TWENTY-SIX THOUSAND signatures in 31 days. Can an all-volunteer army do it?
Last Thursday, Citizens for Shelter with Dignity—made up of homeless people and their advocates—launched a blitzkrieg signature-gathering effort to put Initiative 71 on the November city ballot. I-71 would shift about $5 million in existing annual city revenues to provide 400 new beds in Seattle's homeless shelters and boost other services for the homeless by at least 20 percent. As no new taxes would be necessary, the idea seems like a potential winner at the polls—so why the long wait to start collecting signatures?
"Process," explains Tim Harris, the founder of Real Change, Seattle's homeless newspaper, and a major force behind the initiative. (One can only shudder at the thought of the months of meetings that went into launching this drive.) The group considered an initiative to guarantee shelter to every Seattle resident before agreeing on the far more modest I-71. The time it took to develop consensus, however, may render the initiative vulnerable to failure.
Harris remains optimistic. He argues that the size of his citizen army of church people, social workers, and housing activists will enable them to win the campaign. He is also counting on a highly motivated unit of special forces: the homeless themselves. Harris already has around 75 homeless people hawking thousands of copies of Real Change on the streets every week. Now many of them will be carrying petitions as well.
"Homeless people have a lot of time on their hands," concedes Sherry Bockwinkle, Washington's reigning initiative queen. And, she continues, people used to selling papers have the chutzpah to ask for signatures. Still, Bockwinkle thinks it will be tough to make their July 9 deadline. Even if the initiative doesn't qualify this time, Bockwinkle points out that the public discourse will build the effort for the future. "It's good just to raise the issue."
Contact Citizens for Shelter with Dignity at 755-4850 or www.shelterwithdignity.org.
George Howland Jr.