$15 Minimum Wage – A Shared Commitment

Last November, voters in SeaTac approved increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making national news and inspiring vigorous public conversations about wages, affordability, and income inequality in coffee shops and town halls, on buses, and around water coolers across our region.   Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant have been working hard on this issue, and the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee is scheduled to release recommendations at the end of April.  The Coalition on Homelessness has been a part of the conversation about the opportunities and complexities of raising the minimum wage as a member of the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), a coalition of direct service providers and advocacy groups (see background materials below).  We’ll be taking up this conversation at our April 17 General Membership meeting with Tony Lee, from Poverty Action, and other special guests.  Please join us to discuss the practical, political, and policy issues related to raising the minimum wage for all workers, including human services and housing providers. As usual, we meet on the third Thursday from 9-11 a.m. at the E. Cherry St. YWCA (2820 E. Cherry St.) in Seattle.

Background:

In late March, SHSC, together with Working Washington, SEIU 925, and Kids First Seattle issued a joint press release affirming their clear commitment to a $15 minimum wage because it “lifts workers out of poverty, boosts the economy, and strengthens people’s abilities to meet their basic human needs.” These labor and human services groups noted:

“The current citywide conversation about income inequality and the minimum wage should not be used to pit one low income group against another, because we know that those who work in poverty-wage jobs and those who receive human services can be the very same people. Thousands of low-wage workers can’t feed themselves without help from food banks, and can’t possibly afford early childhood education for their children without public support. And at $9.32 an hour, a housing crisis is never more than a paycheck away.”

The Seattle Human Services Coalition laid out five key points in an  “Issues Advisory on $15 Minimum Wage and Impact for Human Services.” Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

The Seattle Human Services Coalition recognizes the importance of a livable minimum wage in addressing poverty in our community. SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage for all human services workers (and others) to $15/hr.

We are also acutely aware that this call for raising the minimum wage must be done in such a way that does not result in a decrease in urgently needed services; any solution must take into account the impact on the vulnerable people we serve.

We call upon elected leaders and other stakeholders to take all five of these actions:

      • Include non-profit human service employees in any recommended increases to the minimum wage.
      • Ensure that wage standards and city contract requirements do not lead to a reduction of needed human services.
      • Increase local investments in pay equity, including human services employees.
      • Move the discussion beyond an hourly wage to examine the broader issue of income inequality in our region.
      • Set a base wage that does not include other forms of compensation.

 

Policy Update: The 2014 Legislative Session — Part 3

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Fifty days down and ten more to go in this 60-day Legislative Session. At last we wrote, the future looked promising on key bills related to housing and homelessness. Then came our February 24th Take Action alert regarding two crucial bills that needed additional, feverish support. What followed has been a flurry of call-to-actions via Facebook posts, Coalition e-mails, and direct phone calls — anything to get movement on devastating (and incredibly unnecessary!) roadblocks in the Senate. At this point, some of our bills continue on with smooth sailing, others require heavy lifts, and others have been tabled until next session. 

Seasoned advocates, led by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), will keep working to revive key bills until the very end of the session on March 13.  Every call each of us makes reinforces the message that ending homelessness is a priority.   

What follows are updates and Action Alerts (when applicable) for each bill we’ve been following. Please take action today; call the free State Legislative Hotline (1-800-562-6000) between the hours of 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. to leave a message for your legislators.

  • Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge (aka Document Recording Fees): Failed to pass out of Senate Committee — this bill is currently dead
    • Update: Despite bi-partisan support in the Senate, Co-Chair Sen. Jan Angel abruptly ended the Senate’s FIHI Committee meeting before the bill was to come up for a vote. For a more detailed report, check out WLIHA’s blog post. Sen. Steve Hobbs (Angel’s Co-Chair!) had this to say: “To simply do away with a primary source of funding that actually helps solve the homeless problem is ignorant at best and evil at worst.” WLIHA is pushing to find a workaround.
    • Action Alert: Call your legislators today and say, “Please make sure the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge fees do NOT “sunset”: Support ESHB 2368. Also, please help all Washington residents have opportunities for safe, healthy affordable homes: make a deeper investment in affordable housing. Neither the House nor the Senate Capital Budget invests enough in our State Housing Trust Fund.”
  • Fair Tenant Screening Act, Part 3Failed to pass out of Senate Committee — this bill is dead
    • Update: Again, Co-Chair Sen. Jan Angel refused to bring this bill to a vote in the Senate’s FIHI Committee, which effectively killed the bill for the 2014 Legislative Session. Supporters will bring it back for the 2015 Legislative Session.
  • Youth Opportunities Act: Passed out of Senate’s HSC Committee, awaits floor action in the Senate Rules Committee
    • Update: HB 1651 has passed through the House, then the Senate, and now needs to be “pulled to a floor vote” in the Senate Rules Committee by this Friday, March 7 or else it will die. Some groups have withdrawn their opposition. Still, it’s dire that we counter the opposition’s calls to Senators!
    • Action Alert: Use this link from the Children’s Alliance to send a message of support to your Senator. Please also call your Senator with this simple message: “Please ensure HB 1651 gets a vote in the Senate! The time is now; we cannot afford to wait. This bill will help prevent another 10,000 youth from having their records unnecessarily distributed over the next year!”
  • Homeless Children’s Education Act: HB 2373 is in Senate Rules Committee, SB 6074 is in House Rules Committee. 
    • Update: Both bills successfully passed through both houses, and are in their respective Rules Committee. One difference is that the Senate Budget includes funds to support the bill, but the House Budget does not.
    • Action Alert: Please call the Legislative Hotline at (800) 562-6000 to urge your Representatives to amend their Operating Budget to include the necessary funds for SB 6074.
  • Housing and Essential Needs & Aged, Blind or Disabled: No cuts
    • Update: Both the House and Senate supplemental budget proposals make no cuts to HEN and ABD. Plus, mystery bill SB 6573 has been explained. In short, it changes the definition of disability for both programs, which would result in savings that would be swept into the General Fund. (Read a more detailed report here.)
    • Action Alert: Call the Legislative Hotline at (800) 562-6000 to urge your lawmakers to “to pass SB 6573 and to reinvest its savings into HEN. Also, please use any incapacity exam savings to reinvest back into HEN and ABD.”
  • Housing Trust Fund: No budget appropriate in the Senate, low appropriation in the House.
    • Update: Advocates were surprised by the low appropriation of funds in the House’s supplemental budget, but not surprised by the Senate’s lack of appropriated in their supplemental budget. Check out WLIHA’s Budget Tracker to get the big picture differences among each proposed budget.
    • Action Alert: Call the Legislative Hotline at (800) 562-6000 to urge your lawmakers to “please help all Washington residents have opportunities for safe, healthy affordable homes: make a deeper investment in affordable housing. Neither the House nor the Senate Capital Budget invests enough in our State Housing Trust Fund.”
  • Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity: House Bill Died —  No action this session
    • The Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity did not make it out of the House (HB 2399), and did not have a companion bill in the Senate. The bill is no longer being considered this session; stay tuned for another attempt to pass CROP next session! Contact your Legislators throughout the year to let them know the importance of CROP.

Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to ensure that Everyone Counts 365 days a year. 

The One Night Count: A Lesson in Gratitude

Photo Credit: Joe Iano for SKCCHThis is the second in a sequence of posts spotlighting the experiences and takeaways of some of our One Night Count volunteers.

The One Night Count is a snapshot of the number of people who are homeless outside. Overnight Thursday – Friday, January 23-24, hundreds of volunteers from across King County showed up to help with the One Night Count at headquarters in Seattle, Shoreline, Bellevue, Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, White Center, the University District, and Renton. This year, in the wee morning hours from 2-5 a.m. volunteers documented 3,123 people trying to make it through a winter night outside, while shelters were full.

While volunteers share the same mission during the Count and a common vision of our community without homelessness, each volunteer has their own unique story. Keep coming back to hear more of their stories.

This moving and powerful story was written by Kahla B-K, a first-time counter who is interning at Solid Ground, and was originally posted on Solid Ground’s blog. Kahla has graciously given us permission to re-post it here for you all to read. Here are her words:

As we gathered in the wee hours of Friday, January 24 at the Compass Housing Alliance for our initial One Night Count volunteer briefing, I thanked the twinkling stars above it wasn’t raining. Over 800 of us would spread out across King County to search for and count people sleeping outside without shelter. The One Night Count (organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness) would be a snapshot of homelessness between the hours of 2 and 5am.

As the count began, my team and I quietly weaved our way around the streetlamp-lit areas first, peeking into parked cars and doorways. There was no one in sight. It seemed as if everyone else in the world had vanished. That feeling was probably what allowed me to peer into the dark gaps between dumpsters, or make my way into the spaces between buildings I would never, under normal circumstances, walk into at night. The mood was warm – light, like the glow from the lamps overhead. But that would change.

The cold reality
As the condensation slowly turned to frost, the warmth I had felt was replaced with a shiver. A large park was last on our map to check. We had been told before setting out that we would likely find people here; people really do come to this park to sleep. I was fearful; beyond the reach of the sentinel streetlights, the shadowed expanse behind the vine-choked fence was eerie and unnerving.

It’s one thing to think about the experience of homelessness while warm and safe in bed, but actually going to places where people without homes might sleep was entirely different. I couldn’t imagine having to decide where to sleep each night, let alone the circumstances that would lead me to believe that entering a dark park – without a flashlight – was the best option. What I felt was probably only a glimpse of the fear people experiencing homelessness deal with every day.

We found no one sleeping in the park, however – perhaps we just couldn’t see them. As we ended our search and began our walk back to our group’s meeting spot, we admitted how relieved we were to have a zero tally. That’s when we met John (name changed for privacy).

A face of homelessness
I knew immediately when I saw him that he was homeless. No one, if they could help it, would be out wearing only a thin hoodie and track pants. He threw a smile our way then politely asked us who we were with – noting the bright yellow “volunteer” stickers plastered all over our clothes. A member of our group explained what we were doing out so late at night. John paused and looked down, and then said that he, too, was without a home.

