Microsoft – LinkedIn

You just never know what you will wake up to on a Monday morning in the world of high-tech.. So it was with a bit of surprise that I awoke to hear Microsoft was acquiring LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. Perhaps the top business social network on the planet. There has been growing speculation on Wall Street of increased Merger and Acquisition activity.  This will certainly kick-start things in a big way. This is no doubt a bold move by Microsoft that will either pay off handsomely or falter like so many acquisitions have in the past.  It raises a lot of questions but provides few answers.

Microsoft’s history of buying companies is not great, but at the same time not a complete disaster.  Some were high-profile, such as the attempted hostile takeover of Yahoo.  As big as the LinkedIn deal sounds, the offer for Yahoo was close to $45 billion. Thankfully for Microsoft shareholders Jerry Yang was an idiot and Yahoo rebuffed the offer.  Currently Verizon and AT&T are bidding for Yahoo’s assets, but it sounds like they are  coming in at under $6 billion.  So let’s make it clear and throw Jerry under the bus and when we are done make sure to back up and do it again. There have been other not so good deals for Microsoft like the $6 billion for aQuantive and as documented in my last blog the $7 billion for Nokia. Yammer for $1.2 billion was not great, it was ok technology but to add yet another social network to my life was just not in the cards.  On the good side the acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion has worked out pretty well

When the Skype deal was done people were surprised but I think why that deal worked out was there was a lot of potential and a lot of synergies and growth opportunities. Microsoft had Office Communication Server which was targeting the business community while Skype was popular in the consumer space.  There was great opportunity to embrace and extend OCS and leverage the brand name of Skype.  In any acquisition you are looking for synergies that allow you to improve your existing product while allowing you to capture new revenue streams.  This will be the ultimate test for Microsoft’s acquisition if LinkedIn.  Skype was an example of something that on the surface could have gone horribly wrong and was harshly criticized at the time, but in actuality it has worked out very well for Microsoft.

Microsoft does bring some things to the table for LinkedIn, namely infrastructure.  There is a lot of capacity in the Microsoft data centers that span the globe.  This will allow LinkedIn in not to have to spend so much time building out or leasing data center space. Microsoft mentioned they will be able to leverage their own assets like Office 365 and Dynamics.  I know there is a plan or at least an idea here, I am just not sure what it is or what it will look like.  Could this be a channel play? Perhaps. The good news though is Microsoft is all about the cloud and LinkedIn lives in the cloud.  Finding new ways to promote and distribute your software is important

Another interesting aspect of the deal is that LinkedIn will operate as an autonomous entity.  It will not be subsumed into a Microsoft business or product division.  This will be somewhat new territory, but given Microsoft’s track record with previous mergers this should be a positive story. Having a Microsoft field background I think this will simplify the life of Microsoft field based reps as I am not sure how they would incorporate or up sell their customers, let alone be compensated for their efforts.  There is enough noise in the market place I am not sure more will be needed.

Some things I hope Microsoft can do is restore some of the dignity back to LinkedIn.  I know LinkedIn, being a public company, is always under pressure to show growth. However there is just an increasing amount of personal junk bring posted to LinkedIn that it is becoming too much like other social networks with a lot of noise that it is hard to get the value out of the platform that you need or desire.  I already suffer from an overly politicized Facebook account.  I am not sure Facebook is helping or harming my relationships.  I would like to keep LinkedIn professional.

At the end of the day $26.2 billion is a lot of money and Microsoft’s ability to recoup that investment will be what defines this acquisition as a perceived success or failure.  I am not fully on board yet with this acquisition, as I am not perceiving the direct impact to new revenues for existing Microsoft products and all wonder if the idea of LinkedIn as a separate entity is the right thing.  I am also on the fence as to whether Microsoft can properly execute this acquisition. It makes it look like Microsoft will act as a holding company or perhaps move to operate more like Alphabet (Google).  As usual following when it would like to be leading.

