The houseless vs the settlement: interview with Willamette Week

Tim McCormick
26 min readMay 22, 2021

Willamette Week reporter Sophie Peel interviewed me, on Friday, May 14, 2021. We both recorded it. This is my transcription from my recording, edited for brevity and clarity.

The “split between local leaders and everyone else”

Sophie: [00:04:58]
There’s quite a split between local leaders, both politicians and agencies, and everyone else about how to best address the homelessness that we’re experiencing right now.

And, you know, [County Commissioner] Meieran sort of spearheaded her own plan about getting more alternative housing.

[see statement from Meieran: “Six Month Framework to Reduce Harm for People Living Outside — DISCUSSION DRAFT — 5/3/2021”;
and WW story by Peel, “
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran Wants More Aggressive Plan to Shelter Homeless People. [‘We have what I consider to be a humanitarian crisis.’]. April 25, 2021].

Wheeler is tentatively on board with her, though I think you he has to straddle a pretty careful line about what he can say.

And, of course, business interests are more on her side as well. And then there’s the other side, which is [County Chair] Kafoury, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and most of the people on the A Home For Everyone coordinating board that are saying, we need to do less investment in short term housing and alternative housing, and instead put most of our money into long term housing and wraparound services that are going to keep people in housing long term.

trying to listen to “both sides”

So it’s an ongoing issue. And I’m trying to listen to both sides. I mean, I think there’s absolutely merit to both sides. And what it comes down to is, you know, there is a finite amount of money that can be spent. And how that’s going to be spent is probably going to have ramifications pretty soon. I mean, budgets are going to be approved fairly soon.

And right now Kafoury has sort of given the nod to the [Multnomah County, Metro Supportive Housing Services program [Local Implementation Plan, which is more about long term housing. So I wanted to get your thoughts on that, that whole debate, and if you stand in the middle somewhere, if you’re on Meieran’s side, alternative housing, that kind of stuff.

Tim: [00:07:11]:
Well, it’s a great question. I think you really hone in on it…When you said “this issue,” I was kind of holding my tongue because I wanted to say “which issue?” because I thought you might say, oh, you know, housing, or poverty, or some such big thing.

But you actually went right to this most specific thing, which is great, because that’s news, right? the juncture of the conflict. I tend to be more like, looking at the big pattern, and that’s why I’m not a news writer.

Tim’s background

My background, I have more of an architecture and design background, by family and partly training, but was working in software for a long time, as a product developer. About ten years ago, I starting moving into this. I basically have been living, researching, studying, field researching, documenting, advocating, and basically on this margin that whole time — informal and alternative shelter, housing, and living in it myself. I haven’t had formal housing in ten years. [laughs].. That covers a wide range of things.

So I feel like I’ve been immersed in it, to a degree that no one else in the discussion is that I’m aware of, that I can tell, other than maybe some of the unhoused people. But I’ve kind of been drifting along it in different ways. So I feel like, gosh, was there ever a debate that I was so ready for? [laughs].

And then I’m also a librarian, history-minded kind of person, and a pattern identifier. Over the years, I’ve gradually come to think: look at all these things, they kind of reduce to a few archetypal conflicts. Like temporary/mobile versus permanent, and long term versus immediate is basically a version of that.

I look at it like, it’s archetypal. It of course eventually goes back to [“short term” / immediate / temporary] versus ‘permanent.’ And of course, it’s not easily resolvable. But there’s a long history of ways it’s been resolved or how it’s been looked at.

Why does dichotomization happen, who is served?

I would say, well, there’s a dichotomy drawn and it’s been articulated. One thing I feel like in general is that, there’s a dichotomization [process]. It happens in many fields and we might generally step back and ask, what makes that happen, and who is served by that?

So, for example, news media dichotomizes because it’s like, what are the different views? And politics dichotomizes, because there are parties. On the other hand, there are other kind of approaches where you might be trying to solve it, where you might want to not dichotomize, you might want to be more pragmatic.

Now, that said, you can infer from what I’ve said, I’m more inclined to Sharon Meieran’s point of view, and she’s also been the person I’ve dealt with the most. I’ve met her a number of times, she lives not far from me, she is my Commissioner. We had her as a guest at [the March 1 PDX Shelter Forum event], which is one of my pursuits or projects. And she was fantastic on that, she’s super supportive.

