Another Public Bathroom Request for Downtown Olympia

I have a dream! It’s not a dream on the scale of ML King Jr.’s dream Wiki Commons, courtesy Tomwsulcerand if I try to express my dream in a speech, it won’t bring a lump to your throat the way that Martin’s dream speech will, but if you have a full bladder in downtown Olympia after hours some day, you may share my dream of increased public access to bathrooms.

Here is the letter I sent to the Olympia City Council and to Thomas Henderson and Joyce Turner at General Administration earlier today:

Dear All:

I am active with the Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget. I have been communicating with the City of Olympia for several weeks about the need to increase access to public bathrooms in downtown Olympia. In the past few weeks, I also starting communicating with GA regarding the problem of limited bathroom access in downtown Olympia. I spoke to the City Council about this problem on October 4th. The City has expressed support for the idea of increased public access, but also expressed concerns about vandalism, drug use and other inappropriate activities that arise with public bathroom access after hours and I share the City Council’s concern about the challenge of having bathrooms open 24 hours per day.

I was in downtown Olympia on Friday evening and again on Saturday. I was astonished at the number of people taking part in the Food Summit and the public events at Sylvester Park. I understand that a potentially large group of people may now intend to assemble in Sylvester Park and petition for redress of grievance, a critical and protected First Amendment right and I am very excited about the energy, the commitment to democratic process and the dedication to non-violence that I am hearing from the folks gathering at Sylvester Park. We truly live in interesting times.

I encourage the City of Olympia and General Administration to recognize that this kind of free speech movement eclipses park and public space rules. I encourage the City of Olympia and General Administration to step up and show respect for the most important civil right of all, the right to gather and engage in free speech in public space. I also request that we seize this unique opportunity to have a trial run at increased access to public bathrooms by establishing a trial program of opening the public bathrooms at Heritage Park for the benefit of the people who are taking part in the free speech movement and also to support the larger community who want to be able to walk through downtown Olympia without the increase in sanitation issues that will arise with the number of people who are now spending many hours per day living their free speech movement in public space.

I believe we can receive cooperation and support from the General Assembly that is taking place daily at Sylvester Park with the monitoring and maintenance of the public bathrooms.

Please review quickly and let’s discuss the possibility of opening the public bathrooms at Heritage Park effective Monday, October 17th on a trial basis while we convene public meetings of stakeholders who are interested in this issue.

Sincerely,

Mike Coday

Increased Public Facilities in Downtown Olympia? Well, maybe…

After a couple of weeks of emailing the Olympia City Council about the need for better public facility access in downtown Olympia, I went to the City Council meeting and asked them face to face to commit a staff person to taking part in meetings to explore the possibilities. I spy public bathrooms

I did not get a yes to the staff commitment idea, but I did get a pretty reasonable reception and responses from several council persons. There seems to be an understanding that more facility access is needed. I was encouraged by the responses. Also, big thank you to Paul for standing up to second my request. I think Paul was persuasive because he spoke from first person perspective of a guy who does not currently have good access to facilities. Paul mentioned that there is limited public facility access after-hours in Oly is at the Transit Center and out at the Marina.

Here is my current thinking on this issue: We need to convene meeting(s) with representatives from the City and from General Administration to talk about the possibility of opening up bathrooms. We need to include the downtown business owners, social service agency reps, and spokespersons from the houseless population to discuss a trial run of expanded bathroom access.

I wrote to General Administration yesterday and asked them to review the availability of public facility access in the areas that GA controls. Haven’t heard back yet.

The obvious trial model would be to open the bathrooms either at Heritage Park or Percival Landing for longer hours. I think it is important that we get buy-in from the the folks on the street who would use the facilities. That community needs to understand that the City and GA are rightly worried about property destruction, vandalism and increased infrastructure costs related to taking this step.

Here are my comments to the City Council from last night:

First, thank you for your service to the community.

I am here tonight to the City Council to take tangible steps to beautify downtown Olympia by increasing access to public bathrooms. We hear complaints on a regular basis that the sidewalks, streets and alleys of downtown Olympia are like a public sewer. Here are a couple of facts to consider in that regard:

First: if you are broke and on the streets of Olympia at 10 or 11 pm and you need to find a toilet, you are out of luck.

Second: nobody wants to be in that position.

The City is in a position to do something about this problem.

We are living through the worst economic downturn of our lifetimes. The State and Federal governments are attempting to fix their revenue problems by cutting services and funding to people who are in dire need of support. Many people with no other options are now living on the streets. Criminalizing poverty is not the answer. I don’t think that increasing access to public facilities is the answer either, but it is a good place to start.