With all this being said it is a bold new world we live in and to succeed you need to be able to take risks, knowing than through failure will come success.  Microsoft may be out in front of something here and it will be interesting to see how and if its primary competitors react.  No one reacted when Google purchased YouTube, in fact most industry pundits criticized the deal, but it has paid off in spades.  As I wrote I am on the fence with this deal, but it is bold and that I cannot fault.  If in 5 years we are looking at $10 billion in annual revenues we will cheer, if not well we can just add to the list.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 20, 2016

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The Wisdom of Shutting down Windows Phone

Well it seemed inevitable, maybe even late but Microsoft’s phone division went through another downturn,  announcing that it is all but exiting the smartphone business and taking a $950 million charge and laying off 1,850 employees, primarily in Finland.  In a way it seems like the end of a long miserable journey.  A journey that cost a lot to Microsoft financially as well as cost a lot of its industry reputation as a visionary company.  In many ways it caused Microsoft to age faster than it would have or should have.  As bad as this all may sound this could be a crucial and a positive step for Microsoft, causing it to search for new lucrative revenue streams rather than spend time and money trying to recapture something lost that will never come back again (I call this the Ronald Reagan syndrome).

A lot of time could be spent and has already been spent on what went wrong.  I, personally, having sat in the building with the Windows Phone team, am at the point where I feel I could write a book on the subject, but frankly what purpose would it serve? Possibly a historical one, but it would simply be repeating a lot of what has already been said and is known.  I am sure there are many college graduate courses that are covering the subject in detail.  We all took hear them in business school, lessons in business on what not to do. The simple fact is Microsoft blew it, but now it is time to move on. Microsoft is a very proud company, but sometimes it is better to just swallow your pride, and move in a new direction.

I can only conjure up what Satya Nadella and Terry Myerson and team could have been thinking, but depending on who you listen to and what stat you like, since Microsoft acquired Nokia for more than $7 billion, its market share has never been much more than 5%,  Over the past few years it has simply been declining.  The question had to be asked, “how much more are we willing to invest so we can increase market share?”How much do we need to invest to get to 10%?  How do you get emotional appeal like Apple?   How do we differentiate?  I can only guess the numbers involved in product and marketing investment would have been in the billions.  Then you also have to ask, “By the time we get there will the market have moved on to somewhere else?”  Again I can only guess,but the answer must have been, “Can we do better placing our bets elsewhere”?  the answer is simple, “Yes”.

The industry is lining up behind a lot of new initiatives and technologies.  First for Microsoft is the cloud, and Microsoft is competing here with Office365 and Azure.  Are there threats?  You bet, but Microsoft is competing against leaders like AWS and upstarts like Google Docs.  They are in the hunt and generating revenue.  Money should be spent here as it represents the future growth of the company.  The demise of Windows Phone will be an opportunity to double down on this strategic business at Microsoft.  It can place bets on new markets, existing profitable business and growing businesses within the company.  Microsoft is in the game and up near the forefront with Amazon.  They are already generating $20 billion in revenues, the only concern being what will happen to the other $74 billion?

We have a lot excitement in  the industry for new emerging markets such as the AI initiative that is still in the early stages of market development.  To me AI is a horizontal platform play.  Once you create something of industry interest it will be something that can be incorporated into a variety of technologies such as voice and driver less vehicles. Fundamentally the companies or companies that get this right will be able to entice developers to their AI platform.  Something that would greatly appeal to people at Microsoft, since they lost so much developer mind share in the mobile phone upheaval. Not to mention since it would be a horizontal product by nature in could span industries, such as financial, retail, telecommunications etc..This market is in the early stages of development with a lot of grand talk, but no proven market leader at this point in time. The key for Microsoft will be to be in the game when it starts to take off and not fall too far behind. If you are not in the game at the inflection point, all will be lost, as competition accelerates into the future.

Microsoft Satya Nadella has used the term Mobile First, Cloud First world to reignite the innovation pipeline at Microsoft.  On the latter he is doing just fine.  The former will be a challenge to redefine and it is having an impact in other areas.  The failure of Windows Phone means Microsoft currently has no play in Mobile search, Google is sitting pretty with over 90% share.  Could Bing meet a similar fate as Windows Phone?  Probably not as the learning from search will be value in products across the company.  We already see how Google has expanded with search across industries.  I do not see Microsoft catching Google anytime in the near future but the learning alone can lead to new ideas and applications.  In time this will extend to the Cloud First world where Microsoft is quite competitive versus Amazon Web Services.

