The text below is what Madeline Bishop presented to the Thurston County Commissioners on February 25, 2020. You can also watch a video of her presentation.
I’m Madeline Bishop from Unincorporated Thurston County.
I’m asking you for a favor. I want you to take every opportunity to spread the truth about our unhoused population.
Recently a hate group came into our area working to weaponize homelessness in a campaign of lies, hate, and fear. In their view, the layabouts in our tent cities don’t need public investments in affordable housing and social services. They just need a little tough love: Enforce the vagrancy laws, bulldoze their encampments and lock them up.
Contrary to this ignorant hateful narrative, nearly half of adult homeless people are employed in full- or part-time work.
The truth is, if you are making minimum wage or living on Social Security or SSI benefits, you cannot find affordable housing. As long as incomes fail to keep up with the cost of living, we will have increasing homelessness.
I’m asking you to increase the effort to educate people about the demographics of the homeless in Thurston County. The Housing Projects Data Report for the 3rd quarter of 2019 reports that 8 percent of Thurston homeless are fleeing domestic violence. I’d say these victims have had enough “tough love.” The 5 percent of Thurston County homeless who are veterans are dishonored when they are labeled as deviants. The 22 percent who are homeless children do not deserve to have the jackboots come along and destroy their meager belongings. We have people with physical and mental disabilities who are cold, wet and hungry. I say we have made them uncomfortable enough.
For the reported 19 percent of Thurston County homeless with substance abuse problems, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said “It’s cheaper to help people than it is to punish them. Frankly, if prosecuting people who had a drug addiction worked, we wouldn’t have a drug problem today.”
A diverse group of people are being labeled and ostracized as dirty, deviant lawbreakers. When we stereotype people as ‘others’, we distance ourselves from them and their humanity.
Please speak the truth as often as you can about our unsheltered neighbors. Educate, lobby and challenge those who demonize the homeless.
Gould, Elise. “State of Working America Wages 2019”, Economic Policy Institute, 20 February 2020.
Thurston County. “HMIS Housing Projects Data Report 2019-Q3”, Office of Housing & Homeless Prevention, July - September 2019.
Scott,Gee & Reutin,Ursula. “King County Prosecutor: Jail time not the solution to homelessness, drug addiction”, MyNorthwest,13 February 2020.
Hanauer, Nick. “Trickle-Downers Created the Homelessness Crisis. Now They Want You to Believe They Can ‘Solve’ It.” The Nation, 20 February 2020.
Thurston County. “Thurston County Homeless Crisis Response Plan”, 31 October 2019.
WA State Department of Commerce Homeless Assistance, “Why is homelessness increasing?”, January 2017.