Can’t Buy Me Likes

Followers of this blog will recall that I have penned a handful of articles on Seattle’s own Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and its director, Sharon Lee. Ms. Lee runs a $50 million taxpayer-funded operation and hobnobs with the Mayor and City Council. Yet she refuses to respond to simple questions about just what LIHI does with the money. Naturally that makes me suspicious. Doesn’t that make you suspicious too?

May, 2016: Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray signs a tax levy proposal that will put tens of millions of dollars into LIHI coffers. Source: City of Seattle

I was suspicioning around the Internet the other day when I came across a tasty morsel about LIHI in the June 6, 2013 issue of Seattle’s Northwest Asian News. It’s all about a Facebook popularity contest that nearly scored LIHI a $250,000 prize from Home Depot. Unfortunately, it seems that somebody “sabotaged” the vote, which forced Home Depot to kick LIHI out of the contest:

“LIHI and The Home Depot Foundation were victims of sabotage and fraudulent voting,” said LIHI Executive Director Sharon Lee in a statement. “Without our knowledge, someone hired or engaged an overseas company to generate votes. This could have been a competitor — or it could have been an overzealous supporter — but we do not know. We are still investigating.”

Hm. Overzealous supporter you say? What is the likelihood of some “supporter” from outside LIHI – and without their knowledge or permission – plunking down a few thousand dollars to put LIHI over the top? And, seriously, what are the chances of some hater doing that just to make them lose . . . especially when they were already losing?


Last week I got a batch of papers from Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s files. Among these documents was a broadcast e-mail forwarded to O’Brien and hundreds of other public officials by former LIHI Board President, Alan Castle. Castle was passing along a message from Ms. Lee, who is telling recipients to flood their social circle with her appeal to get that vote count up. Do you support veterans? she asks. Then help me score this cash.

You have to admire Ms. Lee’s enthusiasm. It reminds me of my granddaughters trying to raise money for their school. (Do you love me, Grandpa? Buy some of these chocolate widgets. I’ll win an Angry Bird!)

Lee’s chain letter was not against Home Depot’s contest rules, but what Castle and Lee were doing was still unethical, since they were urging people who knew nothing about LIHI to pretend to like it on Facebook. Given that strategy, is it so far-fetched that someone inside the company – hmm, who could it be? – would have paid a Facebook “liking” service to do a lot more of the same thing?

November 2012: Senator (now Mayor) Ed Murray, flanked by LIHI Board President Alan Castle and Sharon Lee. Source: LIHI.org

As the NW Asian News article points out, these services operate from overseas. But that’s not as mysterious as it sounds, since they’re still just a click away on the Internet. The reason they operate offshore is so US courts can’t subpoena their records if someone wanted to make a fraud case out of it. There is thus no legal risk to a client for employing such a service to win Facebook contests; the only risk consists in being disqualified from the contest if you get caught doing it. But if the purse is $250,000 and the race is tight – and you’re in second place – a liking service might seem like a good investment. Especially if things like fairness and honesty don’t matter to you.

Let’s apply a bit of game theory and psychology here. Let’s hypothesize that someone at LIHI did hire one of these services. Our hypothetical cheater might figure that even if Home Depot did detect a fishy odor, they’d ignore it, since they have a longstanding relationship with LIHI and they don’t want to imperil that, because it works out for both of them. (And besides, who wants to bust on a sweet little gal who just wants to build houses for homeless veterans?)

And in the actual event, that’s kind of what happened. Home Depot didn’t ignore the cheating. (They couldn’t, of course; it was too obvious.) But they did ignore the cheater.

“We do not know where the voting was coming from exactly,” said Home Depot Corporate Spokesman Stephen Holmes in an email to the Asian Weekly. “I’m honestly not certain how long it occurred, but the irregularities were significant enough that we felt we had no choice other than to remove LIHI from the contest.*

Spokesman Holmes goes on to make it “abundantly clear” that nothing led him or Home Depot to believe that the “voting anomalies” were due to any “intentional effort” by LIHI –or their leadership. (Oh, and did I mention that we just gave LIHI $612,000 in grants for veterans housing? Yes. We did that because we’re good guys.) Which is another example of this phenomenon I see repeatedly with LIHI and its partner organization, SHARE. You can catch these guys in the act, show all the TV reporters, church people, and politicians how SHARE and LIHI mismanage money . . .  how they lie . . .  how they hurt people. And they’ll still brush it off. –Why? “Because they’re helping homeless people,” they say. “And so we’re helping them.”

I get it. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve been made a fool of. Especially when they were trying to do their brother a good turn.

–David Prestonhorse

♫ Notes ♫


*Here’s Home Depot Spokesman Holmes’ statement, parsed in true-blue type for TBQ readers:

We do not know where the voting was coming from exactly. [We know exactly where the voting was coming from.] I’m honestly not certain how long it occurred, [it’s been occurring for a very long time] but the irregularities [the fake votes] are significant enough that we felt we had no choice other than to remove LIHI from the contest [take steps to cover our ass].

Despite the problems with this contest, I believe that Home Depot is making a good-faith effort to support homeless veterans and other good causes. You can read more about that here.

The Home Depot spokesman I contacted regarding this story was not able to immediately determine whether the organization is still hosting Facebook contests.

► Sharon Lee earns $177,000 a year at LIHI. (See a recent tax return for the group here.) She bills herself as the group’s “Executive Founding Director,” but it was in fact founded by Scott Morrow (of SHARE fame), Frank Chopp (speaker of the Washington State House and a leading light in another massive non-profit called Solid Ground) and Michael Reichert (former head of the titanic Catholic Community Services). LIHI was created in 1991 and Lee was moved there from Chopp’s Solid Ground in 1994. LIHI currently has various business associations with both SHARE and Solid Ground, and the group gets significant funding each year, with help from Speaker Chopp in his capacity as head dealmaker in the House. Lee is thus strongly bound to two out of three of LIHI’s founding partners.

Lee is also registered as a lobbyist with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. She does not respond to inquiries about herself or her organization. At least, not from me.

► Alan Castle is no longer on the board at LIHI, according the group’s Web site. He did not immediately respond to inquiry.

► For an example of a typical liking service (and the source of the graphic in the article above) go to BuyCheapSocial.com. And be sure to like The Blog Quixotic.

 

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No Strings Attached

June 18, 2016

A recent Facebook post from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is at once a study in courage and a window onto the political nightmare that is homeless policy in Seattle. Murray is currently getting skewered by the church-lady left for evicting the scattered homeless camps along the I-5 corridor downtown, collectively known as the Jungle. In local parlance, these short-order ejections by cop are known as “sweeps.”

Where are the 400-ish Jungle residents supposed to go after they’re swept? Shelters will take some, with the Mayor’s encouragement, but many others – perhaps even a majority – will pack up and move to assorted hidey holes around the city, where they may be even less safe than they were in the Jungle. (But hey, at least they won’t be trotting down the freeway auditioning for Mad Max.) Still others will end up blowing town for good. At that point, they will no longer be the Mayor’s problem.

Of course this wasn’t anybody’s happy ending, but realistically, the Mayor was all out of options. The Jungle had been getting bigger, wilder, and dirtier by the week. The violent murders last January showed that it was beginning to pose a threat to civil order as well. Continue reading

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Another SPD Accountability Fail

Seattle police detective Leslie Smith let several rape cases languish because she was “overworked.” As a result, an accused child rapist was allowed to stay on the streets. Ms. Smith has not been fired for incompetence but was instead promoted. Meanwhile, her supervisor and the union are making excuses for her:

Capt. Deanna Nollette said [Detective Smith’s] unsolved cases were reassigned to other detectives in January. “If I were going to fault the detective for anything, I think it would be for having unrealistic expectations of herself,” said Nollette, who now heads the unit where Smith was assigned. “I think, frankly, we mishandled our detective. “If there was any failing, it would be on the part of the supervision that put the detective in this position.”

Read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story here.

Deanna Nollette
Source: Seattle.gov

Sorry, Capt. Nollette, but that doesn’t cut it. Having “unrealistic expectations” imposed on you by yourself or others doesn’t let you off the hook for not protecting the public. Especially where a child is concerned. Being a cop is about using good judgment, thinking on your feet, and getting your priorities straight. Both Detective Smith and her supervisors should be getting disciplined for this, but it’s looking like nobody will be punished for these screw ups. Unless you count the kids who got raped and their families.

