Morning Crank: A Political Statement That Capitalism Has Failed

poppe-semple

Homelessness consultant Barb Poppe and Mandy Chapman Semple of Houston’s Corporation for Supportive Housing

1. Homelessness experts from Los Angeles County, San Francisco, and Houston rounded out a panel that also included consultant Barb Poppe Tuesday morning, the second in a three-part series of discussions on homelessness sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, Visit Seattle and the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross moderated the discussion, which focused on what solutions other jurisdictions have come up with to address the homelessness emergency in their communities. Perhaps fittingly for a station that has made a hero out of a woman who built an illegal wall to keep homeless people away from her business, KIRO’s Ross asked many questions that could be charitably described as leading. For example, one of the first questions he asked Poppe was how it could be that in a recent survey, 30 percent of homeless people could afford to pay $500 or more in rent—implying, it seemed, that homeless folks really have enough money to live in housing, they just don’t want to. At another point, Ross commented that “there are some folks who want to keep those tents out there as a political statement that capitalism has failed”—implying that homeless people are living in tents not because they have no other option, but because they want to make a political statement. At still another point, Ross put words in Poppe’s mouth, which she immediately disavowed.

“So you have seen no movement towards setting a policy and politely urging the existing [housing and homeless service provider] groups who are not seeing results to adapt to that new policy,” Ross said. “No, I am not saying that,” Poppe said, looking exasperated.

If you’d like to read my live-tweets of yesterday morning’s meeting, you’re in luck—I’ve Storified them here.

2. Yesterday, I reported that the proposed homelessness levy would increase wages for case managers, social service workers, and mental and public health-care providers substantially, by funding higher minimum wages for several positions that will be;  funded by the levy. The city says they don’t have a specific breakdown of how much the levy-funded raises will cost or precisely how many contractor positions will be affected, though it may be in the hundreds; however, a look at the wages currently offered by one of the city’s main homelessness service contractors, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, shows that the new minimums will represent a significant upgrade. For example, the annual salary for a behavioral health case manager at DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center starts at $30,128 a year, or about $14.48 an hour; a chemical dependency specialist starts slightly higher, at $33,033, or about $15.88 an hour; and a registered nurse starts at $52,884, or about $25 an hour. If the levy passes, pay for those positions will go up, to $22, $25, and $45 an hour, respectively.

3. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported last month, after meeting with about 100 employers of all sizes from across the city, city council member Lorena Gonzalez has rolled out a proposal to require employers in the city to provide paid family leave. The proposal would require all employers in the city to provide up to 26 weeks of leave for new parents or employees taking care of a sick family member, and up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for employees with a serious illness. The benefits would only kick in after an employee has worked 340 hours (about two and a half months for full-time employees and longer for part-time) for a business, and would be capped at $1,000 a week.

“I heard a strong desire from my conversations with business owners [for] a pathway to provide this benefit to their employees that is fair and equitable,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “While I sincerely hope that the state legislature passes a law that is available for all Washington workers, Seattle, as always, is ready to stand on our own two feet to come up with a solution, which is a universal paid family and medical leave program.”

Currently, the state legislature is working on a compromise between two very different paid family leave laws. One, by Republican Sen. Joe Fain, would start out providing just eight weeks of leave paid at just half an employee’s original salary, eventually rising to twelve weeks at two-thirds pay, and would require employees to pay the full cost of the program. That bill would also preempt Seattle from adopting a more generous paid leave law of its own. The other, by Democratic Rep. June Robinson, would provide much more generous benefits and supported by the progressive Economic Opportunity Institute, provides far more generous benefits and would not prevent Seattle from adopting its own policies.

Given that the Trump administration has “very little respect for boundaries between the federal government and state government and local government,” Gonzalez said, “I think it’s important to continue to protect and to empower local government to have all the tools we need at our disposal to be able to protect and serve our residents in a way that is tailored to our specific community needs. That is why I believe a local preemption in this ordinance, or in any other ordinance is a very dangerous step to take.” Other Republican preemption bills that were floated this year would have prohibited Seattle from allowing encampments or opening supervised drug-consumption sites.

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, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: That Really Interferes With Making Progress

1. One element of Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $275 million homelessness levy that didn’t get mentioned at his press conference earlier this month—perhaps because it involves a significant concession to labor—is that it helps pay for higher wages for the caseworkers and counselors who will be integral to the success of the outreach and treatment elements of the proposal. (The Service Employees International Union 1199 advocated for the inclusion of higher wages in the levy.) Those workers include public health nurses and mental health and substance abuse counselors who will evaluate and treat formerly homeless people who seek services through the city’s navigation teams and at the proposed new 24-hour shelters; outreach workers who talk to people living in encampments during encampment sweeps; case managers who get people connected with rental assistance in the form of new temporary housing vouchers funded through the levy; and the people who staff the new 24-hour shelters and permanent supportive housing. Turnover in those positions is notoriously high, in large part because many people who take those jobs burn out or leave Seattle because they can’t afford to live here, and because high-quality clinical workers and case managers tend to leave for better-paying jobs in the private sector.

The exact cost of raising wages for these positions is unclear, since the increase would also apply to existing contracts.  The initiative itself alludes to the wage increases just once, in this blink-and-you-missed-it line: “The Director of Finance and Administrative Services shall make appropriate allowances for (1) the higher costs of high-quality programs staffed with clinical or social service professionals and paraprofessionals and (2) a reasonable wage differential in organizations where employee wages have increased or will increase as a result of the City’s minimum wage.”  A more detailed program-by-program breakdown for the initiative indicates that public health nurses and mental health counselors will be paid $45 an hour; therapists in the pilot “Journey of Hope” residential treatment program will be paid $35 an hour; substance abuse counselors and caseworkers will be paid $25 an hour; and outreach workers will be paid $22 an hour. Previously, according to SEIU, some of those workers were making as little as the $15-an-hour minimum.

Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone argues that agencies like his need to be able to pay higher wages to attract and retain high-skilled workers. “Some of the client services that we’re able to deliver are highly dependent on establishing a trusting relationship with a person who has had, quite often, bad experiences with treatment or social services, and when somebody’s case manager is changing all the time, that really interferes with making progress with them. You needs staff who are skilled at working with and providing help to people who sometimes have challenging behaviors, and you can’t have a workforce that is always principally comprised of people who are basically brand new and just learning.”

2. State Senator Mark Miloscia—perhaps best known to readers of this blog as the Republican who proposed two bills that would ban Seattle from allowing homeless encampments and safe injection sites, respectively—met with teenagers from the immigrant rights group OneAmerica outside the Senate chamber in Olympia the other day, and things did not go smoothly.

According to the version of events I heard from a source in Olympia, Miloscia “grilled” the students (including one young woman wearing a headscarf) about whether they were “Catholic or Christian,” then engaged them in an animated argument over race and religion.

I talked to Miloscia this week, and here’s his version of the story. He says he was approached by a group of kids who “peppered” him with questions, and that one of them, a person of color,  “said ‘I can only be represented by somebody who looks like me.” Miloscia (who is white) claims he used religion merely as another example of how a person could feel represented by someone who doesn’t share their race—then asked whether the teenagers were “Christian, or Catholics. I said, ‘You can be represented based on religion, not just skin color.'”

Miloscia says he noticed the young woman who looked Muslim, and thought about using her religion as an example, but didn’t want to “put her on the spot. I was going to say she could be represented by a white Muslim or an Asian Muslim, not just a black Muslim.” He said the group then discussed two versions of a statewide voting rights act—one that would give citizens the right to sue if their city’s voting system disenfranchises minority voters, and another, proposed by Miloscia, that would not. “They impressed me with their knowledge of what’s in both bills,” Miloscia says. OneAmerica didn’t want to comment on the record about the exchange, but it’s probably safe to say the admiration wasn’t mutual.

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, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Indicators, Not Incidents

1. As the Trump Administration prepares to cut billions from the federal transportation budget, starving transit and road-safety projects across the city, Mayor Ed Murray announced at a press conference in Southeast Seattle yesterday that Seattle is taking a different path, funding new sidewalks and pedestrian-safety improvements through the $930 million Move Seattle levy that passed in 2015. Over the next two years, Murray said, the city will accelerate Phase 2 of the Rainier corridor safety project (restriping Rainier Ave. S. to calm traffic and provide space for bikes and a left-turn lane, for $2.25 million) and build 50 new blocks of sidewalks (at a cost of $22 million), with a goal of completing 250 new blocks of sidewalk by 2024. The city will also add more “pedestrian-friendly signals,” Murray said.

Then, looking like he’d reached his capacity for transpo-jargon, Murray turned the press conference over to Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who fielded reporters’ (okay, my) wonky questions about stop bars, leading pedestrian intervals, and protected left turn phases. (For the record, those are: The lines on the street telling drivers where to stop; signals that let pedestrians start walking into an intersection before the light turns green for drivers; and signalized left turns, where drivers turn left on a green arrow while pedestrians wait.)

Those are all pretty standard (though necessary and important) pedestrian safety improvements. More interesting was the new safety “tool kit” Kubly said the city would use to inform its safety investments in the future, a tool kit he said might be “the first of its kind in the entire country.” According to Kubly, instead of looking at “incidents”—data about accidents that have already happened—the city will focus on “indicators”—signs that an intersection is inherently dangerous, even in the absence of accident data. For example, “we have seen a fair number of crashes with left turning vehicles where they have permissive left turns”—a regular green light without a left-turn arrow—”and what we’ve found is that with those permissive left turns, we’re seeing crashes, particularly in places like Northeast 65th Street,” where several serious crashes have resulted when a driver speeding down the hill has turned left into an oncoming cyclist or pedestrian.

Last year, council transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien noted, there were about 10,000 crashes in the city. Of those, fewer than 7 percent involved cyclists or pedestrians. But that 7 percent accounted for about 62 percent of the fatalities from crashes in the city. Although Seattle remains one of the safest cities in the country for pedestrians, progress toward actually achieving “Vision Zero”—zero serious injuries or deaths from crashes by 2030—has stagnated. Right after the mayor’s press conference, a truck and a car collided dramatically on Rainier and South Alaska Street— right at the northern edge of the Rainier Avenue S improvement area.

2. Back in 2004, after then-mayor Greg Nickels made a gross attempt to buy the support of newly elected city council members Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen by hosting a chichi fundraiser to pay down their campaign debts, my Stranger colleagues and I started a new political action committee and learned that, like filing ethics reports and counting envelopes full of cash, coming up with a clever campaign acronym was harder than we imagined.

Fast forward 13 years and say hello to “Homeless Evidence, Transparency, and Accountability in Seattle,” or HEATS. It’s one of two new campaigns to stop the new levy, I-126, which will help move some of the 10,000 or so homeless people in Seattle into apartments, treatment, and supportive housing. The person behind it is a blogger who wrote a 1,600-word post mocking a homeless woman for having a criminal record, filed a frivolous ethics complaint against a council member for providing public information to a reporter, and took surreptitious photos of me and posted them with comments mocking my appearance. So far, HEATS has raised $0.

3. Speaking of the Stranger, Crank has learned that the paper has hired a news editor, after posting job ads and interviewing candidates for more than a year. Steven Hsieh, who has  worked as a staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and has written for The Nation, will join the paper officially in the next few weeks.