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).

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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.]

The managers of Othello Village have assured neighbors that they will be policing activity of campers as they move about in the neighborhood. There is a prohibition on campers buying or drinking alcohol within a certain distance of the camp, for instance, and there is another on campers associating with people who have been evicted. But such restrictions are hard enough for the management to enforce on current campers; there is no way they can be enforced on evictees or hangers on. (The person in the picture above may have been someone ejected or turned away from Othello Village who assumed, reasonably enough, that homelessness would be more likely to be tolerated in this neighborhood than elsewhere.)


Who will take responsibility for ensuring that Othello Village doesn’t attract more homeless people to the neighborhood around the camp? Will the outfit running the camp step up? How can they when it runs contrary to their stated mission of “helping the homeless”? How about camp supporters? Will they put pressure on the police and City Hall to make sure homeless people stay out of the surrounding area? Again, it doesn’t seem likely, given that they have already expressed sympathy for the plight of homeless people. Hard to imagine someone busting on a bum at the a park on Saturday while he’s handing out blankets and coffee down the street on Sunday.

That leaves the skeptical neighbors who opposed the project in the first place . . . and Seattle city officials. Those are the same officials, by the way, who told the neighbors they had to accept the camp whether they liked it or not. [See a related story here.] But wait. Hold on! Because in this case I actually have a Stump-the-Cynic happy ending for you . . .

In this particular case, the city did do the right thing. When the neighbor who took this photo passed it along to Jenny Frankl at Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, Ms. Frankl got right on it, and the person was gone from the park just a few hours later.

Hopefully that person got hooked up with a shelter and/or some city services . . . if that’s indeed what they were looking for.

–Story by David Preston. Photo by Pete Mahowald

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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.


Homeless camps, sanctioned or otherwise, tend to be magnets for rats. [Read more here.] In this case, rats are likely already established in the area, and their numbers will no doubt increase as Othello Village fills up, adding up to 100 more men, women, and children to the vacant lot across the alley. In spite of what you might think, homeless camps generate significantly more food waste and other trash per capita than indoor living facilities. The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is typically a surplus of perishable food donated to the camps – more food than can be used by the campers – and so the campers have no choice but to throw out any food that can’t be eaten immediately. Even if campers wanted to store perishable food for later use, however, they have no way of doing that, so whatever they don’t eat in a single sitting has to be thrown out as well. There’s no way to wash dishes either, so paper plates, plastic bottles, and disposable tableware are the rule, and those items all end up in the trash as well, where they attract rats and other scavengers.

Trash heaps aren’t unique to the Othello neighborhood; there are several spots around the city that have this issue. One might think, though, that city officials would tackle this problem assertively in any area where it wanted to site an open-air homeless camp. It shouldn’t be a problem of resources, because the City has already agreed to set aside money for the camp’s operating costs. In any case, the non-profit overseeing the camp, LIHI, has sufficient resources on its own to address the problem. The group’s tax return for 2013 shows that it’s capitalized at $52 million and has an annual income of $5 million. For that kind of money, one would think they could at least spring for a one-time clean-up. Manpower should not be a problem because, as the photo suggests, there are likely to be several able-bodied people in the camp who know how to wrangle trash.

–Story by David Preston, photo by Pete Mahowald.

Update: 3/30/16

The trash has been cleared from the alleyway. Thanks to whoever took responsibility for this. Here’s what the alley looks like now. –David

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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.

  • Work to eliminate institutional and structural racism and its intersections with other forms of oppression, including sexism, heterosexism, classism and ableism.
  • Provide vision and coordination to the Mayor, City Council and City departments on Race and Social Justice.
  • Develop and oversee high impact Race and Social Justice Initiative-related policies and programs to further the Initiative.

[Click on the image above for more details. Or click here.]


Oppression? Classism? Heterosexism? Something tells me this job is going to be about political indoctrination, not justice. This lingo is all highly subjective and politicized. None of it has a legal meaning. What does have legal meaning is “discrimination” – a word that, interestingly enough, is not even included in the job description. Discrimination has always been at the root of injustice. And discrimination is already illegal under the Constitution and thousands of state and local laws. Accordingly, there is already an army of lawyers and bureaucrats standing ready to enforce these laws.

For example, the federal government already has an office in Seattle devoted to preventing job discrimination. There’s another office, this one run by King County, devoted to housing discrimination. Finally, there’s the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, for pretty much everything else. So I can’t imagine what Seattle’s new Social Justice Manager will be doing, apart from lecturing people, and hiring lots of assistants.

As I pointed out, we don’t need any new government programs to protect our basic Constitutional rights, and any program or law that tries to go outside the Constitution to address historic inequities (or whatever you want to call it) would be fraught with legal peril for the City. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment establishes that all citizens, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., have a right to the same treatment under the law – and that includes equal access to government programs and resources. The smug fat-cats at City Hall can bellyache all they want about how unfair life is. What they can’t do is treat any citizen differently from any other citizen. Or they’ll be asking for a lawsuit.

–David Preston

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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.


I have a theory that some hecklers go to Trump rallies in the expectation of getting kicked out and then posting videos of the episode on the Internet in order to show that Trump is a bully and a racist. There’s no way for me to prove my theory at this point, but it is possible to prove the concept. To do that, I posed as a “social justice” film maker, went on Craigslist, and posted a “gig offered” ad in three cities: Seattle, Houston, and Detroit. The ad says I’m looking for people who are willing to make a fuss and get kicked out of Trump rally in exchange for a $100 stipend. Here’s what the Houston one looked like  . . .

I had no trouble finding takers. Within an hour or two of posting each ad, I had collected several positive responses. Here’s a typical sample of the responses:


What does my little experiment prove? Does it prove that the animosity toward Trump is phony? No, the animosity is real enough. What the experiment proves is merely that there are people out there who are willing – for a little money – to go to a Trump rally, stir up a ruckus, and get kicked out, with the understood objective of making Candidate Trump look bad. Given that there are people this many people willing to do it for pay, is it that far-fetched to imagine that here are at least a few willing to do it for free?

–David Preston 

Post Script

Of the two dozen responses I got before I took the ads down, only one was negative. That was a from a gentleman in Houston who scolded me – or rather, scolded the person he thought I was – for trampling on people’s rights. He flagged my ad and Craigslist took it down.

For a related story on political manipulation, see my Outrage on Demand piece.

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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.

Posted in Homelessness, Nickelsville, SHARE | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Homelessness, Nickelsville, Politics, SHARE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


emblem_medium

*Google Map view here.

Posted in General, Homelessness, Nickelsville | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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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Behind the Wheel at Uber: A Driver’s Eye View of Ride Sharing

Below is a written interview I did with my Facebook friend Mark Wandrey in September 2015. Mark and his wife recently started earning some extra cash as Uber drivers. The following biography was provided by him.