–David Preston

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“Dear Scott . . .” Will SHARE ever fire Boss Morrow? Can they?

June 4, 2016

Today I got a nice surprise in my mailbox. It’s a letter from someone who claims to represent some two dozen Scott Morrow critics: disaffected homeless campers, SHARE insiders, volunteers. The letter is being circulated ahead of today’s “Power Lunch” planning meeting, to be held at one of SHARE’s two direct action protest camps located at the King County Administration Building in downtown Seattle. The camps were established when SHARE closed 15 indoor homeless shelters to protest recent funding cuts from King County and Seattle human services departments. According to SHARE there are 200 people staying there.

[You can also see the letter here.]

I have not had time to authenticate this letter and I do not vouch for any specific claim it makes. With those caveats, I’ve decided to publish it anyway, on the theory that it may be timely and on the assumption that it represents at least one SHARE insider’s true feelings.


Continue reading

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The Doney Clinic

May 29, 2016

Every second and fourth Saturday, the Union Gospel Mission in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle hosts the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic. The clinic provides veterinary care and hands out donated pet food and supplies to homeless and very low-income people in the area. Yesterday I was there with my new friend Ruth. We spoke with folks in line to see if any of them lived in any of the soon-to-be-evicted Jungle camps, and, if so, whether they’d be interested in getting their pet spayed or neutered at a mobile clinic that will be visiting the area soon. We didn’t find any takers, but I did get a chance to speak with a handful folks about what their pets meant to them.


This is Samuel, an amiable guy. He was there with his girlfriend’s dog Baby, and told me he had two more back at the homeless camp where he’s staying.

What do your animals mean to you? I asked. Everything, he said.

Continue reading

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Nathan Nothing

May 25, 2016

King County has finally taken steps to defund the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) for failing to show that they can move homeless people out of tents and shelters and into permanent housing. SHARE has been protesting that move by closing down their indoor shelters and encamping at the King County Administration Building at 4th and James.*

[Photos by David Preston. Click to enlarge.]

 

SHARE claims there are 200 homeless people in these tents, but there certainly weren’t any 200 SHARE supporters speaking to the King County Council at open mic day last Tuesday. More like 8. Yet this Council meeting was just a stone’s throw from where these tents are.

Continue reading

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Shocked!

May 21, 2106

The Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), claims to have fired their “accountant,” Steven A. Isaacson, after TBQ broke a story on Isaacson’s lack of credentials ten days ago. (See The Accountant Who Wasn’t There). On May 17, six days after the TBQ story went live, SHARE posted the following update on its Web site:

The statement may have been intended for consumption by SHARE’s sugar daddies at City Hall, but it was more likely intended to mollify a handful of institutional SHARE supporters who’ve become increasingly nervous about the group’s sketchy image: heavy hitters like the Seattle Foundation and the Satterberg Foundation. However, as is usual with SHARE’s official explanations, this one raises more eyebrows than it lowers. It opens, for example, by saying that SHARE heard just last Saturday and for the first time ever that their accountant may (!) have let his credentials lapse since they hired him 8 years ago.

. . . and of course SHARE was shocked to discover this. Shocked!

Continue reading

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Homeless Camps and Warrant Checks: Who’s minding the store?

May 16, 2016

al_the_copLike hundreds of cities around the country, Sammamish, Washington has developed special regulations for organized homeless camps. And just like other cities, Sammamish has rules saying that if you run a homeless camp, you have to do “background checks” on anyone moving into the camp, to make sure they’re not wanted by the police. But what happens when there’s a warrant out on the guy running the checks? Good question. Today I got the following anonymous tip through Guerrilla Mail:

On April 7, 2016, Perry Debell was arrested at the Tent City 4 homeless encampment at Mary Queen of Peace Church (MQP) in Sammamish. It is of note, because Mr. Debell was the “Resident Adviser” to the camp, and it was HIS JOB to run active warrant checks on incoming residents. In a public meeting held at the Church on December 30, 2015, Perry was introduced – along with a man named Sam Roberson – as part of a leadership team that was going to “clean up the camp” to avoid a repeat of what happened the last time Tent City 4 stayed in Sammamish, when there were serious meth problems at the camp. Debell’s presence at the camp with an outstanding warrant is a violation of MQP’s permit with the city of Sammamish. 

A public record request for the arrest of Andre “Andy” Abad from Janurary 9, 2104 will give you a 47-page document with witness accounts of the meth and heroin dealing inside the camp while at MQP from October 2013- January 2014. It will show you that the Executive Committee of TC4 was actively misleading police officers, allowing the drug dealing to continue.  Continue reading

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The Accountant Who Wasn’t There

May 11, 2016

Back Story: Gimme Shelter

The Seattle House and Resource Effort (SHARE) gets around a million dollars in government grants and in-kind donations each year. They ostensibly use this money to shelter homeless people, which they do through a network of small indoor shelters and larger homeless encampments. On it’s Web site, SHARE claims that “up to 450 people each night find safety, shelter, dignity, and respect in our 14 self-managed shelters and 2 Tent Cities.” Although the group is the subject of frequent scandals around its homeless camps, taxpayer money keeps flowing in because most of the government money is tied to indoor shelters and not the camps and because there is a general perception within government that SHARE is doing what other shelters can’t. SHARE provides the City of Seattle with hundreds of shelter beds at a per-bed rate of less than $7 per night, which is considerably cheaper than the rate for other providers. SHARE also runs a winter shelter program to bring large groups of people in off the streets during extreme weather. Records are not kept for individual winter shelter stays, so the money for those is budgeted by the shelter night rather than the bed night. That throws SHARE’s $7-a-night figure into question, because that number is based on regular shelter beds, and much of SHARE’s costs for those are defrayed by the local churches who are supplying the space and beds, and charging SHARE only for utilities. In the case of the church beds, the cost to the taxpayer may indeed be $7 a night. Or even less. But that is to the credit of the donor churches, not SHARE.

Christmas at SHARE’s Nickelsville homeless camp, 2013 ~ Photo by Kevin R. McClintic

It’s even harder to know what the real bed-night rate works out to, when you consider that SHARE’s claim about how many people it serves is not subject to meaningful scrutiny. Seattle officials don’t verify SHARE’s reported number; they just take it on faith. The same is true for SHARE’s shelter operating costs. If SHARE says it pays a certain amount for utilities – or transportation, or postage stamps – the City accepts that. The group’s financial officers, such as they are, do not respond to questions on their financials. I know that because I’ve tried asking them questions about specific items on their tax returns and about certain claims they’ve made to news reporters about costs. –Nada.


Enter, The Accountant Continue reading

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Derelicts: How a huge Seattle non-profit left a tiny homeless camp to rot

May 5, 2016

Back Story

If you follow this blog, you’ll already know a lot of the Nickelsville Dearborn story. That’s the camp at 1010 South Dearborn Street near downtown Seattle that sheltered between 35 and 50 homeless people from the late 2013 to the early 2016. The camp was beset by problems from the outset and saw two rebellions against non-resident camp manager Scott Morrow over the course of a year. The second rebellion was successful, but ultimately led to the eviction of the camp by Seattle police and the scattering of its residents.

In two recent articles, I examined an $87,000 property tax exemption that was granted the owner of the Nickelsville site by the Washington State Department of Revenue. The exemption was granted under Washington law RCW 84.36.043, which gives landowners a tax holiday if they allow their property to be used for transitional housing (read: homeless camps). In Washington, such camps generally require a church to sponsor them, and in this case, the church of record was the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd under Pastor Steve Olsen. When Olsen applied for the tax break, he committed to do certain things to ensure that the camp was genuinely helping people to transition into permanent housing (hence the term: transitional housing). Unfortunately, most of the things Olsen committed to doing never came to pass. For example, he claimed that the entire site would be used for a homeless camp, but in fact, two thirds of the tax-exempted property sat fenced off and empty for the entire time. According to what campers told me, they were forbidden even to set foot on that part of the property (story here). Olsen also committed to give “pastoral counseling” to the campers, but according to the ones I spoke with, that never happened either (story here).

Pastor Olsen also said, in his application for tax exempt status, that a local housing non-profit group called LIHI (the Low Income Housing Institute) would provide case management services for the homeless campers to ensure that they were getting the help they needed transitioning to permanent housing. And that’s where we rejoin the story . . .


What was LIHI supposed to do at Nickelsville?

