Archive for July, 2009


Priority: something that is given or merits attention before competing alternatives.

That’s from Webster’s. I thought about using the OED, but I’m feeling particularly nationalistic today. Apparently, you can now go shopping in France on Sundays…unless you’re wearing a burka. What the?…but I digress.

When talking ‘priorities’ in times like these (there’s still an economic crisis happening, right?), obviously the ‘competing’ alluded to in the definition above is primarily going to concern money. Yesterday, I attended the Initiative 100 “No New Jail” rally on the steps of City Hall in Seattle. And while yes, everyone was there to show their support for getting this initiative on the ballot, I do not believe there was a single person in the crowd who questions the need for prisons. All of us–with silver hair or pink hair, sporting the fashion trends of business casual or punk rock iconic, currently living the life of high school or high finance–understand that there absolutely are individuals who should be behind bars (like the FedMod guys, for example).

But at a time when we are attempting to save money on the backs of disabled children , cutting thousands of slots and hundreds of millions of dollars from higher ed, supporting a school district with a $34 million budget shortfall in a state that just cut $800 million from public education, [while offering bonuses to City staff members] , should we simply accept ‘the fact’ as given to us by city and county officials that we need to build a new prison at the cost of some $250 million?

When ‘prison planning experts’ sit down to do their thing (who applies for that job, anyway?), one of the primary criteria they look at is the reading level of 3rd and 4th graders. I didn’t know that until yesterday. It was pointed out by one of the speakers, Trish Millines Dziko, executive director of Technology Access Foundation. [Sarcasm alert]Suddenly it all made sense. Of course, I thought! Have you seen the 3rd grade WASL results for reading? Particularly for low-income and limited English students? Thank heaven someone is actually planning for their future! [End Sarcasm Alert]

I know some of you will look at this and say ‘that’s not how the system works’, or something along those lines. I know. But I’m not interested in having an ‘expert’ on public policy explain to me how it does work, because we both know ‘how it does work’ isn’t working. And if the $250 million isn’t there to invest in increasing the literacy levels for low-income and/or LEP students, then let’s not even talk about trying to find $250 million to build a new city jail.

We are better than this. Tell yourselves, your neighbors, your colleagues, your elected representatives…anyone within your reach. Tell them that it’s unacceptable to invest in failure on the part of our youth ($250 million pricetag for a new jail vs. $8 million for our fair city’s “Youth Violence Prevention” initiative…give me a break), particularly when it isn’t even their failure. That’s entirely on us, who either make the decisions or allow them to stand.

When I ran for school board in Seattle in 2007, I sent this message out to my supporters after failing to advance past the primary. I still stand by these words:

“We know that if we want to see lower crime rates in our city and in our neighborhoods, we need to do a better job of educating our children. We know that if we want the future workforce of our community to be diverse and competitive, we need to do a better job of educating our children. We know that if we want our community to thrive economically, to be attractive to new businesses that put more people to work at higher-paying jobs, we have to do a better job of educating our children. ALL of them, regardless of who they are or where they live. Public education is one of the best community development tools we have, and we have to invest in it fully, and without regret…we can’t turn away from it. Because we also know that those students who don’t make it are often the people who end up in our food banks. They are often the people who end up in our emergency rooms. And they are often the people who end up in our prisons, and on our streets.”

Pay attention.

Patrick Kelley

PS–A footnote from the rally: the banner containing the preamble to the Constitution (picture above) was taken down shortly after the rally started. Apparently, the organizers failed to secure an ‘oversized-banner’ permit from the City. The cost of the permit? According to organizers, $1,000. I was verklemmt. Let me give you a topic: ‘freedom of speech’ is not ‘free’. Discuss. Oh, never mind. Most of us probably only had a 3rd grade reading level, so we couldn’t have read it anyway.


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Lots of items to talk about of late: an update on our buddy, Mark Horvath, creator of invisiblepeople.tv, an interesting school project in Chicago, the latest studies from HUD and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and tent city.

  • I had a chance to meet Mark Horvath about a month ago, when he visited Seattle to talk about his work documenting the stories of homeless people. Since then, he has begun his road trip across America. I’ve been trying to keep up via my Facebook page, and just started following him on Twitter (I NEVER thought I’d sign up for Twitter, but this project prompted me to enlist…growth is change, change is growth. Right, Dad?). Anyway, Mark’s stories about stories are amazing. The LA Times wrote about his road trip a few days ago.
  • I came across this project while reading an article in the Chicago Tribune. It is, like Mark’s work, an attempt at ‘making the invisible visible, the inhuman human’.
  • The latest report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty lists the top 10 worst cities in terms of criminalizing homelessness. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I gave a great big sigh o’ relief when I saw that my beloved Seattle wasn’t on there (now if we could just get officials to use our tax dollars to keep people out of jail instead of building more places to put them…see my last item for more info). In case you’re wondering, Los Angeles received the dubious honor of being Numero Uno on this list, which doesn’t surprise me. I was a little put off by the report’s use of the term “meanest” city or cities. I’ve actually been to 4 of the top 10 cities on the list, and I doth protest…a little. “Dumbest”, maybe, in terms of a severe lack of understanding of the underlying issues that make someone homeless (heads up, LA…you can’t get rid of homelessness by getting rid of homeless people). But I think “mean” is a little harsh.

