BREAKTHROUGH! Parisi Talks! And Listens!

Posted December 5th, 2012 @ 12:28 PM by

Yesterday was yet another amazing day in the saga of the fight for homeless rights and the Occupy saga. (with bk comments)

(photo by Jen Thompson)

BACKGROUND
So, late last week (Thursday?) County Executive Joe Parisi finally agreed to meet with Supervisor Wegleitner and some advocates (anyone but Brenda) and currently or formerly unhoused people. That meeting happened on Monday. It seemed to go well from the reports from the people who attended. He seemed to be listening and liked some of the ideas we were working on.

On Tuesday at noon, he did what Soglin did last month, he came to the Homeless Services Consortium Meeting and he listened. Even made a connection with someone to offer resources for someone who ended up going to rehab yesterday! Yay! He must have taken this article to heart! Thanks Pat, that was a great piece.

On Tuesday evening, he appeared at the Homeless Issues Committee which I think was a surprise because people were giving it about a 50/50 chance of happening because he would not commit to being there.

STATEMENT TO HOMELESS ISSUES COMMITTEE
His statement to the committee was whiny and defensive, very centered on himself and sorta Mayor Dave like. Not very flattering. And pretty awkward. I think someone captured it on video and I will post that when I get it. Here’s what I captured.

County Executive Joe Parisi goes first so that he can leave to get to another engagement (which he never got to). He says he is there at their pleasure, that Supervisor Wegleitner asked him to come and he has no prepared remarks and just pauses. (awkward)

County Board Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner explains they asked him to come to answer three questions that they gave him that they wanted him to address. She says the three questions are that they wanted more information about what happened on Lake View Hill and use of excessive force to remove people, the level of county resources used and the refusal to discuss issues or communicate with people on the hill, she emphasizes two-way communication, understanding that there were attempts at one way communication with the memos. She says that other people may have more knowledge but that is why they asked him to come.

Parisi says in general with communications, he says the concern is that he didn’t go there directly and talk to people. As he saw it, he might be right or wrong, but he didn’t feel that him going down there personally would help the situation. He was meeting with staff and keeping the county board in the loop, they had staff there communicating every day, his goal was to connect people with resources. He says that connecting people with resources was important and the rest was better left to the parks and human services and his office but they communicated that they can’t stay, gave them 4 different deadlines, none of which were honored, a lot of communication was going on, he just wasn’t there personally, that was the crux of the concerns of some people, that they had voiced. (It was?)

Wegleitner says that she thinks they disagree and what has happened has happened but you’re the boss and in terms of sending human services staff, she appreciates his intent to connect people who services, but in terms of discussing people leaving the area, did you authorize anyone to go there that had the ability to negotiate, one of the problems was that when county staffers went there, they were delivering a message and then questions could not be answered and it didn’t facilitate negotiation or a mutually acceptable resolution.

Parisi says depends upon what you mean by authorized, our goal was twofold, connect with services and talk to them about leaving the location, it wasn’t a place that was appropriate for people to camp long term, not sure what would be negotiated, other than giving people options and expressing why they couldn’t stay there long term.

Wegleitner says there was an offer of another space, there was an option and people had a lot of questions with that.

Parisi says others can answer that better, parks and humans services, about what would be available, some nuts and bolts questions.

City Council Member/Alder Larry Palm says he appreciates you’re the manager, all good managers have a process, what would you do differently, what is your assessment of how the process went from your perspective? I wasn’t there in meetings with staff, how well did what you say translate from your office to the campers, what is your assessment of the process?