Continue reading

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The Not-So-Good Shepherd

RCW 36.01.290 “Authorizing religious organizations to host temporary encampments for homeless persons on property owned or controlled by a religious organization”

–This statute was enacted by the Washington State Legislature in 2010. It grants churches the right to set up temporary homeless camps on any property they own or lease, as an expression of the church members’ religious faith. The effect of this law is that church-sponsored camps must be permitted by local jurisdictions as long as they meet basic health and safety requirements. A non-religious organization would not be allowed to host such a camp, because the camp would typically violate a number of zoning laws and ordinances.


Nickelsville: Dream vs. Reality

In the fall of 2014, Pastor Steve Olsen of Seattle’s Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd leased eight parcels of undeveloped land near downtown Seattle – probably for a trivial fee – from real estate developer Chris Koh. The lease was undertaken for the purpose of the church sponsoring a temporary homeless camp on the land under RCW 36.010.290. The camp was to be called Nickelsville and would be run by Olsen’s associate Scott Morrow and his non-profit Nickelsville organization. (Morrow also directs another, much larger, organization called SHARE, which receives over a million dollars in government grants and in-kind subsidies annually, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars’ in cash and in-kind donations from private donors.) Casework-type services were also to be provided another large non-profit that Morrow co-founded: the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI).

Continue reading

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The Case of the Missing Homeless Camp

April 13, 2016

Do you see a homeless camp in this picture? –Yeah. Neither do I.

So why was the landowner granted a two-year “transitional housing” property tax exemption on this pricey patch of real estate near downtown Seattle? Good question. Let’s take a look . . .


In December of 2014, landowner Chris Koh (dba ABCD Trust, Inc.) applied for and got a two-year tax exemption on the land in this picture, as well as land nearby. The exemption was granted under a Washington state law (RCW 84.36.042) that rewards private landowners who use their property to create emergency and transitional housing for homeless people. The RCW defines transitional housing as “a project that provides housing and supportive services to homeless persons or families for up to two years and that has as its purpose facilitating the movement of homeless persons and families into independent living.” The project has to be supervised by a qualified non-profit organization.

Continue reading

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Whose park?

March 28, 2016

A homeless person sleeps on equipment at Othello Playground, half a block from Seattle’s newest city-sanctioned homeless camp, Othello Village.

One of the questions surrounding homeless camps – sanctioned or otherwise – is whether they attract homeless people to the neighborhoods around the camps. No studies have been done on this that I’m aware of, but with the camp located in my Highland Park neighborhood I noticed that there was a noticeable increase in the number of people loitering about in the area of the camp during the two and a half long years it was there. In some cases, these were people who slept in the camp but spent their days panhandling; in others they were people had been ejected from the camp for drugs or behavior issues and who chose to stick around in the vicinity, usually because they had friends in the camp who helped them in some way, with donations of food, for instance. In still other cases, homeless people migrated to the area because they’d heard about it on the news and because they assumed that the neighborhood was amenable. [Read a related story here.]

Continue reading

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It takes a trash-heap to make a Village

March 25, 2016

A homeless man rummages through trash in an alley behind Seattle’s newest “sanctioned” homeless camp, Othello Village. The camp is run jointly by Seattle’s Human Services Department and the Low Income Housing Institute, a local non-profit group that oversees two other camps under contract with the city. I asked the neighbor who sent me the photo if this trash was the result of the homeless camp moving in. He said, “Oh, no. It’s always been like this. That’s just the neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, city officials did not poll the Othello neighbors as to whether siting a homeless camp here was wise. Neighbors were simply summoned to a community meeting and told that the camp would be arriving in a matter of days. [See that story here.] As I reported earlier, some neighbors objected to siting the camp in this spot because of chronic problems with crime in the area. It now appears that sanitation could also be added the list of pre-existing neighborhood issues.


Continue reading

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Help Wanted: Social Justice Manager

March 20, 2016

It’s too bad Seattle can’t bottle self-righteousness, because if we could it’d be the biggest thing since pale ale.

Seattle Smug™ is certified fair-trade, locally sourced, gluten free, organic, carbon-neutral, and non-GMO. And best of all, it’s renewable, so we’ve got an inexhaustible supply. First there was WTO. Then gay marriage. Legal pot. RV safe lots. Transgender bathrooms . . .  Now it’s our turn once again to show America how it’s done. I’m talking Social Justice, people. This is the Holy Grail of Smug.

The City of Seattle just created an actual job of Social Justice Manager. And at 110K per year, Justice has never been so sweet. Check it out:

Key Roles and Responsibilities

Visionary, strategic leadership and oversight. Continue reading

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Outrage for Hire

March 13, 2016

Since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign pulled ahead of the GOP pack last month, critics to his left and right have been increasingly calling him a fascist. As evidence of this claim they cite footage of protesters – usually minorities – being manhandled and even assaulted as they are removed from Trump rallies. [See here for example.] Sometimes the scenes will be mixed with clips of Trump at the podium, ridiculing the protesters or encouraging his supporters to rough them up.

Photo: Reuters

Is this fascist behavior? Well, kind of . . . but not really. At least, not in the historical sense of fascism. Yes, beating people up is something fascists do, but real fascists have gangs of roving thugs, and those thugs don’t wait for protesters to come to their rallies to start roughing people up. They actually go out on the streets looking for victims. Also, when you get beaten up by fascists, you get messed up pretty bad. Or killed. And that is not something we see happening at Trump events.

When people get tossed out of Trump rallies, they’re not getting tossed because they’re Mexican, or Muslim, or whatever. They’re getting tossed because they’re heckling the speaker, or are engaging in some behavior that is clearly rude and disruptive. While Trump doesn’t have the right to tell his fans to beat people up, he does have the right to ask disruptive people to leave, just as surely as a bar keeper has the right to bounce drunks.


Continue reading

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The End of Camp Dearborn

March 11, 2016

Today Seattle police moved to evict the small group of homeless campers who continued to occupy the Dearborn Street site formerly known as Nickelsville. This move was taken in response to a request from Chris Koh, who owned the land the camp was on, Pastor Steve Olsen, the camp’s religious sponsor, and Sharon Lee of LIHI, the camp’s fiscal sponsor. [See that letter at the end of this post.]

On January 27, Nickelsville had voted camp boss Scott Morrow out of his position. But Morrow, in addition to being good friends with both Lee and Olsen, is the one who set up the land deal with Mr. Koh. As such, he could cancel that deal at any time. Although the campers’ grievances against Morrow appeared to have merit, it was unlikely that the new “Camp Dearborn” would long endure without Mr. Morrow’s patronage. And it didn’t.


poverty_pimpThe 2016 rebellion at Nickelsville is strangely similar to one that took place almost exactly a year earlier. In that case, however, Morrow and his associates had the rebel leaders removed and Morrow reinstated, after Morrow told the campers that they’d have to reimburse him for all the services he’d been providing to the camp . . . paying for trash pick-up and port-a-potties, and what-not. A few months after this happened, I heard that the City of Seattle had actually been the one paying for many of these services, so I began pressing public officials to intervene and keep Mr. Morrow from bullying the vulnerable people under his care. Unfortunately, the City was having none of it. We just hand out the money, they told me. We don’t take responsibility for overseeing the camps. And by the way, we think Mr. Morrow is doing a fine job. [paraphrasing]

Camp boss Scott Morrow unloads supplies at the entrance to Nickelsville Dearborn in September 2015. Campers told me he spent just one or two hours there per week.

After the second (2016) rebellion at the camp, Morrow started in with the eviction threats again, so I began pressing my contact at City Hall – one Michael Taylor-Judd – to tell me exact amount of money the City had been spending on the camp. After three or four e-mails back and forth, Taylor-Judd finally leveled with me, admitting that the City had spent some $30,000 on the camp in 2015. So that’s $30,000 of taxpayer money Seattle spent on this camp in one year, and yet the City has STILL taken no steps to hold the camp operator accountable for the way he runs his camps. (Besides Nickelsville Dearborn, Morrow controls at least three other homeless camps in Seattle, most of which are funded almost entirely by the City. He also manages two other camps outside the city, as well as several dozen shelter beds scattered around Seattle. His organization, SHARE receives about a million and a half dollars annually in cash grants and subsidized bus tickets.)

Below is the breakdown of Seattle taxpayer support for Nickelsville Dearborn’s services, directly from Michael Taylor-Judd at Seattle’s Human Services Department. These are services that Mr. Morrow and Ms. Lee have claimed to the homeless campers, the media, and the public that they were paying and that’s what gave them the right to evict campers en masse if they desired.