Located in rural Tennessee, Mark Wandrey has been creating new worlds since he was old enough to write. After penning countless short stories, he realized novels were his real calling and hasn’t looked back since. A lifetime of diverse jobs, extensive travels, and living in most areas of the country have uniquely equipped him with experiences to color his stories in ways many find engaging and thought provoking. His current work is the Earth Song series, seven books placed in a future where an orphaned mankind must fight for its very existence in a hostile galaxy. The first three books in the series, Overture, Sonata in Orionis, The Lost Aria and Etude to War are available. The 5th book in the series is due out around Christmas 2015.

My books can be found on Amazon.com [click here].

TBQ: So what is Uber?

Mark: Uber, by the book, is a ride sharing program. Conceived as the idea of sharing your car if you were going somewhere and getting some money in the process, it’s matured into more of an ad-hoc taxi service, with thousands of drivers working part time (some full time) for pay. Payment is usually about 50-75% of what traditional cabs in the area are charging. Drivers have to pass a background check and have a newer car (usually 2003 or newer) and a nearly perfect driving record. The other major ride sharing companies out there are Lyft and Sidecar. I drive for both Uber and Lyft.

How did you get into it?

My wife started it. She found out about Uber during a hiring fair in Mt. Juliet TN (about 15 miles from our farm). I was hesitant, having driven cab about 18 years ago just after my son was born and 25 years ago as a living. Cab driving sucks, and I wasn’t intersted in going back. But Uber takes the best and leaves the worst.


Are there any advantages for the rider, besides the obvious one of cost? Disadvantages?

Advantages? I’d say numerous. As Uber/Lyft drivers aren’t usually working full time, there are a lot more of them overall. This equates to better, faster service. Rideshare is also cheaper, averaging 40% less. And rideshare usually covers areas ill-served by cabs. Residential areas that have little to no coverage by cabs.

Disads would be the occasional unprofessional driver mostly. But you know, considering the number of shitty cabbies I’ve run into over the years, maybe that last one is not all that much of a disad.


And for the driver?

Advantages are utter flexibility. I work as many (or as few) hours as I want, whenever I want, and go home when I want.

Disadvantages are [having to use] my own vehicle and increased risks, as well as lack of advertising (currently), especially in my small market, as well as competition from traditional cabs. And that includes hostility from them as well.


Could a person make a living at this?

Absolutely. Lyft in particular has a quite interesting guaranteed income program. And that includes if you are a serious driver, you work 35 hours or more a week they refund you 1/2 of your commission (10%), and more than 50 you get it all back. Basically they charge you nothing. And there are bonuses with both companies that vary by market. You can easily break $50k a year in large cities. I’d say a bit less here. Now you are self employed and driving you own car, but when you consider the generous mileage deduction with Uncle Sugar ($0.57 a mile), and you can deduct ALL driving miles, not just paid, it works out pretty well. Uber will also help you buy a car, or lease you one. It’s a business growing at double digit percentages, and one to watch.


What’s the difference between Uber and Lyft?

Mark: They are very similar and directly compete. Uber is more “professional,” while Lyft goes for a hip, get-in-my-ride kinda feel. Hence the silly pink mustache they finally got rid of. Of course, if you do 100 rides with Lyft, you get a “glowstache,” basically a glowing mustache you can mount on your dashboard. Not sure if I’ll use it or not.

Do you do Uber or Lyft?

Both. I’m pushing Lyft hard right now because I’m closing in on one of those bonuses I mentioned ($350 at this point). But I usually run both apps if I’m just sitting. The first to give me a run is the winner, and I close the other app until the run is done.

Do the two companies compete for the same turf?

Yep. In bigger cities Sidecar is there too.


I’m sure you know that in other places in the US, and around the world, there have been protests against rideshare services. And that’s not coming just from drivers. Some people feel that the service enjoys an unfair advantage as compared to taxi companies, who, for example, have to observe more stringent regulations, and have to accommodate people with disabilities, for example. Uber drivers don’t have to do that.

Those regulations have been put in place largely by government at the behest of entrenched unions and large, well funded companies to derail competition. As a libertarian I have more faith in people, than in government to regulate them. I say let freedom float all boats. If rideshare isn’t successful, let it be because it’s a bad business model, not because it’s somehow unfair in someones mind. I’m sure the horse buggy manufacturers thought Henry Ford was unfair too. Evolution happens in business as well, and this looks like a beneficial mutation.

A demonstrator kicks a car during a taxi strike and protest in Madrid, Spain, in June 2014 (AP)


Any interesting or unusual customer interactions you’d care to talk about?

Not really. Some half drunk 20-something girls were fun. One Vandy [Vanderbilt University] prof who thought I was an uneducated lout (who I corrected, as a published author ), and a lot of awesome people.

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Reducing Homelessness: Now you’re talking

Seattle Times (Around the Northwest)
Friday, December 11, 2015


This story indicates a move in the right direction for Seattle and other large West Coast cities. Hopefully, demographics on homeless people who wind up in these cities now be collected to determine how homeless people move from one place to another. These are some of the questions that can be answered after the data is collected:

► What percentage of homeless people in these cities moved there from somewhere else? How likely is someone to move after he becomes homeless?

► What percentage of homeless people are drifters? Why do homeless people who move from place to place choose one city over another?

► Do many people become homeless as a direct result of moving one place to another, and if so, what are the contributing factors?

► Are some cities and towns doing more than others to help homeless people. Are some states doing more than their share? If so, do they become homeless magnets?


With the answers to these questions in hand, public officials in Seattle can finally begin to determine why they aren’t making any headway in reducing homelessness in the city. I believe the data – if it is collected scientifically and studied honestly – will show that Seattle and a handful of other cities have, through well-intended but unsound policies, become magnets for the homeless and perpetuators of homelessness.

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Victim Culture

This soundbite by comedian/social critic Louis C. K. demonstrates the fallacy upon which many claims of harm have foundered. The reason the fallacy persists is because the basic idea has some truth in it. When a person tells you you’ve hurt them, you really don’t get to decide that they’ve not been hurt, because how would you know? By the same token, they don’t get to decide that YOU hurt them (as in, hurt them on purpose) because how would THEY know? That’s where the fallacy lies, in the confusion between action and intention.

Victim culture starts from the reasonable and demonstrable premise that people get hurt and proceeds to the false conclusion that, for every act of hurt, there must be someone who deliberately caused it. When a victim can’t find a specific individual to take the blame, he looks for an unspecific group or institution. Like a corporation, for example. Or maybe the whole capitalist system. Or modern technology. The government. Feminism. Slavery . . . The inducement to blame an institution for one’s hurt rises in proportion as the institution (a) has a proven record of misdeeds, or (b) has money with which to compensate victims, or (c) is simply unable to defend itself.

You can’t sue feminism, for example, so there’s no monetary inducement there. But neither can feminism rise to defend itself from your specific claims. Therefore, feminism makes a nice scapegoat for your various hurts, or your general dissatisfaction with life.

