On Seattle’s head tax

If taxes on corporations kill jobs, as opponents of Seattle’s head tax claim, shouldn’t we tax only the middle class? 🙂

After all, the rich will just take their money and invest it elsewhere — in other states or, perhaps, the Cayman Islands.

Indeed, tax avoidance is a national and international problem and is a big reason why economic inequality is so large. Amazon and other large corporations have benefited tremendously from state and city services. It’s time for them to reinvest in the community. If they move some divisions elsewhere, that wouldn’t be a total loss: their presence has caused over-crowding and homelessness.

Report on Bellevue meeting on Homelessness: “The Difference a Home Makes”

On Thursday, May 18 I attended “The Difference a Home Makes: A Dialogue about Homelessness and Housing on the Eastside” at the First Congregational Church in Bellevue. The church donated the use of their attractive facilities for the meeting.

(See also Report on the Mercer Island forum on homelessness of May 15, 2018.)

The meeting was organized by five Eastside service and housing providers: Attain Housing, Congregations for the Homeless, Imagine Housing, Lifewire, and The Sophia Way. The event was billed as

… a deeply personal look at homelessness and housing on the Eastside. Hear directly from those who have experienced homelessness and who are currently receiving support from Eastside services organizations.

At this event, you will:

  • Learn about the services available to people struggling with housing instability or homelessness on the Eastside
  • Learn about the benefits of affordable housing
  • Hear the stories of those who have received services from Eastside organizations
  • Find out how you can make a difference

We heard presentations from homeless people (or formerly homeless people).

During the first part of the meeting, we were asked to use our cellphones to use an online tool and to guess the answers to some questions about homelessness. The questions exposed the (alleged) truth about the myths behind homelessness.

Myth #1: Homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.

Fact: you have to work 150 at minimum wage in the Seattle area to afford a 2BR at market rates (assuming that 30% of your income goes to housing — people have to pay for food, etc). It’s impossible to support a family on a minimum wage job.

25% of homeless people have jobs but can’t afford rent.

Myth #2: Homelessness is a choice. Fact is: only a very small number of people choose to be homeless, they said.

Fact: 47,600 more affordable homes are needed (in King County).

Myth #3: Homelessness is due [just, mainly] to their own behavior.

Fact: 52% of homeless families with children suffered domestic violence.

Myth #4: Providing homeless services just attracts more homeless people.

Fact: only 9% of the homeless clients are from out of state.

We were encouraged not to judge the homeless. For example, if we see a homeless man with a dog, don’t question why he can afford a dog. It may be his beloved companion. (There’s a young Asian woman who often begs in Bellevue. I gave her a dollar the other day. Later I saw her sitting, enjoying a cigarette, and I thought: how can she afford to smoke?)

For the second part of the meeting, attendees broke up into separate, smaller groups to listen to stories from (formerly) homeless people.

A homeless woman described being cold and hungry in her car with her kids. She had been a victim of domestic violence. A homeless advocate challenged attendees to imagine making tough choices between staying in an abusive relationship (which often emerges gradually over time) and being out alone on the street, often with no assets, since abusive husbands often horde all the money and force their wives to be isolated and dependent.  Or the woman has to choose between leaving her kids behind with her abusive husband (who may abuse them or who may blame her for leaving) or taking her kids with her to live in the car, or on the street if  you have no car.

Lifewire serves abused women. Shelters often full. Homeless people try to couch surf with friends.

Statistics suggest that 1/4 of women suffer domestic abuse in their life, and 1/7th of men do too.

Two veterans spoke of being homeless. Robert has been battling homelessness since he left the military in 2000. He lost his job and ended up homeless in 2010. He ran the gambit of many ways to become homeless. Homelessness among veterans is way too high. One man put himself on the street so his wife could have a home. I asked why there are so many homeless veterans; the speakers said it’s unclear why, but it may have to do with PTSD.

John was living with his ex-wife to be near his kids. That didn’t work out and he ended up homeless. He slept in his storage unit for three months. (It’s very common, and the residents have to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid detection and to avoid getting trapped in the buildings at the wrong time.) The Veterans Administration helped him at the Compass Center.

Alita (sp?) was homeless during two periods. She worked three jobs in her 20s. She has a disabled dependent. She was married for 17 years. She chose unsuccessful relationships. Most of the guys were emotionally or physically abusive. Maybe it’s because her father was an alcoholic and her mother was a gambling addict. Her last relationship was hauntingly scary. She was saved by Sophia’s Way — the Cadillac of shelters.

Worked for the UPS, but injured her shoulder. Then grocery clerk. Embarrassed and afraid to be in a shelter. Had a background of using pills and of drinking. Never dawned on her that she’d be homeless.

A homeless client James from the Marshall Islands spoke. According to Wikipedia, “Politically, the Marshall Islands is a presidential republic in free association with the United States, with the US providing defense, subsidies, and access to U.S.-based agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the United States Postal Service.” So, residents have a special immigration status. James has 11 children. At first he lived in Arkansas. He hurt his back. Drove. Stayed with relatives. Too many people for lease. Lived in car for three weeks. Finally at Mary’s Place. Nine months in shelter. Working full time now at the airport, fueling planes. Nice house. 33 unit building. Transitional housing, up to two years.

