Run, Paul, Run
Real Change Gives Thumbs Up to Half-Assed Compassion

Tim Harris, April 1,. 1999

reprinted from Real Change

After briefly considering the matter over drinks at the Nightlite, the Real Change editorial committee has decided to urge Paul Schell to run for a second mayoral term. Schell, who recently took up governing as a diversion after becoming jaded to world travel and fine wine, has yet to commit to a re-election campaign.

Should Schell run for a second term, we at Real Change promise to be nicer, and to never again call attention to his uncanny resemblance to Uncle Fester of television's Addams Family.

Real Change Editor Anitra "many affiliations" Freeman succinctly summed up our position during one of her recent lucid moments. "Compassion lite beats compassion fatigue any day of the week. Schell, in a well-intentioned, half-assed sort of way, really seems to care. And he's actually done some stuff, so ... maybe if he's re-elected he'll do more stuff, and then poor people will get more of the stuff they need, providing, of course, that there's enough stuff for everyone else after the people who already have all the stuff decide how much stuff they really have to have."

Schell's first term got off to a flying start with a high-profile Housing Summit, where hundreds of housing policy geeks, developers, and a few activists gathered to break wind at the Convention Center, which, like much other development in Seattle, continues to expand at the expense of surrounding low-income housing. The selection of the site was an elaborate practical joke that went unappreciated by most.

Everyone agrees that the main benefit of the housing summit was the left-over yuppie sandwiches that the Mayor personally delivered to the homeless encampment next door. Schell's act of largess was taken by many as a sign that the new Mayor would cater to the poor.

Soon after the Housing Summit, the Mayor destroyed the encampments of those who slept within the I-5 Greenbelt area known as the Jungle. Seattle's homeless and their advocates were again struck by the Mayor's compassion as he flopped around like a gasping fish, trying to find the middle ground that he eventually abandoned.

The clearing of the Jungle has now become a popular Seattle event, rivaling the Boat Show and the Fremont Parade in attendance. Spectators line the paths as homeless folks gather their few belongings and sprint through the greenbelt during the annual running of the bulldozers.

Organizers say next year's event will be the biggest yet. "Jungle Run 2000 will be Seattle's most spectacular display of compassionate loathing yet," said one source close to the mayor. "We'll have enough sandwiches and sympathy for everyone. And after we decontaminate the grounds, we're going to plastic wrap the entire area so that it can stay uninfected."

Just one year later, Paul Schell further distinguished himself by taking credit for eliminating homelessness in Seattle last December. The Mayor's initiative took the form of a new shelter for women and some additional funds for housing vouchers and other services. While the ungrateful poor and their apologists criticized the Mayor's efforts as insubstantial holiday season grandstanding, several dozen more women do have a warm and safe place to sleep each night.

While Seattle's homeless advocates were for the most part appropriately fawning regarding the Mayor's announcement, there are some who say the problem persists. Last month, the YWCA alone turned away 413 individuals (90 families) due to a lack of shelter beds. Seriously.

But, who's counting?

We do, however, remain hopeful. Our theory is that after four years of mayoring as a hobby, Schell will go pro and actually get some people off the street for real. Stan Burris, another long-time Real Change Editor and street poet, was typically eloquent regarding our hopes for the Mayor. "If he would just hold out his hand, first one, and then another, and then ... another, then others could take hold; if then, maybe there would be warmth. Fire. Bright, so we can see.... He could. We all might."

Just last month, homeless activists won a victory from the Mayor when they mobilized to keep 300 beds open past the April 1 "emergency winter shelter" expiration date. The City committed $50,000 to keep 100 beds open year-round. This brings Seattle's total number of available shelter beds up to around 2,700. Seattle has approximately 5,500 homeless people.

Mayor Schell said the City was willing to meet the homeless half-way in solving the problem. "The city can't do this all on our own. We all need to do our share. If homeless people will just double up on those mats, we'd have enough shelter for everyone."

Long-time local activist and persistent naysayer John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition said "nay!"

Wes Browning, a full-time surrealist and long-time Real Change Editor, expressed confusion at whether this column was satire or not. "Us endorsing Schell? Yeah, right! I think? I've been so ironic for so long that I can't really tell anymore. If we are serious, I really apologize."

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