Yesterday I was in this meeting, she had set up four “community listening sessions,” or something. I heard about it from one of my guys, you know, and I was like, ohhh, is this an insider thing? And then I saw it was on her web site. Then I went to it, and was like ten people, and we all knew each other. I had this funny feeling like I’d snuck into the Rebel Alliance meeting. What may have happened is, it’s kind of public, but she’d told first the people she particularly wanted to come, which is a common tactic.

So it was like, the like-minded had gathered, the disciples or something.

Sophie: [00:12:03]
You’re just you’re in your echo chamber, as we all like to do.

Tim: [00:12:09]
So maybe, it’s more like… I take your point, but I think that it’s actually a group of people who are very, very aware of what other people are saying. They’re not shielded from it. But it was more like a refuge from the storm, or harbor of hope or something. [laughs].

The thing is, you need to have that, or you just get dispersed and neutralized, if you’re an oppositional force, I think, in politics. I can tell you for the last year in particular, I’ve been closely working on Shelter to Housing Continuum project, and it’s like, trench warfare. People are so anxious, so divided. There’s huge amounts of money flowing in, people are all fighting for it.

And I’m someone who lived in California for a long time, so it’s like, you want trench warfare in housing, it’s there. Portland is normally super polite and collegial, or has that reputation. But in this case, no.

But this is true of homelessness. It’s kind of this ultimate archetypal focal point in politics, because what is it, but control of and exclusion from land? it’s at the root of all politics.

So people kind of come to it with elementary, visceral positions. I think for [County Commissioner] Sharon Meieran, that’s very much, compassionate Samaritan, who deals with people, you don’t get more hands-on than that. Even while working in the [Board of Commissioners], she’s still working an an emergency room doctor. And she is trained as a lawyer. All else aside, she’s kind of remarkable in those respects. That’s just really unusual.

So that’s a bit of positioning.

I feel like I try to avoid being polarizing and I feel like I’m not that way temperamentally. I’m inclined to be equanimous, I’m sort of renowned for always taking other people’s point of view and things like that. But, you know, at some point your convictions have to be found.

The backlash against ‘shelter’

And I do feel that in general, the establishment that you described, JOHS, A Home For Everyone, I would say, is very clearly in the kind of nationwide Establishment position, of a broad, pervasive shift away from or backlash or aversion to anything viewed as temporary or ‘shelter.’

And that word has almost become impugned in some way. I’m trying to recuperate a little bit with PDX Shelter Forum, saying we mean shelter as anything that shelters people, including housing.

But there are people whom you can almost watch their face cloud over when the word ‘shelter’ passes, because it represents to them decades of totally wasted spending, from their point of view, mistreating and abusing people.

And that’s real: people have lived that, feel like, we never want to go through that again. So I don’t want to discredit or deny that; they may have experienced that much more directly than I have.

But on the other hand, I watched, in my time, and closely study, how did this sort of new dawn spread that there is now such a powerful, I would say, dogmatic even, pervasive view that like, we know the answer, the answer is permanent supportive housing? And basically anything else that you have to put money on is kind of like an unfortunate diversion.

In a way, it’s an extreme view, and I would say there is a great deal of kind of dogmatic exposition of it. There is a lot of more considered background, but by the time we get to the front lines, it’s been reduced to slogans. And that’s how it goes, you know, we live by a couple of rules of thumbs, maxims, whatever we think, right?

But as someone is very skeptical and critical, anything that’s dogmatic, it’s just kind of triggering.

And also like everyone, I’m walking around and seeing a bunch of problems on the street, that aren’t getting better. And it’s like, how long do you let the experts say, we know what we’re doing, you just have to give us more money and wait longer? We feel, well, you know, government people always want to take longer and get more money. They may be right. They may be wrong. But them saying this is not very reassuring.

The fact is, I lived in the Bay Area. San Francisco has by far the highest per capita spending on homelessness, and the worst situation. So when you’re in the Bay Area, it’s like the wealthiest place almost in the world and has really high spending, rapidly expanding, and not improving. You’re like, ok, I don’t claim to know the answer here, but I’m also getting a little bit hesitant to believe the people in charge of things.

It’s a pitched battle because the people on the other side know that, they see the same things that we do, they are just feeling, well, we’re kind of all in on this strategy, no time to waver. So it’s just intense.