2/29/16
Re: Trash Pick-up at Nickelsville Dearborn

David,

[ . . . ] What I have in my notes is the following breakdown of a little over $30,000:

January-April 17, 2015

$9,474.90 Northwest Cascade (HoneyBucket expenses)
$3,818.39 Recology (Dumpster pick-up)

May-July 2015

$3, 844.00 Northwest Cascade
$5,909.24 Recology

June-October 2015

$7,868.48 Northwest Cascade

Payments stopped after that as the Humans Services Department was finally prepared to contract with service providers and needed to retain limited dollars for the new [homeless camps] being established, which I believe was the stated intention of the City Council ordinance.

Thanks,

Michael Taylor-Judd
Assistant to Division Director
Administrative Specialist III, Community Support & Assistance Division
Seattle Human Services Department

O: 206.684.0266 | michael.taylor-judd@seattle.gov

Taylor-Judd


Here is the eviction request letter delivered to Camp Dearborn after the second rebellion:

–Story and Nickelsville photo by David Preston

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Othello Village: How a homeless camp came to one Seattle neighborhood

March 7, 2016

Seattle officials recently hosted two community meetings in the city’s Othello neighborhood to discuss their plans for citing e a homeless encampment in neighborhood. The camp has been dubbed “Othello Village” and will be located in 7500 block of MLK Way S. (See Google Map view here.) Organizers say Othello Village will host up to 100 people in tents and “tiny houses” and will be there for 12 months, with the option to reapply for another 12 at the end of that term. Families with children will be allowed, but accommodations will be rudimentary. The camp will have portable toilets, for instance, but no running water, and electricity will be supplied intermittently by generators.

Othello Village is being sponsored by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) – a non-profit group that owns the property – and will be managed the Seattle Housing Resource Effort (SHARE). LIHI and SHARE jointly manage two other encampments in Seattle. The City of Seattle has signed contracts with the two organizations and will be providing most of the operational funding.

Seattle Councilmember Bruce Harrell addresses Othello residents at Holly House on March 3

The community meetings were held at the New Holly Community Center on February 16 and March 3. Both were in the form of panel presentations. Officials on the panel included Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and Sharon Lee, CEO of LIHI. Also there were representatives from the Department of Planning and Development and the Seattle Police. Scott Morrow of SHARE was also in the room to field questions the other members couldn’t answer. (Note: Morrow was removed from his position at another Seattle encampment last month. More info on that story here.)

Both meetings were well attended and included a number of people for and against the camp although, according to neighbors I spoke with, there more people against. Small business owners were particularly worried about the effect a homeless camp would have on the neighborhood, they claimed.

Pete Mahowald lives two blocks away from the encampment site and was in attendance both nights. He described himself as a neighborhood volunteer and sometime spokesperson. Mahowald is unhappy about the sudden way in which he and other neighbors heard about a homeless camp moving in. He told me that construction on the site began two days after the first meeting and before the land-use permit had been issued. At my request, Mahowald sent me pictures he’d taken showing several tiny houses that appeared at the encampment within 48 hours of the first meeting.

Tiny houses started springing up within two days of the first community meeting

Mahowald was also not pleased with the way the meeting invitations were handled. He said he didn’t get an invitation for either meeting and only heard about them second-hand, despite the fact that at the first meeting he’d put his name on a list to be notified of future events. He brought this up with Councilmember Harrell in the meeting: “Bruce said that e-mails were sent out telling neighbors about the second meeting and when I said I didn’t get one, some 80% of the people in the room clapped. Those people hadn’t gotten a notice either. I know many of them. They’re local business people. Neighborhood volunteers. They found out the same way I did, by word of mouth or someone forwarding an e-mail around.”

At the first meeting, Mahowald says, he asked whether the camp had already been permitted, and Harrell replied that the permit was still in process and that several things would have to happen before it could be finalized. However, at the start of the second meeting, Harrell announced that Othello Village was a “done deal” and the purpose of the community meeting was to help the City and LIHI address resident concerns going forward. Harrell told the audience that he didn’t have a choice in the matter himself, that he had to push the encampment through because the Mayor had declared a “state of emergency” for homelessness. Harrell was referring to Mayor Ed Murray’s press conference of January 31 in which the Mayor claimed that the city would now have “more administrative authority and flexibility in contracting for services and distributing resources.” How the Mayor’s declaration affects permitting laws remains to be seen. See more here.


CM Harrell listens as SHARE’s Scott Morrow answers a question. Morrow will oversee the camp’s daily operations.

Organizers claim the camp will have rules of behavior for residents (see a sample intake form here), but Mahowald was skeptical. “They say that the people at Othello Village will not be allowed to buy alcohol within a mile of the camp. How are they going to police that? There are liquor outlets all over that area.”

Another neighborhood activist, Gaye Davies, echoed Mahowald’s account of being left out of the loop. Like Mahowald, she had put her name on a contact list after the first meeting but was never given notice of the second one. She said the panelists spoke for too long before taking questions: “We just sat there and listened and listened and listened. For an hour we listened. A few neighbors managed to interrupt with questions, but one of the things we got over and over was that we’re not in this [decision]. We’re not being consulted.”

Davies told me that her concerns are the impact on the “fragile” neighborhood and  the safety of the campers. A former Block Watch captain, Davies has a history of working on crime prevention with neighbors. She gave me examples of crimes that had occurred in the area of Othello Village. “We’ve had deaths in this area,” she said. “We have gun and drug activity. Every few weeks we hear gunfire.”

“I keep thinking: Do you people know where you’re putting this? –Right in the middle of a residential area, on the edge of one of the busiest streets in Seattle. Don’t you know the history of this neighborhood? It has improved, yes, but is certainly not a safe location for a vulnerable population.”

Davies has a Master of Public Health degree and she told me that that background informs her concerns about the project. “I keep punching on the public health angle,” she emphasized. “Supposedly they’re going to put in showers and sinks at a nearby mini-mart for the residents. How’s that gonna work? Two showers for a hundred people? The camp will have no hot water. I hate to think of kids in that place, with tents and no water. I have a dog sitting business and the City requirements on me are stricter than this. They tell me I have to have hot water for dogs, but they don’t have to have it for kids?”

Port-a-potties and a hand washing station will greet the new residents of Othello Village.

At one point, Councilmember Harrell said something so startling Davies felt she had to write it down. She got her note and read it to me. Twice. “He said – and I’m quoting verbatim – ‘Normal processing for encampments did not occur here. There was not even an internal process. It did organically arise.’”

“Now what do you think of that?” she asked. I said the word “organic” made it sound like the camp was something the neighbors were asking for. “Asking for it? We didn’t even know about it, much less ask for it. I would say that at least half of the people at those meetings felt that the Othello neighborhood was being railroaded.”

According to late-breaking news stories, Othello Village will officially open on March 8, five days after the second community meeting.


Story by David Preston. Photos courtesy of Pete Mahowald.

For a somewhat different take on the Othello Village project, see the South Seattle Emerald story here.

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The Real Slim Shady: How Troy Kelley gamed the law, the media and the voters

Being shady needn’t be a handicap in politics. It can even be an asset. Just ask Washington state auditor Troy Kelley: The Real Slim Shady.

Kelley won the 2012 auditor’s race despite having two years earlier paid a million dollars to settle a lawsuit alleging that he’d stolen buckets of money from his customers. As part of the scheme, Kelley had also created dummy corporations and transferred money back and forth between them, allegedly to hide his ill-gotten gains. Except for the terms of the settlement, the lawsuit was part of public court records, freely available to any journalist, and yet, for the most part, the media gave him a pass, and the voters followed suit. The Troy Kelley saga shows what can happen when a dedicated liar of a politician meets a naive and loyal herd of voters.


Adventures in Shady

To understand what a coup Troy Kelley pulled off in Washington state, you have to have to some history. From 2003 to 2008, Kelley ran a service business called Post Closing Department, whose job was to transfer deeds of trust from lenders to homeowners after the homeowners had paid off their mortgage loans. This process is called reconveyance and Kelley’s business, PCD, did reconveyances on contract for title and escrow companies.

In 2008, Kelley signed a contract with Old Republic Title in Seattle to process and track Old Republic’s reconveyances, and for this he agreed, in writing, to charge a flat “tracking fee” of $20 per title, plus whatever he had to pay to the county recorder’s office to change the title. Old Republic had already collected a fee of up to $150 per title from thousands of its clients and it handed these proceeds over to Kelley with the understanding that he’d refund whatever he didn’t earn directly to homeowners. A typical refund should have ranged from $110 to $130 per customer, depending on whether the reconveyance fee had already been paid by the lender.