Pparisi says he was frustrated by the whole situation, it was set up for confrontation. The county, look at any services we do, the county provides and funds a lot of services, more than anyone else in our region, more than the City and nonprofits and that is not a slam on nonprofits or the city, we provide a lot and all summer long we provided a space for people to camp at Lake Farm. (MAJOR OBJECTION which causes later confrontation in the hallway and the 1.5 hour meeting the ensued). In 2013 they put in $79,000 more than anyone to open a day warming shelter and a place to start having resources to connect to, they have dollars for a permanent shelter, even knowing how hard to site, and other items in the budget which they are familiar with. From where he sits, we are doing a lot and there are no other areas in the budget that got the increase in services. He felt that the situation came together and folks from Occupy moved not as a long term solution but as a way to challenge us somehow and he wasn’t really sure to what end. (Um, you could have just asked). He was trying to have people talk to them and hook them up with services and when Wegleitner and I have spoken we agree to disagree, the issue of winter camping isn’t acceptable, he wants them to have resources, other than winter camping. When in my position he is dealing with the services we provide, running the county with many issue areas and doing what he can, often going it alone to provide services and then being put in a no-win situation and then there was a neighborhood where some were welcoming and other neighbors were issued citations because of confrontations and a neighborhood having crisis of its own and his priority was de-escalating the situation the best he could but everything he tried was met without resolution. (Sigh, that was an attempt at de-escalation?). We gave them 4 different deadlines, all deadlines were ignored, it was a very challenging situation (Yikes, what would he do under real pressure?), there is no road map for a situation like that. Was the decision he made the best? He doesn’t know, this was a no-win situation for everyone involved, in hindsight he does a lot of thinking and he couldn’t give you a road map on the best ways to deescalate this. (He could have returned emails, phone calls and attempted to meet with us when we showed up to his office.)

Wegleitner says that she wants record to reflect that winter camping is not a good option. Is there a building or better option?

Parisi says that he was told that for everyone there, except a few folks who aren’t able to be admitted, there was that option. He’s not saying it is a great place to be, its not a great option, but for people who are homeless it is a challenging situation, he says there were options for everyone who was there. (Not a ringing endorsement of the shelter situation and I’m glad to see him acknowledge its not a great option.)

Uly Williams, a committee members says he doesn’t agree they should be at Token Creek, wants them to be closer so they can work, how long can they stay there?

Parisi says camping is closed, they gave them a 90 day permit, they turned on the electricity, Kevin (Connors) can give more detail, but they have a place for a fire to burn. People may not like the location but sitting in his shoes, he says people characterized it that we moved people there, no one has to stay there. (Yes, but, say it with me, THERE IS NO LEGAL PLACE TO GO!) If they are going to camp we will make this available, this is something else that the county is providing but we are not getting a lot of credit, but he is not looking for people to sing our praises.

Sofia Martinez, a committee member asks about another option, besides Token Creek.

Parisi says this option works the best.

Martinez clarifies, works best for county?

Yes

Williams asks if another site comes up, is it possible to move them to there?

Parisi says there is not another site, they are doing this because the Occupy folks need a place to camp and we are providing one for them, this is not an ideal situation, but the county is doing it and the county is being criticized. There are people saying shouldn’t provide space, is the city providing a space? Are they providing the services we provide? But all of a sudden the county is coming under fire for our handling of a difficult situation. (Becasue you really messed it up!). He is here to say that he has worked on this issue long before Occupy moved to Lake View. He met with regional director of HUD talking about SROs (single rooms, usually shared bath and kitchen), but he doesn’t issue a press release when he does that. He met with a local nonprofit and developer looking at building 100 SROs on the Northside. He amended the budget to add $15K to DAIS because they ran out of hotel vouchers for victims of domestic abuse and $25K so they have vouchers for next year, he guided through a half million dollars in CDBG funding for DAIS shelter for women and families, it is not an issue he came to lately or doesn’t care about, but its frustrating when he is put in a difficult situation, even if we disagree with what happened – people on both sides feel it was handled incorrectly because there is no correct way to handle that. I think it is unfair that I and the county, come under so much fire and be accused of not caring about the issue of homelessness – the facts do not back that up.

Scott McDonell, County Board chair and ad hoc member of every committee, asks who is in charge of making the decision and how it unfolded.

Parisi says that the sheriff can speak for himself, but there sheriff is the one who decides HOW we do it.

McDonell asks for the sheriff to respond, but Mike Basford, the chair explains that Parisi has limited time and they will get to the sheriff a bit later.

County Board Supervisor Nick Zwiefel says that he shares the level of frustration as well, we were proud of how we worked together to get services in the budget, but people are wondering why not Lake Farm instead of Token Creek, why is Lake Farm not an option?

Parisi says it is incompatible with winter time uses at lake farm, there were challenges with neighbors because of police calls, things got better as summer went on, there were challenges and with the Lussier Center there and there are things going on with renting it and his feedback from parks department, but he is not laying it on them – he takes responsibility for the decision, is that it is not a compatible use. We worked with Occupy to facilitate the camping all year round (not at all) to work with them camping on county land, it was not without problems, I don’t want to brush that under the rug, there were challenges, fights, police calls, etc. We worked with hem to allow them to have a place all summer long (We paid and followed the rules like anyone else, they did nothing special!)so when camping shut down, we are told it was not good enough, well, no one else is doing anything. There is no one camping at Warner or Tenney, they are looking at county facilities.

