Homeless in Seattle *Updated

“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature.”
     ~Elphaba, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire

Because on one hand, we have this:

And this:

And this (no charge for the advertising, Tom Teifer):

While on the other hand, we have this:

Bryan Harvey/Creative Commons

And this:

And we have this, for Pete’s sake:

That is Seattle’s Federal Reserve Building, sitting empty.  It has been empty for six seven years and declared surplus by the federal government, which continues to pay the upkeep and maintenance of this wasted space. With almost 90,000 square feet, it could easily house several hundred people. Title V of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides that when there is surplus federal property suitable for use to help the homeless, it must be provided at no charge to agencies who assist the homeless. The Compass Housing Alliance went for it and they had the private funding they needed, but no go. Denied. The building continues to sit empty and useless and soaking up taxpayer money, and will for who knows how long.

Meanwhile, we still have this:

Read the poster in that window and tell me — I couldn’t have got a better shot if I’d asked that man to throw his sleeping bag down in that spot. I didn’t ask him. He was sleeping there when I walked by.

Incidentally, I went no more than 20 minutes out of way to take my photographs. On foot.

I realize that banks do not exist for the purpose of providing housing to homeless people. But it can also be argued that banks do exist on the shoulders of the American people, especially in light of astronomical bailouts, and thus have a moral responsibility to give something back to the American people. This is especially true when bank-owned properties end up being bulldozed because the banks can’t do anything else with them. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the issue, but when this country has $5 million to spend on its senators’ hair, well then, I really don’t see why it has to be that hard. I’ve recently seen a statistic that says there are enough empty foreclosure houses in this country to give six to every homeless person. What is wrong with us?
I’ve been told that “most of” these people are unsheltered because they won’t comply with shelters’ policies on drug and alcohol use. Some, sure, I buy that. Addiction is a bitch and I can believe some would rather be high than warm, at least some of the time. But not all of them, and not all the time. I’ve heard the other arguments too. “They wouldn’t be homeless if they’d just get off their asses.” “Nobody’s homeless against their will.” “They’re just not trying.” Blah blah blah. Can it. There’s a saying that most of us are one paycheck away from being unable to pay the monthly cost of a roof over the head, and I’ve been close enough to have no problem believing that’s true. I don’t want to hear what you would like to think they think. Go talk to a homeless person. The ones I’ve talked to are nice people who don’t ask for much, really. Listen to what they say they think.

How do any of us believe people want their children to live like this? Yes, there are children living in this camp. Or there were, before the authorities ran them out, to set up their tents somewhere else, where they will also be run off, to move elsewhere, to be run off again, and so on, until they set up camp right back here again.  Instead of moving people in circles, literally in circles, why don’t we solve the problem?
Seattle’s 2014 2015 One Night Count, in which volunteers tally how many people are sleeping outside or in their cars, in the frozen depths of January, was 3,123 a record 3,772.  180 of those were children. I’ll update the number of children as soon as I get it, but if there were 180 last year, it’s a sure bet there are a lot this year. As Real Change newspaper pointed out, that number is probably low, since a lot of homeless people are successful at hiding. What kind of society are we, one of the richest and most “advanced” in the world, when a privileged few have more money than they could ever realistically spend, ever ever, but we let our own go cold and wet and sick and hungry?

We can turn our backs and say it’s their problem, their own damned fault, they’re capable of taking care of themselves and if they’re not, they should be. Or we can do the kind thing, the humane thing, and take care of our own.

When is it ever a mistake to err on the side of compassion?