According to a lawsuit Old Republic Title filed against Troy Kelley in early 2011 (see Court Documents section below), Kelley did not refund the extra money to homeowners as he had agreed. Instead, he simply kept it. He did process a few refunds but, as the complaint alleges, only when a disgruntled homeowner complained to Old Republic or when he needed to fool Old Republic into thinking that he was actually doing something for the money. His record keeping, as such, was a joke.

Eventually a group of unrefunded homeowners sued Old Republic, and Old Republic sued Kelley. The class-action suit against Old Republic was eventually dismissed, but Old Republic’s suit against Kelley – the one that he settled in 2010 for a million dollars – was allowed to go forward. The suit against Kelley reads more like a rap sheet than a tort claim. Along with the main cause of action, which was breach of contract, the complaint lists unjust enrichment (read: theft), fraudulent transfer (read: money laundering) and three other lesser charges. These allegations form the backbone of a 17-count federal grand jury indictment filed against Kelley in Western District Court in September 2015 (see Court Documents section below.) Continue reading

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Othello Village

February 29, 2016

Seattle’s newest “sanctioned” homeless encampment is about to open. This photo came to me through a neighborhood resident who said: “They are already moving in, right around the corner. The entire community just found out about it last week. This area is riddled with crime.”

According to the South Seattle Emerald neighborhood blog: “Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) will operate the encampment on two adjacent properties recently purchased at 7544 Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and 7529 Renton Ave. South. The encampment, to be called Othello Village, will house a maximum of 100 people in tents and tiny houses.”

LIHI is the same organization that ran the Nickelsville Dearborn homeless encampment until last month, when there was a rebellion against perennially unpopular camp boss Scott Morrow. After trying to force the residents to reinstate Morrow, LIHI’s director Sharon Lee pulled her group out of the project and sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council, asking them to evict the camp. (You can read more about that here.)

LIHI’s Sharon Lee. Photo: The Seattle Channel

In 2013, LIHI had an income of $17,000,000 and it’s director, Ms. Lee, made $176,000. LIHI does not release information to the public on what it costs to run a homeless camp or how many people people move from the camps into permanent housing. Campers I’ve talked to estimate the number to be quite low, in the neighborhood a few per year. This despite the fact that LIHI controls hundreds of units of subsidized housing in the city.

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Testament of a Homeless Camper

February 29, 2016

Below are comments sent to me by someone who wishes to be known only as “A Victim of Scott Morrow.” This person stayed intermittently at two of Mr. Morrow’s roving “tent city” homeless encampments starting in 2011. The camps were both located outside the Seattle city limits. I have heard many similar stories over the years, but I do NOT vouch for the truthfulness of this particular testimony. I have removed specific details for privacy reasons. –David Preston


H.A. was at Tent City 3 & 4 at different times. She was put into her own tent alone at Tent City 4 for trying to “tent hop” with the boys too often.

I was at Tent Cities before. I saw how she and her friends would make up any reason to kick homeless people out on the grounds that they did not cater to her whims. She sells food stamps and smoked a lot of pot before it was legal. She would always live in the fantasy that she was [of a certain ethnicity] and a rock star. She was Scott Morrow’s insider when he was not there.

Scott Morrow structures his camp schedules to make it very hard for people to get into a good job. He requires weekly meetings, 3 or more 3-hour details in a week called “securities” and whenever a person in charge feels like punishing you they tell you to work a security shift with no advance notice. Too bad if you needed to be somewhere else. Do that shift immediately or get kicked out. Several campers would steal from other tents while working the EC desk (short for Executive Committee). Lies were reported on people and then they were kicked out. Their belongings were stolen or trashed.

There is mandatory fundraising to the homeless campers every year. For 3 months in summer you had to buy a gift card for 25.00 each month or get an agency to donate 100.00 or more. There was a camper named M.B. (aka _____) who would raise $ 2,000 in donations each year he was there. If you failed to fund-raise you were out. The forced community service was doing legal meetings, grant writing for fundraising, or forced church attendance. Even atheists and non-Christians were forced to do those things.

A bunch of campers that left are on Facebook as Happy Campers. They have share/wheel core values but not Scott Morrow as a fat fake mafioso to yell at them. They focus on working and community service.

Thanks for letting me tell you my part of the story.

The Nickelsville homeless camp on West Marginal Way in 2013. Photo credit: Kevin McClintic

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Jungle Boogie

February 26, 2016

The Jungle is the unofficial name for a greenbelt that runs spottily for a few miles along Interstate 5 as it exits downtown Seattle headed south. The area has hosted scattered settlements of homeless people for decades. Mostly nobody cared. Until recently, when the homeless population started booming and drug use and crime boomed along with it, culminating in a triple murder on January 26. Now, all of a sudden, the government does care.

The latest bright idea on how to deal with The Jungle is to simply fence it off and patrol it at an estimated cost of a million dollars. As if that would magically vaporize the hundreds of homeless people who have been living there.

I took the photos below two days ago along 8th and King, just three blocks north of where The Jungle fence would begin. There are people on both sides of the street and their tents and furniture (not to mention their trash) often project out into the sidewalk. There are a dozen or more people on this one block alone, and these are the “better off” homeless, if I may use such an absurd term. I dare say that some of these folks arrived here from The Jungle as a result of turf wars.

Query: Does it look to you like putting up a million-dollar fence around the freeway three blocks away from here is going to make these people disappear?

Get down get down
Get down get down
Get down get down
Get down get down

(Jungle Boogie)





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Kshama Sawant and Occupy Camp Dearborn

February 26, 2016

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant won’t respond to my complaints about the treatment of people in homeless camps. She won’t meet with me to discuss creating a streamlined and independent grievance process to protect homeless people living in city-sanctioned camps. And yet she has the nerve to send me invitations to her pep rallies. This latest rally has a theme of ending homelessness and several speakers will be there representing local non-profits. I thought I’d write and bring them up to speed. Below is the text of my e-mail. I’ve linked each name in the “To” line to a Web page showing the person’s affiliation.


To Jon Grant, Tim Harris, Pramila Jayapal, Julia Sterkovsky, and Danni Askini:

I see that you and/or your organizations will be represented at Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s upcoming “People’s Assembly.” The theme of this event will be ending homelessness.

Kshama gets the the big picture on homelessness. But what about the little one? Since last fall, I have been trying to get her help on a problem involving a local non-profit that runs several homeless camps and shelters in Seattle. This outfit runs camps from the top down, and when campers complain about this, or when they have an issue with the camp boss or one of his pals, they get evicted from camp with no right of appeal. There is a pre-eviction grievance process at the camps, but that process is run by the camp boss and his cronies, most of whom don’t even live at the camps they oversee. Recently the Nickelsville homeless camp at Dearborn Street near downtown Seattle voted the camp boss out, whereupon the boss and his allies in the non-profit community stopped services and food donations to the camp and pressed the City to evict the campers en masse. In a letter to the City, the boss’s allies slandered the rebellious campers, claiming they were a band of violent drug addicts and needed to be removed immediately. The leaders’ response shows that this is simply not true. (Read more here: Letter From Camp Dearborn)

What’s happening at Camp Dearborn now is a replay of an uprising that took place at the same camp last year. In that case, the camp boss and his allies bullied the campers into submission after threatening the entire camp with eviction and using smear tactics against the leaders. In the fall, I contacted Kshama and other councilmembers and city officials, asking them to establish a fair and swift grievance process independent of the camp boss and his cronies, so that homeless campers would not be punished simply for exercising their democratic rights. Unfortunately, Kshama did not respond to my appeals.

Kshama Sawant (Source: Seattle.gov)

Several weeks later, at one Kshama’s forums, I discovered that the she has a political connection to the camp boss and his non-profits.  Suddenly it became clear to me why she was ignoring my e-mails about these organizations. (Read my story about that connection here: The Friends of Kshama Sawant.) The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is one of the groups that has been represented at Kshama’s forums in the past. Sharon Lee, CEO of LIHI, is one who has cut off vital services to Camp Dearborn and has been urging the City to evict the camp. Ms. Lee makes $176 thousand a year and her organization gets some $5 million annually in grants and rental income. Needless to say, Ms. Lee is not someone who should be threatening homeless people. And she is the last person Kshama should be supporting right now . . .

