This article in the Nation makes some chilling connections between rising homelessness and right-wing rhetoric. People should read it, internalize it, and remember it when they’re feeling frustrated about the ongoing catastrophe playing out on our streets, because it is ugly and it is what often happens when people have to bear witness to human misery day in and day out, with no sense of a path forward.

That said, there was this report on the abject failure of Multnomah County’s Joint Office for Homeless Services, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year both from a Metro Supportive Housing measure, and millions from the city of Portland. In a nutshell:

“Among the most damning findings by County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk: The office sometimes pays providers months late; it asks them to work before contracts are in place; it adjusts performance measures if providers cannot meet original goals; and it could not produce simple data on how many people it’s housed—even to the county auditor herself.”

I talked to someone who manages clinical services for one of the region’s largest Medicaid recipients, has contracts with the JOHS, has been doing social work for 20 years in this area, and has been at the tip of the spear in the region’s care for the unhoused and addicted.

“Nobody likes to talk about the JOHS imploding because they’re afraid voters will get angry and pull the supportive housing measure dollars.”

The JOHS isn’t ashamed to conflate themselves and their dysfunction with the community they are failing to serve. They’d have us believe their dysfunction and mismanagement is the best we can expect to help the most vulnerable and least powerful among us. It’s a disgrace. I can’t believe the city even feels the need to debate its ongoing partnership with these people. The county, through the JOHS, foot-drags and sabotages shelter initiatives (“They say shelter isn’t housing. That’s right. Shelter is fucking shelter,” says my friend), and has generally reduced the crisis we’re facing to a bloodless exercise in technocratic managerialism that is missing the thing technocratic managerialism most depends on, which is actual managerial competence.

I’ve written before about the systemic problems Multnomah Co. creates for itself. In some ways, that is completely outside the JOHS’s control. For whatever reason Multnomah Co. long ago inflected into a “market-style” approach to funding social services providers, with all the inherent inefficiency of spinning up dozens of competing providers with their own administrative overhead, management overhead, and political backbiting. That has rendered the JOHS’s role into a procurement bureaucracy.

Where the JOHS becomes problematic is in its long history of mismanagement, and fierce defense from the former county chair because of the county’s ideological commitments around housing, including a fixation on commoditized housing. The county chair allowed its founding director to stay in place until long after it went into failure mode, allowed nepotistic consulting deals, burned through a series of interim leaders, and has utterly failed to spend money regional taxpayers generously agreed to spend.

That last part is important: Is there a rising sense of cruelty against the homeless? I think that Nation article makes a compelling case. But locally there has also been a great deal of generosity and a willingness to pay for solutions. What they’ve received in return has been shocking mismanagement — so bad that the auditor trying to understand what is going on at the JOHS had to give up in disgust because that organization can’t even quantify its purpose for existence.

The answer isn’t to read Yet Another Scathing Progressive Indictment of Christopher Rufo or Michael Shellenberger and cluck to yourself that at least you know better. The answer is not to sit around shaming others because they sometimes react poorly to the horror going on around them — and here I’m looking at all the Twitter “progressives” with the moral vanity to summarize the problem as “greedy people worried about their property values.”

The answer is to hold government accountable. If you’re a loud and proud progressive, DSA member, “good liberal” or whatever, your power doesn’t matter in the general election. Those are foregone conclusions in the Portland area. Your power matters in the primary, where you owe more scrutiny of the progressive contenders.

Make Jessica Vega Pederson earn your vote next time. Demand good governance. Quit letting these people hide behind your ideological allegiance to them. It’s a one-party county, act like it.