Why Virtue Signaling Doesn’t Solve the Problem: Volume IX (Homelessness Issue)

A Sinclair Media Documentary in Seattle Might Not Actually Be a Hate-Fest Against the Poor. It Might Just Be a Solution.

It didn’t always look like this driving into my beloved Seattle. It’s been 15 years since I moved to Chicago. 21 years since I first took this freeway into Seattle to live after graduating college. I still come back to Seattle almost every year, and the uptick in homelessness is noticeable to the point of shock. So what is Seattle doing?

The Point

“Seattle is Dying” offers solutions throughout, but specifically to this post I want to argue that intervention opportunities are being lost. For a decade, we’ve had a de-decriminalization push on the West Coast, which has been commendable by some metrics (such as lowered marijuana convictions), but also runs parallel to a massive uptick in drug-addicted homelessness, which is disproportionately populated by minority citizens. One solution is said at the 41:53 mark by a Seattle police officer: “Let’s spend millions of dollars on mandatory inpatient treatment programs instead of making excuses for their addiction and/or crimes. The option should be treatment or jail, the cycle has to be intervened on, or it will never end.” That may sound controversial and reactionary to some, but the one-hour documentary explains why that may be one potential direction, just as I do below.

OK, Let’s Continue

When one Seattle friend I know read the Medium article titled, “Our Local Media Is Broken And Homeless People Are Paying The Price,” she responded: “I could just puke. What I hear from her writing is that she doesn’t like that a lot of people don’t like the homeless/street crime crisis and she’s upset that the media is reflecting that instead of pushing HER agenda. If Seattle is getting a lot of negative attention and the media is reporting on it and it’s resonating with the people, maybe that’s because a majority of the people are in agreement with the reporting!! Ughhjnhhbbbbbbhhhhh.”

Coming soon to Seattle from San Francisco? $184,000 a year poop cleaning jobs!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” starring Jack Nicholson (above) won five Oscars. The book, play, and movie also likely led the public to be highly skeptical of institutions that also help people with deep-set mental health issues.

What About Solutions? What Would Jack Do?

Science writer Alex Berezow was called a “Nazi” by a Seattle City Councilmember for proposing what I think is completely sensible solution, and wrote a nuanced article on the subject. I posted an excerpt of what he wrote below. We’re talking about “involuntary institutionalization.” I don’t see how it can’t be one part of the solution when the documentary featured a list of 100 people who are regularly arrested and then released. Only to be arrested time and time again. San Francisco’s new mayor has proposed legislation — and the governor already has signed a bill — to institutionalize some people against their will, particularly those who are ongoing problems for the city. We’re talking dozens of arrests or mental health holds, in many cases. Homeless and civil rights advocates have predictably pushed back.

Note the spikes from 2014 to 2017. SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Police and Criminal Justice Have a Role, Too

I agree with the police and old-school criminal justice positions mentioned in “Seattle is Dying.” I think the police actually come off as compassionate. Unless the state can compel people into diversion programs for substance abuse with the threat of jail time, it’s near-impossible to get people to commit to them. I’ve heard this argument even from liberal mouths who see this in their family or community dynamics, but I rarely see this in media. I also don’t see honest contextualization of the criminal justice system. The idea that the War on Drugs is largely driving U.S. incarceration rates is a myth. Nationally, only 1 in 5 people are in prison for drugs, and 1 in 20 are “low-level” drug offenders. Additionally, less than three-tenths of 1% are there for simple possession of marijuana, and 3.6% are there for any drug possession charges. At the same time, as decriminalization policies have taken shape, drug overdose deaths have doubled in the past decade — quadrupled since 1999 — to around 70,000 deaths per year. People talk of lives wasted inside prison walls in the age of so-called Mass Incarceration, but lives outside prison walls are fatally wasted by the tens of thousands every year by drugs and murder.

24% of police reports sent to the city of Seattle did not get filed in 2006. It nearly doubled to 46% in 2016.

One More Thing: Don’t Get Triggered

Not by the title, but by each other. I started this post mentioning a mom who moved to Bellevue partially because being accosted in Seattle by mentally ill homeless triggered her “biological” protection mode. I met her online through a mutual friend, and I’ve really appreciated her and her husband’s insights in a social media space where moderate liberals (among others) can let off a little steam. Yes, she was “pissed” about those two articles critical of the KOMO “Seattle is Dying” documentary. I know why. She once shared this story that stood out from just over one year ago about people essentially plugging their ears about the homeless and saying, “I don’t want to hear about it.”

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Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.

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David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.