Fox News was clearly inspired by KOMO News’ Seattle is Dying special released earlier this year. Over the past week, the network released its own four-part series on homelessness in cities along the west coast. The four parts of the series correspond to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle in that order.
Each report seems to focus on different aspects of the problem. For instance, the LA report focuses mostly on affordable housing and features lots of screen time for representatives from a community organizing group called LA CAN. The group believes housing is a human right and maintains a cop watch program in downtown LA aimed at limiting police involvement with the homeless. In short, this first episode presents homelessness as an economic problem.
The San Francisco report turns a corner and introduces the subject of drug abuse and mental illness as major contributing factors to homelessness. This report also points out the ways in which changes to the law regarding small amounts of drugs have resulted in a chronic problem that police can’t really touch. The practical result of these changes is that there is no real penalty for shooting up in the street. But as one cook/barista featured in this segment points out, “There has to be consequences—has to be.”
The Portland report maintains the focus on drug abuse but also looks more at untreated mental health issues. This report also makes an attempt at discussing a solution which has been tried in both Bergen County, New Jersey and also in Finland. It involves providing addicts with drugs in the morning and a place to live at night and then expecting them to go to work like everyone else during the day. Supposedly, over time, people who’ve become productive parts of the community eventually leave the drugs behind.
Finally, the series ends with this report on Seattle. I found this one a bit frustrating because it seems to be presenting Seattle as a place where homelessness is having a severe impact on the city but also as a place where efforts to deal with it are the furthest along. This report tries to keep all the elements of the problem—affordable housing, drug abuse, mental illness—in the air at the same time but doesn’t have much to say about what to do about them.
The repeal of the head tax gets a mention but only in passing and that’s too bad because it was a pretty striking turn of events in a city known for its progressive outlook. Maybe this particular report is disappointing because it fails to convey the frustration that the ‘Seattle is Dying‘ special did so well, i.e. the sense that what Seattle has been doing clearly hasn’t been working and that a lot of people who live there are tired of spending money with little improvement to show for it. Where ‘Seattle is Dying’ felt honest and even a brave, this final report from Fox News feels more like a disappointing muddle. But maybe that’s just me. Watch it yourself and see what you think.