Anti-homeless hatred is getting me down
March 15, 2022 9:25 AM   Subscribe

My city of Seattle is increasingly overrun with anti-homeless hatred and dehumanization. For some reason this is affecting my emotions personally. How best to deal?

I don't have a right to feel personally hurt by this. I'm housed and always have been, and I barely have any personal relationship with people who aren't.

There's a lot of hatred in the world, but the anti-homeless sentiment in my town feels very close to home and growing in strength over time. It's been a convenient political strategy for right-wing forces, but this hatred and kneejerk antipathy has also taken root in a large way among ordinary residents of the city.

It makes me sad and angry. I get more worked up over it and spend more mental energy on it than I do on things that are actually productive (e.g. participating in mutual aid groups or advocating for more supply of affordable housing and welfare programs).

How can I do a better job of dealing with my own emotions around this?
posted by splitpeasoup to Human Relations (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I was glad to see your question as someone who returned to my West Coast home town after years out of the country, only to find just what you describe. People were describing "the vagrant problem" or something in a way that was so dehumanizing, that along with the anti-homeless signs that had gone up, it felt like sci-fi. I reacted by losing interest in being friends with the person who was dehumanizing "vagrants," and gave money to a food bank.

You totally have a right to feel hurt by this as a member of the human race!
posted by johngoren at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2022 [13 favorites]

This is 100% something you can unpack in therapy, maybe even by specifically finding a therapist for a few sessions and just saying "I have these feelings about X and they're impacting my daily life in ways that aren't useful or fun for me, I need to find the root of this".

Otherwise if I were in your position (which I am to some degree, I think a lot of metropolitan folks are feeling this kind of way), I would be asking myself "where is this coming from?". What is the root emotion? Fear? Anger? Do these emotions seem like they're coming from a specific point? What kind of day are you having when you feel them most strongly?

Perhaps it comes from a feeling of betrayal over a city you thought you knew as being progressive/kind/liberal and you're finding out it isn't. Perhaps it feels like this reflects on you as an individual who lives there. Perhaps you're worried about a loss of control over your surroundings, or passively benefitting from an evil policy. There are lots of possible things underneath the initial emotional surge, so finding out where this is coming from and dealing with that may help calm it down enough for you to regain control.
posted by fight or flight at 9:41 AM on March 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

You absolutely have a right to feel hurt by this.

And - in fact, that may be the way to push back; by pointing out that anti-homeless actions very frequently affect other people. Here's what I mean:
"Yay, they finally cleared the benches out of the subways! Homeless people were sleeping on them, I'm glad they're gone!"

"Oh, is that why the benches are gone?....because there was this poor pregnant woman I saw on the subway platform yesterday and she was exhausted and really needed to sit down, but she couldn't because there weren't any benches and she almost passed out."


"Here's a bill I'm proposing to let businesses play a high-pitched noise to keep vagrants away from their businesses after hours."

"Hmm. How are you going to make sure it doesn't disturb everyone else who lives in the neighborhood, like what happened in that neighborhood in Brooklyn? Kids especially were having a hell of a time getting to sleep because of that noise. How are you going to keep everyone else from being affected?"
You know? It's a way to push back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on March 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

On the off chance that you’re seeing this anti-homeless hatred on Reddit, I suggest making sure you subscribe only to the regular Seattle subreddit, not the fascist one. (If memory serves SeattleWA is the fascist one and Seattle is the normal one). That would at least change the ratio of compassion to hatred that you’re exposed to.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 10:01 AM on March 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

You absolutely have a right to be hurt by this. These people are members of your community, and are probably your neighbors.

I live in Los Angeles where this is dynamic is also on a steep rise. It's disgusting. I've found that the only useful thing is the thing you've already identified in your question, which is to get involved. There will certainly be outreach and engagement opportunities with unhoused people in Seattle, and they'll offer a variety of ways to get involved--making supply packages, making food, distributing those things in the community, doing social media, whatever.

It's not going to make you less hurt or less frustrated but having a more direct relationships with these members of your community will sharpen your critique and make you a more effective advocate with others in Seattle.
posted by kensington314 at 10:30 AM on March 15, 2022 [14 favorites]

It's hurtful and awful and legitimately unsafe feeling, because people are showing and spending more time as the less kind parts of themselves. It makes it feel like you're living in a scary place full of just-about-to-flip fascists who will turn on you the moment you show weakness.
posted by amtho at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2022

Nthing @kensington314 that the best way to counter the rightfully depressing effect of anti-homelessness is to get involved. I live in Seattle and have volunteered with the Tiny House Villages in a variety of capacities.