    But I’m not going to argue with a bunch of lawyers.
  • According to the latest Homeless Assessment Report to Congress from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “there were early signs that the economic crisis may be affecting trends in homelessness nationally.” Ummm, “may be”? Other discoveries of an earth-shattering nature:

    -The number of people in families accessing shelters in 2008 increased by 9%, “suggesting that family homelessness may be on the rise”…again, “may be”?? [Why is this thing written like someone’s trying to cover their a**?]

    -Homelessness in suburban and rural areas increased substantially for both individuals (34% from 07 to 08) and families (56% from 07 to 08). These are areas that traditionally don’t have a lot of social services easily accessible locally.
  • The Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Northshore United Church of Christ (and, by proxy, the residents of Tent City 4), saying that the City of Woodinville had violated the church’s Constitutional rights by refusing to consider a permit application by the church to host Tent City on its grounds back in 2006. The bureaucratic details of the case make me slightly wary of the City’s reasons for not considering the application, but suffice it to say I think it’s a good precedent set by the high court.
  • On a less enthusiastic “Tent City” note, the University of Washington recently decided to postpone its decision on hosting Tent City 3 at its Seattle campus. Despite all evidence to the contrary, some residents and students still equate ‘hosting Tent City’ with an ‘increase in criminal activity’ in a particular neighborhood. The truth is, while Tent Cities may not be the best long-term solution to homelessness, residents of these encampments live by a strict code of conduct and set of criteria for who can live there. According to the King County Sheriff’s office, there has never been “a problem with increased crime in a neighborhood where Tent City” is being hosted. I hope the UW can figure out the logistics of hosting TC3 soon…
  • The “No New Jail / I-100” movement will host a rally at Seattle City Hall (corner of 4th & James) this Wednesday, July 22nd, at 11 AM. If you work downtown, get out of the office for a while and come show city officials that ‘we prefer classrooms to jail cells, and investing in people instead of prisons.’
  • Patrick Kelley

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    Sure, we’ve lost some ‘big’ names recently, some whose stories will be told for years. But as you look over these names, remember that each of them had a story, too. At some point, they each had dreams, futures, maybe even families. And while death itself remains one of life’s certainties, the circumstances which lead to many of these people dying alone on the streets should never have been accepted as such.

    So far in 2009, 23 people have lost their lives while living on the streets.

    Samuel Kays, 31

    Kuljeet Singh, 44

    Mark Jacobsen, 53

    Daniel Nelson, 62

    Joseph Hradee, 37

    Gerald Scoot, 67

    Michael Robinson, 49

    Brian Reitan, 37

    Dan Olson, 48

    Ronald Barbour, 54

    Miguel U. Garcia, 77

    Gary Christenson, 59

    Teresa Fernen, 46

    Steven Sayers, 45

    Rebekah Woods, 43

    Wes Singletary, 39

    James Ware, 48

    Michal Lovelady, 51

    Aric Mayhew, 31

    Patrick Vanstelle, 49

    Shawn Clark, 25

    Wade Doyle, 48

    Bernardino Maceo-Toirac, 55

    –Patrick Kelley

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    Special thanks to Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, for allowing me to reprint this in its entirety. Many things struck me about this piece, but this one made me hit my head several times on my desk: “the city workgroup on alternatives to the new jail predicts a sudden escalation in arrests and the need for new jail space in 2015, the year the contract with King County now expires. The new jail, says this report, is inevitable.” I’m sorry, but how in the f*ck does one ‘predict a sudden escalation in arrests’? Also inevitable is the $226 million price tag. [For some perspective, that’s more than one-fourth of what was cut from the public education coffers in this last legislative session.] Tim puts it quite nicely: “The business of creating a paradigm shift that values early intervention and investment in human potential over punishment and criminalization is a long-haul organizing project. Entrenched power is not easily stopped, and the necessary community-wide commitment to a new vision of the future is a work in progress.

    Patrick Kelley

    “It’s time for some truth telling. The fact that Real Change is in a period of unprecedented challenge is no secret. Our vendor numbers have climbed steadily over the past three years to more than 425 vendors monthly and are still rising. This increase of over 50% in the numbers of poor and homeless people that we serve has brought huge challenges.

    Additionally, Real Change has pursued a path of aggressive and risky organizing to address structural issues of poverty and race. Our Initiative 100 campaign to halt the Mayor’s unyielding commitment to a new $226 million municipal jail has taken Real Change out on a limb that, frankly, feels like it’s at the breaking point.

    Over the past year, our case for support has been consistent. This was set forth with admirable pith in last week’s Director’s Corner: (RSD + SCI) – $$$ = UCC. Rising Street Demand plus System Change Imperative in a tough fundraising environment equals Unsustainable Capacity Challenge.

    We have always been an organization that strains at the limits of the possible. This, broadly speaking, is one of those rare times in history where, amidst the crisis, the huge potential and clear need for system change is apparent. We have done our best to rise to this occasion.

