Fact Check: Nikkita Oliver claim on shelter beds misleading

Dec 13, 2017, 7:10 AM | Updated: 7:41 am
Belltown resident Melody Paxton has been filming homeless and drug activity in her neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Former Seattle mayor candidate Nikkita Oliver has been a vocal critic of the city’s homeless sweeps, where Navigation Teams offer 72-hour notice before removing homeless encampments in spots that are dangerous and counterproductive. She believes the policy to be unconstitutional. But in her sweeping condemnation of sweeps, Oliver is way off base in at least one particular claim.

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Talking on Seattle’s Morning News, Oliver claims there’s no meaningful space to shelter the homeless folks displaced by the sweeps.

“We live in a city that does not have enough shelter space…” Oliver suggested. “The problem is the city just simply doesn’t have effective means to provide alternatives to all of the people within our city who are living without homes. The shelter system is so full right now that, even though the new Navigation Center, very few people are receiving placement.”

Much of Oliver’s analysis seems to be informed by anecdotal evidence of some homeless individuals she’s spoken to. While there’s absolutely value in speaking with people experiencing life without shelter, it doesn’t necessarily reflect policy. Indeed, a recent story by The Seattle Times seems to contradict many claims from those critical of the Navigation Teams.

But Oliver’s main point, that there’s not enough shelter space, is misleading in the context she provides and is flat out wrong in reality.

She is generally correct in stating that Seattle couldn’t house everyone currently living on the streets if they all asked for housing at once. But many are saying no to the resources available. So, if she’s trying to make that point, she’s being disingenuous. But if she’s claiming that there is generally no space for people who ask, she’s just completely incorrect. (I’ve asked Oliver if she’d clarify what she meant by her statements, but per usual, she’s not responded to my request for comment.)

Jon Fine is the President and CEO of the United Way of King County. I spoke with him just a few weeks ago. He’s someone who works on the ground with the homeless community and has a different take.

“We have beds that are empty…” Fine explained. “But fundamentally we’re utilizing shelters widely, but in some instances 80 percent full, in some instance 85 percent full.”

Fine doesn’t offer a glowing review of the systems in place and is quite critical of not moving people through the shelters fast enough. But to claim, as Oliver appears to, that we don’t have beds for people who ask for them is incorrect.

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And Fine’s take is similar to that of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission which tells me that now since it’s the winter, more people are utilizing shelters (about 95 percent full) but says it’s not fair to call them full. They’re not turning folks away and haven’t reached maximum capacity. In the summer, UGM notes, the numbers of empty beds are even higher than they are now.

The reason why activists claim there aren’t enough beds is they want to trick you into siding with them on stopping the homeless sweeps. If you don’t think there are beds, you will call the sweeps useless because they have nowhere else to go. It’s a deceitful tactic. It’s not inhumane because there are beds for them and, despite what some will tell you, it is safer and more humane to sleep inside on a bed.

Oliver is passionate on this topic, and the community is better with voices seeking reform, even if I disagree with many of her criticisms. But, to say beds are full isn’t a criticism; it’s a false statement.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Fact Check: Nikkita Oliver claim on shelter beds misleading