Intelligent people can disagree about whether Camp Dearborn has a right to stay on the property and for how long. However, while negotiations are ongoing, it is not right that services should be cut off from the camp or that City-funded non-profits should be pressing the City for an eviction. I get why Kshama might be hesitant to go against groups that have been her loyal supporters, but at some point you have to put your political alliances aside and ask: What is the right thing to do here? How can I prevent the greatest amount of harm to the greatest number of people?

Please urge Kshama to intervene and halt the eviction of Camp Dearborn. Ask her to meet with me regarding the creation of an independent grievance board to protect the rights of people living in city-sanctioned homeless camps. Thank you.

Regards,

David Preston, editor
The Blog Quixotic


 

If you want to send Ms. Sawant an e-mail, click here: Kshama Sawant

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Letter from Camp Dearborn

The letter below was sent yesterday via e-mail to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council concerning a city-sanctioned homeless encampment in downtown Seattle known as Camp Dearborn (formerly Nickelsville Dearborn). The author, David Delgado, is a social worker hired last August by the camp operator, SHARE. Delgado is one of the leaders of a group inside the camp that has been struggling to wrest control  from SHARE and the Low Income Housing Institute.

Photo by David Preston

Camp Dearborn is under an eviction notice as a result of the property owner’s request to the city, which is included under Delgado’s letter. 


 

Camp Dearborn
1010 South Dearborn Street

February 21, 2016

Honorable Mayor Murray and Seattle City Council:

My name is David Delgado and I started working at Nickelsville in August of 2015. On January 28th I was fired by Scott Morrow. However, Camp Dearborn eventually made a vote of no-confidence in Scott Morrow and voted to reinstate me as their staff. At that point, I had made many attempts to bring up critical safety issues to both LIHI and Scott Morrow. Although Scott Morrow states he fired me for not completing tasks, I believe I was fired so Scott and Sharon Lee from LIHI can hide the fact that they have neglected Camp Dearborn. In the time I have been working at Nickelsville, I have witnessed Scott Morrow putting campers’ lives at risk. I am willing to sit down with any council member face to face for further explanation regarding the Nickelsville model and how Scott Morrow’s management is harmful to our unhoused community members,.  This letter is in regards to the many untruths that Sharon Lee has stated to you and our community.

On February 19th Sharon Lee wrote to the Mayor and City Council in a letter: “Support was also provided by social workers from Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI)” and Sharon told the Stranger newspaper that she does provide case managers to Dearborn. There is a case manager at Ballard that comes to the camp four days a week for about 2 hours a day. At the Tiny House Village their case manager seems to be there often. I have never seen a case manager at Dearborn and the lack of case management support has been talked about during camp meetings many times. Even a LIHI employee has admitted, during a meeting at City Hall following Scott’s vote of no-confidence, to Dearborn and Tiny Village leadership, myself and Councilmember Lisa Herbold that LIHI “dropped the ball on Dearborn.”

In Sharon Lee’s letter, she states the state of the camp has deteriorated since Dearborn voted no confidence in Scott Morrow. Sharon says that there has been an explosion of rats, the trash is overflowing, multiple entrances have been created through the gates, and used syringes lying scattered around the camp are common. This information is extremely false. The problems she describes were occurring since last summer, and are symptoms of how badly Dearborn has been neglected by Scott Morrow and LIHI.

I had brought all of the safety concerns she states to Scott in mid-October and had made multiple attempts to report these concerns to LIHI’s upper management. Not only did LIHI never get back to me, but Sharon Lee refused to join the meeting when the leaders of the camp, LIHI middle management, LIHI Case Managers, Tim Harris and myself met with Councilmember Herbold. I also filed a grievance against Scott for the fact that he was aware of leaders who were involved in drug sales and threatening campers’ lives. To this day, I am still waiting to speak with the Nickelsville board as a last requirement of my grievance process which I started in December 2015. None of the concerns were dealt with, which is a large part of what led the encampments to vote no confidence in Scott.

Sharon Lee also is concerned about the safety of Camp Dearborn. I can assure you the encampment is still following a zero tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol, and violence within the camp. No one is arming themselves with machetes. Sharon Lee’s statements are unethical and irresponsible. She is character-assassinating the campers for safety problems that they have done a lot to solve with no support from LIHI or Scott Morrow. Her letter is harmful to the unhoused community as a whole, as it perpetuates negative stereotypes.

Camp Dearborn decided they’re going to invite [Seattle Police] Chief O’Toole to come share a meal with them so she can see the state of the Camp herself. They are extremely worried that SPD will now get the impression that the campers are dangerous, armed criminals, and they feel they must go out of their way to disprove the slanderous falsehoods of Sharon Lee’s letter and her statements being spread on KIRO news. They feel Sharon’s letter has put their physical safety at risk.

Nickelsville claims to be a self-governing community. On January 28th they practiced this self-government by voting no confidence in a staff member who had done them great harm. On Friday, February 19, 2016, the encampment voted for Polly Trout and myself to be the staff members for the Dearborn encampment for the interim. They gave Polly Trout the role of Camp Organizer and they gave me the role of Crisis and Safety Support Staff. Polly is willing for the Dearborn encampment to be fiscally sponsored by her 501c3, Patacara Community Services, whether it be permanent or for the interim. Ever since Sharon Lee stopped paying for the trash, Polly Trout has been covering the payments for our trash runs. Polly and I already took away 1.4 tons of trash two weeks ago and we have another trash run scheduled for this week. Polly and I are more than qualified to be the staff for this encampment. We are managing it in a much safer way than it has been. We also treat the community with respect and dignity.

I trust that as leaders of our city you will take the camp’s grievance with Scott Morrow seriously as well as the character assassination and slander of Sharon Lee’s messages to our community. Camp Dearborn deserves to exist without being forced to align with a management that has treated them so poorly. If you don’t believe Polly and I are a good fit to help the camp, then I hope that you will do everything in your power to help Camp Dearborn.

I strongly feel that LIHI and Scott Morrow are trying their hardest to hide the many civil rights violations I have witnessed and tried to bring to light since last year. For the sake of safety of all of the unhoused people in Seattle, please investigate these facts before the camp dissolves. I am confident that if the city did investigate, the city would find that the narrative that LIHI and Scott Morrow has shared is false. Polly and I would like to meet with the City to find a healthy solution to this dilemma. Camp Dearborn welcomes any city official, including the police chief, to come down and see firsthand the reality of this situation.

Feel free to contact me by email.

Sincerely,

David Delgado, MSW

 


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Letter from Rev. Polly Trout to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Polly Trout is the director of Patacara Community Services. The The Blog Quixotic makes no assertions regarding the truth of any of the allegations contained in Rev. Trout’s letter. The letter is part of the public record and I am repeating it here verbatim, with the permission of the author. –David Preston


February 15, 2016
Subject: Camp Dearborn

Dear Mayor Murray: 

I am writing to you on behalf of the residents of Camp Dearborn. I am asking for two things:

1. That you take their current grievances seriously and hire an external, objective researcher to investigate them.

2. That the campers who have raised the grievances be allowed to continue to reside either at the current location or a new legal encampment, with an interim supervisor they feel safe with, while the situation is being investigated.

These grievances are substantial and serious, and punishing the residents for bringing them to light would be wrong.

Legal encampments are a very good thing and I support them wholeheartedly. They give residents access to water, portable toilets, and garbage collection. They have a perimeter fence and volunteer security personnel. Drugs, alcohol, guns, and illegal activity are not allowed in legal camps. Some of them have tiny houses; others have raised platforms for their tents. Living conditions in the legal encampments are better than they are for illegal homeless campers. Legal encampments save lives and it is wonderful that the city is expanding these services.

Unfortunately, because all the legal encampments are under a monopoly with poor management and no accountability or oversight, they are not being managed as well as they should be, and human rights violations are unnecessarily occurring within the camps.

I first became involved in the situation 1/29/16 when my friend David Delgado called me to say that he had been fired from Nickelsville. He had filed a grievance against his supervisor, Scott Morrow, and believes he was fired for being a whistleblower. Mr. Morrow functions as the director of Nickelsville, although he does not appear to have a job title or job description. He is also the director of SHARE/WHEEL. SHARE/WHEEL and Nickelsville are the only nonprofits in Seattle authorized to run sanctioned, city funded encampments for homeless people. Nickelsville operates in partnership with LIHI.

David Delgado tried to file a grievance stating that Scott was ignoring safety concerns in the camps, but that instead of investigating his concerns, he was fired. Scott says that David was fired for not doing his job. Personally I believe that David was doing a heroic job of earning his $11/hour as a front line social worker, and that it was a mistake to fire him. However, my larger concern is that the original grievance was never addressed, because there is no reliable system of accountability at Nickelsville. On 2/1/2016 Scott issued a letter to campers saying that grievances against him could be presented to SHARE/WHEEL staff, or the Nickelsville Board of Directors, and then gave an email and PO Box for reaching the Board. However, Scott himself was the one checking that email and PO Box, not the Board. A Board member emailed me on 2/13/16 saying that he had changed the password to the email so that a Board member would start checking it instead of Scott, but acknowledged that Scott was still the only person checking the PO Box.

This lack of oversight is particularly painful because in February of 2015, campers had filed grievances against Scott and tried to get him fired. At that time the Board promised them that changes would be made and a system of accountability would be put in place. Clearly, this did not happen.

When the three Nickelsville camps (at Dearborn, 22nd and Union, and Ballard) heard that David was fired, all three camps voted to hold Scott in no confidence. The Dearborn site went a step farther and barred him from the camp. In response, the campers were told by Scott that if they did not reverse their decisions and fall into line, then they would be evicted. Two of the three sites were frightened into submission; only the Dearborn site refused to back down. Because the Dearborn site is directly across the street from the Jungle, it was the site most affected by the mismanagement that led to the safety concerns that David originally raised, and which are yet to be addressed by Nickelsville’s leadership.

In the past two weeks, I have attended three camp meetings and spent about 20 hours interviewing Nickelsville residents and former residents. I’ve also spoken with current and former staff and board members, and had confidential conversations with service providers at other agencies working in homeless services in Seattle. I myself have been working in homeless services and nonprofit management in Seattle for the past 15 years. I have expressed my concerns about the situation to both the Nickelsville Board, LIHI, and the Church of the Good Shepherd. The Church of the Good Shepherd is the organization currently evicting Camp Dearborn from their present location.

In collecting oral testimony from the campers, I’ve been shocked by the stories I’ve heard about Scott’s ongoing patterns of mismanagement and unethical behavior. While the situation needs more thorough research, I speak up now in order to halt the impending eviction of the residents of Camp Dearborn, which is slated for 2/20/16.

I do not expect you to take my word for it. What I’m begging you to do is to halt the eviction proceedings while the situation is adequately researched by a respected external observer, and conduct a capacity study which examines Nickelsville’s leadership, governance, and management, and makes recommendations to the city on ensuring city funding is used wisely and ethically in these camps. For my part, I am committed to continuing to collect oral testimony and to document camp conditions until positive changes are made. I recuse myself from consideration for any paid work arising from the investigation.

In a camp meeting on 1/31/16, Scott stated, “Sure, I haven’t always been nice, but I get the job done.” I would like to question that. First, it is not clear to me that the camps are being well managed. Second, it is my belief that treating people like human beings is foundational to working ethically with oppressed and marginalized populations. It is not an optional frill. The worst part of homelessness is not the physical deprivation but the social and emotional deprivation. Homeless people are frequently dehumanized and treated as “less than.” They need a safe place to sleep at night, but they ALSO need to be treated like human beings that deserve a safe place to sleep at night.

Scott habitually shames and punishes camp residents who stand up to him and disagree with him. Often, he does so in nonverbally or with passive aggressive voice inflection that makes it difficult to document on papers. Here are some examples:

• In a public meeting, Scott distributed a 38-page photocopied handout. Later in the meeting, a camp resident raised his hand and asked a question. Scott replied, “you could have read it in the handout…. if you could read.”

• A resident told me, “When I spoke up about the drugs in camp, Scott told people I was a drug dealing scumbag and not to listen to me. I don’t even do drugs. I don’t deal drugs. I don’t like being around drugs.” The informant then paused, teared up, looked at the ground, and said in a much quieter voice: “Also, I’m not scum.”

• At a camp meeting, a resident said “Scott said I had to come to the meeting or be evicted, and then when I was there, screamed at me in front of everyone, calling me names. He screamed and screamed and screamed.”

• A camp leader, in a meeting: “Scott needs to stop treating us like idiots and garbage…. We just want accountability. Sometimes people get burned out, or overly aggressive. Not everyone notices when they are being an a**hat. When I’m being an a**hat, I get held accountable. Everyone needs that.”

• An elderly resident told me: “I wish I could talk to you but I can’t because Scott will take away my Porta Potty and I really need it.”

One by one, these incidents seem small, but as a persistent pattern of behavior, they contribute to a dysfunctional system that does not empower people for success. He routinely discredits people who speak up against him by making up untrue and unkind stories about them.

I know that this is an ugly situation that few really want to deal with. It would be much easier to shove it under the rug again. Helping homeless people is complex and difficult and painful, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and throw up our hands. But we need to help anyway, because it is the right thing to do, and once you are doing something you might as well do it right. It is not actually that hard to be both competent AND kind in nonprofit management; it is not as if we have to choose one over the other. This is a fixable situation, and we should fix it now before it spreads to the new camps.

I wish you could have been with me at Camp Dearborn last Thursday, 2/11/16, when they voted to uphold their stand and occupy the site rather than give into the ultimatum of accepting Scott back into the camp. They shared with each other their stories and fears, talked about how much they had to lose, and in the end voted 13-2 to stand up to Scott. The clear message was: our survival needs are important, but our dignity as human beings is important too, and we are tired of being asked to trade our dignity for our survival.

I hope you will join me in listening to the campers themselves, and bear witness to their testimony. Please do not punish the residents of Camp Dearborn for speaking truth to power, and halt the eviction proceedings. We need an external nonprofit management consultant to research these allegations and make recommendations for positive change.  I believe that if a capacity study is done on Nickelsville, the researchers will recommend new leadership and accountability procedures.

Best wishes,

Reverend Polly Trout, Ph.D.
Founder and Executive Director
Patacara Community Services


 

 

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Gun Control, Seattle Style (Part 1)

February 12, 2016

The gun debate evokes strong feelings, but regardless of which side you fall on, I think we can all agree that any law or program designed to curb gun violence should be evidence-based. In other words, it should be able to show results. We should also be able to agree that any tax program should cost significantly less to administer than the amount of revenue it produces, because otherwise the tax would be merely punitive. It wouldn’t serve any legitimate purpose of government.

Last year, the Seattle City Council, under the leadership of Tim Burgess, passed an ordinance imposing a special sales tax of $25 per gun and 5 cents per round of ammunition sold in Seattle, starting in 2016. The stated purpose of the tax was to help defray the cost of gun violence in Seattle. (The ordinance has a provision for reporting lost and stolen guns as well.) Since I’m all about good government, I wrote to Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Burgess, asking them to tell me how much money the tax had generated so far and what it was being used for. Here’s my query:

Nate Van Duzer in CM Burgess’s office got back to me right away with the following:

In his response, Nate refers to a study on gun injuries conducted by Harborview Hospital n Seattle. Harborview is a Level 1 Trauma Center that serves a four-state area. If you get shot anywhere in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, or Montana, there’s a good chance you’re going to Harborview to get patched up. Read the Harborview study here:

Study: Firearm Related Hospitalization and Risk for Subsequent Violent Injury

Nate also refers to a planned 2016 pilot program for an “intervention” that will target people who have been injured by gun violence. According to the Harborview study, “interventions with these individuals have the potential to reduce the high risk of recidivism, and reduce gun violence in the city.” Presumably many of the people in the pilot project will be involved in gang-related activity and crime. These are the “young people of color” to whom the Mayor Murray referred when he said, in a recent tweet, that Seattle “will not stand by as so many in our city, particularly young people of color, continue to pay the highest price for inaction on gun violence . . .” That pilot study is here:

Intervention: Helping Individuals with Firearm Injuries

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether the intervention actually works to reduce gun violence and whether the revenue generated by the new guns-and-ammo tax will come anywhere near covering the up-front costs of the program. Even if the gun tax doesn’t pan out, the intervention still might be worth the investment.

–David Preston

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Minimum Wage Enforcement Begins in Seattle

This is a good thing. I didn’t like the way Seattle pushed through the new minimum, but now that it’s here, it’s good to see the City enforcing it. That will keep scofflaw businesses from gaining an unfair advantage over honest businesses that are complying, which was one of my concerns.

