60 Minutes Asks Mayor Some Good Questions but gets Seattle Homeless Problem Wrong

By Steve Pomper 

On Dec. 2nd, 60 Minutes broadcast from Seattle to report on the “homeless” crisis. Anderson Cooper presented the story. While the CNN anchor has been accused of biased reporting, he asked Seattle’s mayor some poignant questions. He noted there are some 11,000 homeless in the Seattle/King County metro area.

Unlike KOMO News’ outstanding documentary Seattle is Dying, hosted by Eric Johnson, 60 Minutes profiled none of the people who make up the biggest problems for Seattle police and residents but instead focused on folks who would be most sympathetic to the audience.

Cooper interviewed a couple with a small child, living in so-called Tent City 2, a male EPA employee sleeping outside a church, and a female U.S. mail carrier living in an RV. The segment seems to conclude that a high-priced housing market and not crime, addiction, and mental health is the primary culprit for homelessness. Not if you talk to cops—60 Minutes didn’t.

Any cop will tell you it’s frustrating following the orders of political leaders who know next to nothing about law enforcement and who see police as a problem rather than as a solution. These so-called leaders order cops not to enforce certain laws against certain people. This infuriates cops who can so easily predict the consequences of continuing failed policies: an increase in homelessness and its associated criminality.

The consequences are seen in a report from Courthouse News. On Dec. 3rd, the presiding judge ordered the street entrance for the King County Courthouse in Downtown Seattle closed. A “homeless” addict had violently attacked a defense attorney outside the building. A sheriff’s deputy used a Taser to subdue the suspect. Reportedly, the attacker “has been arrested five times on the same block as the courthouse….” This attack is not an anomaly; this is becoming routine in cities like Seattle that disdain enforcing the law.

Yeah, I’m sure this repeat offender’s problem is he can’t find affordable housing. For example, University of Pennsylvania Professor Dennis Culhane, an “expert” on homelessness, asserts, “The best evidence we have [for increased homelessness] is it’s the real estate market.”

Cooper says, Culhane doesn’t believe addiction and mental illness explain the increase in homelessness. However, in promoting the housing theory, he completely ignores the lack of law enforcement, which I can tell you from firsthand experience is the primary culprit.

To be fair, Culhane acknowledges addiction and mental illness as additional barriers to getting out of homelessness. Okay, but ignoring law enforcement as a one strategy doesn’t sound like a truly comprehensive solution.

Anyway, what does the cost of housing have to do with human irresponsibility, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental health?

It also frustrates cops when well-meaning ideologues get it wrong and blame rents rather than drug and alcohol addiction, poor mental health policies, or the lack of law enforcement for the visible homelessness and associated crime.

One problem is these “experts” get their information while sitting behind desks. Maybe they take some infrequent forays to homeless encampments, but the cops are immersed there daily.

The 60 Minutes segment did expose an example of political leaders who believe they have a handle on the “homeless” crisis with zero evidence they do.

Cooper sat with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan who is no friend of law enforcement.

A portion of their interview went like this:

AC: “Do you actually feel the city has a grip on the problem?”

JD: “I think we know what works.”

AC: “I counted 12 people homeless right outside city hall right now. If the city knows what works, why are there still so many homeless people out there?”

JD: “Because the problem is so complex, there is no one city in America that’s going to fix this. This is got to be both [sic] a regional, a statewide, and a federal answer.”

Yes, disperse the problem, so you can scatter the blame. Ask the cops, ask the residents, ask the business owners if city hall knows what works. Again, 60 Minutes didn’t ask the cops. In jurisdictions that refuse to see law and order as a critical part of the homeless solution, the proverbial buck does not stop on the mayor’s desk.

Rather than speaking with the police or any chronic “homeless” criminals, Cooper spoke with the folks mentioned above. While the couple with their child are sympathetic, some of their comments stand out, especially to cops.

The couple with a 3-year-old child says they have been “homeless,” living in a tent for two years. They said they’ve unable to get family housing. This is curious because resources like Mary’s Place, provide family housing.

It seems odd this family could not get housing assistance in two-years—with a baby. However, Cooper reported they are both recovering drug addicts. Though they say they no longer use, isn’t it prudent to wonder, especially concerned with a toddler’s welfare, if the low threshold for rules in a homeless encampment might be more desirable?

The EPA employee seemed nice enough. But during the interview, Cooper mentions smelling alcohol on the man’s breath. The man admits he’s an alcoholic but “has it under control.” He admitted buying cooking sherry because it is the “only alcohol you can buy with food stamps.” Apparently, the EPA subsequently fired the man for “work attendance issues.”

A young, single woman letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service was the most curious and least sympathetic case. She said she lives in her RV because high prices have kept her from getting an apartment. She doesn’t want to spend all “her money… just to survive.” According to payscale.com, a mail carrier’s average salary is about $54k, ranging from $36k – $65k. But using her as an example validates the show’s real estate market theory, so there you go.

There’s a problem with blaming the housing market. People forget Seattle has been expensive for a very long time. And there has always been homelessness but not nearly as bad as the current crisis. So, what really changed? Enforcing the law changed.

The most significant change, that seems hard to argue or ignore, but the city still does, is the government’s abdication of the rule of law and equal justice. People are no longer equal under the law in Seattle and other similarly run jurisdictions across the country.

When cities, counties, and even states refuse to arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate certain people who commit certain crimes, how can a homelessness/crime crisis not get worse? Journalist Chadwick Moore reported on Tucker Carlson Tonight that the Seattle City Attorney fails to file charges in 48% of crimes committed.

Politicians and homeless activists say you can’t arrest your way out of the homeless problem. People need treatment, not jail. Glib words, but what’s their plan to get people who don’t want it drug treatment without incarceration? I’m not talking about incarcerating drug addicts for being drug addicts. I’m talking about when, high or not, they commit crimes against law-abiding taxpayers. Then, yes, they need to be prosecuted and, if found guilty, incarcerated and receive drug treatment. Treatment or jail are not mutually exclusive as city officials would have you believe.

CBS’ 60 Minutes didn’t ask Mayor Durkan why Seattle’s government is coddling irresponsible adults and treating them as children. Shouldn’t Anderson Cooper have asked the mayor how any competent politician could deny that it is not cruel to hold people responsible for their illegal behavior—especially violent behavior? Oh wait, I guess I just answered that question, didn’t I? But, then again, I was just a cop… no one asks us.

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