Corporations can defend themselves, so there’s some risk and hassle there. And the jackpot at the end of the rainbow is accordingly larger. Did someone (maybe you, maybe your server, who cares) bobble your coffee at the drive-up and scald you? McDonald’s doesn’t get to decide that you didn’t get scalded, do they? You’re injured, by God and someone’s gotta pay for that. McDonald’s can afford it, so why the hell not?


When someone tells me I’ve hurt them, I say, I’m sorry you’re hurt. –I acknowledge their feeling; I don’t dismiss it. But neither do I immediately accept the blame for it. Instead, I ask myself: What WAS my intention here? Should I have seen the hurt coming? Is there something I could’ve done to prevent it? –If it turns out that I am at fault, I apologize for my blunder, try to soothe the hurt, and move on. But if not, I don’t acknowledge that there is any fault to be assigned, and I don’t apologize. In my experience, apologizing for hurts I did not cause has never turned out well.

–David Preston

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The Friends of Kshama Sawant: Progressive politics and influence at City Hall

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November 13, 2015 ~ Seattle

A “People’s Budget Town Hall”

Late last month, one week ahead of city council elections, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant hosted her second “People’s Budget Town Hall” event at City Hall. Cleverly disguised as a public forum and panel discussion, this meeting was essentially a pep rally for Sawant. The roster included speakers on housing, taxes, and a number of other of Sawant’s pet causes. Before the event a Sawant staffers named Ben walked around the room handing out summaries of his boss’s proposed 2106 budget amendments. Looking over the list, I noticed that it roughly corresponded with topics the panelists would be discussing. Sawant is trying to raise taxes on business and the wealthy, for example, and there was a corresponding “Progressive Taxation” item on the agenda. Sawant proposes to build a LGBTQ community center, and there was someone from a local LGBTQ group speaking to that, under the heading of “Racial Justice.” And so on. Needless to say, these are popular topics in Seattle right now. And particularly so with Ms. Sawant’s constituency.

Here’s the complete list of Ms. Sawant’s budget amendments (two pages):


Ethical Issues

Is it ethical for a councilmember to have a publicity event at City Hall just a week before the election? I asked the Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission about this, and they told me they’d already deliberated the matter a few months earlier, in response to a formal complaint about another Sawant rally. The Commission determined that there’s no rule that expressly forbids such use. Read the Ethics Commission’s summary here.

Kshama Sawant introducing a speaker at her “People’s Budget Town Hall” event.
Image: Seattle Channel

Most of Sawant’s panelists also had something to gain from her too, beyond just an opportunity to put their various causes in a good light. One speaker was an organizer for Sawant’s political action committee Socialist Alternative. Another worked for YouthCare, a Seattle-based non-profit that gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in Seattle taxpayer money yearly. There were 13 panelists all together, and the majority of them had some financial connection either to Sawant directly, or to the city.


Two panelists that I was particularly concerned about were Sharon Lee and Jarvis Capucion. Ms. Lee is CEO of a powerful non-profit corporation called the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI); Mr. Capucion is an employee of the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE). Between them, these two groups get over a million dollars in city contract money each year. And these contracts are funded by Ms. Sawant and her colleagues on the Council, through the budget process.

SHARE and LIHI are connected through a man named Scott Morrow. Morrow’s mother founded the SHARE organization and he currently runs it. He also co-founded LIHI in 1991 and still influences it through his association with Ms. Lee. In recent years, Lee and Morrow have collaborated on several projects. LIHI hosts fundraisers for SHARE, for example, and rents “emergency shelter” space to the group, also funded by Seattle taxpayers. Lee has also co-sponsored Morrow’s “Nickelsville” homeless camps, which are also funded partly at city expense. At first flush, Morrow would appear to be the junior partner here, since his SHARE group is tiny and has little property. Contrast this with Lee’s group, which has multi-million-dollar payrolls and controls hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate. Morrow is a rather unsavory character himself. Local media paint him in sinister tones, characterizing him as a kind of Godfather of the shelters and tent camps he runs. Bad as Morrow is, Ms. Lee stands ever ready to do his bidding. If Morrow needs a place to move one of his camps, Lee is right there with a piece of empty property. If Morrow needs a place to put a couple hundred people for the winter, Lee offers some warehouse space. All paid for by the taxpayers, of course. With the money going . . . somewhere. (Two years ago, when I asked Ms. Lee’s to show me where the money went, she didn’t respond.)

Now Ms. Sawant is stepping up to help Mr. Morrow, too. Curious.

Sharon Lee and Scott Morrow discuss strategy at the “People’s Budget Town Hall” event.

Undue Influence?

There were several members of Morrow’s SHARE group in attendance at the event and there was a stack of fliers at the door supporting Sawant’s call for rent control and claiming that SHARE needs $250,000 in the next budget. [Click here to see the SHARE flier.]


Ms. Sawant’s relationship to Ms. Lee and Mr. Morrow is particularly troubling for anyone who has experience with Morrow’s Seattle homeless camps. In January of 2015, residents of the Nickelsville camp at South Dearborn Street tried to vote Morrow out for reasons that will probably never be known. [That story here.] Morrow told the residents that if they didn’t accept his control of the camp, they’d have to pay him for $12,000 worth of bills he’d incurred on their behalf (port-a-potty servicing, trash pick-up, etc.) If the campers didn’t pay up, Morrow told them, they’d have to go back to the streets. In the middle of winter.

Sharon Lee speaks to the crowd about affordable housing and urges people to support of Ms. Sawant’s budget amendments. Amendments that will also benefit herself and her organization. When I asked Ms. Lee (via certified mail) to discuss her role in the threatening homeless campers she did not respond.
Image: Seattle Channel

Ms. Lee, who also claimed to be paying some of the camps bills, seconded Mr. Morrow’s ultimatum. That still wasn’t enough to intimidate the campers, but when the church that was nominally sponsoring the camp threatened to pull its support, the campers relented and voted Morrow back in. The troublemakers were then removed from the camp and a slander campaign was begun against them. [Read more here.]

I separately asked both Morrow and Lee (see below) to give me an accounting of what bills they’d paid for the camp. They did not respond. Later, as part of my efforts to persuade the Seattle Human Services Department to establish a grievance process for campers, I discovered that the City itself had paid for Nickelsville’s expenses, though they claimed that they did this AFTER Morrow made his threats against the Nickelsville camp. In any event, the homeless people at Nickelsville were never under any legal obligation to pay Mr. Morrow’s bills, and so Mr. Morrow and Ms. Lee should not have used that as a cudgel with which to force them to accept Morrow’s control.


On October 6, 2015, I e-mailed Ms. Sawant asking her to meet with me about the situation at Nickelsville. [Read my request to Sawant here.] She did not respond. Later, when I saw both Mr. Morrow and Ms. Lee represented at the People’s Budget Town Hall, I understood why I was getting nowhere with Sawant. Sawant has political and business relationships with these two people: they give her good press and speak at her meetings, and in return, she runs political interference for them and helps make sure the contract money keeps flowing. Given this symbiotic relationship, how likely is it that Sawant would listen to my criticism of Lee and Morrow, or the organizations they control?

