Update: Homeless protesters to move on to Burgess’ home
Update: The homeless protesters who slept in front on Mayor Greg Nickels house Monday night say they’ll move on to City Councilman Tim Burgess’ Queen Anne home Tuesday night.
The group is protesting the city’s denial of funding for bus vouchers the homeless say they need to get from shelters and tent cities to downtown services. The group has vowed to protest in front of the homes of all council members except Nick Licata, who pushed for $50,000 to fund the vouchers.
Burgess may be a particular target. He is working on anti-panhandling legislation.
Burgess said in an email that he knows of the protest Tuesday night. He said he’ll be home and will have “a nice chat” with the protesters.
About 40 protesters appeared to have bedded down for the night on the quiet West Seattle street where Mayor Greg Nickels lives.
Earlier in the evening, at about 8:30 p.m, the homeless men and women — protesting the city’s denial of funding for bus vouchers — had walked through the neighborhood in the drizzle. Once at Nickels’ street, they laid out the tarps and mats they’d carried on the grassy parking strip.
Nickels, though, has a flower bed in front of his house, preventing the protesters from actually sleeping in front of his home. The protesters were actually in front of four of Nickels’ neighbors’ houses.
In Nickels’ home, the lights in the main room facing the street were out. But the lights were on in a side window behind drawn blinds.
The protest was going on without incident Monday night. Several police officers stood by, while most of the protesters lay on their bedding. The most action came from the TV crews conducting interviews.
The protesters plan to sleep Tuesday night in front of a City Council member’s home.
The homeless are getting caught in the midst of these tough times that’s led Seattle to cut its budget and Metro to raise fares several times recently to deal with its own funding problems.
And that’s leading to a confrontation. A group of homeless people from the organization SHARE say they’re planning to sleep on the sidewalk in front of Nickels’ home in West Seattle. And in turn, the group says the homeless will begin sleeping in front of the homes of pretty much all of the City Council members, as well.
At a private meeting Monday morning at SHARE’s offices to plan the protests, homeless people like Alan Francis, a resident of a SHARE transitional living shelter that provides worker training in South Seattle, said the group had sought $50,000 to pay for bus vouchers so people could get downtown for services and back to SHARE’s shelters and tent cities in neighborhoods like the University District and South Seattle.
Metro’s fare increases have tapped out the vouchers it already had, he said. “We can’t get to the shelters without them,” Fisher said of the vouchers.
The protest would be the beginning of what appears to be a busy week for homeless activists. Wednesday is the deadline for Nickelsville, a separate group of homeless people, to leave the encampment it created in a Port of Seattle park, also as a protest against more money not being spent to house the homeless.
Nickels on Friday laid out a budget proposal to fill the city’s $72 million budget hole, mainly relying of furloughing city workers, cutting some policy advisers and dipping into the city’s rainy day fund to preserve services.
However, Fisher and others Monday morning complained the city is shifting money from one fund to another to help the South Lake Union Streetcar, which is also running out of money. In addition, the city is creating a separate tax classification for Russell Investments to help bring the international investment firm from Tacoma to downtown Seattle.
That left the group incensed about the city’s priorities. “Maybe we should sleep on the SLUT,” said Joe Watson, a resident of a SHARE shelter in South Seattle, referring to the popular nickname for the streetcar.
“The politicians should be ashamed,” said Beatrice Frieberg, a resident of the transitional living shelter in South Seattle.
The group is a unique one, in that it has few staff and is run by the homeless people themselves. That allows it to run 15 shelters and the tent cities with less overhead. And it has done a credible enough of a job to be funded by the city and the United Way. In addition, Metro is giving the organization 16,000 vouchers for residents to use.
The city’s Department of Human Services did offer to give the organization the $50,000 for the vouchers, Fisher said, but only on the condition it promise to keep the shelters open for the rest of the year. However, Fisher said SHARE has its own budget deficit. It is hoping to raise enough at its upcoming fundraiser to break even. But in these tough times, the group felt it couldn’t guarantee being able to stay open.
As the newspaper Real Change reported, City Councilman Nick Licata — who the group says need not worry about having the protesters show up at his doorstep — proposed funding the organization. However, the proposal was dropped in budget negotiations between the council and Nickels’ office.
“They’re not in support of the poor empowering themselves,” Frieberg said.
Licata on Monday doubted the protest would make Nickels change his mind. He said there probably was a way to fund the organization so that people would be able to go to the shelters and not end up on downtown streets. But he said the majority of the council had other priorities.
However, Seattle human services director Alan Painter said the city has funded the organization for years, including $320,00 even in this year’s tight budget.
The city simply couldn’t afford another $50,000 on top of that, he said.
“At this moment, a whole lot of people – including my own staff – are feeling the crunch,” he said.
Godden told Real Change it was simply a budget issue. “Everybody asked for more this year. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” she told the newspaper.
On Monday, City Councilman Richard Conlin told the PostGlobe that council members looked at the proposal and thought “this doesn’t seem reasonable and we didn’t do it.”
He said, “The city doesn‘t do bus vouchers. King County does bus service. Why don‘t they ask King County?”
In addition, the city is already talking to suburban cities about how Seattle provides an unfair share of human services in the county, which leads people from other cities to come to Seattle to use its services. Paying for vouchers, Conlin said, would mean the city would be paying the bus fare for people from other cities like Bothell to come use Seattle services. “It was just a bizarre proposal,” Conlin said.
Ben Ericksen, a resident of a SHARE shelter in the University District, responded that SHARE thought Metro was already being generous in giving the group free vouchers.
The city bars people from sitting or sleeping on sidewalks during the day, but the ban isn’t in effect at night, the homeless activists said. The law also prohibits obstructing a sidewalk, but the activists said they believe they have the right to exercise free speech on a public sidewalk.
“It seems easier for the mayor to spend the $50,000 than to have protests and a media circus in front of his house,” Frieberg said.
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