I would like to see the City of Olympia step up and find a way to make the public facilities of the City more available. I have also invited General Administration to take part in public meetings to discuss this problem. I request that the City assign a staff person to take part in public meetings with downtown business owers, representatives from social service agencies, General Administration and individuals who are attempting to survive on the street to discuss better public facility access. I think think you have all received my recent emails on this matter. You have an opportunity to be part of the solution to this problem. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you.

More on this matter soon. A big public thank you to the City Council for their thoughtful responses to my request.

2012 Elections are Looking Ugly

Not just the candidates or the lack of political will to create public policy to turn the country in the right direction, but the election apparatus itself just got even less respectable.

The Brad Blog carried the story recently that the Diebold voting machines can be easily hacked remotely. There seems to be some question as to whether the remote control parts to hack the machines will cost $16 or $26, but either way, the technology for controlling election outcomes is dropping dramatically and it makes a person wonder why the campaigns are collecting and spending so much money. This is money the “job creators” need to turn the country around.

2012 will be an election year when we see unleashed corporate influence in the elections thanks to Citizens United. We will see “new and improved” voter suppression tactics. We have increasing numbers of potential voters who have no “permanent” address other than 100 Street St., State of Economic Misery, Planet Earth. They may have reason to vote for change, but it is not certain that they have reason to believe that change is available at the voting booth, so the building occupation movement may be seen as a truly primary election on the US economy and the rules of the game.

Live Feed from the Occupation of Wall Street

It’s a live feed, for as long as it lasts or as long as they loop the footage, so the activity and engagement level varies depending on what is going on at any given moment, but thought I would embed the video in case you want to plug in for a minute or two and “be present at this moment” in the Wall Street occupation.

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at livestream.com

I think it’s fair to say that the corporate media coverage of this real occupation is very slight, but they will jump and run to cover a tea party event funded by right wing plutocrats. Connect the dots, Kemosabe. Catapult the propaganda.

Come to Olympia if the Economy has Put You on the Street

What better place than Olympia to gather if the Washington State economy hDo you know where your children are?as put you on the street? Come to Olympia to assemble and petition for redress of grievance. Come and sit on the streets of Olympia as a demonstration and act of free speech. Come to Olympia and greet the legislators and the policy makers who will have to step over you, or walk around you, as they move around in their daily lives. The City of Olympia is criminalizing poverty in the downtown area, but the First Amendment comes in… uh… First! We have the right to sit, recline, sing, grieve, and beg for good public policy in Washington State. Come to Olympia.

Camera and I not getting along yesterdayIf you get hassled by the Olympia Police Department for exercising your free speech rights, email the particulars: Where, when, police officer name to olympiacopwatch@gmail.com and we will challenge the City and the Police Department to justify the violation of your first amendment rights.

I know that some folks get scared when they have to be close to houseless people. I encourage those folks to come down to the Artesian Well during daylight and introduce themselves to the people who move through that setting. There are lots of tattoos, piercings, and a fair amount of cursing, but there is also a lot of openness, music, support, and community. There are scary, dangerous folks everywhere, on the street, in the burbs, in the police force, but most of the folks everywhere are just human being like you and me. Make the effort to connect and see what happens. Stop thinking, “there but for the grace of God, go I” and start thinking “there by the grace of God, go I.” Really attempt to connect with the folks and see what happens. If they ask you or tell you to leave them alone, leave them alone. It ain’t rocket science.

I have no problem Empty Houses, have you seen any? with an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. I am politely asked to share what I have in my pocket regularly and I share what I can. When I say, hey, wish I could, but I am short, I almost always get an “ok, thanks” type of response. I don’t want to be harassed when I say no, and it doesn’t happen to me. I suspect it doesn’t happen because I really engage with the people asking, I look them in the eye when I tell them I am short. I don’t avoid the folks. I treat them with respect and they respond in kind.

Although I am not keen on the whole idea of prohibition (I have some libertarian impulses) I think I am supportive of a ban on fortified wines in downtown. I hope for a day when there alcohol, drug consumption and possession are not a crime and when the money saved from the “war on drugs” is redirected to substance abuse treatment on request, fully funded. I guarantee you that this approach to dealing with drugs will be more cost-effective and humane.

Come to Olympia. I will see you in the streets.

Sen. Cantwell sponsors extension of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit

At a forum on low income housing and homelessness prevention Friday, August 26, Sen. Maria Cantwell discussed the bill that she is co-sponsoring with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to extend and strengthen the affordable housing tax credit.  The forum took place at the Salishan housing development in Tacoma and was attended by about 300 people who have served as leaders, volunteers or activists in the area of affordable housing and shelter.  Many of the attendees represented churches that participate actively in homelessness prevention.