One of the most satisfying things I've done organized shared meals at those places - not just dropping off food or serving food, but sitting down and sharing a potluck meal with people. Seeing people talking with one another at the table is so gratifying and it's been a great way to help others I know build deeper understanding and connection.

There are other programs like Teen Feed and volunteering at shelters or staffing mutual aid tents.
posted by brookeb at 11:34 AM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm in Portland, so I have a sense of what you are talking about, I think. My suggestion is to cut off the source. It sounds like hearing this expressed isn't motivating you to do the work you want to do to help solve problems, but it's pulling into an emotional mire. Where are you hearing these opinions expressed? Twitter? Unfollow those accounts. Reddit? Stop reading those forums. The newspaper? Skip those letters or articles or unsubscribe if need be. Is it a neighbor or friends? Don't engage with those people.

If it's a combination of these sources, think about how to limit them if you can't cut them all off completely.

I'm not saying to ignore the problem. It sounds like you are well aware of the problem that our unhoused neighbors are dealing with, and you aren't ignoring that. The problem to ignore is the hatefulness. I don't see that much good can come from this level of exposure to it.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:36 AM on March 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

Could you channel your emotional response into letters to the editor, calls to your city council and counter some of the public hatred AND express your sadness about people's ugly calls for criminalization. There are resources/research in your corner.

Anti-homeless rhetoric feeds into anti-homeless policies. Years back when I worked on some adjacent issues in HI, when I spoke to one staffer for a Honolulu city councilmember, they said that the ONLY public input they get is the angry resident outraged by the mere visual reminder of homelessness who calls for more criminalization, more penalties, etc.

In addition, I think some of your sadness could be alleviated by finding like-minded advocates and reminding yourself that you aren't alone. Hatred is loud, but there is solidarity with unhoused Seattle residents!

Lastly I recommend We the Unhoused podcast by unhoused Los Angeles resident Theo Henderson! Listening to unhoused people speak about their own experiences is a bracing reminder of what actually is the issue!
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

Lifelong Seattlite here, I can tell you that unfortunately this sentiment has always been here. There is no huge recent change in the last year or two. I think since the 2008 recession, the opioid crisis, and the tech giants moving into Seattle rather than Bellevue, such as the Amazoning of South Lake Union, it's a little more common to see it in media like the Seattle Times and local TV. But the Times and TV have never been with the working class for as long as I've been alive, they are capitalist/landlord/developer/suburban house organs. The same with Reddit or other internet places frequented by tech sector employees; the presumptions about the lives and worth of people sleeping rough, and the supposed utility of police to "solve" anything, will be the same. All I can suggest are volunteering your own time on a personal level, and also attempting to get politicians elected and policies passed which might claw back some of the ungodly piles of tech money and the oversupply of luxury housing. Our government doesn't have the goddamn sense to make the local gilded dragon-hoarders pay for the service industry workforce in one way or another. Sorry, I'm ranting. In any case- I just try to make friends who have empathy and who don't say thoughtless shit about the destitute.
posted by panhopticon at 12:09 PM on March 15, 2022 [7 favorites]

I just moved away from Seattle, but for the preceding couple of years I was involved in mutual aid groups and semi-regularly helped bring supplies to encampments, both in winter cold & summer heat. I see your 'mindfulness' tag and your question about dealing with your emotions. I have found direct action to be a really effective and mindful way to deal with these emotions. My two cents:

1: doing this outreach is so effective on the feelings side, it might possibly be *too* effective. When you do the outreach, you often encounter other people doing the outreach and you know you're not alone in being a more-resourced person sharing with the less-resourced. During last summer's heat wave I dropped off bags of ice at some camps, maybe 10–15 bags in total, encountered other people bringing water, and then I was more or less done. The feeling I had was that I had done my part, and I no longer felt a sense of being "ethically underwater", disproportionately privileged. This feeling may be stronger than is actually warranted by the amount of help I gave—but I also met real people and directly gave them things that they really needed.