Advocating for one’s self and others

And so, what am I trying to do, what is my project? Well, other than staying alive, in highly precarious housing, myself? Which means that much of what I advocate for, as I tell people, I’m advocating for myself as well as others. I’m advocating for people hovering on the margin, trying to climb out of poverty, how do they do that?

And I look at it from both a historic view, I read tons of literature, books, I’ve got a huge library of research, studies, I’m working on a book about it. But also I view it very much like this is my own situation. I’m a native-born Portlander, moved back here in part to help take care of my parents. I’m barely hanging on here, not sure at all if I can keep living here. [laughs].

And I don’t think many people in this conversation have that point of view. They’re pretty much all settled and placed and housed and pretty secure. So I like to think I’m bringing a useful note to it. I can’t say that I’ve had [anyone observe that, though].

I think people don’t really believe me because I’m a white, middle class, middle aged person who is educated and so on. I think people just have cognitive dissonance, they’re like, I look at you and I just don’t believe that you’ve been living in chronic poverty and without formal housing.

It’s like, Yes, and a ton of people like me, who just are in the shadows, things you don’t necessarily know.

It’s also just like, you fall off a path, it’s hard to get back on it. It can be totally random. You got pushed off it. And that’s lot of people. That’s the normal case. It’s not drug addicts, it’s not deviance. It’s just basically bad luck, enmeshing with a huge set of structural problems that make it extremely difficult to avoid or get out of, right?

So that’s some points of view. If we bring this around to, what are you trying to get done, well, I was quite focused on the Shelter to Housing Continuum project. I knew there were other big wheels in motion like budget. But I looked at it and assessed that, I had relatively little ability to affect it. There’s a ton of people hovering and circling around that. The Here Together coalition is extremely disciplined and so on.

So, I was following it. And I testified; I wrote a kind of op-ed letter (Portland Tribune 4/28/20; archived copy) opposing the Metro Supportive Housing Services tax measure; or, not opposing it but being very skeptical, before it passed. I think that I’m one of the very, very few advocates who publicly spoke a critical opinion on it, like almost ever, and I did it before it even passed. It’s me and the Cascade Policy Institute, right, that’s the company I’m in. [laughs].

And I hesitated to, because I was like, this is a coalition that is trying to basically smear opponents, anyone who disagrees, and they say they have the answer, so this was a big risk.

And I though, you know, I cannot tell a lie. And I feel like I’m going to put it down in writing in the Portland Tribune. It may be why I’m persona non grata, it and other expressions may be why I am persona non grata or feel like I am, with so many people. There are tons of people who never reply to me at all. Phone call, email, any channel, even in person, won’t even.

And that’s the level of divisiveness and polarization in part. And just kind of like, we can’t risk it, being [seen] talking with that guy.

Local government meetings: like Cheers! for me

You know, in that meeting you wrote about [“Emotions Well Up in a Debate Over How to Best Help Portland’s Homeless”, Willamette Week, 5/11/2021], by the way, I was in that meeting because I often sit in and watch, right? And I’m a regular commentator, and I’m well on the way to being a regular. Council meetings and the AHFE meetings, they’re like Cheers! [TV show] for me, you know, I show up, they’re like, Norm! Good to see you!

I think I’m something of an irritant to them, but on the other hand, I think they also kind of grudgingly recognize that I’m respecting them by engaging them. And they also, I think, recognize that I’m typically very well informed. I always read the [meeting information] packet.

Funnily enough, at that very meeting you described, so I was in it, and I was putting things in the chat channel…

Sophie: [00:24:35]:
I did get a transcript of the chat and I think I saw yours, that was that was commending Meieran for speaking up about the lack of alternative shelters.

Tim [00:24:47]:
Privately — that was sent to the panelists only… It was pretty harsh, I was like, hey, you know, [Meieran]’s been great for us. And by the way, not naming names, but other people on the other end of this have been extremely not.

An aggressive battle to speak for the neediest

And between you and me, bracket this off the record: I’ve had terrible experiences with Dr. Marisa Zapata, over a long period of time. And I feel like I really empathize and felt what I felt Meieran was hinting at, which is there’s there’s a real aggression, like a very strong aggression. And there’s a political battle to, like, shoot down others and say we’re the voice of the needy, the conscience, whatever.

I have basically tried to engage [Dr Marisa Zapata] over a long period of time. I just got scorned and burned over and over again, and I would say, publicly attacked like to the verge of slander or libel. Like she’s made public statements, multiple people have immediately written and said, did you hear what she just wrote?