 Sen. Cantwell lauded the success of the low income housing tax credit in providing 90% of all affordable housing.  She said that 20,000 additional units will be needed in Tacoma over the next 10 years.  The 630 units that have been built in Salishan are the result of this tax credit.    The program is producing fewer units today, she said, because since 2008 there has been a reduced demand for the credits.  It has been difficult to find private capital and projects have been stalled nationally.  The problem is the fluctuation in the credit allocations with interest rates, so that the amount of the tax credits is currently too low.  The program is due to expire in 2013.  In introducing the extension, she and Sen. Snowe are proposing certainty in the allocation formula even if interest rates are low.

 In discussing the political aspects of getting the bill passed, Sen. Cantwell sought to frame the issue in terms of job creation.  She said the program could be sold as economic development and job creation in the construction industry.  She said that the program produced 140,000 construction jobs in the state.  Comparing the effects of public and private investment, she said that the federal government can stimulate the economy at a rate of 20 times the effectiveness of private industry.  Responding to a panelist’s question about how she would overcome political opposition, she said that she asks opponents what is holding them back from voting for the proposal.  She felt that pressure from constituents in favor of the extension would be the most means of getting it passed.

On related issues, she said that Washington State is 16th in the nation in foreclosures, with one home out of 781 in foreclosure in June.  There are 75,000 homes in foreclosure in Pierce County.

Rachel Myers of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance said that that people who never used services before, and who had previously been donors, are now requesting services.  

Lisa Wolters of the Seattle Housing Authority discussed the severe backlog in the Section 8 housing program.  There are currently 50,000 Section 8 vouchers in use in Washington State.  The FY2011 appropriations bill cuts staff and impacts veterans’ programs.  King County recently opened up Section 8 applications for the first time in years and received 25,000 applications, from which 2500 randomly selected households will be considered.

S. Troy Christensen, who administers homeless programs in Pierce County, said that through current intake procedures, data is now available on applicants.  50% are single parents and 90% of these are single mothers.  Most of their applications have not requested social services in the past. 

Michael Mirra, Executive Director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, said that if this issue were food we would all recognize it as widespread malnutrition and pockets of starvation.  He said that public housing serves those who often can’t find other types of housing: seniors and the disabled.  He also said that for public housing to be accepted, it has to be in good shape. 

Kim Herman, Executive Director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, emphasized the need to make the allocation formula permanent and provided financial data.

Bryan Ketcham of Catholic Charities, provided a compelling perspective on affordable housing in rural areas, particularly for farm laborers.  He was very concerned that the HUD counseling program received no federal funding, while people are struggling to prevent foreclosures.  He said that the tax credit had less of an effect in rural areas because investors consider such development to be of greater risk.  He said that a rural family of four in the state earns $25,000, whereas in King County the mean in $39,000.  He said that the tax credit cannot fulfill the need in rural areas and that other programs are needed.  He related the stories of specific examples of families who were able to improve their situations economically from having access to affordable housing.

Thomas Green, a veteran with an honorable medical discharge, who was homeless for almost two years, discussed how a state and federally subsidized apartment enabled him to go to college.  He said that the possibility of applying for and obtaining a job while homeless was nonexistent.

Olympia Copwatching at the Olympia Really Really Free Market today!

Planning meeting today for ramping up copwatch activities in Olympia. Interested folks will be at Bigelow Park around noon enjoying the park and sitting in on the Olympia Really Really Free Market. I think we will have a training opportunity. Will also have some flip video camcorders to get out into the hands of folks who are committed to keeping a camera turned on the police in Olympia. I am not sure we need a formal organization to ramp up copwatch, mainly I just think we more tools and a little bit of framework.

I have opened an Olympia Copwatch facebook page and group. I am not sure whether group or page makes more sense. I am still trying to figure out how to use fb. (and I am wondering if google plus will turn out to be a better tool in the long run)

See you in the streets and the parks!

Mike

Prisons and Profits? Can we have both?

It’s bitter sweet to be writing about prisons during the week that Gil Scott-Heron died. I believe that Gil did some time for possession of cocaine. That tells you so much about the current purpose of the incarceration industry. I guess there’s a good chance that with a record and prison time that Gil lost the right to vote. Think about that. The guy that wrote the television will not be televised could be disenfranchised. There it is. That is the purpose of the war on drugs. To disenfranchise a certain population. Dark skin have anything to do with it? I don’t know. You get to decide for yourself. But I do hope you will think about it.