2: My own block to "participating in mutual aid groups" is often the idea of scheduling & the social awkwardness of interacting the other people doing the work, feeling the need to pass some political-education test to be "admitted." Most of those things aren't an issue in practic, but it doesn't matter: you don't need to join an existing group, you can just go to an encampment (ideally bring a friend or two). You can show up with anything: a case of water bottles, a carton of cigarettes, some home-cooked meals in plasticware, and offer them to the people you meet, and maybe ask them what else they need. In late fall, one of my coworkers just went to a camp, asked people what they needed to be ready for winter, then organized to get them the things they asked for (coats, socks, sleeping bags, propane, dental care, toilet paper, band-aids, etc.). If do any of these things even once, you will have done more to care for these neighbors (and you will stick it to the shitheads).
posted by xueexueg at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

Looks like there are several community fridges in Seattle. Every time you start down the spiral, put $5 aside (adjust amount as appropriate for your income). When you hit $50, go to Trader Joe's and buy milk, eggs, butter, and maybe a treat or two. Take them to one of the fridges. Literally turn your feelings into useful actions.
posted by praemunire at 3:16 PM on March 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm in Canada and I think you are right to be sad and angry about this. We live in "wealthy" countries and I personally find it outrageous that we have a growing homeless population. Not only that, many people are rude or hostile towards the most vulnerable people in our society.

Another factor in this for me is that "real estate investing" is enormously popular here, and many in my colleagues and peer group want to join the bandwagon and become flippers and landlords. There's an entire YouTube culture selling it as a way to generate "passive income" and "retire" early.

Where I live, there's a tremendous incentive for landlords to push existing tenants out so they can raise the rent. There's a lot of low-income people who might have rented an affordable room, but an investor bought the place, misled the tenant (who didn't know their rights) and either conned them into moving out or outright illegally evicted them. Then they put up some subway tile and vinyl plank flooring and rent it out for double or triple as "luxury" apartments.

Renovictions and bad-faith personal use evictions (owner lies to say a family member needs to move in) are commonplace.

In my city, this is how people are becoming homeless and I find it totally disgusting that many middle class people are willing to break the law and behave so unethically to increase their wealth.

I'm similarly outraged and sometimes don't know what to do with this energy so I focus on educating tenants about their rights whenever I can. Volunteering with housing organizations. I'm considering studying to become a paralegal to advocate for tenants who have no representation. I'm looking for writing opportunities to raise awareness about these issues (that don't get much coverage.)
posted by Pademelon at 4:56 AM on March 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

You could also use a variant on praemunire ‘s idea and set aside $1/5/10/20 every time you spiral (as appropriate for your income) and hand people cash so they can decide for themselves what they need.

I have started handing out cash bills I have, no strings attached. The guy who was sleeping under a green tarp up the street got money twice, and I’ve introduced myself to the folks living in rvs a block away. I have been trying to be really mindful about treating unhoused people as my neighbors who deserve respect, which they are. This has also meant, for me, being really aware of the fact that (regardless of what I may think) these folks have agency and should be allowed to make choices.

This can also help to challenge and reframe the narratives you hear from others, if you want to go there. If you say “gosh yeah, imagine how terrible it would be if you were in a situation where sleeping in a tent on a freeway verge seemed like the best option available to you?” it can (sometimes) get the listener to remember that people choose houselessness because they don’t have better/safer options— NOT because they like being in a perpetually traumatizing and dangerous situation.

If communities don’t want to deal with the impacts of encampments, provide other options that work as well or better. No one can get healthy unless they are stable.
posted by Kpele at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

I just want to say, as a fellow Seattleite, you do have the right to be upset about this. It's upsetting to see so many people using such dehumanizing language to talk about people who are, actually, our neighbors. It also practically affects us because it's become a huge issue in our municipal elections, and is probably why we have the (not great, IMO) mayor we have now. Obviously that's nowhere near the impact on unhoused folks, but it's not nothing.

And yes, stay off the Seattle subreddits. Honestly, r/Seattle has gotten pretty bad at certain points over the past year (especially in the lead up to last year's elections). I personally suspect that most of the people in those subreddits ranting about "the homeless" don't actually live here, but that's a whole other rabbit hole. The fact is, the Seattle subreddits suck for this and will make you think the entire city of Seattle is descending into fascism. When I talk to actual people, the story looks a lot different.

Also, thank you for asking this question. I love all the suggestions for direct action and I will be choosing a few to do myself.
posted by lunasol at 1:35 PM on March 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

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