Why I’m voting ‘no’ on the Housing Levy

July 29, 2016
Seattle

Proposition 1 is a tax levy on the August 2016 primary ballot for Seattle voters. The levy would double the total amount currently levied for “affordable housing.” See the King County Voter’s Guide description on this item here.

Untested Assumptions 

The assumption underlying Prop 1 is that homelessness exists because governments (read: taxpayers) aren’t doing enough to create affordable housing. It’s a classic let’s-throw-more-money-at-it approach.

Unfortunately, there is little to no research on the root causes of homelessness in this city and what the homeless demographic actually looks like. Among the many factors contributing to the problem – housing prices, unemployment, financial self-discipline, drug addiction, mental illness, government policy – no one knows how they interact to cause homelessness. In fact, nobody knows if it’s even possible to end homelessness in a place like Seattle, because it’s never been done under similar conditions. Seattle isn’t Spokane after all. Or Salt Lake City. This city is a magnet for people around the country. Lured here by the promise of good jobs, mild weather – or maybe even just cheap heroin – poor people are rushing here along with the “tech bros” and rich retirees, even as rents are zooming through the stratosphere.

Basic Questions

Some hard questions need to be asked here. If Seattle builds more affordable housing, will it attract even more homeless (or soon-to-be homeless) people to our city? Will it encourage poor working people who might be making the rent elsewhere to quit their jobs and try their luck here? Because if it does, then building more affordable housing will only be perpetuating the problem rather than fixing it.

Another tough one: Where exactly are Seattle’s homeless coming from and what is our fair share of the homeless tab? Are we subsidizing other cities? Or countries? Seattle is a “sanctuary city” and thus attractive to illegal immigrants. What part of the homeless population do these immigrants comprise? –This is an especially painful thorn for politically correct  Seattle-ites to tug on. But ultimately they might have to.

The Accountability Gap

While we’re updating the road map, we need to make some repairs to the car that’s supposed to get us to our destination. In this case, the non-profit housing industry. In the voter’s guide, in the statement AGAINST Prop 1, the authors note that it does not “exhibit fiscal responsibility.” I can vouch for that from personal knowledge. One of the chief beneficiaries of Prop 1 will be the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and its director, Sharon Lee. Here we see Ms. Lee looking on approvingly as Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray signed the proposal onto the ballot last spring:

Lee’s non-profit organization builds and operates affordable housing around Seattle, with the help of tax levies like Prop 1. With a capitalization of some $50 million and an income of over $5 million, LIHI is one of Seattle’s biggest non-profit housing outfits, so naturally we’d expect to see Ms. Lee in the picture here. Unfortunately, Lee won’t answer questions about what she does with the public money she gets. Or helps others get. And that’s a problem. In 2014 Lee’s organization partnered with a church, another non-profit, and a local real estate developer to a put a homeless camp on a piece of undeveloped land near downtown. The developer got a $84,000 tax break in exchange for Lee’s promise that her organization would provide case management services to the people in the camp, to help them find housing. But according to the campers, Lee never provided that case management, and when I asked her to verify that she had, in fact, provided some services, she did not respond. (See that story here.)

Lee’s group also has a multi-year agreement with the City of Seattle and another organization (the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort or SHARE) to provide “emergency winter housing” for homeless people in Seattle. SHARE gets money from Seattle to rent space from LIHI for the shelter, but neither Lee nor SHARE can document that the shelter space was indeed provided or used. This leads me to believe that the money is not being used to pay for winter shelter at all but is instead going into the coffers of SHARE, from where it gets transferred into the pockets of SHARE’s director Scott Morrow. (Lee and Morrow are longstanding allies; Morrow co-founded LIHI in 1991 and was likely there when the group hired Lee in 1994.)

LIHI’s Sharon Lee confers with SHARE’s Scott Morrow at a political rally hosted by Councilmember Kshama Sawant in late 2015. Lee was a featured speaker at the event.

SHARE is a large recipient of City housing money in its own right and, like LIHI, the group does not account for how it spends that money. In May 2016, I broke a story on how SHARE has been using an unlicensed accountant for the past several years. SHARE claims to be getting its books in order and cooperating with the City, but when I asked them some basic questions about their tax returns last month – questions that it doesn’t take an accountant, licensed or otherwise, to answer – they simply refused to respond. (I’ll be doing another post on that shortly.)