There are certain technologies that extend themselves.  If you think of Google Maps, it’s a natural technology that has made its way into our cars, whether it be in our car or on a iPhone or Android Device.  The next step will be the driver less car, whose next big hurdle will not be a technical one, but the ones our lawmakers put in front of it. Can government more fast enough.  This emerging market is one that is moving fast but there is still a window of time for Microsoft to be the automotive platform of the future as well as look internally at technologies they own and see how they can be extended into new markets.  I think anywhere we use the term platform, is a natural one Microsoft should play in as it is part of the corporate DNA in Redmond.

As was pointed out at the beginning the death of the Windows Phone need not be something to lament very long.  Rather than waste valuable cycles on what is lost it is time to look at opportunities on where it can gain.  There is a lot of valuable and painful learning that came out of the Windows Phone, but that can be used to springboard the company to the future.  Microsoft will need to make big bets n Cloud, AI, Big Data, and IoT.  It needs to be not afraid to fail, but take those failures as valuable educational opportunities and apply to whatever the next big bet will be.  Where we are today as an industry is in large part due to the early work Microsoft did in the PC and then extending that into the enterprise.  It still spends billions on R&D.  It has the second largest cash n hand on the planet (next to Apple).  In short it has a lot of assets that play to its advantage.  The next five years will challenge Microsoft to define and execute on its big initiatives, but it will no longer have to look over its shoulders as to what is happening on the iPhone, it will only need to look forward.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 7, 2016


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The next Technology Tidal Waves

In tech things always move quickly. In my career I have talked at length in many business meetings and marketing presentations of the hockey stick curve and when a particular product or technology hits the inflection point and begins to take off. At that particular point as a company you are either in the game or left in the dust.  It’s a moment that is hard to predict but in hindsight always easy to identify.  A good example would be the launch of the Apple iPhone in June 2007.  Smartphones were a known and growing commodity before the iPhone launch, but ownership was not very high.  After the launch the old flip phones and dove bar phones began to fade away very quickly as they were replaced with a much more useful device.  Only one company , outside of Apple had the vision to see this change: Google.  Everyone else faded into the distance Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM. Companies that were dominant players relegated to footnotes in history.  With all the industry players having recent developer conferences it seems we are marching to new inflection points.   Not a single inflection point, but multiple points which will change the corporate landscape. Points that will have a greater influence on society and how we will live in the coming decades.

Amazon has been vocal this past year, and it is not just Jeff Bezos’ spat with Donald Trump.  Beyond the cloud we have heard a lot about the voice of Alexa and the Echo device.  The idea that the device can earn your behavior and respond to your questions. Not that any of this is new, but it is one of those moments where its time has come.  Voice is one of those technologies that may be reaching its inflection point and be ready to take off.  Their cloud business will continue to grow.  As they focus on more enterprises they are poised to continue to be the leader in this growing space.  Bezos was recently asked about their failed foray into mobile with the Amazon Fire, He simply responded with “If you thought that was a big failure we have way bigger failures ahead of us”.  Taking risks is essential in this industry, you must have a few misses.

Google recently held its Google I/O conference for developers.  In reading about the event I came away with the impression they have a lot in the fire working on thongs like AI and Virtual Reality.  I find it amazing that we are really talking about AI and the impact is far-ranging.  It will impact the current trend if web bots and down the road will impact robotics, in fact it already is.  Today’s robots are simple and tasked oriented (think of iRobots Rumba), but down the road will be self learning and perhaps even able to reason.   Virtual Reality is still in the “dork” phase but as it improves it will lead to new ways to communicate and interact.  As of today we are still wearing ugly head-gear, similar to the early mobile phones which were big bricks (watch Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall St). Driverless cars are also starting to take off.  Google is leading but Uber is making noise and there has even been discussion of Apple.  This inflection point may happen sooner than expected as competition is like wind feeding the flames, when that happens the flames spread quickly.  We have not even broached the Internet of Things (IoT), which is happening, with Google’s NeST group.  This will alter our households and every other structure as we implement smart devices.