To be fair, I should note that I contacted two other councilmembers and asked to discuss the problem of shielding homeless campers from retaliation. One councilmember, Bruce Harrell, didn’t respond to me. Another, Mike O’Brien, said he thinks everything is fine at the camp and campers don’t need any special protections. O’Brien is another one of Mr. Morrow’s helpers. He has quite a few of them on the Council, actually; Ms. Sawant is merely the latest addition to his stable.

SHARE employee Jarvis Capucion speaks in favor of Kshama Sawant’s budget demands, which include [wink] a demand for an additional $250,000 in taxpayer money . . . for SHARE.


Different rules for socialists?

Last year Ms. Sawant pointed the finger of shame at councilmembers for attending a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored retreat at taxpayer expense [story here]. She was right to do that. We don’t want groups that do business with the City to have pets on the Council. Yet for all her scolding of others, she seems quite content to be someone’s pet herself . . . as long as that someone has a progressive tinge and is willing to cheer on her socialist cause. Perhaps, in her view, anyone who claims to be helping the downtrodden is above suspicion. But in my experience it’s always the ones who are above suspicion that you’ve really got to watch.

–David Preston

Here is the full Seattle Channel video of the People’s Budget Town Hall:

For more info about the cozy relationship between Scott Morrow, SHARE, and City Hall, see the Lisa Herbold story here.

For another story about how Ms. Sawant influences politics in Seattle, see my Outrage on Demand story.

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Posted in General, Homelessness, Nickelsville, Politics, SHARE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lisa Bright and Dark

Lisa Herbold is the presumptive new Seattle councilmember for my district. Her campaign platform is that she works for the little people (just like Kshama Sawant) and that she’s not for sale to corporations. She might not be for sale, but that doesn’t mean she’s not for rent.

Two years ago I had some interaction with Ms. Herbold. The manager of a large and problematic homeless camp in my neighborhood was refusing to meet with the city about finding a new place to stay. The camp had been in the same place nearly two years and everyone agreed that it was time for them to move on, but the camp manager insisted he wasn’t budging until the City found him a place at least as good as the one he was at. Many people in the neighborhood were getting tired of all this, however. The camp was on public land (illegally) and the City had many tools at its disposal to resolve the situation, but there was a political stalemate caused by political cowardice and a lack of imagination.

I e-mailed and called Ms. Herbold and her boss Councilmember Nick Licata repeatedly over several weeks, but they didn’t respond . . . until I threatened to embarrass them publicly. When I finally got a call from Mr. Licata, he told me that he couldn’t do anything to force the homeless camp owner into talks, but he did agree that the City would participate if I could set something up informally with the other stakeholders, which included the homeless camp manager and a local neighborhood group. Fair enough. I got the neighborhood group to buy off on having a meeting. But then camp manager refused to participate, so nothing came of it. (It took the city another year to evict this guy from the property, and when he finally went, he left a huge mess to be cleaned up at taxpayer expense.)

Some months later, after I first contacted Ms. Herbold, I heard through the grapevine that she had had a previous “relationship” with the manager of the homeless camp, a guy named Scott Morrow. So I e-mailed and asked her: Did you know this guy from the time before you worked for the City Council? First she said, No. So I got right back to her and said: Think hard. Because I’ve heard that you used to work with him.

So then Ms. Herbold came back and said (paraphrasing), “Yes, well, looking back I remember that I did work on some projects with Scott when we were at the Tenants Union together.”

A few weeks after that, when I was reviewing a complaint filed against Mr. Morrow’s organization with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, I came in contact with a formerly homeless woman who said she was evicted from one of Mr. Morrow’s tent camps for refusing to go to a political demonstration on Morrow’s orders. The woman told me that, before being evicted, she had complained to the City Council and her complaint was forwarded to Ms. Herbold. Ms. Herbold asked the complainant if it was alright if she (Herbold) contacted Morrow about it. The complainant gave her permission. Herbold then called Morrow, and shortly thereafter the complainant was evicted from Morrow’s camp. (!) The complainant told me that after Ms. Herbold talked with Mr. Morrow the pressure on her at the camp ramped up significantly. At that point, when Ms. Herbold asked the complainant if she could do anything else, the complainant told her: No. Please stay out of it. You’re not helping, you’re hurting.


I believe that Ms. Herbold did not apply any pressure to Mr. Morrow to get him to do the right thing. And she never will, because she considers him a friend, and you just don’t side with strangers against your pal. I have seen pictures of Herbold at fundraisers for Morrow’s non-profit organizations, pictures that should be very troubling, consider Morrow’s dependence upon taxpayer money. Morrow’s non-profit groups – that is, the ones he controls directly – get hundreds of thousands of dollars in city funding every year. And the ones he controls indirectly, through intermediaries, get far, far more. I don’t know exactly what the relationship is between Herbold and this money, but you can bet there is one. You just to have to do a little research and connect the dots.

Scott Morrow and Lisa Herbold during a recent meeting at City Hall. Also in attendance are Councilmember Nick Licata and several of Mr. Morrow’s employees at SHARE. [Click photo to enlarge.]

In recent months, Ms. Herbold and her boss Nick Licata have been instrumental in pushing forward legislation that has allowed Herbold’s old pal Morrow to set up his homeless camps on City-owned land, with the promise of still more funding to follow. Unfortunately, Morrow is not very forthcoming about how he runs these camps, but we do know from the public record that if you’re a resident at one of these places, and you go against Morrow, you can be evicted immediately without recourse – which is a violation of fair housing law. I wrote on these pages about an incident last winter where Mr. Morrow threatened to evict everyone from one of his “democratic, self-managed” camps if they didn’t agree to let him call the shots. At that time, he told the rebellious campers that they owed him some 10 grand for expenses he’d incurred (for port-a-pots, garbage pick-up, etc.), and that if they didn’t pay up, they’d all have to leave within a few days. When I asked Mr. Morrow to give me an accounting of the money he’d actually spent on these services, he didn’t respond. When I contacted the City’s Housing and Human Services Department to ask them to investigate the matter and make some changes in their policy regarding the camps. They did not agree to do either.

Ms. Herbold is aware of all these goings on with Mr. Morrow and his camps. I cc’d her on several of e-mails to Human Services and have sent her links to numerous stories that I’ve posted on my personal blog. But of course I never hear back from her, and nothing ever changes. If anything, matters are now likely to get worse. After being elected to Nick Licata’s old job, Ms. Herbold will have even more power to help Mr. Morrow. And there’s no reason to think she won’t.