James is fortunate to get housing, they said. There is a huge backlog, because housing prices are so high.

When you’re homeless, getting a shower may be a one-day project.

Some of the homeless people didn’t “look” homeless.

Affordable housing is the crux of the issue, because it’s hard to find homes for the homeless. (duh!)  That was the theme of the evening.

At the beginning of the meeting they asked us to submit questions online. I asked, “How should we respond to those opponents of the Eastgate shelter who claim that its ‘low-barrier’ nature will result in increased crime in the vicinity.” I saw only two other questions (with lots of typos) in the online tool, and my question was up-voted by a couple of other people. I was expecting the meeting organizer to address my question at the end of the meeting, but they chose not to. I asked them about it, and they said to look online for answers.

But one (formerly) homeless guy asked me if I attended the city council meeting a few weeks ago. He said that a police officer reported that the highest crime spot in Bellevue is the west garage of Bellevue Square. Criminals target cars there. He also told of professional criminals who were arrested trying to steal electronics, etc. from Costco.

A worker for one of the homeless organizations said, off the record, that crime might increase around a shelter but that’s true of any group of people. (There are corrupt doctors, lawyers, CEOs, etc. My brother investigates insurance fraud among doctors. The governor of Florida’s company was fined for hundreds of millions of dollars of Medicare fraud. Crime was rampant on Wall Street; companies paid billions in fines. Steal a loaf of bread and they throw you in jail, steal a nation and you’re a hero.) Also, he said, if there’s a shelter the cops will know where to look. He’d rather have the homeless concentrated in one place rather than living in, say, Robinswood Park. He lives in that neighborhood and supports the shelter.

One thing that annoyed me, at first, was that there was a lot of free food and bottled water at the meeting. The food include vegetarian and vegan options. A speaker at the beginning said “There’s plenty of food, so enjoy!” I thought it was rather unseemly for there to be free food at a forum on homelessness. But who am I to judge (as Pope Francis asked)? I am blessed with a well-paying job in high tech, and we are spoiled with free food and perks. I’m sure the homeless advocates are paid low salaries compared to me. So I should be happy they get some perks too, I suppose.

These issues are complex.

The organizers encouraged attendees to share the evening’s stories on social media, to write letters-to-the-editor, and to contact city council members to support affordable housing. Use the hashtag #AHW2018.   See www.housingconsortium.org.

Report on the Mercer Island forum on homelessness of May 15, 2018

On Tuesday night several dozen people attended a homelessness forum at the Jewish Community Center of Mercer Island. The forum was arranged by Clarity Bellevue, which has been involved in the debate about plans to build a low-barrier homeless shelter in the Eastgate area of Bellevue. (Clarity Bellevue is generally opposed to locating the shelter in Eastgate.)

The aim of the forum was to be educational, and the moderators emphasized that discussion should be polite. The discussion was indeed polite; nobody raised their voice or shouted out.

Steve Fricke moderated, after introductions by Tzachi and Lara Litov. City Council member Lynne Robinson and East Bellevue Community Council member Steve Kasner were in attendance.

The speakers were:

  • Daniel Malone, Executive Director of DESC, “Seattle’s largest and most comprehensive agency serving chronically homeless adults.” “The Downtown Emergency Service Center works to end the homelessness of vulnerable people, particularly those living with serious mental or addictive illnesses. Through partnerships and an integrated array of comprehensive services, treatment and housing, we give people the opportunity to reach their highest potential.”
  • Eleanor Owen, a feisty and lucid 97 year old advocate for the mentally ill, as well as an actress, playwright,  professor, and creator of DESC. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Owen
  • Deryl Davis-Bell, works with NorthWest Urban Ministries and New Horizons Ministries. Mr. Davis-Bell went through a phase of homelessness and addiction but now helps others recover.
  • Rob Stewart, Executive Director at New Horizons and Deputy Director at Mary’s Place. New Horizons serves homeless youth.

Steve Fricke asked the panelists a couple of questions of his own and then read questions from audience members.

Anyone expecting to hear powerful ammunition for or against building a homeless shelter in Eastgate was probably disappointed. The panelists were frank about the challenges of helping the homeless population.

Mr. Stewart described how his team liases with the local community to address issues of undesirable behavior around their facilities (pan-handling, drug use, sleeping on the ground, loitering, etc). More often than not, he said, the perpetrators are unrelated to the shelter. Another panelist (Mr. Malone, I believe) said a similar thing.

There was discussion about barriers/rules for entry into facilities. Union Gospel Mission requires abstinence. Some other facilities have low barriers (including allowing convicts and sex offenders and people under-the-influence). Some shelters have a curfew/deadline for entry; others don’t. But a standard barrier is: can the people be safely accommodated? If not, they are rejected.

The panelists discussed accountability: how many of their clients enter stable housing and get jobs. Many homeless do, some don’t. A short-term aim of shelters is just to get people off the street. An additional aim is to help them become independent. Some cities have had more success solving homelessness than others.

