Day by Day

Wednesday, November 19, 2003



At work a few weeks ago we received a pamphlet from the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless. It's titled "The 24th Annual One Night Count of people who are homeless in King County, Washington". I'm normally skeptical of things like this, for reasons I will explain later. But thumbing through it today, I saw crap that made we want to flush the whole damn thing down the toilet. Lets start off with a few obvious things, shall we?

First off, on page 2, they admit that they can't even get an accurate count. They say that "the count is intended to foster an understanding of the patterns of survival for people who sleep in publicly accessible areas." Yay. And then there's the actual methods used in counting the homeless.

Volunteers are instructed to mark two people per vehicle whenever there is significant evidence that someone is actively using it as shelter, although it is recognized that some cars may have more or less than that estimate.

We admit that our estimate may in fact be wildly overblown. Yep.

The "walking category" has been questioned after past street counts, in relation to the assumption that a person who is walking is not necessarily homeless. Again, volunteers are given clear instructions to use the team's best collective judgment in these circumstances, omitting those who seem to have a defined purpose other than homeless survival activities.

I wonder if anyone knows what the team's "best collective judgement" is. Living in Seattle, I think I can safely say that the people doing this study are anything but objective.

The study disolves into one big pity party for the cities homeless. Now that all my liberal guests are sure that I'm a heartless bastard, let me explain why I don't give two shits about this "study". Better yet, Analog Kid has some thoughts on it as well. I'll let him have the floor first.

I have hung out and lived and camped out with both the dingy types you see in the line for food at the shelters and the types of freaks that you'd find at the IMC or DU (and even dated some of the psycho-broads from there).

I truly despise 'the homeless'. There are not words to describe my feelings for them. Especially those with children. Trust me, for the majority of 'the homeless', this is a lifestyle choice. Both the the guy begging on the corner with the sign and the guy who asks for spare change think you are an idiot for getting up and going to work everyday and having a rent or house payment.

I never believed in their BS philosophies, I think it was just the youthful mentality that put me outdoors. Arrogance (knowing it all) and wanderlust (needing adventure). And I, like the vast majority of people I met while in that state of mind, liked living like that. The remainder just didn't mind the lifestyle. I finally tired of sleeping in my car when I couldn't find somewhere else to crash and straightened up. Less than two years later I was making enough money that I probably could have bought a house. I decided, again stupidly, to go racing instead.


As for my perspective? I work in a hospital. I see the homeless on a daily basis. I deal with them regularly. And here's what I know.

There are more resources available to people who are homeless than there are to me. Fine. You can say that they need it more, and I'll give you that point because it's not even worth arguing to me. But what I see sickens me. Those resources are abused, ignored, turned down, and tossed away. The problem lies with the homeless themselves, and the homeless problem will not go away until you start to accept some hard facts. Let's go over them.

Many homeless people are drug addicts/alcoholics. I've seen many of them come through the detox center at the hospital. 99.99% of them, once their body is somewhat healthy, return directly to the drinking, drugs, and sleeping on the street. They have the resources available to get off the drugs, but they either can't or won't. Many of them have no desire to do so.

Many homeless people have various mental disorders. Short of locking these people in a mental institution and forcing them to take the medication needed, there is no way to prevent these people from living on the streets.

Many homeless people chose that lifestyle. Again, something that people never consider, but plenty of people have come through my hospital and told me "Why should I get a job?" We, as a society, have made it easy for them to live by just soaking off of the people who DO work. I had one gentleman laugh as he described his $600,000 medical stay, which he won't pay a cent of, while he told me of the people he suckered into giving him food, money, and booze.

Let's take these facts one at a time, and see if we can find a solution, shall we? Fact #1, the drug/alcohol issue. There is only one way to stop these people from doing drugs, and that is to remove them from any area they can get drugs from. Which in short means locking them up, because I have yet to find one city where drugs weren't available. Are people willing to do that? And what's more, even if we get these people clean, sober, and ready to work, how can we force them to do so? We can't. One man from my hospital ran up his medical bill over three months. While he was here, he was given offers of jobs, a place to stay, a place to get clean, food, shelter, you name it. Three days after he left the hospital I saw him staggering down the street with a bottle in his hand. Five months after that he was dead. Are you willing to do what needs to be done with people like that?

Fact #2, mental illness. Once again, how can you force these people to take their meds that they need? Talk to any social worker and they'll tell you about the frustration of dealing with people who either won't take their meds or forget to do so. One week they're fine, the next week they're raving on the street corner and flinging feces at passerbys. Are we, as a society, ready to lock these people up? There was a case in NYC where a judge ruled that a woman could not be forced into treatment, even though her family pleaded with the judge to do so. I can't find the link right now, but if I recall it correctly, the woman was sleeping on a heating grate, shitting in her bedding, and screaming at people walking by. Are we willing to accept the fact that these people cannot be helped unless we lock them up for a period of time and treat them? I can see the ACLU blowing their top, while dollar signs flash in their eyes.

Fact #3, choice. Lets say you drag all the addicts to detox and treatment. Then you take all the mentally ill and put them in a treatment facility. You still have to deal with the people who are there by choice. People like my little hospital friend, who laughed at the fact that he wasn't going to have to pay his $600,000 hospital bill, because he knew someone else would pay it. Yeah, like me, my boss, my friends, and everyone else who has a job. Your taxes go to his hospital bill. The only solution I can see is flat out telling them that if they don't want any of the responsibility that society demands, then they shouldn't get a single benifit that society gives. But there's not a chance in hell that anyone in this town would say such a thing.

Maybe now you get an idea of why I toss these pamplets and reports in the trash. Seattle wants to throw money at the problem. Big shock there. Money won't fix the homeless problem, dealing with reality will.

But not many people in Seattle deal with reality at all.

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