–David Preston

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Outrage on Demand: How Seattle’s Kshama Sawant packs ’em in at the Seattle City Council

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On October 6, I was treated to something I’d never seen in 27 years of following Seattle politics: Paid shills drumming for a councilmember during an official meeting. It was at a public hearing on budget priorities. Twenty minutes in to the public testimony, a woman named Jess Spear from Kshama’s Sawant’s “Socialist Alternative” group stood up, gave a plug for Sawant, and proceeded to condemn the Council for being corporate stooges and not getting in line behind Sawant on the minimum wage, higher corporate taxes, and so on. When Ms. Spear’s time was up, another member of Socialist Alternative stood up and went through a similar routine, giving Sawant a kudo and angrily criticizing the rest of the council for being slow to take up the cry on her program.
And then another Sawant fan stood up. And another. And another. And another.

Six of Sawant’s people in all spoke to the Council that evening, their testimony consuming a good part of time that was allotted to the public (by which I mean the REAL public). As the shills did their thing, Sawant gloated while the other councilmembers cowered in fear. The message was not lost on them: Cross Sawant and you can expect trouble.

Shortly after she was elected, Ms. Sawant announced that she would be donating half her salary to charity. It sounded like a noble gesture, but when I learned that the charity Ms. Sawant would be favoring was her own political pressure group, the glitter faded. And then, when I went to this meeting and saw just what the Sawant organization was up to, I got downright queasy.

Is this socialism? I wondered. Using hired muscle to intimidate the opposition in a council meeting?

Socialism or no, I’ll tell you one thing . . . it’s not democracy.

–David Preston

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Whitewash-Dot-Com: How the Internet sanitizes SHARE

Readers of this blog will recall that I devote some of my time to discussing how journalists are manipulated – sometimes with their own connivance – by non-profit organizations and others who stand to make a buck from good publicity. This is a symbiotic relationship for all parties involved: Editors get good copy, readers get a warm fuzzy feeling, and the non-profits get donations.

Cracked.com is a leftist political commentary and satire site. I won’t smear it with the term “journalism” – though some of its readers seem to think it is just that. Hipster journalism. Last month, a friend of mine, knowing of my interest in all things fishy, pointed me to a piece Cracked did on one of the Nickelsville homeless camps in downtown Seattle. I was particularly interested to read it, since I am familiar with the camp and some of the events described in the article. I have covered some of them extensively on TBQ. Here it is: Cracked.com: 5 Horrifying Things


In late January 2015, there was a failed palace coup at Nickelsville, in which the camp residents attempted to vote the non-resident camp boss, Scott Morrow, out of his position. Those events are recounted, seven months later, to Cracked author Robert Evans by an inside source named Heather:

But let’s not pretend that several dozen destitute addicts will spontaneously form a utopia. For instance, several former Nickelodeons spoke of an infamous coup by a meth-smoking clique that once took control of the camp. According to Heather, a former resident, “There were new people, and the new people that came in all voted together and took the top three positions.” This new ruling clique successfully banished their opposition from the camp like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. They spent several happy days smoking meth in their tents and ruling Nickelsville, until the land owner threatened to kick the whole camp off his property, which would have seriously (and maybe permanently) fucked up a lot of people’s only place to stay.

I think I know this Heather, but more on that in a bit. For now, let us compare Heather’s account with a more contemporaneous account of the same event in the Seattle Times:

Anthony Jenkins and Lisa Hooper, two current Nickelsville residents, said they voted against [camp manager Scott] Morrow because he had been threatening to take away resources, such as portable toilets, over a disagreement. Remaining residents are in talks with a different church and are hoping for an opportunity to operate Nickelsville themselves, Jenkins said.

“We just want a chance,” said Hooper, sitting inside the encampment’s tent kitchen Friday. “We can do this effectively.”

 

Note how the Cracked source, Heather, does not say anything about Mr. Morrow in connection with the palace coup. She does mention Morrow later in her remarks (see below), but in a very different context. Unfortunately, even the Times piece doesn’t tell us the nature of the “disagreement” between Morrow and the Nickelsville residents, the squabble that Morrow allegedly used as pretext for taking away the camp’s portable toilets.

Back to Heather’s version of the coup: that it was just a few meth-smokers trying to take over. It seems unlikely that a few drug-addled cronies would have the wherewithal to force the 60-plus residents to bend to their will. And it beggars belief to claim that such people would be willing to meet with a Seattle Times reporter to discuss the matter at length. I would have liked to hear Mr. Morrow’s response to Jenkins and Hoopers’ charges against him, but Morrow was not asked this question by the Times reporter, and when I tried to contact him myself, he did not respond.

After being voted out of camp, Morrow and his cronies (including the pastor of the sponsoring church and the CEO of a large non-profit housing group) threatened the entire camp with a hasty eviction, claiming that the campers owed Morrow’s non-profit some $10,000 for expenses they had accrued. The campers then promptly reversed their vote and the anti-Morrow people were presumably expelled.

The Scoop on Scott Morrow

The Cracked.com piece does refer to Scott Morrow, but in a much different connection. At the end of the article, in a discussion of moving the camp to a new location, Cracked describes Morrow as a “former resident” and “a homeless person who’s moved on” (see below). In fact, Morrow has not moved on from homelessness, because he’s never been homeless. He is the long-time boss of the downtown Seattle Nickelsville and two other homeless camps in King County, as well as several small shelters around Seattle. He controls two housing non-profits that between them take in well over a million dollars in taxpayer funding and private donations each year, and he has influence over a third organization he co-founded in 1991, the Low Income Housing Institute, that controls tens of millions of dollars worth of prime real estate in downtown Seattle. (The CEO of LIHI, a woman named Sharon Lee, came to Morrow’s aid during the January 2014 power struggle at Nickelsville. She claimed that the campers owed her money too, and if they didn’t accept Morrow as camp boss, they’d have to scram.) Morrow has longstanding political connections in government, going all the way up to Washington state’s powerful Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp. Yet to hear Cracked.com tell it, he’s just another ex-homeless dude who has stuck around to help. Out of gratitude, presumably:

And, as with everything else, the logistics of these [periodic homeless camp relocations] are worked out by volunteers, usually current and former residents. In the case of Nickelsville, it’s a former resident named Scott and his partner, Peggy.

According to Heather, “They would search for the places, set up fundraisers, do paperwork. They would do the things that nobody else could do.” Scott has, in fact, been organizing the moves and finding Nickelsville new land for something like 20 years. He hasn’t been homeless for most of that time, either. Scott and Peggy are two who moved on, improved their situation, and decided to keep trying to make a difference.

The Peggy mentioned above is Peggy Hotes, a retired school teacher who owns a home in the pricey Seattle exurb of Bellevue. Hotes co-manages Morrows constellation of homeless camps. Like Morrow she has never been homeless herself.

Setting Things Straight

The claim that Morrow and Hotes are formerly homeless people who have “moved on” is simply not true. Heather’s characterization of Jenkins and Hooper as meth-heads is a slander, and Cracked.com’s failure to mention Morrow’s actual role in the power struggle of January and the camp at large is either some of the world’s laziest reporting (I won’t dignify it as journalism) or a deliberate misrepresentation. I contacted the author, Robert Evans, and filled him in on the background to the Nickelsville rebellion, inviting him to follow-up with me for more details. I sent him the link to the Seattle Times story and suggested that he either pull the Cracked article or do a clarification. He didn’t respond and, as we see, his article is still up there, without any addenda.

