Nextdoor sometimes becomes a forum for some to vent against “those people” sleeping in “our parks” and falsely conflating homelessness with criminality
– by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox, reprinted from our long-running column in Pacific Publishing Newspapers
“Nextdoor” is an on-line bulletin board where residents may post anything about their neighborhood: lost cats and dogs, things they’re giving away or selling, upcoming events–or perhaps a post about criminal activity or something else amiss in their community.
But it can also be a forum for some to air their prejudices against the homeless, to vent about “those people” sleeping in “their” parks, scaring their children, and who they see as singularly responsible for all the trash and crime in their neighborhood.
This happened recently on a Nextdoor network in the Ravenna community when a resident discovered 7 tents in Ravenna Park. A string of hundreds of comments grew quickly, largely reflecting common stereotypes about the homeless with words like “feral,” “addicts” and “criminals”.
The few offering insights or compassion, were reprimanded. Helping them would be “a major layer of the problem”. “Progressives at City Hall are to too lenient” “We’ve become ‘Freattle’ a magnet”, offering too many services instead of jail, or “a bus ticket back to where they came from”
Fear not facts inform these assumptions. Recently, the city commissioned a survey of area homeless including extended one-on-one interviews of 1000 homeless people. Dozens more were assembled in focus groups for lengthier discussions. While full results can be found at http://coshumaninterests.wpengine.netdna… here’s what leapt out at us at odds with the mythology:
- 37% of the homeless are women, 58% of whom report being victims of domestic violence.
- 18% reported that they first became homeless below the age of 18
- 41% actually worked part-time or seasonally
- 68% have never spent time in jail, and 88% haven’t been in jail in the previous year
- 70% were living in Seattle or King County before they became homeless. Only 13% came from out of state, a rate of in-migration nearly identical to the ‘housed’ population (so much for the magnet theory).
- 90% would gladly accept ‘safe’ and ‘affordable’ housing if they were offered it.
Another popular misconception: those camping outside are a hard core “criminal element”. The survey found “little difference in the demographic characteristics of sheltered and unsheltered individuals.” Regarding any fear of the homeless overrunning our parks, the King County’s 2016 homeless count found only 24 of 3000 unsheltered camped overnight in public parks. Most were hidden away in campers, cars, under bridges and along freeways.