Kudos to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West as they embark on their Poverty 2.0 tour but as a homeless mother, I'd like to know when they'll be in Seattle soon, or better yet, the city of Kent. Kent is where I landed after I lost my apartment in April of 2004 and Kent is where I started my own advocacy after being harassed by police who uphold the city's anti-homeless attitude.
I want Smiley and West to go on a tour right here in Kent and see the homeless camps and talk to all the youth about their experiences with homelessness or meet one of the many families with kids living out of their cars trying to appear to the rest of the world as having normal lives. Then there are vets with terminal illnesses waiting to die because they can't get housing help. I'd love for Smiley and West to call 211 as people in crisis and hear an operator tell them that they can't refer themselves to a local agency, they have to go through the 211 line first, get set up with an appointment that is usually 2 weeks out then go to that appointment and be told there's a 2 year minimum wait list. I'd like for them to stand in line at a public feed that local orgs have to scrape together with whatever funds they can find and hope there'll be enough food to last till the end of the line. More importantly, hang out in the library or one of the public parks next to it as a visibly homeless person and see how many times the police here will find a reason to trespass or mock you.
I am a real face of homelessness that doesn't fit the common stereotypes of what a homeless person is supposed to look like and that's a stereotype I make a point of breaking every time I run into it. Putting real faces on the poverty issue goes a long way in raising awareness but after that, then what? Once the elections are over, the poor are still getting poorer and where's all the progress and change that was promised?
As I am writing this, a certain homeless camp is about to be cleared out. That's the general tactic here, clear out the homeless where you find them and intimidate them not to come back. A building in downtown Kent has had several organizations bid on it and every year, the city comes up with a new reason to turn down any kind of resource center that would help its growing homeless population. Supposedly a "task-force" was organized yet as usual, it's a farce and nothing real has been done to fix the lack of housing or growing homeless problem.
Tent cities are not a solution. Letting vehicle dwellers fill up rest stops and parking lots is not a solution. Allowing mentally and terminally ill vets and seniors die under bridges is not a solution. Putting people on indefinite waiting lists they may not survive long enough to see the end of is not a solution.
Poverty isn't going to go away simply because a city council or mayor chooses ignores it.