    Our summer fund drive this year has been met with strong support. As of today, we have raised $77,404 since May 1 toward our $160,000 goal. This means that last week, our supporters came through with another $10,552. This is a measure of the deep and broad support that exists for our work.

    Yet, as we sit here, out on our limb, listening to the creaks, groans, and occasional cracks, we have arrived at a point where the choice we have struggled to avoid is upon us. We cannot sustain both the organizing and the heightened demand for vendor services with our present resources. Decisions must be made.

    The I-100 Campaign

    Marion Edelman Wright, the visionary leader of the Children’s Defense Fund, has described incarceration as “the new American apartheid,” where “poor children of color are the fodder.”

    It is more than telling that African Americans are represented within both Seattle’s homeless and incarcerated at roughly six times their percentage of population. As we have watched the increasing criminalization of poverty over the past fifteen years, most recently exemplified here by the Mayor’s sweeps of homeless encampments, we have come to understand that homelessness as a social issue does not exist in a vacuum.

    If we are ever going to make progress against homelessness, the structural roots of race and poverty have to be addressed. This means that those of us who work in our own issue areas must learn to reach out, trust, and combine in ways that challenge our comfort zones. None of us can win fundamental change on our own, and the divide and conquer single-issue politics of the past are a strategic dead end.

    The statistics that Edelman Wright offers speak for themselves: Children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to become incarcerated. Black children are nearly nine times and Latino children are three times as likely as White children to have an incarcerated parent. Blacks constitute one-third and Latinos one-fifth of the prisoners in America, and 1 in 3 Black men, 20 to 29 years old, is under correctional supervision or control. Of the 2.3 million in jail or prison, 64 percent are minority. Of the 4.2 million persons on probation, 45 percent are minority; of the 800,000 on parole, 59 percent are minority. Inequitable drug sentencing policies including mandatory minimums have greatly escalated the incarceration of minority adults and youths.”

    The I-100 campaign takes on the realities of race, poverty, and power that lie behind a municipal commitment to increased incarceration. While this has been, without question, the most ambitious organizing Real Change has ever done, it is also the most necessary and fruitful. A broad coalition of more that 40 allies has come together in 1-100’s support. The Seattle NAACP, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, The Queer/Trans Jail Stoppers, The League of Women Voters, the Green Party, and the International Socialists have been among the most high profile and hard-working.

    Since the inception of I-100 last December, the city’s rhetorical wall of inevitability has begun to crack. King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg, members of the County Council led by Dow Constantine, and the Seattle City Council under the leadership of Tim Burgess and Richard Conlin have all openly questioned the need for the new jail. The City and County have reached an agreement to extend their current jail space contract another three years while alternatives are explored.

    And yet, the Mayor and his staff have not budged. A new report issued by the city workgroup on alternatives to the new jail predicts a sudden escalation in arrests and the need for new jail space in 2015, the year the contract with King County now expires. The new jail, says this report, is inevitable.

    Much remains to be done. The business of creating a paradigm shift that values early intervention and investment in human potential over punishment and criminalization is a long-haul organizing project. Entrenched power is not easily stopped, and the necessary community-wide commitment to a new vision of the future is a work in progress.

    Real Change has set the ball in motion. We have provided the leadership and the staffing for this campaign despite our other challenges. As we near our July 22 deadline for signature gathering and the date of our Power Surge rally at City Hall, the demands of this campaign are more than daunting.

    We will see the I-100 campaign through to its completion, but our capacity to continue this work is seriously in question.

    The Truth of Our Situation

    Real Change is not on the verge of collapse, and our successes, even at this time of challenge, are huge. Circulation is at its highest ever and rising, with at least 17,000-18,000 copies sold each week. We are winning prestigious awards for our quality journalism. Our organizing is high profile, visionary, ambitious, and successful.

    The grassroots donor support that makes up the majority of our budget has grown each year, as has our earned income from paper sales. This funding combination offers enormous independence, and with that, a large capacity for organizing that entails political risk.

    Real Change is a treasured Seattle institution that rests upon an enormous number of unlikely relationships that exist across class. We’re here to stay.

    And yet, we have clearly arrived at that point where the need to take our resources to “the next level” is too pressing to be further ignored. Our overextension leaves us in the position of having to grow, or to make hard choices about priorities. In the push and pull between creating systemic change and meeting the immediate needs of our vendors, the vendors will always win.

    The strains right now are huge, and some hard choices are upon us. We are working hard to create a future for Real Change that takes us sustainably into the next decade.

    This month, we continue toward our goal of raising $160,000 during our summer drive. Two of our supporters have offered a match to help us on our way. Gifts of $100 or more from new donors and $250 or more from current supporters will be doubled until the $10,000 that they have committed runs out.

    The stakes for Real Change right now are very high. Please support the work, and help us to be all that we can. You can make a secure on-line donation at realchangenews.org, or mail your gift to 2129 2nd Ave. Seattle, WA 98121.”

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    Just keeping up on this, since I know of so many renters in the area. Most of what I’ve written about up to now has been on a national level, but today’s article in the Seattle Times includes information about a new state law that goes into effect later this month. You may want to share this information with anyone who is currently renting their home.

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