JASON RANTZ

Tackle homelessness by booting Mike O’Brien from office

Nov 16, 2017, 7:11 AM | Updated: 7:30 am

Mike O'Brien...

Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brien. (Seattle Channel)

(Seattle Channel)

Want to help end homelessness? You can blame Amazon.com all you want for the problem, but the leading cause of our failures on this issue is the council member who has taken a lead on it since he was elected in 2010.

If you want to end homelessness, you need to boot Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien from office.

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Homelessness is complex and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. Most politicians won’t be able to tackle this issue in a short timetable. The problem is that O’Brien pretends — or actually believes — that he knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t.

Homelessness has become worse under O’Brien’s leadership. He lacks what sometimes seems like a basic understanding of the issue. In his world, if you throw money at a problem — while demonizing businesses, of course — the problems go away. That hasn’t worked, but that won’t stop him from trying to bilk tax dollars from businesses he hates. O’Brien attempted to push this line of thinking with the failed, hastily-conceived head tax that even nonprofits like the Millionair Club Charity rejected.

“…it may be that my presence at a table [with business leaders] is not helpful,” O’Brien said at a council meeting this week, with a smirk and a chuckle.

He seems to relish that the business community wants nothing to do with him on this. Leaders don’t push stakeholders away; they bring them together. O’Brien has no interest in that. He simply wants ownership of an issue, without any consequences for the lack of results.

But could the issue be significantly tackled without the $24 million he initially asked for? I asked that question to Jon Fine, president and CEO of the United Way of King County, a group that actually works on the ground with the homeless.

His answer? “Yes, I believe that’s conceivable.”

Well, how about that.

Fine argues we’re sometimes spending money inefficiently and end up giving too much of it to well-intentioned, but ineffective programs. He urges the government use “performance standards.” In other words, you give money to programs that show results, not just good intentions. This is not political. He takes no stand on the head tax, for example. It’s an opinion informed by the reality of some programs designed to help the homeless that are clearly not working.

We often hear O’Brien imply shelters are at capacity. They’re not. Fine estimates about 80 percent of them are filled. I’ve heard similar statements, without percentages, from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission over the many years I’ve chatted with their folks. Shelters aren’t over-capacity; they’re just not transitioning people out fast enough.

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What is it that Fine, the Millionair Club, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission knows that O’Brien doesn’t? A lot. Maybe everything. O’Brien wants to demonize big business; nonprofits want to work with businesses to find solutions. O’Brien finds it acceptable that the homeless live in parks and in broken down cars without any worry. Our nonprofits want to get people into programs and into permanent shelter.

Here’s a novel idea on tackling homelessness: leave the guy with few results out of the equation and maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Tackle homelessness by booting Mike O’Brien from office