A Disturbing Pattern

SHARE and LIHI are among the worst offenders when it comes to malfeasance and lack of accountability, but they are surely not alone. Unfortunately, the City plays a role in abetting these organizations. City staffers and councilmembers have refused repeated requests from me to impose accountability on either SHARE or LIHI. Even the most liberal of councilmembers, Kshama Sawant, doesn’t respond to my requests for help with this . . . but when you read this article, you will understand why.

In 2014, the Washington State Auditor’s office audited Seattle’s management of federal grant money, which includes money earmarked for homeless programs. The audit found “deficiencies in the design or operation of internal control over financial reporting” that they considered to be “significant.” Below is an extract of the Auditor’s report:

WA_State_Auditor_2013_Single_Audit_Report_Extract

This is all very concerning, particularly in the context of a situation where it can be shown that there are political and financial favors flowing back and forth between housing providers and City Hall – as we see from the Kshama Sawant story above.


Summary

As editor of the Blog Quixotic, it is my policy not to recommend that people vote for or against ballot measures or candidates. And I’m not changing that policy now. In this post, I’m merely explaining why I’m voting against Prop 1. I’m not urging anyone else to follow my lead.

I can see reasons to vote for Prop 1 as well. In the first place, it’s not going to break the bank. If it’s approved, the number of poor people housed in Seattle will certainly go up. Which is a good thing for those folks, at least in the short run.

Still, as a voter, the questions in my mind on Prop 1 are:

–Will it really do what it’s supposed to do? Will the number of homeless people on the streets of Seattle finally start going down? (And if so, why?)

–Will the organizations that get the money be required to account for it?

Unfortunately, I can’t see anything in the language of Prop 1 that addresses either of these questions. Therefore, I have to vote No.

–David Preston

horse

 

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The True Cost of Eco-Babble

Someone chucked an empty FIJI water bottle in my yard this morning. Before recycling it, I took a minute to read the label. The packaging is clearly targeted at the “green” demographic. Can you see how? The wording wraps around an image of Planet Earth, tinted in blue and green. The word “earth” is used three times in the blurb and the word “nature/natural” twice. But the money word is “sustainable” (as in sustainable aquifer).

In fact, there is nothing sustainable about drinking water from a throw-away plastic bottle – especially when that water has been shipped half-way across the world. According to the article linked below, it takes a seven gallons of water and quarter of a gallon of fuel to produce and ship a bottle of FIJI water to the U.S. How is that sustainable? It’s not, obviously. But no matter. As long as they’ve got a picture of the planet in there along with the right wording, we’re good, right? Continue reading

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Rest Easy, Devin

At 2 AM on April 7, 2016 an unknown 16-year-old was whizzing downhill on Highland Park Way SW in a stolen car. The cops were on his tail. The odds were not in the kid’s favor, but he may have figured: What have I got to lose? The worst they can do is throw me in Juvey for a few months. A year tops.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Devin Francis was driving uphill on the same long stretch of road. The 16-year-old swerved into his path, there was a crash, and both young people were killed instantly.

Devin’s people had a special gathering at this spot on what would’ve been his 22nd birthday a few weeks later, and when I stopped by a few days after that, I found all kinds of poignant little signs of how much people were hurting over this. Don’t know if anyone did a shrine for the other kid.

All photos by David Preston. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading

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Operation Blazing Sword

July 15, 2016

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at an Orlando Florida gay nightclub, Erin Palette, a Daytona Beach-based transgender woman, founded the LGBTQ gun advocacy group Operation Blazing Sword. I contacted her through the organization’s page on Facebook, and she agreed to answer a few questions.


TBQ: How big is your operation and what do you do, exactly?

