $2,900 behind on rent, she received a three-day pay or vacate notice—the precursor to a formal eviction. A few days later, the organization Facing Homelessness stepped in and paid her arrears, but next month presents another challenge—and the next month, and the next.

Sawyer’s path from homelessness to housing and, potentially, back again is a case study in how Seattle’s system for housing people experiencing homelessness can fail, and a cautionary tale for leaders who want to go all-in on programs that rely on the private market to catch people at risk for falling through the cracks.

Sawyer, who graduated from Cleveland High School and has lived in Seattle all her life, lost her housing when a roommate lit a candle near some cleaning supplies and the house where she was renting a room burned down. She never imagined she would be homeless this long. “I thought that was the worst day of my life,” she says. “I never thought that having a place could be so much more difficult than being outside.”

Sawyer started out her search for housing armed with a “rapid rehousing” voucher, which would have temporarily paid a portion of her rent in a privately owned apartment. Rapid rehousing, which is the centerpiece of Seattle’s Pathways Home plan to combat homelessness, provides case management and short-term housing vouchers for people experiencing “literal homelessness”—meaning people who are actually living outside or in shelters. The idea behind rapid rehousing is that most homeless people just need a short-term financial boost before they can start making enough money to pay rent on their own. Critics say the program makes unrealistic assumptions about how quickly a person can go from homelessness to full self-sufficiency, and fails to take into account how expensive housing in Seattle can be.

Downtown Emergency Services director Daniel Malone, whose organization distributes some rapid-rehousing vouchers, says “there are a few circumstances where you could use rapid rehousing very confidently and feel very confident that there’s going to be longterm success,” including a situation “where the person has a really good income and is already working a full-time job that pays them enough to rent in the private market.” In that situation, Malone says, rapid rehousing might provide enough money to get a person in an apartment and on their feet. But, he adds, “that’s not the case with a ton of people that are homeless.”

The other circumstance where rapid rehousing works well, Malone says, is when a person with very high service needs—say, a physically disabled person with a serious mental illness—is about to move into permanent supportive housing but just needs a place to stay until a spot becomes available. Sawyer, who works full-time selling Real Change papers at Fourth and Union in downtown Seattle, doesn’t need service-intensive supportive housing, but is unlikely to make enough at her job (which pays as little as $40 a day) to afford a market-rate apartment.

In any case, Sawyer never got a chance to try out rapid rehousing, because she couldn’t find a place that would accept her. From 2015, when she received her voucher from DESC, until this year, when she and her boyfriend moved into their market-rate apartment, Sawyer says she got rejected more than 20 times. “I just gave up hope of finding an actual place, because every time I went to a housing interview, I had all my stuff with me. A lot of people look down on that,” she says. When she did find landlords willing to give her a chance, they weren’t willing to sign a 12-month lease—a requirement for federally funded rapid-rehousing vouchers. The 12-month mandate is meant to ensure rent stability—a landlord can’t sign a three-month lease, then raise the rent beyond a level a voucher recipient can afford—but it also creates a loophole that allows landlords who don’t want to participate in the program to opt out by offering shorter leases.

Eventually, Sawyer got approved for the apartment in Greenwood—but she would have to sign a ten-month lease, making her ineligible for the rapid rehousing program.

Desperate to get indoors, and fed up with caseworkers who urged her to hold out hope, she signed. “We were just fed up with going from interview to interview and getting denied, denied, denied,” she says.

“If you tell a person who’s been outside for a long period of time that they can move in, of course we’ll say yes,” Sawyer says. “It’s heartbreaking.  We were giving up. We were getting at each other’s throats because of being outside this long.” Sawyer’s problems were compounded by the fact that she is not in the county’s “coordinated entry” program, which is run through the shelter system. Like many people experiencing homelessness, Sawyer and her boyfriend avoided the shelter system, which separates opposite-sex couples and can be full of, as Sawyer puts it, “bedbugs and drama.” Sawyer preferred sleeping outside or in motels, where she and her boyfriend could have a semblance of privacy. She put her name on the lottery for several low-income housing developments, but never won; when the Seattle Housing Authority briefly allowed people to sign up for a lottery to get on the waiting list for Section 8 federal housing vouchers, she didn’t bother, because the waiting list is currently several years long. (Section 8 vouchers distributed through the Seattle Housing Authority expire after 120 days, and many people return them unused because they were unable to find housing they could afford or landlords willing to rent to them.)

“I thought this program was going to be a good experience for me, because with that voucher, we thought our housing problems were over,” Sawyer says. “Instead, we got stuck in a place that we cannot afford.” She says she has often been forced to choose between paying rent and buying food; when she makes enough money selling papers at Fourth and Union downtown, she spends “$30 or $40” at the nearby Safeway, but says “that food doesn’t last more than a couple of days, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while.”