Apple at the moment seems stuck in the success of the iPhone, which will be a cash cow for years to come, but has left many wondering “What’s Next”?  Apple suffers from its success and excessively high expectations.  It is competing in voice with Siri, who is still the most famous voice on the planet,  Rumors of automotive.  Apple TV is there but certainly not redefining our television viewing experience yet.  The good news is Apple has by far more cash on hand than any company on the planet with over $200 billion in its coffers, but I have yet to see any company with lots of cash on hand make any aggressive commitment with it.  They seem to spend more time complaining about US corporate tax policies and parking money off shore.

Facebook is that company we are learning not to doubt.  They continue to blow out earning quarter after quarter and were one of the first in on Virtual Reality, buying Oculus Rift.  As mentioned this is still early and rather dorky looking, but Facebook bet early and may reap the rewards, though Google and Microsoft are keeping a close eye an are not far behind.  Facebook to its credit has proved disruptive and I find Mark Zuckerberg a calm and steady visionary at the helm.  The idea of using solar-powered wings to provide internet access to remote areas of Africa was an interesting new take on an old idea.  In the nineties Craig McCaw and Bill Gates teamed up to create Teledesic, which was going to use low-level orbiting satellites to provide access to remote regions.  What Facebook is proposing will be far cheaper and ultimately may prove a more financially successful model.

Microsoft is in the process of reinventing itself and knows it needs to do so in a hurry.  Past mistakes will hurt them, such as Mobility, GPS etc..But they are showing a new willingness to take risks and are competing in voice with Cortana,  Working on Virtual Reality, with Hololens.  They stumbled out of the block with the Microsoft bot Tay (it was taught racism), but have not blinked and remain committed.  They have a big ship to turn, as changing a culture takes time (with contractors Microsoft has over 200,000 employees) but the noise coming out of Redmond is improving and there seems to be a new spring in their step.  They are also admitting mistakes and cutting their losses, Windows Mobile being the prime example.  It’s best to cut losses and forge ahead in areas you can succeed, rather than pour money down the drain that you may never recover, no matter how had you try.

I think in the current industry landscape you need to take the attitude that no matter how far off in the future you think a technology is, it happens to be a lot closer than you believe.  Invest big now, thinking you will profit in ten years, when in fact it may only take five or seven years.  Beyond the companies mentioned there will be other players who could make an impact, I briefly mentioned Uber as one.  There are other small startups like Otto, which seeks to use driver less vehicles to change the transportation and shipping industry.  When I look at many of these emerging technologies I see intense competition as many of the old and new players realize if you miss the inflection point you will cost yourselves billions in future revenues.  The bets will be big.  They have to be.  Taking risks will be imperative.  A desire to fail in order learn so you can achieve success.  Do not cut corners, if you are too concerned about costs best not to play.  There is a lot ahead of us: IoT, Robotics, AI, Alternative Energies, Building a new Grid, and as always something unexpected.  Each of these new technologies will span across industries and will generate billions, if not trillions in net new revenue.  Catch the wave or be pulled under, but do not get out of the water otherwise all will be lost.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 25, 2016

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The Rise of of Google Chrome

It is one of those questions I pondered recently as I saw via the media that according to NetMarket Share that Google Chrome was now the most popular browser in the world having surpassed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  How did this happen?  It seemed for a while that Microsoft would own the browser world, this despite the DOJ trial and its efforts to placate Jim Barksdale at Netscape.  Microsoft had owned this for over a decade.  As is so often the case in technology you can be out in front or get left behind.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart and it is a story of failed vision and failed opportunities on the one hand and a successful vision and realized opportunities on the other.

In 1995 I was working at Microsoft and we as a company were gearing up for the launch of Windows 95.  I was working in a inside pre-technical sales team, called the Developer Solutions Team (DST).  We were always loading software in beta form from Microsoft and toying around and with this thing called the internet were now being let out of our cages to surf the web.  Of course to do this we needed a browser and there were a few out on the market, but the best was Netscape Navigator.  A few smart folks realized early on that these “newbies” were the enemy.  Something about Marc Andreeson’s quote “we will reduce Windows to a buggy set of device drivers”. Anyone who dared criticize Windows in those days was asking for a beating.  Next thing you know is Bill Gates does a speech in December 7, 1995 saying everything we do at Microsoft moving forward will be about the internet.  Bil Gates had said often through the years he feared a smaller nimbler company coming up and displacing Microsoft. From that point on enemy number one was tiny Netscape Communications.