If you’d like to contact Mr. Evans, his e-mail is Revanswriter@gmail.com. Tell him The Blog Quixotic sent you. While you’re at it, ask him if he actually visited the camp.

Summary

Despite its patented uber-satiric hipster tone, the Cracked.com article on Nickelsville is likely a either a full-on plant or a manipulation. And when I say manipulation, I mean in the sense that Mr. Evans was vetted and his access to the camp was controlled to ensure that he saw and heard (and wrote) only what camp boss Morrow wanted him to. Think of a mainstream media correspondent “embedded” with the troops in Iraq. The stories these reporters fed to their editors may have felt authentic to viewers back home, but they were little better than Pentagon press releases.

The Cracked.com piece has all the earmarks of a fake story generated to polish SHARE’s image:

  • The inside angle (“Here’s the down-low on homeless people. The inside story.”)
  • The role of Scott Morrow and SHARE is ignored or obscured
  • The neatly resolved tension  (“It was just some druggies trying to take over.”)
  • An image of the homeless camp as a kind of family, complete with kids
  • The conclusion that homeless camps are self-managing, democratic, and safe
  • A link to a donations page at the end ↓↓↓

Whether the Cracked piece is an out-and-out plant, it’s certainly not an objective or in-depth look at the complex and multi-faceted problem of homelessness. It’s too bad that thousands of people will come away from this story thinking they now know more about homelessness than they did before. When in fact they know less.

–David Preston


Postscript: A word about “Heather”

I believe I know the Heather who helped Cracked.com write their story. I met her in the Nickelsville camp at Marginal Way in the summer of 2012 and worked with her on a writing project about her experience as a homeless person. That Heather was an articulate and engaging person, but it soon became clear to me that she suffered from untreated psychosis. She had paranoid delusions of people both in and out of camp plotting against her. Months later I saw Heather on TV, glassy-eyed and stiff, testifying on behalf of Nickelsville at City Council meetings. Seeing her like that, I understood how easy it would be for someone to manipulate her. Here was this young woman: homeless, sick, and frightened out of her wits. How hard would it be to plant a narrative (“the rebels were a bunch of drug addicts”, “Nickelsville needs more money”) into the mind of someone like that and then have them spout it back out on cue?

Where in the World is Monica Spain?

Reading the Cracked.com love letter to Nickelsville reminds me of another faux news story that came out about two years earlier. That piece was penned by someone working for SHARE (probably Peggy Hotes) and then distributed to a Seattle news outlet under the pseudonym “Monica Spain.” When I asked the news director to hook me up with the Ms. Spain, she refused, citing privacy issues.  Hm. A journalist with a wacky name and no return address. Sounds legit . . . Story here:

 


 

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Posted in Homelessness, Media, Nickelsville, Reblogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Homeless Are Taking Over (Literally)

A recent story from the Seattle Times illustrates the mess a city can get into when it tries to be nice and doesn’t ask too many questions. Take homelessness for example. In spite of all our self-guilting, Seattle has a braggable record when it comes to helping homeless people. There are thousands of nightly shelter beds here, and tens of thousands of low-income and subsidized housing units. And yet, as we see in this story, Seattle still has a problem with street people. The City is on the hook for clearing and/or arresting the squatters. But note that it’s the building owner, not the City, who must pay for the damage to the building and premises. Beyond that, the owner could be fined (up to $1,000 a day) for failing to keep people out of the building.

Article: Former Seattle Times Building Now Home to Thieves and Squatters

Squatter Damage

Squatter damage at the old Seattle Times building. (Photo: Seattle Times)


The owner couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Eric Guisasola of CG Construction, whom the owner hired to secure the building, said he and co-workers have been trying to secure it unsuccessfully for about a month. “It’s a nightmare,” he said. “They throw things at us.”

Guisasola said there are actually two separate groups of people who were in the building: the homeless and professional thieves.


Curiously, the problem is much worse in Seattle than it is in smaller cities like, say, Spokane. Why should that be? Are the homeless of Spokane coming here on purpose? Is Spokane that much worse to be homeless in? Or is Seattle perhaps doing something that attracts homeless folks?

Unfortunately, we don’t know the answers to these questions, because city officials in Seattle, from the mayor on down, haven’t asked. For all the public hand-wringing and all money the city spends on low-income housing and shelter programs (around $100 million per year) Seattle has not done a single study to see whether we’re doing more or less than our share relative to smaller communities around the country. Nor do we know if Seattle government policies might actually be enticing people to give up their homes in other places and take their chances on the street, here.

Meanwhile, the throng of homeless on our streets grows, and when they become desperate enough, they start taking other people’s stuff. If the situation continues to decay, it could lead to a harsh government crackdown or even vigilante actions.

Don’t scoff. It’s happened before. For all the lofty talk about social justice you’ll find that when it comes to property rights, even the beautiful people can get ugly.

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Posted in Homelessness, Media, Photos (People), Politics, Squatters | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Homeless Camps: Do they get people off the street?

Do homeless camps really get people off the street? Or do they merely concentrate them in one place? One thing is for certain: The camps do attract homeless people. And not all of those people are actually in the camp. Many of the folks who turn up in the vicinity of a camp have chronic problems with addiction, mental illness, and problem behaviors. These people are not likely to be receiving whatever social services are available to the nearby campers, and they are not subject to whatever rules of behavior may prevail within the boundaries of the camp itself.

The pictures below were taken in late August, 2015. They were taken at the Nickelsville homeless camp at 1010 S. Dearborn Street in Seattle and vicinity. All photos were taken within a hundred-yard radius of the camp.

First: The camp itself.

Now the surrounding area . . . Several people have pitched tents in the greenbelt nearby. This person found a niche at a freeway overpass adjacent to the camp.

Someone is living out of these boxes . . .

This man seems to have a complete pantry. While I was there, I saw him get up and stagger about. He was clearly either intoxicated or disabled. The embankment is some 30 feet above the street level and has a very steep grade, with no barrier between the sidewalk and the nearby traffic. One wrong move and this guy could trip and roll downhill. Then he’d be out among cars and trucks zipping down the road. Such fatalities have happened in the vicinity. (See this story, for example.)

This guy (below) was passed out at the bottom of the embankment, just a few feet away from speeding traffic. This picture shows what I mentioned above, that there is no barrier between the traffic and these people, who are often inebriated.

It’s possible that this fellow is a resident of Nickelsville, but that is unlikely. He appears to be a chronic drunk, and drunks are generally discouraged from living there. Chronic drug users have been known at Nickelsville, however, and there are documented reports of drug busts and overdose deaths at various Nickelsville camps.


