Last week, Council Members Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell offered an interesting proposal in a guest post on Slog: Want to Help Homeless People Prosper? Provide Lockers. Lockers, they argued, help keep people's possessions safe while they rest, work, or job-hunt. Other cities have successful locker programs, they pointed out.
Well, so does Seattle, counters SHARE, a homeless advocacy group and shelter operator. SHARE hosts 150 city-funded lockers, and in a recent KOMO interview, SHARE volunteer Isaac Pace accused the council members of not "check[ing] the facts before they speak."
Pace didn't at all disagree that more would be good—150 is not enough for a homeless population that numbers in the thousands. But while an expanded locker program would be great, the models Bagshaw and Harrell want to emulate may not be, argues a post over on Seattlish:
Unlike the lockers that SHARE offers, which are self-policed, free, and kept in a donated space, the councilmembers’ proposed system, which borrows from multiple different cities’ models, would likely be paid for by the users, monitored, and in public spaces or at assistance spots...
Well, to be fair, probably not all of those things, since those were all different models the council members said they'd consider. But certainly, at least some of those would be incorporated. Moving on:
The lockers that the council members propose would also only be available to those who are actively working on becoming non-homeless—which is actually kind of an uncool thing to ask for when providing a service that is necessary for homeless folks, regardless of whether or not they’re interested in getting off the streets.
It’s not a secret that for some people, for myriad reasons, living on the streets is preferable. And in a city where permanent housing is getting rapidly more expensive and in-between options like tent cities are being closed down with fancy footwork by those who thing houses are the only places to live, it’s getting more understandable. So requiring locker users to actively hunt for homes is actually kind of problematic.
Additionally, policing the lockers by mandating regular check-ins with case managers can be seriously prohibitive for some people living on the street. Mental illness, addiction, or any other number of afflictions (not to mention shitty, expensive transit, incarceration, and other struggles homeless folks face) can make it difficult to regularly check in with someone who’s probably going to dig through your shit to make sure you don’t have some weed or a knife in your locker.
Oh, and by asking that locker users not keep those things in their lockers, you’re forcing them to just carry them around with them, which is a safety and legal hazard that the lockers would just opt not to address because think of the children or something.
The city council will never, as far as I can tell, completely understand or engage with the fact that some homeless people are not actively trying to become un-homeless as their next life goal, for a zillion reasons. But it means that the city's conversations about how to serve the homeless population are always working around that, not with it.
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, perhaps. But it's an interesting post—go read the whole thing.