A little over a year later myself and three others in inside sales were moved to a pilot group focused on calling down on every ISP in North America.  I got the Central Region and Canada.  It turned out to be a really fun job as it was high impact and high visibility. The primary focus was getting ISP’s to use the Internet Explorer Administration kit (IEAK) versus using Netscape Navigator.  The IEAK allowed ISP’s to brand IE, Netscape did not.  The IEAK was free, while Netscape, still trying to figure out a business model, was around fifty bucks.  In addition to the browser wars we started to hear and learn about Linux and Open Source.  To host web sites the name Apache came up a lot. At this point in time the LAMP stack was still not there as did not hear much at the time abut MySQL and PHP.  We were a team promoting Microsoft technology and capturing a lot of valuable intelligence.  It was really the latter that brought to attention the new technology landscape that was starting to blossom.  As a company it would take many years before we fully grasped Open Source.

As we turned to the end of the century Microsoft made some simple decisions. Jim Allchin head of Windows wrote a memo saying we should just bundle IE with Windows. At the time a smart decision.  However as we marched on it would come back to haunt Microsoft.  It was becoming increasingly clear that we were improving our browser with IE v3.0 and starting to take market share.  We were making headway and Netscape was floundering.  They decided to make a big bet on corporate email, after much fan fare it had a hard time getting off the ground and in my opinion was a bad choice.  They were going head to head with Microsoft and IBM.  One thing Netscape was doing was a lot of PR around how many hits to their homepage, millions.  What if they had done search instead of corporate email?  Just saying, things could have been much different.

The DOJ trial hit but Microsoft ability to take more market share did not stop.  Within 5 years Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had become the dominant browser.  Really no Safari, Opera, etc.. Then a interesting thing happened, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 6 on August 27, 2001. It was well received and continued Microsoft’s browser dominance.  Then Microsoft just kind of stopped.  The next release would not come out for over 5 years, in technology terms a life time.  At the time Microsoft was operating on a outdated model, believing maintaining Windows market share was all important and in the short term the revenue numbers would support that, but in the long term it would harm innovation and access to new markets.

In the interim a non-profit open source project got underway and launched the Firefox web browser.  It would develop a cult following and offer new things that Internet Explorer 6 did not, the big one being multi-tab browsing.  By the time Internet Explorer 7 came the market was set to go significant change, primarily due to search and mobile. By October of 2006 Google had developed a business model around their search engine that was generating billions in revenues with huge upside.  A little less than a year after the release of Internet Explorer 7, Apple would launch the iPhone with Google as its search partner. Mobile browsing would be done in Safari.  The rest is history.

In September 2008 without a whole lot of fan fare, Google would release the initial version of its web browser, Chrome.  I remember the day it came out a person next to my cubicle at Microsoft had loaded and we were playing around with it.  What it had from a UI perspective was typical Google simplicity, not a lot of clutter.  Simple Google search box and off you go.  When I left Microsoft a year later it was time to try non-Microsoft things, so I bought a iPhone and used Chrome as my default browser.  The UI was a bit more elegant than IE.  I also loaded Firefox, but I think because it is an open source project it has a lot of techie bells and whistles I do not need.  Over time Chrome has become my default web browser.  The speed of the browser and simplicity of the UI were attractive and after a while it becomes a learned behavior.  Start PC, click on browser.

Chrome did a lot of things correctly. Getting developers to write extensions. Using it to help maintain their share of search revenues.  Always focusing on performance enhancements.  They have now created Chromebooks, which have yet to seriously take off, but are gaining some traction. Google has lots of money so they can fund this PC displacement effort in the short run for revenue gains in the long tun, it is still a bet at this point.  Google has been pushing the browser and web-based technologies.  Google is the one browser that has a Chromecast option that allows me to stream content to my TV, provided I have a Chromecast device (I do) Since more and more content is video this is a handy feature.

A lot of the reasons Chrome has succeeded is the simple understanding of the evolving world and the important role a browser plays in it.  While Microsoft was focused on the next version of Windows they were failing to understand that life was in the browser, not the OS.  Google realized in order to have more understanding and influence with customers they were going to need something more than a search engine.  The browser was the obvious choice as it has become our window to the world in which we live.

