Last March I posted something that drew from a conversation of very frank nature from both sides concerning the problem of homelessness, at least in Kent. I was under the impression that the officer who invited me to discuss the homeless problem with him actually wanted to listen to listen to a “fresh” perspective from someone who wasn’t a “criminal,” a drug addict or had “mental” problems.
For my part, I appreciated the fact that he didn’t insult my college-educated intelligence by repeating the usual public relations propaganda; it was “refreshing” to hear someone admit that the police sometimes allowed their personal prejudices to govern their actions, and that the reason why Kent vetoed a downtown homeless shelter even at private expense was because the police wanted the right to deny certain “types,” presumably those “suspected” of being inebriates, drug addicts and people with psychological problems—i.e. the people most needed to be off the streets—the opportunity of taking up residence there. I think I was more than “fair and balanced” in my reporting of this meeting, considering my general attitude toward police.
Thus it was with some irritation that I read a recent article entitled “Into the Wild” composed by someone named Matt Driscoll in the pages of the Seattle Weekly, in which the officer I spoke to was quoted but who shed much less light on the “problem”—only contributing to its “darkness.” The piece informs the uninformed of the “horror” of the homeless hidden in the bushes of suburban King County, mostly out-of-sight and out-of-mind to most residents, but a “problem” apparently in constant need of attention by police who need something to do.
Although he likely will claim that he did not “intend” to do so, in Driscoll’s telling of this tale the homeless are nearly all of a vaguely sub-human species—a view “helped” by the police description of the homeless as mostly a bunch of people who “want to live their life of crime and drugs” or, more “generously,” have “mental problems.” Deep in the “wilds” they live like feral animals, either in packs or as lone wolves, leaving behind refuse both material and fecal. And it is Driscoll’s “duty” to inform you of this previously "unknown" menace, particularly since once one “camp” is cleared out, it might migrate to your community.
Alright, so perhaps I’m being “unfair” to Driscoll; perhaps he isn’t as ignorant or unmindful of the reality of homelessness as he appears to be. But anyone who approaches the issue from the perspective of law enforcement and the prejudiced of mind does more harm than “good.” Nowhere did I read in this piece about how homeless life can be a terrifying experience for the homeless, a constant struggle against those who would cause them more harm than they have already experienced.
Nowhere in this article did I read about how once a person finds him or herself in this situation, how difficult it is to get out of it. Nowhere did I read of how in spite of the undoubted sincerity of people to help a person out of such a situation, a person who seems to be more “normal” than others and actually wants a roof over their heads are usually rejected for assistance from those who actually have the authority to do so, while those who are judged more “needy” are usually those less likely want it.
Homelessness is a much more complicated issue than who is “hiding” where. The fact that the police search them out wherever they may be found just to drive them away and force them to hide out somewhere else—especially in communities that don’t provide a local 24-hour homeless shelter (like Kent) seems to me just a sick game. The “problem” is never “solved” this way—just transplanted somewhere else. It is a societal problem that few want to face in this capitalist system we live in.