Williams says the county has done a lot, more than any other but a lot of these guys at Occupy do work and its hard to get in from Token Creek and unless have a car, there is no way to get in, is there any way to find a place in the city or somewhere by a bus system.

Parisi says not on county property, but how many people who work would be eligible to stay in the shelter, right there is a place on the bus line, it not an ideal place to spend the rest of your life, but when you look at all the challenges, providing space, running vans, and sure is there greater need, yes, but we only have a certain amount of resources and if put more resources into this group it has to come from somewhere. He thinks all of us can do better, we need to better coordinate services and the day warming center will be a place people can get together, having one access point so not fill out form after form after form after form, there is a lot we can do if work constructively with each other. If there are gaps and challenges, there is not a person in the room that doesn’t care about the issue, we are never going to agree that this or that path is the way to get there, and while I may thing this, it may end up that I am wrong and the person who disagrees with me might be wrong, we all have to be open. He is open to hearing about that, if we want to address homelessness, if we can get to comprehensive services we have to do it together, if we are just yelling and pointing fingers and blaming we aren’t going to get anywhere. We don’t have to agree on a problem or solution but we need to decide how we want to spend our time, on 10% we disagree on? WE need to assess the situation, resources, needs and figure out how to get there. FINALLY! We’re getting somewhere!)

Deidra Atkinson from United Way does her butt kissing and pushes the United Way agenda so she thanks Joe and says we need to work on long term solutions. (Obviously TRC is not a United Way agency, so I can dare to say that, but she is one of the most obnoxious committee members always complaining about having to listen to too much input form the public, complaining about having to deal with immediate needs instead of talking about her agenda to have permanent housing for families or saying obnoxiously patronizing comments to people who are homeless or attacking their advocates. It’s unbearable.)

THE OTHER (GOOD) JOE
After Joe Parisi leaves, Bruce Wallbaum follows him out into hallway. He says he is just shaking because he is so mad about what Joe said about helping with the camping at Lake Farm this summer. Wallbaum explains that he wrote over $3000 in checks to help make that happen and helped move them every two weeks and when we came to the county to try to get assistance it was all denied. They didn’t help at all.

This kicks off a conversation in the hallway that lasts an hour and a half. Part of it was video taped and part of it was audio taped, and some of it was not. Here’s my thoughts on what happened.

First of all – this is where I say something nice – I think Parisi was very generous with his time, sort of brave to stand there and be surrounded by a group of people who were obviously upset with him and to just stand there and I think, genuinely listen. And eventually started to ask questions that were really revealing about what he was thinking.

He clearly doesn’t like it that things that he says get into the media. He complained about me not saying nice things (example he used is that I said he “hates the homeless” – I gotta find where I said that) in my blog and complained about us audio and video taping him. To that I say, put on your big boy pants and suck it up. You’re an elected official in a county of nearly half a million people and we have the right to hold you accountable for what you say. And, as someone who has been villianized as much or more than most, it just comes with the job. Stay true to your values, be honest and people will see through the rest of it eventually, I hope. And, I don’t think he hates the homeless.

The better parts of the discussion tho centered around what are the next steps that we should be taking, is it an issue of attitude or resources with the shelter, how do we move forward together to work on the issues we care about, how do we keep the dialog going and are there things we can work on that don’t cost money. He asked genuine questions about why we didn’t just move, what was our end game and what are we trying to accomplish. We shared some thoughts and he asked how he could help support us in some of the areas he agrees with us on.

What I hope he heard was that we think the day center, run correctly, is a great asset to the community and a huge key to so many things – coordinating services and better communications and treating people with respect and dignity and listening to what people have to say about services. That we still need to solve the nightime problem, for those who do not fit into the Porchlight cattle call. Shelter day limits. Cleanliness. The issue of a third party complaint system was a little more difficult, but he listened. And we talked about removing other barriers that get put in place.

In the end, he decided to go home and mull things over. To think about what we could do together. We offered to get him a menu of options of things that could be improved that don’t cost money and other things that might cost money. He said he’d consider putting Danny back on the committee since the guy he appointed has not shown up, ever. At least he agreed to think about it. And to communicate WITH us in the future . . . not AT us.

All in all, atta boy Joe! I thought you had it in you, good to see it last night, finally. Thank you.


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