The problem with Federal Way’s shopping cart ordinance | Livingston

Crime and poverty are political tools that our country’s wealthy and elite political class choose to use against the middle class. They have enough money to be above the fray and use others as their political culture warriors.

The result is that our society is built around a theoretically acceptable percentage of homelessness, poverty and crime. It is part of the cost of doing business. Poverty and crime are good tools to whipsaw the middle class and any solutions presented, by either party, will become negative fodder as the political elites work to protect power, and stoke fear for their election cycle mantras.

Our society is built on cycles of economic inequality manipulated by a super-wealthy-class, their wannabees and sycophants trying to grift for more by limiting who can play as they work to control the machinations of government and media communication for their benefit.

Creating unsolvable problems is big business. Vilifying the poor, homeless and criminals in our society is a time-honored tradition. “Kick a man when he is down, it gives them an incentive to get up” — that’s the old saying. It gives politicians something to run on as well as a fear platform to beat us into submission as we vote for what we believe to be the lesser evil.

In Federal Way, as we drive the length of Pacific Highway and other major arterials, we see hidden in plain sight the waste left behind, letting us know that a homeless person camped, loitered, or is still present. Homelessness and poverty are not crimes. The choices that desperate people may make, may at times be criminal, and their presence and actions are often considered to be an affront to the well-being of many in our community as we try and navigate the norms and laws we as a society have chosen to live by.

Managing our collectively shared public and quasi-public spaces is always a challenge for local governments and businesses everywhere, especially when they have become overwhelmed with human behavior outside the logical norms that society tries to establish for itself.

We like to write and rewrite laws and ordinances defining how we should behave. Yes, we like to legislate good behavior, morality and just about every aspect of how someone is supposed to comport themselves in our society. Is it working? Not really.

Being hard on crime is vital to our nation’s fear machines. The crimes that get the most attention, for good reason, deal with violence and harm to others. We have instant fear when we hear about a murder, rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, armed robbery, organized crime, street sales of dangerous drugs leading to overdoses and more. These types of crimes are a priority for law enforcement, challenging for a community’s resources, and create high anxiety if the crimes are close to home.

Crime becomes an instant news story if it is heinous enough. In the news business, if it bleeds, it leads. Stories that grab and keep our attention are considered “gold.” We consume hours of news focusing on the most heinous crimes and street level bad behavior.

People are prone to bad behavior at all levels of society but petty crime, misdemeanors, shoplifting, vandalism are local constants as well as the nemesis of city councils and businesses everywhere.

Locally, the issue of the day is shopping carts.

The Federal Way City Council just passed a shopping cart ordinance revision that allows the city’s code enforcement division, when police personnel are present, to fine the possessor of the cart, to remove the person’s possessions and place what they can’t take with them in storage at a city location. The belongings confiscated by the city will be cataloged, stored for a defined period, and are retrievable when the person pays a $50 fine.

The thinking is that this punitive act will serve as messaging to our — let’s be honest here — “unwanted” street camping homeless population. Our code enforcement personnel and supporting police officers are being asked to provide guidance, during the cart removal, ticket giving, and possessions taking process, for where the homeless person can get help.

Tough to do in a city where we have worked hard to avoid investing in social services. The underlying desire is to create sufficient discomfort for the homeless person in our city with the intent of making them — “the problem” — go elsewhere.

Will it work? Time will tell, but the likely answer is no. Enforcing the ordinance will consume more resources than presently available, the confiscation element may be challenged in our courts and the homeless are clever enough to find a work-a-round which will be to the chagrin of council’s desire to have a punitive solution to a humanitarian problem.

We need to be reaching out to the state legislature and county for more homeless crisis resources, mental health support, and interim housing. Those resources need to be supported by laws that are designed to get people off the street with a sense of dignity while avoiding the look and feel of incarceration.

That is a big ask. Legislating our way out of a homelessness crisis at the local or state level will require a look at root causes and investment in a lot of infrastructure that currently are understaffed or does not exist. Confiscating a person’s stolen shopping cart — or possession transport — may satisfy a vocal local group that is clamoring to clean up our city by any means necessary, but don’t bet on it.

Crime and poverty are age-old problems dating back to the beginnings of recorded history. Regardless of who, which party or ideological temperament has majority control locally or at the state level, we will continue having too many competing philosophies dealing with how poverty, crime and homelessness should be solved to actually make a meaningful dent in the problem.

Remember, unsolvable problems are great campaign issues for our wealthy power-brokers and their chosen politicians. We must do better.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at