The man in the picture below is a regular at the busy intersection across the street from Nickelsville. I first noticed him there shortly after the camp moved in. He may be a resident, or he may simply have been encouraged to panhandle there by the camp’s proximity. This is at the bottom of an interstate off-ramp, and drivers must come to a stop at the light here before turning onto Dearborn. At that point, if they look up, they will notice the homeless camp, which may inspire them to give money to the panhandler. Whether he lives there or not, he’s making good use of the camp’s presence. In 10 minutes’ time, I saw several drivers stopping to give him money.

The guy is a distraction to traffic and a safety hazard. When traffic backs up around here, as it does during ball games, panhandlers will sometimes venture out into the street, darting in and out among the slowly moving traffic. Traffic jams are a prime time to panhandle, because drivers are a captive audience then.


Seattle DOT has posted signs clearly warning people away from the area, but squatters and panhandlers pay these signs no heed, and the law is generally not enforced, unless the authorities are doing a “sweep” of the area.


Here are some shots of trash build-up in the area. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between trash and people’s belongings. A bag or shopping cart full of detritus might be junk that needs to be thrown out . . . or it might be someone’s worldly goods. Either way, crap tends to attract more crap, and eventually you will see people dumping large loads of trash here.


In fairness, I must point out that there are other sites like this around the Seattle area. It’s not strictly a homeless camp-related phenomenon. These makeshift squats tend to occur all along the I-5 corridor, especially where there is cover for them. What I have observed about the homeless camp sites is that:

  1. There are more street squatters and panhandlers there. And they are more visible.
  2. There is more trash accumulation around these sites.
  3. The neighborhood itself takes on a different character, becoming a homeless zone.

I observed this with the Nickelsville camp that was in my own neighborhood of Highland Park for nearly three years starting in early 2011. There had always been a few panhandlers around there, as well as people living in the greenbelts around the camp area. But when the camp arrived, and for several months after it left, the number of street people in the area spiked upward. As I learned later, many of these newcomers were camp cast-offs, people who had once lived in the camp but were ejected for rule violations of one kind or another.


Postscript

This ^ is Scott Morrow, the man who runs Nickelsville Dearborn and its sister locations throughout Seattle and King County. Morrow is not homeless himself. Far from it. He runs two non-profit organizations that between them taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money each year. He founded (and still effectively controls) another non-profit that receives tens of millions in taxpayer money. Beyond this direct influence, Morrow and his confederates have powerful connections in Seattle, King County, and Washington state government. Morrow has a paternalistic relationship with the people living in his camps and shelters. When the campers at the Dearborn location voted him out of the camp in late January of 2015, for example, he threatened the whole camp with eviction, whereupon he was immediately returned to power and the rebellious campers removed. (Story here.)

When I asked Morrow to discuss these events with me, he declined. Recently, the City of Seattle signed a contract with Morrow and one of his local non-profit allies to run three homeless camps in Seattle. Previously the camps had been sanctioned but not formally supported by the City. This new agreement changes that. Morrow and his confederates will now be paid taxpayer money to run these camps.

I am trying to get details on that, and to work with the City staff to make a sure a higher standard of accountability is applied to these camps going forward. At a minimum, there needs to be a robust appeals process for campers who have been evicted or otherwise disciplined. The City needs needs to exercise more meaningful oversight of the camps than it has hitherto, and needs to do some meaningful analysis on what, if anything, these camps do to move people out of homelessness.

David Preston

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Getting High With A Little Help From His Friends: The Scott Morrow Story

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, the name Scott Morrow will be a familiar one. If you’re not a reader, Morrow is the Seattle man who founded and controls two Seattle-area homeless shelter organizations. His Rotund Eminence can regularly be glimpsed at city council hearings and public demonstrations, looking like a cross between a hippie and an overgrown garden gnome.

Mr. Morrow goes to Olympia

Mr. Morrow goes to Washington: Lobbying the state legislators in Olympia for more money “for homeless people”

Recently Morrow was in the news again. And not in a good way, as usual. Seems he’s been involved in another power struggle at one of his Nickelsville homeless encampments in downtown Seattle and the residents gave him his walking papers with a “no confidence” vote. At first, Morrow appeared to be going gracefully. The next day, he sent this e-mail around to the people at camp:

 

However, on Friday, February 6, the Seattle Times published an article describing how two key Morrow allies—the church that controls the land Nickelsville is on and a huge non-profit housing group called LIHI–threatened to pull the plug on the camp if Morrow wasn’t reinstated as boss.

From the Times article:

“It saddens us to inform you of the serious consequences of your recent vote of no confidence in staff person Scott Morrow,” the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd’s Rev. Steven Olsen wrote in an email.

“Scott’s role as staff person for the camp and liaison for the church host is an essential component of our working relationship. For this reason, your decision makes it impossible for us to continue as church host for Nickelsville,” Olsen added.

Olsen’s church controls the site under an agreement with property owner Coho Real Estate. The church has served as Nickelsville’s official host because a city law passed in 2011 allows religious entities to host tent cities with no permit and no time limit.

The Low Income Housing Institute, a financial backer of Nickelsville, also is abandoning the encampment, said the organization’s executive director, Sharon Lee.

“We have no confidence in the residents right now,” Lee said. “They’re not following the rules of self-management and they also voted out Scott Morrow.”

Full article here.

The Nickelsville residents who had booted Morrow were about to get back to the cold, rainy streets of Seattle if they didn’t tow Morrow’s line. Not surprisingly, the campers caved in. Three days later, on February 9, the Seattle Weekly ran a piece on the rebels’ capitulation . . .

In an email sent to local media today, Scott Morrow – the long-time homeless organizer and advocate who was ousted as the leader of Nickelsville on Jan. 29 – announced that he was reinstated by popular vote over the weekend. It’s an important development, and one that signals the end of a coup that threatened the camp’s future.

As we reported Friday, Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which pays for water, honey buckets and other services at the encampment, and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, the church responsible for the agreement that allows the encampment to stay at its Dearborn Street location, had both threatened to pull their support if Morrow was not reinstated. Though Good Shepherd Pastor Steve Olsen told Seattle Weekly late last week that he remained “hopeful and prayerful” that a last-minute resolution could be reached, as of Friday LIHI and Good Shepherd were both preparing to cut ties with the camp. Without the support of LIHI and Good Shepherd, the 35 campers currently hunkered down at Nickelsville on Dearborn street would have faced eviction.

Full article here.

* * * * *

There are several worrisome things about this series of events.

► Blackmailing the Homeless

From Mr. Morrow’s resignation letter, it’s clear that he holds too much power over the people under his care. What he’s telling them, in essence, is that if they don’t let him be boss, he’s going to take his ball and go home. Or, in lieu of that, they can always BUY his ball from him by paying off the debts of the 501(c)3 organization that Morrow controls. In the Times piece, he claims that the Nickelsville 501(c)3 owes creditors $15,000. Presumably this is the amount the campers would have to cough up by Mr. Morrow’s February 5th deadline, if they wanted to stay on. Does it seem like a reasonable expectation that some three dozen homeless people would be able to scrape together fifteen thousand dollars in five days? Or does it seem more like blackmail?