Sophie: [00:26:25]:
I think one of the really interesting things is, is both sides of this debate are sort of they’re arguing a moral standpoint. You know, they’re the Meieran side is more arguing, like we have a humanitarian crisis right now, and we’re not providing housing options right now,

Tim: [00:26:48]:
Which is generally my view too, by the way.

Sophie: [00:26:51]:
Right. Right. And then the long term people are more saying, well, it’s business interests that want to get rid of the camps and they don’t care about the people and they don’t care about sustainable long term shelter.

This is interesting to me that they’re both like kind of going after each other with moral arguments. And then I wanted to ask you, is there a false dichotomy or almost like a fabricated dichotomy, as if it’s either long term or short short term?

Do you think there is an in-between to be to be found? And also, do you think that the long term people, their argument [against] short term shelter is that, yeah, but it’s not it’s not sustainable long term?

We’re always in the “middle ground” really

Tim: [00:27:48]
I absolutely do think there is a middle ground, and I would even go so far as to say the reality is we are always in the middle ground. We have to be, there’s no alternative, because we’re always doing something now.

And I think that’s true in homelessness response. That’s true in life. That’s true in housing and planning. And it’s just the most fundamental thing of policymaking and planning, right? You can’t only plan for the future. And if you’re only responding to the present, you’re doing no planning.

And so, in a way, I kind of feel like the false thing is, the dichotomy, or to think there is you can really do only one because, you’re never only doing one. There’s no way you can only be doing one. If you’re conscious, you’re planning, you’re thinking of the longer term; if you’re sentient, you’re responding to the present, right?

And so I feel like, I would tend to step back and rather than answering that dichotomy, ask why is that dichotomy being drawn?

Because it’s a very deep abstraction, that is very distant. But to bring that around more specifically, sort of, de facto, we’re always doing both and in the middle. And so it’s always a question of like, well are we doing a wrong mixture of this, or is there some other way it can be done?

Then, also, I would say this dichotomy also maps onto this extremely powerful, archetypal dichotomy that’s always been drawn, which is shelter versus permanent housing.

And like I said, I’ve been living a very long time hovering back and forth in zones that are not clearly one or [the other]. So I have a very strong intuitive, visceral, and also considered intellectual view that, those distinctions are pretty complex and contested and changing, and they’re totally changing over time. They’re totally different in other places. To speak sort of confidently about abstractions like shelter versus housing — to me, it just doesn’t answer, because it’s like that’s extremely contested, culturally specific, currently defined thing.

What is permanent housing, anyway?

And even if you try to pin it down — and I do this sometimes I say to people, so you mentioned permanent housing, what do you mean by that? And even people in the field, there’s a variety of answers, because in practice, what it generally means is basically living in a structure that is approved in building code. But that’s a very technical thing, right? That doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you or anything. You may have no tenant rights at all.

From HUD [US Department of Housing and Urban Development]’s point of view, they’re a little bit more specific, and they say, permanent housing, in this context of homelessness mean, legal housing, where also you have a standard lease [or ownership], and where there isn’t no-fault eviction. A lease that’s renewable unless you’re at fault. So what they’re saying is, for it to be permanent, you have to be allowed to keep staying there unless you violate the rules.

The funny thing about that is, that is not the case of most American renters. Ironically, by HUD definition, most [renters] in America do not have permanent housing. Literally, by the letter of their law. Because no-fault eviction is basically permissible and common all over the country. And the more the constrained and scarce the market, the more so. So, you know, San Francisco, or I lived in New York for a long time. They’re gunning to get people out of those apartments and turn them over. If you can move people out, they’re always asking themselves, is there a better tenant, is it worth a couple of weeks downtime to get someone better? I don’t really like that guy.

So it’s like, that’s funny, these things we’re talking about as if some kind of natural term that we can constantly allude to — oh that’s shelter, that’s permanent housing — are completely ambiguous and confusing things.

So to me it’s like, these aren’t real things, these are shibboleths, these are tribal terms that people are using, that express some wellspring of things.

What else can we do? All kinds of things

So ok, back to your question, I’d say, Yes! absolutely, there are tons of things that we could be doing, and like many people, I feel the commonsensical thing, that: I hear this new housing we need is super expensive and takes a long time, and in the meantime there’s all these people in desperation. It’s like, surely there’s something in the middle? It’s just common sense.

