December 21, 2019

It’s the end of a banner year in the stock market, which is good news for the Amalgamated Compassion Fund, my donor-advised fund that makes regular grants to nonprofits.

Last year I established 10 recurring grants that my fund will make to nonprofits annually: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Northwest Harvest, the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle, Code.org, the Technology Access Foundation, Forterra, the Seattle Library Foundation, and ProPublica. These grants continue. I also made three one-time grants to organizations that support people in need in Ballard, my new home neighborhood.

The Ballard Food Bank provides food, clothing, hygiene products, and more to needy residents. It’s located a short walk from my new home and right along two bus lines. The food bank is also purchasing a new property nearby to continue operations once its current lease ends.

The Low Income Housing Institute, a prior grant recipient, supports housing throughout Seattle. I live near its Cheryl Chow Court building in Ballard, a building housing low-income and formerly homeless senior citizens.

Compass Housing Alliance is another social services provider with a facility near my home: Nyer Urness House, a supportive housing facility that includes 80 units for the formerly homeless.

My work with Denver’s homeless service coordinator earlier this year gave me a great amount of information about the diversity of homeless populations and the services that are needed. After I came back, I was pleased to see 60 Minutes’s piece on homelessness in Seattle, which included interviews with working people who can’t afford to rent a home of their own. I’ve grown tired of the shouting and shaming that drown out serious discussion of homelessness and of the people left behind in boomtowns like Seattle. Data-driven solutions, as I’m learning in the book Automating Inequality, have unintended consequences of their own. Irrespective of the means by which people get placed, social service providers need money for properties, food, medicine, and case workers.

Homelessness is a solvable problem. “I think we know what works,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on 60 Minutes, to Anderson Cooper’s surprise. Cooper, who counted “12 homeless people right outside City Hall right now,” asked why the city still has such a large homeless population. Mayor Durkan stated the current talking point: that we need to coordinate services at a regional level, not just at a city level. That’s a popular sentiment because it frames the homelessness crisis not as a social or humanitarian problem, but as a management problem, and our city is a magnet for managers looking for problems to solve. Slow as it may be, I believe that in time we will eventually move from management restructuring to resource distribution as our primary focus, and I know that “what works” costs money. I encourage everyone who can do so to donate to organizations that do good work to fight against tough social problems.