Microsoft has in recent months re-engaged in the browser war, but in my view it has backfired.   The marketing folks believed the Internet Explorer name was old and tired and replaced it with “Edge” and it ships with Windows 10 and is only available in Windows 32 bit or 64 bit versions.  There is no support for Android or iOS, which is a bit surprising given the change in views about competing OS’ at Microsoft.  So much I feel of what goes wrong is not so much technology but marketing.  I think Microsoft is so broad in its efforts that it struggles to maintain and sales and marketing momentum behind any particular product.

I was on a team that worked hard to build the identity and market share of Internet Explorer, but probably because it was free it was devalued at Microsoft. But I ask is anyone not on the internet? social media? following the stock market? Latest Football score? Streaming video via Netflix?  In all cases you need a window to get there, and no it’s not Windows, it’s the web browser.  In the digital economy it is very valuable real-estate.  We have gotten so tied to it, from a business perspective we may forget its value. Through Chrome, Google will set its business agenda.  If Microsoft is to realize its dreams in the cloud, Internet Explorer will be a very important component of that vision.  I really enjoyed those early days of the web, it was innocent.  Those days are gone replaced by extreme sophistication.   No need for a telesales team of 4, but glad I had the opportunity.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 9, 2016


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The Shanty Towns of Seattle

It seems as if it is one of those things that has been around forever in Seattle and in all of America,seemingly ignored but always in front of us; the plight of the homeless. But in recent years the issue has grown in visibility throughout my home town of Seattle. This despite a booming economy that has been a developers dream. Has led to a huge influx of new people to the city (Seattle is now in the top ten cities in America in terms of population density).  It has created the cyber center of the digital universe in Amazon. We are calling ourselves “The Cloud” capital of the technology sector.  It has a vibrant start-up community.  Real estate values through the roof, back to where we were before the financial meltdown.  The median price of a house in Seattle is at $533,000 and not going down anytime soon. Seattle is a billionaire playground of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen etc..Yet despite all this new wealth when I drive down I-5 and look to the divide between the freeways I see small enclaves of tents, accompanied with a lot of filth strewn around the encampment.  Even as our city grows with new development, hand in hand it seems the number of impoverished tent communities has increased as well. Littering any empty available space and creating a new open wound on the city, maybe bringing us back to earth from our lofty heights.

You see the homeless faces at every freeway off ramp.  In ragged clothing, usually looking as if bathing is a foreign concept.  Many times nearby is in encampment.  They have some creative signs, some not so creative.  All asking for any money you may have. From a drivers perspective as you pull off the freeway and up to the stop light you make a conscious effort to not make eye contact.  Sometimes you see the same face often enough you begin to recognize them, though never on a personal level. There are gimmicks, like the wheel chair.  The I ran out of gas idea has been tried and proven. Homeless veteran is used so often I am not so sure that any are veterans, but then I feel guilty for thinking that, as some surely are.  In the end you just become numb to their existence.  Man kinds worst problems are the ones you grow accustomed to.

As you drive north or south along I-5 you see on the side of the freeway, in between the freeway and under the freeway a lot of encampments.  Tents clumped together, clothing hanging out on shrubs and small trees.  There is garbage everywhere around them.  For as clean a city as Seattle tries to be there are these pockets of filth all over the city.  The worst part is there seems no solution in sight.  The numbers seemingly just increase. The reasons unknown.  Some of these shanty’s have names, like “The Jungle”,  There are always people there loitering around.  Seattle’s drug problems are not hidden, but out in the open.  It is like Switzerland’s failed attempt of creating a needle park in Zurich (Platspitz Park), minus the clean needles.  The only difference is no vote was taken and no government official endorsed it.  But with a blind eye we all accept it.

Seattle has the fourth largest homeless population in the US, behind New York, LA and Las Vegas.  The first two not surprising given just their sheer size. I would guess as a percentage of population Seattle is far greater.  It seems weekly in our local news there is discussion and debate about these tent cities.  The number if homelessness is increasing rapidly.  In a count recently the number of people sleeping outside has risen 19% year over year to 2,942 (luckily the winters have been fairly mind the last several years).  Many claim a local zip code as their last address (recent survey had 84%, but 30% refused to respond). We have tent cities that have sprung up throughout the town.  These ten cities pop up in church parking lots where they will stay for three months, call these people urban Bedouins.  Moving from parking lot to parking lot, from Seattle neighborhood to neighborhood.  In almost all instance sparking an outcry from local inhabitants. Seattle Mayor Murray announced a state of emergency for the homeless.  He designated three locations for  homeless housing, they are not really houses but shacks made by the same company you would by a shed for your backyard.