Sawyer says she hopes to hang on to her apartment through the end of her lease in September, when she’ll try to find another place—without an eviction on her record. “I can’t be outside again. It’s too heartbreaking,” she says. “We want to get into an apartment so bad. When you have housing, but you know that you might be back outside again soon—that’s the worst feeling that anyone can have. … I’ve worked so hard fighting for affordable housing, fighting for these programs to get more funding, and when it all comes down to it, I wonder: ‘Why are you fighting if you got a voucher that doesn’t really help you?'”

Malone, who has expressed some skepticism at the city’s wholesale embrace of rapid rehousing as a one-size-fits-most solution to homelessness, still thinks living indoors is always preferable to sleeping outside—even when a person has to go through the trauma of losing their home to eviction. “You need to guard against eviction, for sure, but I don’t know that the way you guard against it is eliminating the possibility of it happening by never putting somebody in a rental situation in the first place,” he says. “I don’t want to keep people homeless to protect them or ‘for their own good,’ because the situation of being homeless is so harsh that we should do as much as we can to get people out of it—even if we are far from resolving all their problems.”

Rapid rehousing proponents say stories like Sawyer’s aren’t, in themselves, a repudiation of the program. Mark Putnam, director of All Home—the quasi-governmental agency that oversees King County’s homelessness programs—says rapid rehousing gives people a choice over where they live and how much they want to pay. Putnam says that ideally, someone like Sawyer would have a case manager who would sit down and talk to her about whether $1,350 in rent was realistic, given her current and potential future income; however, case managers in housing programs turn over frequently, and Sawyer herself said she felt desperate enough to sign a lease with any landlord who would rent to her.

“Clearly, the system didn’t work for her, so the question is: What can we learn from it?” Putnam says.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

“Corporate” Contributions: Not Really a Thing in Seattle (Updated)

This originally ran as item 3 in today’s Morning Crank. 

Update at 12:30 on Wednesday: After I posted this item this morning, the right-wing Freedom Foundation announced that it was filing a lawsuit challenging the city of Seattle’s new income tax. The attorneys representing the group: Lane Powell. As I reported on Twitter, Lane Powell attorneys have contributed nearly $3,000 to Jenny Durkan—far more than they have to any other mayoral candidate, including current Mayor Ed Murray, back when he was still running for reelection. Durkan has expressed skepticism over the legality of the tax.

Every year, lefty candidates in Seattle races try to distinguish themselves by pledging “not to accept any money from corporations or developers,” suggesting by implication that their opponent is financed by (and in the pocket of) big corporations. For example, in this year’s mayoral race, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver both pledged that they would not take direct contributions from corporations or developers, and in the race to fill city council Position 8, both Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda made a similar vow Moon and Oliver were trying to distinguish themselves from their business-endorsed opponent Jenny Durkan, and Grant and Mosqueda from their business-endorsed opponent Sara Nelson.

It all sounds very principled: “Even if it costs me the election, I will decline all corporate contributions, because my values aren’t corporate values.” But it’s just about the easiest promise any candidate can make—because corporate contributions are basically nonexistent in Seattle.

Obviously, the Seattle Chamber and other business groups support certain candidates (often, in recent years, by funding independent expenditure campaigns), but corporations don’t typically give to individual candidates, making this perennial pledge little more than an empty applause line. I took a look at the contributor lists for the frontrunners in this year’s mayoral and council races, and found that, after Oliver and Moon (who, indeed, took no direct contributions from business), the candidate who took the smallest percentage of contributions from businesses—just 1 percent—was actually … Jenny Durkan. (Jessyn Farrell tied Durkan’s 1 percent.) Three percent of populist state legislator Bob Hasegawa’s contributions came from businesses, as did 2 percent of Mike McGinn’s. Worth noting: 60 percent of Moon’s money came from her own bank account; as Moon herself has said, she was able to self-finance largely because of family money, which came from the family … business.

In Position 8, the pattern is similar. While neither Mosqueda nor Grant received any money from businesses, “business” candidate Nelson got just 4 percent of her money from businesses.

All candidates, including Oliver, Moon, Mosqueda, and Grant, received contributions from people who work for corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft, Vulcan, and Google.

So the next time a candidate points to “refusing corporate contributions” as a point of pride, you might want to point out that businesses don’t really contribute to Seattle campaigns—even to “business” candidates.

* Of course, businesses do fund independent expenditure campaigns, which cannot be coordinated with candidates.

** Part of the reason business contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign war chests in Seattle is that contributions are limited to $500. The limit is designed to reduce the influence any one contributor can have over a candidate, and it serves its purpose.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: How About You Just Rent Them the Apartment?