EP: Operation Blazing Sword is, at the moment, a database of firearms enthusiasts who are willing to teach the basics of firearm operations and safety to members of the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando Pulse murders. Right now, if someone wants training, they go to our map, search for their hometown, find an instructor closest to them and make contact. We have plans to expand our remit once we become a 501c3 charity, but until then we are basically a matchmaking service between instructors and the gun-curious. Continue reading

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We are not amused: How politics kills our language and clouds our judgment

June 29, 2016

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language


A front page Seattle Times story published on June 24, 2016  decries an attack on “transgender” activist Michael Volz that happened in Seattle two days earlier. Such attacks are a serious matter, deserving of coverage. However, the Times’ handling of this relatively minor story, at the same time they were neglecting a much ore important one, is evidence of a worrying new confluence of politics and journalism in the Emerald City.

New English

The attack victim, one Michael Volz – whom I’ll take to be a male because he has a male name and looks like a guy to me – announced to reporters that he has abandoned gender-specific pronouns in reference to himself . . . Continue reading

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Jungle Boogie, continued (and continued?)

June 29, 2016

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said today that there might not be enough people left in the Jungle to bother with kicking them out. Which is an understandable (if not exactly courageous) stance, given the amount of crap he’s gotten from the left just for threatening to kick them out. Six weeks ago, when Murray announced that Seattle police would be “sweeping” the Jungle, there were estimated to be over 300 people living there. But no large-scale sweep was undertaken and now, according to a staffer at the Union Gospel Mission, which was helping the Mayor find shelter for Jungle residents, there are only about 100 people left. Some of them are hold-outs who refused to work with Union Gospel, but many others are (ruh-roh) new arrivals. (See story here.)

In the meantime, one of my street-level informants sent me a federal search warrant application from April of last year. That document describes an Asian drug ring that operated in and around Seattle and used the Jungle as a transit point for drugs and weapons. In the 7-page extract below, I’ve highlighted references to the Jungle: Continue reading

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Can’t Buy Me Likes

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

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

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

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No Strings Attached

June 18, 2016

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

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

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

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Another SPD Accountability Fail

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

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

Read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story here.

Deanna Nollette
Source: Seattle.gov

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

–David Preston

 

 

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Protected: Six Degrees of Sharon Lee

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

June 4, 2016

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

No_Confidence

[You can also see the letter here.]

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


Continue reading

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The Doney Clinic

May 29, 2016

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


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

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

Continue reading

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Nathan Nothing

May 25, 2016

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

[Photos by David Preston. Click to enlarge.]

 

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

Continue reading

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Shocked!

May 21, 2106

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

SHARE_fires_accountant_5.17.16-1

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

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

Continue reading

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

May 16, 2016

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

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

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

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The Accountant Who Wasn’t There

May 11, 2016

Back Story: Gimme Shelter

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

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

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


Enter, The Accountant Continue reading

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

May 5, 2016

Back Story

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

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

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


What was LIHI supposed to do at Nickelsville?

Continue reading

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The Not-So-Good Shepherd

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

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


Nickelsville: Dream vs. Reality

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

Continue reading

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The Case of the Missing Homeless Camp

April 13, 2016

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

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


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

Continue reading

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Whose park?

March 28, 2016

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

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

Continue reading

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It takes a trash-heap to make a Village

March 25, 2016

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

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


Continue reading

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Help Wanted: Social Justice Manager

March 20, 2016

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

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

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

Key Roles and Responsibilities

Visionary, strategic leadership and oversight. Continue reading

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Outrage for Hire

March 13, 2016

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

Photo: Reuters

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

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


Continue reading

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The End of Camp Dearborn

March 11, 2016

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

David,

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

January-April 17, 2015

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

May-July 2015

$3, 844.00 Northwest Cascade
$5,909.24 Recology

June-October 2015

$7,868.48 Northwest Cascade

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

Thanks,

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

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

Taylor-Judd


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

2-19-16_Nickelsville_Letter

–Story and Nickelsville photo by David Preston

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

March 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Story by David Preston. Photos courtesy of Pete Mahowald.

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

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

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

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


Adventures in Shady

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

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

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

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

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Othello Village

February 29, 2016

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

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

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

LIHI’s Sharon Lee. Photo: The Seattle Channel

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

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Testament of a Homeless Camper

February 29, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jungle Boogie

February 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

(Jungle Boogie)





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Kshama Sawant and Occupy Camp Dearborn

February 26, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

Kshama Sawant (Source: Seattle.gov)

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

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

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

Regards,

David Preston, editor
The Blog Quixotic


 

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

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