Note that the City is not enforcing immigration laws as part of this, and that’s somewhat ironic, because illegal immigration is one of the reasons that market-rate wages haven’t kept up with cost-of-living in the first place. (Not the only reason, mind, but one of them.) On the other hand, if the City enforces minimum wage and other labor laws consistently, it will eventually reduce illegal immigration, as employers will no longer have an incentive to hire illegals at cut-rate wages. In the coming months, I’ll be querying this new enforcement agency. looking for patterns in both wage cheating and enforcement.


Note: The minimum wage is not $15/hour in Seattle now, and it won’t be for some time. As of now (January 2016) it’s at $13 for businesses over 500 employees and $12 for everyone else. Those numbers assume that the employer pays for no health benefits, if the employer does pay for health insurance, that money can be used toward meeting the minimum wage. The wage will be raised in yearly increments, reaching $15 for businesses >500 employees in January 2017 (unless the employer pays medical benefits, which delays the wage phase-in). Businesses <500 will catch up to $15 in 2019, to include medical benefits as I noted above.

Source: Seattle.gov

More info here.

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More RV Gypsies

This scene is about a mile from my house as the crow flies.* Looks like a scene right outta Sunset Magazine, doesn’t it? How do you like the mountain of trash that’s piling up on the side? That’s a nice touch. These are some of the folks our Seattle City Council
and Mayor Ed Murray want to help. They have proposed donating city land for the RVs to park on. Rent-free. Forever.

Now, it’s possible that these RV dwellers are locals who have recently become homeless. It’s possible that they want to change their situation so badly that they’ll work hard and attend whatever program they have to in order to get back on their feet. Of course, it’s also possible that they’re not really homeless at all and they want to keep living in their RVs forever (thank you very much) because they enjoy this inexpensive and highly mobile lifestyle.

Problem is, nobody at City Hall will ever know which of the two categories (really homeless or just tramps) any of these people fall into, because no one city official is ever going to ask them any questions about it. If the RV campers want to look for work, get into a treatment program, or whatever, then great. If not, that’s OK too. Folks can live rent-free in the RV parks as long as they want, with no concerns about being hassled by the police or angry neighbors. Their trash will be picked up regularly and they will even, no doubt, be treated to various kinds of hand-outs from local businesses and church groups. When they get bored at the RV park, the campers can just move on to another town. With any luck, the next place they land will have seen the light like Seattle, and will have created its own constellation of RV safe zones for them to crash. Meanwhile, the mayor and city council can point to the RV parks and claim that they’re doing something about the RV camper problem . . . even if they’re actually making it worse.

–David Preston

P.S. Mayor Murray’s e-mail is Ed.Murray@Seattle.gov. Why don’t you drop him a quick note and send him a copy of this picture and/or a link to this post? Tell him David Preston sent ya. He knows me.


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*Google Map view here.

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RV Gypsies

A strange new thing is happening in Seattle. All over the city, in every kind of neighborhood, RVs are turning up on the streets – or just off them – and staying there. For months or years at a time. In the nicer neighborhoods, the RVs tend to be a little tidier. In the not-so-nice neighborhoods, they quickly accumulate debris: odd pieces of scrap, bags of trash, disused furniture. In a really out-of-the-way spot, a bridge overpass for instance, you might see several of these beasts pulled up together like a gypsy caravan, complete with a campfire in the center and a circle of lawn chairs around the edge. I snapped the picture below on a section of Beach Drive SW that runs between Me-Kwa-Mooks Park on the east and Emma Schmitz Overlook on the west. [Map View Here.] The RV has been there for over a year now.

Although this is one of the tidier RVs, we can see that it’s already started the process of crapification. Note that there is a mower stowed under the back section, for example. (Why would an RV need a mower? Ya got me.) Also, do you see the silver car parked some thirty feet ahead? That might belong to the RV owner, too. Or maybe another person, encouraged by seeing the RV there all the time, has decided to stake his claim too. From closer up, the car looks to be disabled. There’s a blue tarp stuffed underneath, along with assorted junk.

See the aquamarine port-a-pottie? ^^ That’s paid for by the City of Seattle. I don’t know why it was originally put there, but it must come in quite handy for the RV dweller(s) don’t you think? By using that, the owner doesn’t have to use their own in-board toilet, which saves money on waste disposal.


In short, the RV owner has a nice set-up here. What I want to know is whether he’s really homeless or he’s simply doing the gypsy thing to save on rent. He couldn’t have picked a better spot to flop. On one side you’ve got a gorgeous wilderness area with walking trails. On the other, a pleasant sea-wall park. This is the view looking north. Just around the bend there is famous Alki Point, where the settlers landed. From there you can see across Elliott Bay to the Seattle skyline. Average rents in this area ranges from $1500 per month to over $3,000 for a two-bedroom place.

Hypothetical question: Let’s say you’ve got an income of $1,000 a month, which includes an $800 Social Security Disability check and $200 in food stamps. You could live comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment in Topeka and look at the grass all day or . . . you could scrounge an old RV and tootle on over to Seattle, with its year-round mild weather and spectacular views. The cops won’t hassle you, because in Seattle the government understands how it is to be homeless. Hell, if you play your cards right the City might even throw in free toilet service.

Which option would you pick? Blow your whole check and still be in Kansas? Or park your ass in Paradise and have some clams left over at the end of the month?


But maybe I’m just being cynical, so let’s do another hypothetical. Let’s assume that the RV guy really doesn’t have a choice. Let’s say he’s fallen on hard times and is genuinely homeless, and that he’d really prefer to be living in an efficiency apartment. So great! A social worker makes contact with him and tells him there might be a subsidized place for him, but to get into it, he’s got to get on a waiting list, and then he’s going to have to do the following:

  • Give up the trailer (or otherwise get it off the street, permanently)
  • Give up any pets he might have
  • See a doctor for any health problems, including mental health
  • Agree to drug/alcohol counseling if applicable and . . .
  • Check into a shelter or “transitional housing” program while he waits

Realistically, what are the chances of a normally intelligent adult – even a homeless one – trading a view home on wheels for a spot on in a crowded shelter on the theory that it might lead to a permanent housing? (You tell me.)


The City of Seattle is exploring the idea of creating special camps where people can live for free in RVs. Some people are critical of that (see news stories here and here) but City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw likes the idea. For her comments see here. The program is apparently not going to require anybody to get their RV off the streets, nor will it include a means for determining who is genuinely homeless and who’s a gypsy. Plans for getting the RV owners hooked up with long-term housing and social services (mental health care, addiction counseling, job training) are fuzzy. But perhaps most troubling, there won’t be any sanction for those who choose to remain in their campers, in the RV camps, indefinitely. In other words, there won’t be any penalty for coming to Seattle in an RV; there will only be rewards for doing so. Given this, do you think the program will result in fewer RV campers on the streets of Seattle? Or more?

If you want to share your thoughts on this with a politician, you can contact Councilmember Bagshaw vial e-mail here: Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov or by phone at 206.684.8801. Other Councilmembers can be reached through this page.

Thanks for reading!

–David Preston

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Posted in General, Homelessness, Nickelsville, Politics, Squatters | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Intellectual Dishonesty

Intellectual dishonesty is when someone catches you out in a misstatement or fallacious argument but you refuse, in spite of the evidence, to admit you were wrong. That’s what happened here, with a Facebook post from Occupy Democrats.

The Before and After view of Occupy Democrats’ take on the San Bernardino shooting.
[Click to enlarge the image.]

Early reports on the identity of the San Bernadino shooters were hazy. In response, OD jumped the gun, declaring not only that the prime suspect was “an innocent Muslim” but that those accusing him just wanted to slander Muslims. Their post was liked by at least 2,700 Facebook readers and shared by over 1,000.

When OD’s claims turned out to be false – read an in-depth New York Times story on the shooters here – they took down their post. However, they did not issue a retraction. Instead, they changed their tune, claiming that in the first post they were merely concerned about a presumption of innocence. But the way I read that first post – which is how I think any reasonably objective person would read it – is that OD mostly wanted to embarrass conservatives, whom they had already decided were guilty of Muslim-bashing. So much for the presumption of innocence.

I contacted Occupy Democrats on December 6, 2015, asking for comment. They did not respond. Their e-mail is OccupyDems@gmail.com if you’d care to send them a note on this or just to let them know you read this story.

–David Preston

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