Image result for no vacancy sign

1. The council’s civil rights, utilities, economic development, and arts committee unanimously passed legislation yesterday morning that will bar landlords from considering potential tenants’ criminal records, unless they were convicted of a sex offense as an adult. Council member Mike O’Brien offered two amendments to the legislation, which I wrote about last week: The first removes an exemption to the new rule for landlords of buildings with four units or fewer who live on site, and the second removes the so-called two-year lookback, which would have allowed landlords to consider a tenant’s criminal history going back two years.

Council member Debora Juarez, a former Superior and Municipal Court judge, said both amendments addressed a fundamental problem with the original bill: It created different classes of landlords and renters. The four-unit exemption, she said, gave extra privileges—essentially, the right to discriminate—to landlords who happened to own smaller buildings and live in one of the units, and the two-year lookback put tenants with more recent criminal histories in the position of begging landlords, on a case-by-case basis, to take them despite their criminal record. “It’s pretty clear that people of color and low-income people are being disproportionately denied and discriminated against … based on the fact that they have criminal records,” Juarez said. “I think you should just eliminate [the lookback period]. How about you don’t consider anything [other than a tenant’s ability to pay]—you just rent them the apartment?”

Herbold, who expressed concern last week that some small landlords might get out of the business if they had to rent to people with recent criminal records, said yesterday that she had decided “to vote according to my values and what I feel is best for renters in this city.” The proposal goes to the full council next Monday.

2. Council member Sally Bagshaw’s health and human services committee will take up the recommendations of the Vehicular Living Workgroup, which has been meeting since March to come up with “solutions that meet the needs of vulnerable populations living in vehicles due to inaccessible housing and address neighborhood impacts of vehicular living,” at 2:00 this afternoon. The meeting will be just for discussion; no legislation will be introduced.

The recommendations include a mitigation fund to help RV residents and other people living in their vehicles pay their parking tickets; additional outreach services; and a citywide “safe parking” program that would allow people living in vehicles to park safely in small groups (no more than five or six vehicles at one place) around the city. The recommendations do not, notably, include banning the estimated 1,000 people who live in their vehicles from parking inside city limits, and that has gotten the attention of the folks at Safe Seattle, a group opposed to allowing people to live outdoors or in their vehicles. Commenters on the group’s Facebook page have called Bagshaw “dangerous,” accused the council of “turning our precious city streets into desolate drug & crime ridden RV parks,” included the hashtag “shitforbrains,” and accused council member O’Brien of intentionally unleashing “blight” throughout the city as part of a conspiracy to drive families to the suburbs so the whole city can be redeveloped into apartments.

The public comment period will be 20 minutes.

3. Every year, lefty candidates in Seattle races try to distinguish themselves by pledging “not to accept any money from corporations or developers,” suggesting by implication that their opponent is financed by (and in the pocket of) big corporations. For example, in this year’s mayoral race, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver both pledged that they would not take direct contributions from corporations or developers, and in the race to fill city council Position 8, both Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda made a similar vow Moon and Oliver were trying to distinguish themselves from their business-endorsed opponent Jenny Durkan, and Grant and Mosqueda from their business-endorsed opponent Sara Nelson.

It all sounds very principled: “Even if it costs me the election, I will decline all corporate contributions, because my values aren’t corporate values.” But it’s just about the easiest promise any candidate can make—because corporate contributions are basically nonexistent in Seattle.

Obviously, the Seattle Chamber and other business groups support certain candidates (often, in recent years, by funding independent expenditure campaigns), but corporations don’t typically give to individual candidates, making this perennial pledge little more than an empty applause line. I took a look at the contributor lists for the frontrunners in this year’s mayoral and council races, and found that, after Oliver and Moon (who, indeed, took no direct contributions from business), the candidate who took the smallest percentage of contributions from businesses—just 1 percent—was actually … Jenny Durkan. (Jessyn Farrell tied Durkan’s 1 percent.) Three percent of populist state legislator Bob Hasegawa’s contributions came from businesses, as did 2 percent of Mike McGinn’s. Worth noting: 60 percent of Moon’s money came from her own bank account; as Moon herself has said, she was able to self-finance largely because of family money, which came from the family … business.

In Position 8, the pattern is similar. While neither Mosqueda nor Grant received any money from businesses, “business” candidate Nelson got just 4 percent of her money from businesses.

All candidates, including Oliver, Moon, Mosqueda, and Grant, received contributions from people who work for corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft, Vulcan, and Google.

So the next time a candidate points to “refusing corporate contributions” as a point of pride, you might want to point out that businesses don’t really contribute to Seattle campaigns—even to “business” candidates.

* Of course, businesses do fund independent expenditure campaigns, which cannot be coordinated with candidates.