The thing is, I grew up the son of a planner and architect. I’ve been around housing and buildings since I was an infant. And I’ve also built housing that I’ve lived in. Not many people are in this position, that I’ve actually built myself informal and mobile housing that I have lived in comfortably and happily for years, at a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of conventional building.

So for me it’s totally obvious that tons of people are very well served by much less expensive things.

A political ‘settlement’ between property, builders, social services

So basically what I feel is that, the arrangement where you have the homelessness establishment aligned with these notions of permanent and permanent supportive housing, it’s basically a political settlement between the property order, the building trades, and the social services sector.

Whether they admit it or not or know it not, that’s what it is. [laughs]. It’s a political coalition in effect, to agree to do housing that way, and to not do it cheaper or in a different way, because that threatens the edifice one way or another.

So the answer, to put it in cynical terms, the answer for all those parties is, keep doing the same thing, forever, with a steadily increasing pool of money, but don’t ever get to the answer.

Of course, it’s a case of the dictum, called Shirky’s Law, which is named after a guy I actually know and used to work for, Clay Shirky. It was just a comment he made, that someone else enshrined as Shirky’s Law, and he said: “Institutions will tend to perpetuate the problem they were set up to solve.”

but, the long-term folks, they sort of accuse business interests, the short-term folk, of the same thing you just said the long-term folks are doing?

you mean, to keep the wheel turning..

to continue the wheel turning, of not actually fixing the problem, but just sort of over and over doing the same things again, that haven’t necessarily worked.

I know that there’s tremendous angst, and great injustice, and reasons for concern about so-called ‘criminalization’ as one side calls things. But I don’t know that this accusation really adds up, because businesses and everyday people have no long interest in keeping homelessness around. They’re desperate to get rid of it. It’s not their job, they don’t get funding for it. Businesses, I think, are actually closer to action, and pragmatism.

And I would say Homer Williams, whom I have been talking to a lot, is very much in this vein. He’s like, hey, I’m just a guy who builds things, and lives in this city, and I don’t see happening things that seem at least well-worth trying, and hey, there’s a ton of money being poured into it, and I see not much going.

But hey, as Jay-Z said, you know, I got a dollar or two. [laughs]. That’s a line from [2004 rap classic] “99 Problems,” I was explaining this to Homer.

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know that reference.

Yeah, I knew. “I got a dollar or two, I can fight this case,” as Jay-Z says while being pulled over. [actual line: “Plus I got a few dollars, I can fight the case”].

I’m like, maybe it’s tech-bro, solutionism, hubris, blah blah blah, but you know, in the face of absolute breakdown, like, credit people for trying things. I mean they’re rarely making anything worse for anybody. Maybe they’re, in the view of the Establishment, creating a distraction or something, but it’s like, come on. The fear and reaction and hostility is obvious about political threat, you know?

Another way to look at that is, and I articulated this in the meeting with Meieran [yesterday], is, you know, this is pretty frustrating, right, you’re a guy like Homer, trying to do everything right thing for your city, putting tons of money, all your credibility, all your network. And the chair of the County is almost literally like, go to hell… for years and years and years [laughs]. Right?

has she responded to Homer? Has she actually denounced Homer’s idea?

I mean, probably not in so many precise words.

But I’ve seen things from her like, “putting out tents is not going to help us at all”; or like, “we can’t afford to waste time trying to line up dozens of village sites in this crisis, because we need to put people [in places with rent assistance].”

She’s said things you could not fail to… that nobody involved could fail to connect directly to Homer.

And also it’s well know that they’ve had a long-running, bitter feud. It goes back like ten years, you know, to the Terminal One proposal etc.. It’s like the Balkans, there’s so much blood in the ground there.

Is the Mayor putting downtown business first?

So, I talked to [Portland Councilmember] Sam Adams yesterday, and a story I’m working on right now is about a meeting he had with a bunch of law firms, large and small, downtown, who were meeting with him, and talking to him about the scene downtown, and pretty much saying, something needs to change or we’re going to flee.

yeah, like our clients won’t come in.

right, exactly, and people were telling me about that meeting, that Sam was saying that one of Wheeler’s plans is to have safe sleeping sites, like that’s something that’s not going to be popular at all with a lot of people, that’s according to Sam, and so we need business backing to support this.