Eleanor Owen was surprisingly outspoken about the homeless and about nonprofits that serve them. She suggested that for some of the homeless, it’s a lifestyle choice. She lived through the Depression, and hobos used to come to her family’s house. Her family gave them potatoes, and she would see them cook hobo stew. When it was time for them to leave, the hobos were thankful and always asked how they could pay back (volunteer). Nowadays, says Owen, many homeless have no sense of responsibility (giving back). Instead, they have a hang-dog look, which she hates.

Owen also suggested that some of the nonprofit organizations serving the homeless community have a vested interest in keeping the money flowing. An entire ecosystem has developed which encourages dependency. The more low-income housing we build, the more people will fill them up. [Of course, this is true about most charity, isn’t it? Should we forsake all charity?]

Daniel Malone seemed rather offended by Owen’s comments critical of the nonprofits serving the homeless . He said something like, “Do firemen want houses to burn down?”. He went onto to describe the challenges of homelessness and to defend efforts to help them. He said that few people are irresponsible. Owen said, “I agree with everything you said but …” She told stories about homeless or mentally ill people building and maintaining their own homes in Italy and other places. Somehow, the homeless need to be made responsible. [Is the problem drug addiction?

Rob Stewart said that if you ask homeless youth they may say that they like being out on the street. But he doesn’t believe it. If you actually give them a safe, private place to live, they will jump at the chance.

This led to a discussion of Housing First, the approach followed in Salt Lake City and elsewhere. The idea is to give homeless people a room and a key with no further requirements about sobriety, etc. At first, they can’t believe it. But quickly they like it, and it turns out that this approach (house the homeless!) seems to work: it SAVES money otherwise spent on the justice system (police, jail) and Emergency Room visits. Also, drug use and mental health issues get better when people have homes, since it’s very hard to treat addiction and mental illness for people under the stress and instability of homelessness.

Eleanor Owen wondered how society can pay for Housing First (she complained of high real estate taxes). But perhaps the approach really saves money in the long term.

Housing First was pioneered in the Seattle area in the 1990s. See https://www.desc.org/what-we-do/housing/housing-first/

Deryl Davis-Bell said that interpersonal relationships (with clients) are more important than “resources” (money).

The debate about the Eastgate shelter involves questions of the effect on the surrounding community of its being “low-barrier” and worries about the process (some opponents claim it was secret and biased).

Supporters of the shelter accuse the opponents of engaging in NIMBYism per the opponents’ sign “Shelter yes. Eastgate no!”

I had wondered why the moderator didn’t ask the $500,000 question that is on everyone’s mind: “In your opinion, would a low-barrier homeless shelter likely result in an increase of crime and other problems in the area around Eastgate?” But the organizers told me that that question was off the table, since the purpose of the forum was to be just educational. Besides, they said, the judging from the experience of others shelters, the answer varies and is difficult to formulate.

Some people on nextdoor.com refused to attend the forum, saying it was biased towards people opposed to shelters.

See: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/bellevue-must-pull-its-own-weight-in-homelessness-crisis/ https://www.change.org/p/i-am-against-the-low-barrier-men-s-shelter-in-eastgate

How progressive are Washington State’s members of Congress?

Govtrack.us has a useful chart that purports to show where each member of Congress stands on a continuum from liberal to conservative.

The chart is based on co-sponsorship relationships between members of Congress: how often they cosponsored each other’s bills. Lawmakers who cosponsored another lawmaker’s legislation are placed close together. The X axis measures ideology (from progressive on the left to conservative on the right). The Y axis measures leadership: how often the lawmaker sponsored bills.

Click this link to explore the data interactively. I have copied the image here and marked Democrats with arrows and names:

Ideological positions of Washington State Congressional Democrats, from govtrack.us

A surprising thing about their analysis is that it puts Adam Smith to the left of Primila Jayapal. This seems wrong. I will redo their analyses using my own data science skills.

The govtrack pages for each candidate show scores from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, League of Conservation Voters, Human Rights Campaign, NORML, and various right wing advocacy groups, such as Freedom Works, the Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth.  See

Another scorecard they should probably have shown is the Social-Economic Justice Scorecard from the AFL-CIO: https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do/social-economic-justice/advocacy/scorecard/us-house-scorecard . According to that scorecard, all Democratic Washington State Reps score pretty high. Again, Smith scores higher than Jayapal or anyone else.

District Name Party 2015 (%) 2016 (%) 2017 (%) Lifetime (%)
WA 1 DelBene D 92 100 92 94
WA 2 Larsen D 88 100 95 91
WA 3 Herrera Beutler R 14 50 18 17
WA 4 Newhouse R 17 13 24 20
WA 5 McMorris Rodgers R 13 13 11 10
WA 6 Kilmer D 92 100 95 94
WA 7 Jayapal D 97 97
WA 8 Reichert R 42 63 37 41
WA 9 Smith D 100 100 95 90
WA 10 Heck D 96 100 95 95

I am curious about their votes on taxation and military issues. Are there scorecards covering those fields?

Here’s govtrack’s image for all Senators (Click to see bigger version):

U.S. Senator ideology

And for all House members (Click to see bigger version):

U.S. House member ideology