** Part of the reason business contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign war chests in Seattle is that contributions are limited to $500. The limit is designed to reduce the influence any one contributor can have over a candidate, and it serves its purpose.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Inherently Dangerous

Image result for "fair housing act of 1968

1. If you’re a renter who makes less than six figures, you already know how hard it is to find an affordable apartment in Seattle. Now imagine that you’ve convicted or arrested at some point in your life. (Quite possibly, you don’t have to imagine—according to the city, 173,000 Seattle residents have an arrest or conviction on their record.) The legislation, sponsored by council member Lisa Herbold, would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges.

As I’ve reported, the legislation as originally proposed included a number of exemptions—on top of the two-year window, it did not apply to landlords of small buildings (four units or fewer) who live on the premises. By exempting small landlords who live on their properties, the original bill effectively accepted the premise that people with criminal histories are inherently dangerous—too dangerous, anyway, for landlords to live next to them.

That exemption, as it turns out, has a fascinating history. It originated in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, where it was known as the “Mrs. Murphy exemption.” That exemption says that it’s acceptable under federal law for a landlord to discriminate against someone because of their race if they rent to no more than four people or families and live on the premises. (Mrs. Murphy was, as the New York Times’ Adam Liptak put it, “an apocryphal bigot.”) That exemption has remained in place to the present day; however, many state statutes go beyond federal law and do not include the exemption.

The city’s Office for Civil Rights was unable to say precisely how the exemption got into the proposal, except that it was originally included “to address concerns raised during the stakeholder process,” according to OCR policy manager Brenda Anibarro. “We recently learned of the history of the federal FHA exemption from an article in the Harvard Law Review which includes a significant history steeped in racism,” Anibarro said in an email. “It is for this reason we believe Councilmember O’Brien’s amendment striking this exemption is the correct course of action.”

Interestingly, the “Mrs. Murphy exemption” does not appear anywhere else in Seattle’s municipal code, and the city’s “first in time” rule, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants because of their source of income, only exempts single-family homeowners who live at their properties and are essentially renting to roommates.

Last Tuesday, the council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee discussed an amendment by council member Mike O’Brien (who is out of town) to remove the exemption. Council member Lorena Gonzalez noted that the exemption for small buildings could make “naturally occurring affordable housing”—the small, mom-and-pop type units that anti-displacement advocates often argue the city must preserve—off-limits for the people who need it the most.

Other amendments to the proposal would prohibit landlords from considering an adult prospective tenant’s juvenile sex offense record (landlords could still refuse to rent to adult sex offenders) and remove the two-year “lookback” period. (The sex offender amendment is Herbold’s; the lookback amendment is O’Brien’s.) As advocates have pointed out, people exiting jail are much less likely to reoffend if they have stable housing; nonetheless, one in five people exit King County Jail directly into homelessness, according to All Home, largely because landlords refuse to rent to them.

Herbold, who has not decided whether to support O’Brien’s lookback amendment, says she has heard from small landlords who say they might choose to to sell their buildings instead of renting to people straight out of prison, removing affordable units from the rental market. On the other hand, many people who are just leaving jail or prison would probably be disqualified from renting on the private market anyway, because they wouldn’t pass a standard credit check, so eliminating the lookback may have little practical impact in any case.

The committee will consider the amendments, and the legislation, again at its meeting on August 8.

2. On Tuesday morning, the council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee voted unanimously on what council member Rob Johnson called a “no-brainer” proposal that will remove one step in the process that opponents of new projects must go through before filing a formal appeal to stop a proposed development. The step, called a land-use interpretation, costs $3,150 and is required before a project can go before the city’s hearing examiner, the judicial official who ultimately decides whether contested projects can move forward.

As I reported earlier this month, a council staff analysis concluded that removing the interpretation step could “facilitate judicial appeals of land use decisions for projects that may be considered locally undesirable by near-neighbors, such as low-income housing projects, work-release centers, and homeless shelters.” Those appeals will now cost just $65, making it easier than ever for homeowners to stall projects they don’t like—projects like the 57-unit Phinney Flats development, which Phinney Ridge homeowners have held up for more than a year by filing endless appeals on issues such as parking, transit headways, shadows, and lack of air conditioning and washing machines in the new apartments.

3. The land use committee also considered, but did not vote on,  three amendments Herbold proposed to legislation that would it easier for the city to force property owners to demolish vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says  is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses.

Herbold’s amendments, which she describes as a three-part package, would: Exempt many houses slated for redevelopment from the new four-month requirement; set up a mandatory vacant property monitoring and registration program; and prohibit land owners from demolishing buildings unless the cost of repairing the building exceeds half its replacement value.

Herbold’s reasoning, as she explained it Tuesday, is that vacant buildings could still be used as housing while they await demolition and redevelopment, and that the original proposal—which lacked a monitoring program—could provide a perverse incentive for property owners to kick out tenants and let their buildings fall into disrepair. “The language as originally proposed was much broader than I intended,” Herbold said Tuesday.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.