Failing a payoff, the Nickelsville residents can always find themselves another non-profit organization to pay off the debt they owe to Morrow’s group. (Lots of luck with that.)

► Friends in High Places

Mr. Morrow’s leverage over the residents of Nickelsville goes well beyond his claim that the residents owe him money. As we see from the Times story, the residents would not have been allowed to stay, even if they had handed him $15,000 on the spot. There still would have been Ms. Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute to contend with. And also Reverend Olsen, whose church “controls” the land Nickelsville sits on. Olsen and Lee separately told the news media that, regardless of whatever other arrangements the homeless people at Nickelsville make, unless they reinstated Mr. Morrow as their boss, they would lose the patronage have to clear out, because they would no longer have the patronage of LIHI or the church.

As a result of my earlier research and tips from readers, I discovered a long-standing relationship between Mr. Morrow and Ms. Lee. Lee owes her six-figure-salary job to Morrow, since he’s a co-founder of the the organization she works for: the Low Income Housing Institute. See this story for an explanation of Mr. Morrow’s role.

Ms. Lee’s group controls tens of millions of dollars in government-subsidized housing properties in the Seattle area. The other two LIHI co-founders are Michael Reichert, director of Catholic Community Services (another non-profit whale), and Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House in the Washington State Legislature and an employee of Solid Ground (also a whale). All three of these heavy hitters Lee, Reichert, and Chopp are personal friends of Mr. Morrow’s. Chopp is particularly powerful. Between his job in the Legislature and his job at Solid Ground, Chopp controls the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in housing projects in Seattle.

These whales all have their connections at City Hall. So, when a rag-tag band of rebels up and decides to toss Mr. Morrow out of the camp, what are the odds of Morrow’s friends at City Hall intervening on their behalf. And what are the odds of them pulling back the curtain to see just how Mr. Morrow runs his business, do you think? In addition to their multi-million-dollar contracts with Morrow’s friends at LIHI and Solid Ground, the City of Seattle also has contracts with Morrow’s other non-profit, SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort). Staff at City Hall and in the City’s Human Services Department tell me that the City likes Morrow’s outfit because it keeps people off the street and provides homeless shelter beds to the City at rock-bottom rates. That is . . .  when Morrow’s not putting people out on the street himself . . .

More friends in high places: Scott Morrow and SHARE with Councilmember Nick Licata, a long-time patron

► The Myth of Self-management

According to the residents of Nickelsville, as quoted in the Times story, all they wanted was the right to manage their community as they saw fit, without being threatened:

Anthony Jenkins and Lisa Hooper, two current Nickelsville residents, said they voted against Morrow because he had been threatening to take away resources, such as portable toilets, over a disagreement. Remaining residents are in talks with a different church and are hoping for an opportunity to operate Nickelsville themselves, Jenkins said.

“We just want a chance,” said Hooper, sitting inside the encampment’s tent kitchen Friday. “We can do this effectively.”

Over the years, Mr. Morrow’s representatives have assured the neighborhoods and churches that host his encampments that Nickelsville is democratically run and self-managed. Morrow has given the same assurances to government officials, in his effort to get City funding for his organization, SHARE. Indeed we see the same lingo popping up here again, in the words of LIHI’s Sharon Lee, as she explained why she was pulling LIHI’s backing from the group:

“We have no confidence in the [renegade] residents right now,” Lee said. “They’re not following the rules of self-management and they also voted out Scott Morrow.”

But wait . . . isn’t “self-management” exactly what the Nickelsville renegades ARE demonstrating? They’re thinking (and voting) for themselves for a change. And their democratic self-managed judgment was to remove Mr. Morrow–who is not homeless and is not a resident of the camp himself—from his position of authority over them. Mr. Morrow acknowledged this in the opening lines of his own e-mail:

At Nickelsville’s Weekly Meeting Thursday it was Moved / Seconded / and Passed that those gathered had ‘No Confidence’ in me as their staff person.

Apparently Ms. Lee has a very odd idea of what constitutes self-management. Over the years, numerous complaints have been made against Morrow–both formally, to civil rights organizations and city officials, and informally to the media, including this correspondent–to the effect that Morrow runs his encampments with an iron fist, expelling people who don’t support his political causes or show up at City Hall on cue to ask for more money for Morrow’s organizations. Even without this latest little saga as evidence, anyone with any background in the workings of Nickelsville knows the “self-management” sham for what it is.

 ► Church-assisted evictions

The Seattle Times story references a 2011 Seattle law that allows “religious entities to host tent cities with no permit and no time limit.” The city’s law in turn conforms with a 2009 Washington Supreme Court decision mandating that cities could not impose “undue burdens” on faith-based organizations who were exercising their religious beliefs by hosting homeless camps. The court decision means that Washington cities cannot bar churches from hosting homeless camps outright, nor can they impose permitting requirements so onerous as to have the same effect as a ban. Cities can, if they desire, go a step further and exempt churches from specific provisions of the permitting laws that would apply to all other citizens. Or at least they can until someone tests the matter in court. In any case, the City of Seattle does give such exemptions, and Mr. Morrow and his partner churches take full advantage.

Although Reverend Olsen and his flock at Church of the Good Shepherd are “hosting” Nickelsville, it’s not clear how this is an exercise of anyone’s religious faith. The camp is not on church property and the Times article does not discuss any work that Reverend Olsen and Good Shepherd are otherwise doing to support the people living at Nickelsville. The portable toilets and other services are being paid for by someone else, perhaps LIHI or Mr. Morrow’s organization. The land that the camp sits on, though it is “controlled” by Good Shepherd (whatever that means), is owned by a private real estate company.

Indeed, from the Times article, it would appear that Good Shepherd’s only role with regard to Nickelsville is that of an enforcer for Mr. Morrow. When the residents voted Morrow out, Reverend Olsen immediately stepped in and informed them that if they didn’t bow to Morrow’s will, they’d be evicted.*

Does Reverend Olsen see throwing people out of a homeless camp as an expression of his Christian faith? Surely this kind of behavior is not what the founders intended by “free expression of religion.” Therefore, the City of Seattle’s exemption for “religious entities” should not apply.

Church assisted eviction: God must have a sense of irony

* * * * *

I will be pursuing this story further, seeking comment from Reverend Olsen and Seattle officials. I’m not a fan of homeless camps, self-managed or otherwise. But if they are to be tolerated under city law, then they must not be allowed to become tools by which the wealthy and powerful–the Sharon Lees, Scott Morrows, and Reverend Olsens of the world–can hold poor people down.

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*Morrow using a church as enforcer is not something new; it’s part of a pattern. In this story from February of 2014, there was a confrontation at another one of the Nickelsville homeless franchises in Seattle. In that case, too, the residents decided they didn’t like Mr. Morrow telling them what to do, so they ousted him, and the host church threatened to pull the plug on then a day or two later. In that case, the camp disbanded and several dozen homeless people were returned to the street.

Posted in General, Homelessness, Nickelsville, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments