‘Ridiculous’ statements by homeless advocates lead to Rantz blowup
After more than 16 minutes of fiery debate about what is or isn’t working to solve homelessness in Seattle, KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz had enough. So he hung up.
“These people, they know better than everybody else, which is exactly why they are still living on the streets,” Rantz said Tuesday after abruptly ending an interview with two homeless advocates. “We have been doing this for 10 years and nothing has changed. The homeless situation has gotten worse.”
The City of Seattle, in partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, are cleaning up “The Jungle,” an infamous homeless encampment that was the site of a fatal shooting earlier this year. The homeless community living there are expected to either take up the city’s offer for help, or leave the area. However, on Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray announced that it no longer plans to do sweeps of The Jungle.
But not everybody is happy with the city’s responses.
A group of protesters interrupted the Seattle City Council meeting Monday with a list of demands that included providing 24-hour living access in private buildings not currently being used and also not paying companies to clean up the waste and garbage at sites like the Jungle.
Two community activists – David Delgado, a Master’s level social worker and homeless advocate, and Cecilia Carey, who currently lives without a permanent shelter – who are critical of the plan joined Rantz Tuesday night.
Delgado explained that 24-hour centers are better than shelters because they better help meet the needs of people trying to get off the street and into housing. He also noted that Jungle residents are particularly upset the city cleaning the area because “there’s actually homeless people that have been down there and clean the best that they can.” He had a simpler suggestion.
“There is a lot of ideas about the city actually working with some of the Jungle people that want to clean the area up. Provide them a dumpster,” he said. “They want a dumpster and trash bags. They need a sharps container.”
But Rantz felt those should be the least of worries of people living in the Jungle.
“Isn’t priority number one getting them a path to their own home, getting a job, and getting treatment for anything they might need treatment for?” he asked.
“I’m all about getting people out of homelessness but when someone’s immediate safety is at risk, you meet that risk first,” he said. “And then you build some trust. You can actually have that conversation and figure out what barriers people have to housing and meet them there. So yes, I think we’re on the same page; I think there’s a method that we disagree on.”
But they didn’t stay on the same page for long.
Delgado said that the city’s sweeps make “an unhealthy and unsafe situation worse” by displacing people without proper alternatives.
“It takes me forever to find people and whatever work I’ve been working with, as far as reducing barriers, meetings with DSHS … you disrupt their whole process,” he said. “A lot of these people wind up in Harborview because they’ve had their mental health medications taken away in the sweep. That’s just not helpful. We’ve got to find a better way to work with these people. Sweeping them and making them invisible so no one can actually physically see them. These people are not evacuating. They are winding up in dangerous places.”
That’s where Rantz cut in to compliment the work being done by Seattle’s Gospel Mission, a nonprofit, which is trying to meet individuals and work for solutions before the sweeps begin. Delgado claimed that Jungle residents are laughing at those attempts and that many still don’t know sweeps are coming.
“Are you just defending Union Gospel Mission or do you actually want to help the homeless people that are out there?” Delgado asked. “Let’s talk about a real solution.”
Rantz snapped back.
Jason Rantz: The problem is people who are unwilling to try anything different from their own personal viewpoints … Is it possible that what you’ve been doing for the last 10 years, while well-intentioned, is not actually working and that maybe we should do something a little bit different?
David Delgado: Absolutely not. What I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is counseling, case management; and I’ve been organizing and helping people when there’s crisis situations.
Rantz: Has that been enough? Because it seems like the homeless situation has gotten worse.
Delgado: It is. But it’s not my fault. I don’t have the funding. I’m not funding the organizations that are not actually meeting the needs of the homeless people.
Rantz: I think it’s possible that you’re getting in the way of people who do have some potential ideas.
Delgado: How? Tell me how I’m getting in the way.
Rantz: Because right now Seattle’s Gospel Union Mission is going out there trying to make the personal connections that you said yourself are incredibly important.
Delgado: Why don’t you walk out with me and I’ll introduce you to some people and we can actually talk to people and help people? Why do I have to be the enemy?
Rantz: I will be doing that exact thing Thursday with the Union Gospel Mission which I think is an organization with people that are trying to do things a little bit differently.
Then there was Carey, who said she’s currently living with friends but has been homeless since 2013 and lived through the city’s Nickelsville camp sweeps in March. Carey, who is a veteran and college graduate, said she has had more privileged circumstances than many of the homeless people she’s met, but that there are a number of factors keeping her from permanent housing.
“The job market is not conducive to a variety of different talents and skill sets,” she said. “The cost of living, of course, is so much here that even somebody who wants to stay in this area and better themselves, get a better job, get more educated, that it’s difficult just to feed yourself. So a lot of folks end up being on food stamps. I’d rather have a job that paid enough to actually live on and enable me to eat healthy food than rely on the food stamp industry.”
She said the city isn’t doing enough for the homeless.
“It’s been too easy to stay homeless,” she said. “They don’t actually provide the kind of rehabilitation that you’d hope for. They don’t provide reliable services for people dealing with mental health problems, addictions. They don’t really even offer help in basically finding jobs … that you can actually get that meets your skill set.”
She told Rantz that it’s important to look at the people living in the Jungle as human beings and that the solutions are never black and white.
Rantz asked why the list of demands for the council didn’t include job placement or drug treatment but instead focused on “absolutely ridiculous” demands. Carey responded that it’s a “process” that will take time and that they didn’t want to overwhelm the politicians with too much.
“Believe me, if we could snap our fingers and everyone would be in housing tomorrow, we’d be snapping our fingers,” she said. “But that’s not included in our list of demands because we already have some pretty heavy demands that we want the city to address.”
She added that she and a friend who have lived in these situations could be useful to the city.
“We would be glad to be put on the city’s payroll as outreach workers of the Jungle,” she said. “We are serious about this. We don’t want to just sweep the problem away and pretend the problem isn’t there. You won’t be able to do anything about homelessness as long as you keep sweeping these camps into other parts of the city and other parts of the state and country. You’re not actually going to solve homelessness. You’re just going to pretend that everything is better and the public is going to be kept in the dark – and nice and blissfully ignorant about what is really going on. And that is that tax dollars are being paid to keep people homeless. I’ve been in these homeless encampments. Union Gospel Mission is not helping homelessness. They are helping themselves to tax dollars so that they can make it look like they are helping the homelessness.”
At that, Rantz hung up.
“Thanks for calling, I’m not going to put up with crap like that,” he said. “With all due respect.”