Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So Will Bojack Be Giving Sten His Propers on Homelessness?

Typically loath these days to do anything that might encourage Jack Bogdanski in thinking he's relevant or useful in the blogging community any more, I nonetheless feel I must address a story in today's Portland Tribune, perhaps as a method of closure of sorts. The contretemps that led to multiple bannings from his site and eventually being "outed" (which I guess was supposed to be intimidating) all began over last year's City Council elections and the issue of homelessness.

While fact-checking Bog's dubious statement on his own blog that Measure 37 was "very popular" in Portland at the time, I also took a moment to marvel at his criticisms of Sten's work on homelessness, while supporting a candidate who literally admitted he had no plan for it should he be elected:
I understand that Lister's taking some heat for not spouting the prevailing party line on the homeless last week at the City Club. Sten apparently paints himself as the champion of the downtrodden. But ask yourself, folks, after 10 years of Opie in City Hall, are Portland's homeless better off or worse off than before he got there? To me the situation appears as bad as ever. He's had his chance, made 10 years' worth of speeches, and he's gotten next to nothing done.[emph mine]
Read the rest of the article to see the rather firm debunking of "bad as ever" and "next to nothing" as it stood at the time, but today's Trib--ironically one of the few mainstream backers Jack has left--gives us this year's update:
City Commissioner Erik Sten, who spearheaded the plan in December 2004, said last month’s unduplicated count of people sleeping outside in Multnomah County and the cities of Portland and Gresham came to 1,438. In 2005, the number was 2,355. That’s a drop of 917 people, or 39 percent.

Both counts were taken during the last week of January. Fifty-seven outreach agencies took part in the count two years ago, tallying everyone who slept on the street, in a vehicle or an abandoned building.

About 200 agencies took the most recent count, so if anything, city officials expected to see a much higher number of people identified as homeless this time around.

The city saw an even greater drop in the number of people identified as chronically homeless, which means having a disability and being homeless for more than a year or four or more times during the last three years. In 2005, that number came in at 1,284. This year, it was 386. That’s a decrease of 918, or 70 percent.
To be fair, the paper also quotes Israel Bayer of the Street Roots paper--a person whose judgement I trust on homelessness issues--as being somewhat skeptical of the precise numbers. On the other hand, he's also quoted as saying that he doesn't notice a dramatic difference downtown, which is theoretically possible even as the countywide totals show such a difference. There are always people newly finding themselves without a place to stay, so he's absolutely right that it's no time to get carpal tunnel from patting ourselves on the back.

But the "chronic placement" numbers are hard to explain away, because they're not a survey count on a single night but rather documentation of actual people put into actual places to live:

Sten admits there are a lot of external factors, but the drop of about 900 people does correlate with the number of chronically homeless the city moved into housing during 2005 and 2006: 1,039 people.

Some of those people moved into the 480 new units of city-supported housing. Others moved into other affordable housing or private units throughout the city.

Pull back from the data now and reconsider the human tally--that's 1,000 people who aren't cursing the unexpected snowflakes of late February this morning as the wetness seeps through their sleeping bags. It's 1,000 people not standing in line waiting for the Rescue Mission to open. It's 1,000 people no longer catching pneumonia or bronchitis from being in the elements 24/7, costing all of us money while they sit in the ER waiting to be treated. Every single one of those 1,000 people has a name, a face, a story and the right to their own personal dignity.

I've gotten to know Commissioner Sten better through several conversations since last spring, and he's no pollyanna. He doesn't hold any illusions about eradicating homelessness, but he does believe in the moral imperative of helping others who have fallen on hard times for whatever reason. He'll be the first to tell you he inherited the calling from his predecessors on Council, and that the people who deserve the real credit are the ones doing the outreach, like Bayer. But Sten is making good on this particular campaign promise, and he's getting results in the bargain.

I've come to like and respect Dave Lister, too--but Portlanders are probably pretty happy that the guy they chose DID have a plan for homelessness, and it's turned out to be a pretty good one. As for Jack, Sten's probably too courteous to ask, so I'll do it for him: how about an apology or at least an admission that maybe Sten isn't the ineffective buffoon you make him out to be? I won't hold my breath, but it's worth a shot.