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A Bee Editorial and a faked 'fact' to stoke donations

I am forever disgusted that "the truth" of what homelessness in Sacramento is like, and what undergirds the politics, and what the skanky homeless-help charities are like, never gets to the public.  Instead, the public gets from the charities and the Bee and SNR bleetings that the homeless are pathetic or secret Jesuses or a crowd of children or all viscious psychopaths.  Whatever works to represent the homeless in a way to make coffers overflow or stoke sympathy or entice the weary (and should be wary!) public is used, the truth be damned.

The hopeless Bee, today, in another of its Board Editorials from Fantasyland, "Editorial: Don't forget homeless women and children," laudably writes about mothers and kids (yes, solo homeless men do, indeed, get too much of what attention there is), but at the center of it all are fake "statistics."

From the ed:
…housing for poor families remains in desperately short supply. As [Michele] Steeb [CEO of St. John's shelter] and [Chet] Hewitt [president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation] wrote [in a Bee Viewpoints piece Wednesday], St. John's shelter turns away 320 women and children every day. The county's two other shelters that cater to mothers and fathers with children, Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center and Volunteers of America, report similar upticks in the number of families they must turn away every night as well.
That 320 figure is wholly bogus.

As I wrote as a comment to today's editorial:
The "statistic" "St. John's shelter turns away 320 women and children every day" is misleading and a concoction -- with an emphasis on the 'con’ part. There is not a hoard of whimpering people standing outside St. John's every morning and Michele Steeb jolly well knows this and the Bee is journalistically irresponsible to suppose anything like it is true and to fail to verify – really, “correct” -- that false claim. Ms. Steeb and the Bee, each, have an obligation to the public to present information that helps Sacramentans see the truth of what’s going on – not to fake facts or the situation to stoke public sympathy for homeless people and funnel donations to Ms. Steeb’s or any other charity in the homeless-“help” industry.

That 320 figure almost certainly represents people on a waiting list. While some of these women and children may be in desperate situations, many are certainly adequately housed or in OK shelters but hope to make a lateral or upgrade move to St. John’s in the future. Other people are OK, but maintain their spot on the waiting list because it’s easy to do and because they like to keep their options open. Too, there are sure to be women and children reduced to living in their car or on the streets who “jump the waiting list,” and get into St. John’s or receive motel vouchers.

J’accuse: The homeless-“help” industry needs to stop using untruth and skanky marketing techniques to fill its coffers. And it would if the Bee would do its job by ferreting out the truth of what the homeless circumstance is and report on what the charity industry that uses homeless people as props is really like. Just because they surround themselves with homeless people does not mean that homeless-charity executives are angels. Indeed, most are are the furthest thing from angels. The very furtherest thing.

The great tragedy -- and it very much is a tragedy; homeless people die on the street; mentally ill people die early, very often from hypertension-related reasons; drugs and alcohol drag people to the grave -- is that if the public had access to the truth of the circumstance of homelessness and what 'the life' feels like, this understanding would motivate a tsunami of real (and less expensive) help to bring meaning and happiness to suffering people's lives.
And then I found this in my email archives. From April of 2009, Michele Steeb wrote the following to me with respect to her report of a high "turn away" number:
Hi, Tom. Thank you for your email. The numbers you are referencing can be qualified as follows. There are ~300 women and children who are requesting a place today at St. John's. Yes, some are on the waiting list at other shelters, and some are in other shelters currently, but given that we are a program that assists families in getting back on their feet, versus a true shelter, we know there are folks who are expressly interested in on our Program. We would need to manually go through the list to try and determine how many are on the street, or living in their storage unit, or living in their car to provide you with those numbers, and btw, that information changes minute by minute. Someone on the street can get in touch with an old friend who says, "You can stay with me until a place opens up in the Shelter..." Moreover, just because someone is in a home doesn't mean they are safe. Many of the families on our waiting list are waiting to escape violent situations... or are staying with family/friends having escaped, but are in a temporary situation.      Does this answer your question?    Michele Steeb   Executive Director
Michele Steeb: You stink.

Update:  Today, Jan 13, 2012, a link to this post was sent to the Editorial Board which consists of the following Bee staffers:  Rex Babin, Cheryl Dell, Stuart Leavenworth, Pia Lopez, Dan Morain, Gary Reed, Foon Rhee, Ginger Rutland, and Joyce Terhaar.


My name is Priscilla Navarra. I am the Intake coordinator for St. John’s Shelter.

Let me state, unequivocally, that the statistic that we “turn away as many as 320 women and children every day” is true. As an example, during the week of December 18th, the number of women that called daily seeking shelter was 175. When you include their children, the number jumps to 419. The week of November 20th, we had 167 women calling daily seeking shelter. Adding in their children, this number totaled 326. We report these numbers to the County on a weekly basis so if you have any further questions about them, please feel free to contact the County directly.

As for your claim that most of the families calling in are already in shelters, during the week of November 20th, only eight of the families that called in were living in other shelters.—Eight out of 167—is less than 5%. This percentage is consistent with all other weekly reports that we submit to the County. Again, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the County.

In the future, we urge you to verify "your facts" through the County before you misrepresent the truth.
Priscilla, The woman are calling in daily to STAY ON YOUR WAITING LIST. That is radically NOT the same thing as saying -- as the Viewpoint piece does and as the Bee Editorial Board does -- that as a function of families being homeless, at St. John's "as many as 320 women and children are now being turned away each day."

The truth is, Priscilla, you don't know the circumstance of the 167 you cite. Are you claiming that they are out on the street!?

Look at the text of the letter from Steeb, from April 2009. Clearly people are in varieties of circumstances that you don't know, but as of function of crass exaggeration St. John's puffs up its stats and uses STAYING ON A WAITING LIST as a statistic to represent desperate women and children on the street. That's called lying, and, worse, it is lying to the public to misrepresent circumstances to con people into writing checks.

Shame on you.

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