Safe camping sites

Are you in support of safe camping sites, like is that a form of alternative shelter in your book?

[pauses]. Ye-ess, I would warily say yes, with kind of wary asterisking of the term. Also saying, I take the view that we need a wide variety of experiments, and efforts, that both try things, learn things, and meet different kinds of needs for different kinds of people. And it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of people… [who may be helped by safe camping sites].

My collaborator and friend Sean Green, with whom I run PDX Shelter Forum, he does tons of outreach. He bikes and walks around, and he just constantly stops and talks to people.

I’m not that outgoing, so you know, thank God he’s my eyes and ears on this, I’m more likely to be stopping and talking to Google Books archive or something.

Although, I am kind of a city person, and incidentally, was going to downtown and Old Town since way back when I was middle school, because my father worked there. So, I actually have been plugged into it that way, and basically have been living all my life in places like that..

But Sean is like, ok, I’m just passing on what I hear, sometimes he records people, and he’s like, I try to ask people in a non-leading manner, what do you most need? What do you think we should do? And he says, like three quarters of people say nearly the same thing. They say, basically, a modest and immediate step, they basically say, I need somewhere to put my tent. He say, literally I have heard that sentence over and over again..

You know, we could say, this is false consciousness, they don’t know their rights, the long-term plan, but you know, it’s what is coming out of their mouths. They’re not saying, put me in an apartment building. They’re saying, I need to start getting my life back together, and just getting out of this trauma.

I deeply feel that overwhelmingly, the Establishment, and everyone housed and secure, who’s basically had a steady life of financial security, they just systematically do not understand or empathize with, the needs and mentality, I think, with the person on the street. Because the person on the street is overwhelmingly focused on incremental steps speaking to their current situation.

yeah, day to day. They don’t have the emotional wherewithal when you’re in that position to be like, well, three years from now..

Yeah, well I would say, they might. I mean, I would not want to denigrate their long-term thinking or anything. There is a phenomenon that, in extreme need and scarcity, it has cognitive effects, so it becomes demonstrably hard.

I was just having this conversation with someone about mobile, modular housing and they were like, the only questions we should ask is, do they like it?

And I was like… true, but I think we should ask them the same question we ask ourselves, like what is the right path of action? And assume that they too can evaluate long and short term, and consider controversies.

It’s not that they don’t necessarily see longer term, it’s just that they’re focused on, and will tell you first, the thing I need to be safe tonight.

And I can also say, I’ve also been in that position many times. There have been whole long stretches when I’ve been living in my car, or a vehicle, and I’ve roamed around, in many different cities in California and Oregon. And I’ve told many people this, that [in such a situation] all I’m wanting is to find the least conspicuous, least patrolled parking space. ALL I’m wanting, not even a bathroom or anything else. And you will spend hours doing that, because of the fear.

And I’ve been roused, I’ve been pushed along, a bunch of times. I’ve been near arrested a bunch of times. So I relate to that.

Long-term housing is an abstraction, it could be a sham, it could be that the system is never going to get there, by design. That’s a definite possibility; based on decades of precedent, it would be a reasonable thing to fear.

And in any case, in that situation, a safe parking space tonight is worth way more than a lottery entry for a permanent apartment years from now. No comparison. You’re talking about significant likelihood of being assaulted, sexually assaulted, having all your possessions lost, all the time.

So from the standpoint of that, it’s like, if the proposals I’m hearing are not answering to that, they’re not even really talking to me. They’re talking about something else. Because it’s so obvious.

I don’t know if you’ve heard this testimony I gave. Sharon called it out yesterday. [laughs]. Sharon by the way encouraged us to call her Sharon. I would not ordinarily ever address a County Commissioner by her first name.

Funnily enough, it’s Dr. Zapata who is the extreme insistor on being addressed by her title, right? It’s the insecure person who insists upon it, and signals that insecurity, unfortunately.

Anyway, so Sharon called it out. So I gave this testimony, it was about two and half minutes, at the first budget hearing. I’d say it was one of my better outings. I have mixed luck, you know, and I have to work hard at it.

But basically what I said was, it was the start of the meeting, and they’re about to go into, you know, hours and hours [of hearing], and basically what I tried to say was, I challenge you to, or let’s do a challenge… I challenge you to think about the most miserable, or let’s say the most needy person in Portland, this minute. It’s like an unsheltered woman, who’s sick, who’s traumatized.

