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

Republican lies about deficit spending

On The Deficit, GOP Has Been Playing Us All For Suckers

“Think about this. The same congressional Republicans who over the previous eight years wanted everyone to believe they were fiscal conservatives hell-bent on balancing the budget and not increasing the national debt, sponsored, passed and then danced around the fire because of legislation that will result in a permanent $1 trillion deficit and a debt that will soar to close to 100 percent of GDP by 2028.”

And most voters couldn’t care less. They will continue to believe the talking point that the Dems are “tax and spend liberals” and the Republicans are fiscally responsible. Facts do not matter.

Review of Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain

Subtitled “Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising,” Joshua Green’s book about the 2016 election explains how Trump pulled off an upset. Green interviewed Bannon and other major players. The journalism and writing are of highest quality, like what you can read in publications such as the New Yorker. I like that the writing doesn’t draw attention to itself but flows well.

I have a greater appreciation now for how Trump won and for the role Bannon and other nationalists played in his victory.

Trump won by

  1. Appealing to nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and economic populism;
  2. Relentlessly attacking Hillary and Bill Clinton as corrupt;
  3. Saying outrageous things that generated free publicity;
  4. Firing Paul Manafort in late August of 2016, hiring Steve Bannon, and listening to advice from the Mercer family;
  5. Concentrating on the swing states; (A week before the election, Hillary was campaigning in Arizona.)
  6. Getting a lot of help from the Mercer family and Cambridge Analytics;
  7. Getting a lot of help from millions of angry, young white males who spend time on the Internet as trolls and in the Dark Web of right-wing hate groups;
  8. Getting a lot of help from Jame’s Comey’s announcement about email investigations a week before the election;
  9. Riding the wave of populist, anti-establishment anger related to the Tea Party; (The Mercers at first supported Ted Cruz, another outsider who wanted to overthrow the establishment.)
  10. Repeating many of the populist themes of Bernie Sanders’ campaign; (One of Trump’s videos sounds almost exactly like a Sanders video: attacking the corrupt corporations and political elites.)
  11. Taking advantage of solid opposition research that appeared in the book Clinton Cash, which exposed apparent corruption in the Clinton Foundation and which resulted in headlines in the New York Times and other legitimate media outlets.

Though Steve Bannon was an extremist, and though he later was kicked out of the White House, he was smart (a former Goldman Sachs executive) and played a large role in many of these strategies.

In fact, Green is convinced that Bannon departure from the White House in August of 2017 was largely due to Trump’s annoyance at being overshadowed by Bannon.  Some people called Bannon Trump’s Karl Rove.   Trump wanted people to believe that he is a self-made man. In a tweet, Trump ridiculed Bannon and said he played a small role in his win.    Green suggests otherwise.

It’s easy to ridicule Trump as being dumb. In some ways he is. In other ways, he’s rather a genius. He is skilled at insulting and tearing down opponents. He beat Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christi and the other Republican candidates and then pulled off an upset win against Hillary. His repeated attacks against “Crooked Hillary” stuck. He had a knack for self-promotion and for appealing to voters’ primal views.

But he also appealed to economic concerns of the middle class. Green quotes Steve Bannon on Trump’s victory:

“Trump,” Bannon proclaimed, “is the leader of a populist uprising…. What Trump represents is a restoration—a restoration of true American capitalism and a revolution against state-sponsored socialism. Elites have taken all the upside for themselves and pushed the downside to the working- and middle-class Americans.” Bernie Sanders had tried to warn them, but the Democrats hadn’t listened, and didn’t break free of crony capitalism. “Trump saw this,” Bannon said. “The American people saw this. And they have risen up to smash it.”

Of course, as Green says, this spin is belied by the fact that Trump’s economic policies have favored the rich and have led to a dismantling of regulations that protect the public from predatory capitalism.   Bannon was more anti-establishment and more anti-Wall Street than Trump turned out to be. Bannon and his cohorts hated the corrupt GOP establishment and wanted Trump to overturn it.

Several times during the election, Trump campaign staff and Republican operatives were convinced Trump was in serious trouble. Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly for her aggressive questioning at Republican debates led to a quarrel with Fox News owner Robert Murdoch; but Breitbart News and other far-right groups were able to come to Trump’s defense and attack Megyn as a traitor to the cause. The Access Hollywood tape (“Grab’em by the pussy”) almost ended Trump’s campaign, but WikiLeaks released DNC emails, and Trump pivoted to attacking the Clintons about Bill’s infidelities and apparent corruption in the Clinton Foundation.

Trump was the Teflon Don.

Up until election night, Republicans were expecting to lose, though their polls showed the race tightening after Comey’s announcement.

After Trump clinched the election, a reporter asked Bannon if the outcome was worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Without missing a beat, Bannon shot back with a reply worthy of his favorite vintage star, Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High.

“Brother,” he said, “Hollywood doesn’t make movies where the bad guys win.”

(The book has many such gems.)

Despite Trump’s relationship with Bannon and other nationalists, Green writes, “Trump doesn’t believe in nationalism or in any other political philosophy — he’s fundamentally a creature of his own ego.” Green predicts that Trump will disappoint most of his supporters, just as he disappointed and betrayed most of his business associates over the years. Green says that Trump’s presidency has mostly been chaos and failed policy initiatives.

Green seems wrong on two points. Trump’s anti-immigration policies are having a real, damaging effect. And he has launched an anti-globalist trade war with China. (This happened after Green wrote the book.)

42% of Americans still support Trump, according to some polls. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins re-election in 2020.