The areas designated are in three distinct areas of Seattle: Ballard, Interbay and the Rainier Valley.  It seems an effort to centralize our homeless problem, while providing shelter for those in need.  Visiting the encampment at Interbay, you first notice that is hidden from view down a side street.  It sits in a vacant lot in the middle of an industrial area.  It does not have any structures, but is a cramped mass of tents and blue tarps. There are people mulling about in the camp, but it seems calm (I was there at around noon).  It seemed I think many people would like it to be, you do not know it is there.  In contrast the location in Ballard is right on Market Street, the main drag in the community.  Better yet it is right next to the Old Sloop Tavern.  Convenient?  The encampment had several sheds that were tall and narrow along with tents and tarps. Signs were hung on the fence surrounding the shelter saying “Velkommen til Ballards”, a tribute to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage and “Nickels-ville”a tribute to our former mayor.  The activity here was not as encouraging.  A man walking in the middle of the street.  Another group of three with one rolling around on the ground, pants half down, drunk.  A group mulling around the entrance of a small market store. all in all not a very pleasing social scene. The third encampment is in south Seattle, near the Othello transit station.  Like the others it was a vacant lot and the city provided some basic shelter.  One nice thing is all the shelter were painted in soft tones, color can enhance anything. The light blues, reds and yellows made it seem more livable.  Like the first one in Interbay you did not notice a lot of activity.

Next to my house not 200 feet away we had a tent city at the local church.  We were told just a few weeks before it was due to arrive in the fall of 2015.  We were invited to the church to hear from the church leaders, a community rep for tent city, and the citizens of this tent city.  The one we had was a smaller tent city with less than 30 inhabitants. We met at the church one evening and were greeted by the pastor. The a man who worked in helping locate and set up tent cities.  There were rules, you paid $1 per day to stay in tent city.  Daily cleanup around tent city, so local residents did not notice accumulation of garbage on the streets.  In short it was run like a commune. Some of the residents spoke and they seemed nice enough and willing to talk with us.  One was Filipino who had served in the Gulf War and said when he got back things did not work out so well and life just fell off the rails.   They were designated to be there for three months with an option for four.  Time passed quickly.  We did have one family, it looked like a father with two young children .  He would walk them to school each day we would see them as we walked our youngest to school as well.  And then one day they were all packed up and gone.

With all these efforts to provide housing what has not come to the forefront is how do we provide help to those in need and not just a handout, but actual help.  These can cover a lot of categories.  Some have serious substance abuse issues, others suffer from mental issues, and then there are those where life simply fell off the rails and need help getting back on their feet, some job training or educational opportunities.    What originally welfare was intended to do.  Get people back on their feet.  It is complicated as some of these discussions go beyond homelessness.  Mental illness seems to find its way into gun rights issues and rightfully so when you consider the number of mass shootings that have taken place in the United States. Homelessness was also due to the financial crisis we weathered, as people bet beyond their means.

I have grown up in the Seattle area and I have seen prosperity that is the envy of the world.  We have 4 people listed in the top fifty wealthiest in the world, with a combined net worth of around $160 billion.  One of the highlights of the holiday season was all the Christmas lights on all the building cranes downtown, and there were many.  Yet despite all these indicators of success we are a city with a wounded soul, as in our good intent we have seemingly failed those at the bottom of societies hierarchy.  We have worked to provide shelter, one of Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs, but much more is needed if we are to make our city whole again.  I know we will never fully solve the problem, the sad reality is that some of the homeless are simply beyond help, but even for them we need to provide some level of comfort. To make existence tolerable.  Global warming has made for mild winters and therefore we have not heard of people freezing to death.  We have a gaping wound in our city that we have been slow to bandage, we have taken action but only time will tell if it is enough.  In the meantime we shall watch our wounds grow and all be lesser for it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 29, 2016

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