I said, put yourself in that person’s shoes, and the people like her, or imagine her sitting next to you, like listening to the program, watching it, and listen to everything said through those terms. And ask yourself, from her point of view, tell her how she is going to survive until tomorrow.

And tragically, of course, nothing that is being talked about addresses it whatsoever. She doesn’t even know what office she would call, about say a voucher, and it would be months to get one. What’s she’s thinking is, what is the least dangerous place I can get to before I have to go to sleep?

And I said, I believe that from an ethical point of view, and also to some extent a pragmatic and political one, she and everyone in her position is who we must serve first.

I said, what we need to do is, as Sharon Meieran — and I segued immediately, as I was running out of time, after giving my tear jerker effort, I said, ok, skip right to the end — I said.. so, I urge you, we must take seriously and center what Sharon Meieran is saying, we need an all-in, beginning-now effort for six months to put a floor under the misery, the nightmare that thousands are living in. And the depravity that we impose upon ourselves for ever allowing that to happen, in such a rich and bountiful place.

It’s like, nobody lived in such misery before this was a European colony, right?

But, I said, that is putting a floor under it, from which we can build up for all.

And that, very succinctly I hope, [states] kind of the opposite of what the mainstream is doing, which is: not putting a floor under everybody, but providing the really good, ultimate outcome to a portion of need, always in the future, but not necessarily at even on a trajectory even to meet the current inflow into homelessness.

There’s a guy I want to also direct you to, who I think has really powerfully expressed this, much more than me. A guy named Andy Bales, he’s the head/director of Union Rescue Mission [in Los Angeles], it’s very old. He’s a very powerful… I mean, morally powerful, he’s like the Mother Theresa of Skid Row, and he’s a dissident against the mainstream. And so, of course, we’ve gotten on each other’s radar, we’re now sort of Twitter buddies.

Basically, he’s got the standing that he’s gotten on to like the LA Times first podcast, which I keep pointing people to, because it’s so good. He give a brilliant exposition of this, a powerful exposition. He says, Measure HHH was passed four years ago, and we’ve build like 150 homes out of the 10,000 promised. In that time, like 4000 homeless people have died [in LA].

He says, if your plan is to build only $500,000 to $1M homes — which is what it is in LA — and its going slower than people are dying, it’s just not a plan, it cannot credibly be called a plan. Or, [I’d say], it’s a plan to achieve something other than what it says it’s achieving.

Also, I believe there is tremendous confidence expressed by, say, a Mark Jolin [Director of JOHS]. You know, I’m a pretty academic- and research-minded person. I read everything. I have a huge library of research, studies. And my conclusion is, they’re walking on air, with the claims about the long-term payouts. There are such big holes in the alleged research basis for their long-term solutions, that they don’t have anything to walk on.

One way I put it in my testimony was… you know, I was trying to back away from denunciation, that just turns people off, and makes you useless. I was saying, ok so I’m not telling you what to think or do, I’m just saying, try this thought exercise on, sit this woman and next to you, listen to it, and just try to see it that way.

And related to that I said, I said, as to what to do, I’m not saying or telling you what to do. I just want to say, anytime you are told, that this dollar, this next dollar, needs to go to this better, long-term thing, this long-term housing, and therefore it can’t go to this person sitting next to you, who’s living in terror, I’d say: maybe you are right, but there needs to be a very, very high standard of evidence, and weight of proof upon you, that you are so certain of this better, later outcome that you would potentially let this person die. Because they do. Five to six [homeless] people a day die on the streets of LA.

Tim, I have to run, but thank you so much for chatting. Also, if I could ask a favor of you. My recording was pretty choppy on my side, pretty muffled. If there’s any way you could send me your recording, that would be great.

yeah sure, I’m going to go check it and see. It seems to have worked before. But sure, yeah, I can do that. It’s pretty easy, it shows up in my mailbox.

Ok Sophie, so we’ll talk.

I’ll let you know if I have any more questions, but thank you so much, this was very useful..

yeah yeah, and the most useful thing is let me know what stories you’re thinking of, I can give you thoughts and suggest sources. Before the story, that’s all that matters.

ok thanks so much Sophie, bye.



Tim McCormick

editor, @HousingWiki; lead organizer, @VillageCollaborative; organizer/editor, @PDXshelterforum. Portland, OAK, LDN, nomadic. tmccormick at gmail.