Anyway, back to prisons and profits. If you want to have prisons in your society, a good purpose for a prison would be to rehabilitate folks. To give them skills that help in the world on the other side of the bars. Forget about punishment. We are likely to get plenty of punishment in this life, let’s work on opportunity, stability, value. Instead of creating a revolving door for throwaway people in the Prison/Justice Casino, how about we focus on a value-added system?

I am not dead set against profit. I understand that the profit motive, that style, fashion, all that stuff that powers the capitalist model, is like a natural force in the world. It’s like wind and tide. Fashion/desire/style is like human weather. Capture it and you can move things. But let’s make sure that profit is derived from the right things. I am ok with incentives that would turn a reasonable profit for a system that would create outcomes that the community desires.

So, in the case of the Justice and Prison system, if we are going to privatize the prisons and allow a profit to be made on the misery of incarceration, why not make profit contingent on good outcomes for the prisoner and the community?

How would you do that? It’s not that hard. Just think about this model:

* A for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for incarceration of a prisoner.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for a period after release of the prisoner
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who has not been arrested since release.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who is employed
* The for-profit prison would be paid an even larger bonus at 5 years for each prisoner who has not been convicted of a felony crime since release.

That daily rate during incarceration would be flexible enough that the the prison could choose to help with vocational and living skills, maybe operate a vocational school and community college inside the joint. At the end of a sentence there would be a flexible release period where a private, for profit prison could decide to move a prisoner outside the walls into a supported system that would help with job placement and move the released prisoner toward a future that does not include more time inside the joint and moves the for-profit entity toward a profitable bonus payment for success in the form of a conviction-free future for the parolee and safer community.

Our current system creates throwaway people. There is a three strike system in effect in a lot of jurisdictions, but if you look at real opportunity, a single felony conviction may be sufficient to create the next two strikes. For lots of folks, it is a one strike, you’re out system.

People will say, wow, that sounds expensive. Where are we going to get the money for that? Declare a truce on the war on drugs. That’s where the money is currently going. Take the money from the war on drugs and spend it for drug treatment on request, and roll the balance into the prison-correction system. Let’s recycle folks who make a mistake back in to the productive community instead of targeting and disenfranchising certain populations and recycling those populations through a prison system that dehumanizes the prisoners and the jailers. Profit on misery is not a good thing.

Homeless encounter

On my way to and from my office in Seattle I pass a variety of homeless people and beggars. Some of them are regulars: I see them begging at the same spot nearly every day. But on Friday I saw a newcomer: a middle-aged black woman who was bent over a shopping cart that contained her belongings. While passing, I could hear that she was sobbing.

My conscience and curiosity tugged at me, so I stopped to ask her what was wrong. She seemed to be praying. She lifted her head and I could see tears streaming down her face. She said something about congestive heart problems, and she pointed to a scar on her chest. Then she mumbled something about a shelter. I distinctly heard her say that she was assaulted the previous night; she woke up to see a guy’s penis in her face and the guy was masturbating on her. The woman wailed and put her head down and prayed, “Oh, God….”

Not knowing what to do, I gave her some money. I noticed that she was clutching some bills in her hand.

Rather shaken, I went back to the office and told the story to the QA (Quality Assurance) people who work with my group of software developers. I knew that several of them were Mormons and other Christians and figured they’d be open to discussing the encounter. (I omitted the details about the sexual assault.)

One QA guy said that I probably was scammed. It was probably an act. I said, “Maybe so. But if so, she was a really good actress and deserves to be paid for her theatrical skills.” The guy said that being homeless is (generally) a choice. He said that for a college course he once played homeless for two weeks to see what it was like. He said that there was always food and shelter available. The problem, he said, is that a lot of homeless people don’t take advantage of services because they have to listen to preaching: many Christian missions and churches provide meals and other services, but to take advantage of them you have to be willing to listen to preaching.

Someone else disagreed with him and said that some of the homeless are not there by choice. Seems right. Some or most of them lost their jobs, got sick, and couldn’t afford rent. And yes, many have psychiatric and substance abuse issues.

When in downtown Seattle I also pass Real Change News vendors from whom I buy the newspaper once a week or so. The newspaper provides money and a sense of belonging to a large population of homeless people in Seattle. From what I hear, to become a Real Change News vendor you have to be a high-functioning homeless person. Some of the people I see on the streets are too down-and-out to qualify, I figure.

Why do the homeless tend to congregate in city centers? I would think that suburbs would be more pleasant. Perhaps they congregate in cities because the cities have more shelters, or because they feel more at home.