He told us his story and of the complications preventing him from getting the help he needed. All the problems he recounted wove perfectly into the pattern of homelessness – all the issues that agencies like ours are fighting to dismantle. As we talked, he shivered uncontrollably, so strongly at one point he almost lost his balance. And then, diplomatically, he asked if us if there was anything we could do to help.

My coworker and I locked eyes; no words were needed to express how we felt. We had nothing to offer at that moment. If we felt helpless, John’s feelings of utter hopelessness must have been overwhelming. Indeed, he started to sob for a moment in the crook of his arm, hiding his face so we couldn’t see. With tears still caught in the lines under his eyes, he explained his medical condition and the barriers he’s faced seeking treatment.

Clearly suffering from the cold, he said he needed to go to the hospital and asked if we could call 9-1-1, so we did. Fearful of what might have happened to him if we hadn’t been there to call for help, I was suddenly grateful for the icy phone I squeezed in my pocket. He asked us to stay with him until the ambulance arrived. He was still shaking and having trouble standing, so we walked over to the stairs behind us so he could sit. We continued to talk – about his childhood and how he got his name – named after his father’s wartime buddy. He made jokes about what it was like fighting for bathroom time in a house with four sisters.

A human connection
When the fire truck pulled up, he held out his hand to me to shake as he thanked us. He did not let go, but held my hand as he continued to talk on, not wanting us to leave. I didn’t try to pull away. How long had it been since he was able to just talk to someone – for someone to listen? How long since he was comforted by another person’s touch? No, I wouldn’t let go until he did – or until the paramedics made me, which is what happened.

We didn’t wait to see if they would take John somewhere or leave him; after touching base with our whole group, we went our separate ways. And as I drove by on my way home, John was gone. I hoped he was on his way to a warm bed.

The impact of that night lasted far longer than the cold that soaked into my bones after only three hours outside. I shivered the rest of the morning thinking about John and my experience participating in the One Night Count – my electric blanket turned all the way up. Two pairs of socks, two sweaters, a hoodie, and two pairs of pants weren’t enough to warm me – inside or out. While the experience of homelessness is impossible to understand in just a few hours’ time, I came away with a very important lesson that I keep reminding myself of: Be grateful for all that I have – not just a warm bed or a cell phone, but a loved one’s open ears and caring embrace.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information on the One Night Count, please visit: www.homelessinfo.org.

All Aboard! Act now to support the Reduced Metro Fare.

Metro Bus

If you’re an able-bodied 19-64-year-old in King County, a one-way bus trip will set you back $2.25-3.00, depending on peak hours and zones being traveled. A transfer ticket will keep the money for your return-trip in your pocket, but only if you get back on the bus within two hours; otherwise, it’s another $2.25-3.00. While Metro tickets are significantly cheaper than parking, on top of the additional combined cost having and maintaining a car, we at the Coalition know that even a one-way bus ticket is out of reach for many in our community.

The Coalition, along with friends and allies at Transportation Choices Coalition, the Seattle Human Services Coalition, Puget Sound Sage, OneAmerica, and the Transit Riders Union, has been a strong voice for a reduced transit fare for people who are low income. Now, we have a real chance to make this happen! See below for what YOU can do to make this a reality! 

King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed a reduced Metro fare that incorporates many of our recommendations.  People living up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) would be eligible for a reduced fare of $1.50. In King County, nearly a quarter of the population is at or below 200% FPL. Eligibility would last for one year. At this rate, eligible riders could get a monthly ORCA pass with unlimited rides for $54.

While we are very pleased to see such a progressive and innovative proposal, we are urging the King County Council to further reduce the fare for people who are working to make ends meet.  There will be a special election this April, to raise revenue to save 600,000 hours of bus service: we are asking King County to use this opportunity to ‘buy down’ the fare to $1.25.

Metro is facing a $75 million budget shortfall, and there are 20% service cuts looming.

Why? Our local options for raising money to fund basic infrastructure, like public transportation, are limited by the State’s authority. Washington state’s lawmakers have not voted for more progressive taxes that would allow us to continue (and expand) services. In Executive Constantine’s words, “We’ve done everything within our means to keep people moving. We are out of time for a statewide solution that includes a local option. We must move forward on our own.” Now, the County has limited options to prevent service cuts.

In order to “move forward” we must pass a ballot measure up for public vote on April 22, 2014. The Executive is proposing to prevent bus cuts by increasing the sales tax by one tenth of one percent, and implementing a $60 car tab fee (there will be a partial rebate for some car owners, based on household income). It is frustrating that these two options are flat taxes, that will disproportionately burden poor and working people.  However, this is precisely why we have leverage to make the Reduced Fare happen!

Here’s what you can do right now:

  1. Call and Email your King County Councilmembers. Tell them you support the Reduced Metro Fare proposal, but that $1.50 is still too high, and we need a fairer fare. [Author's note: I  just used this very link to look up who my King County Councilmember was. I found Larry Phillips'  phone number and left him a voicemail in just three minutes. You can do this!]
  2. Encourage others to do the same!

Here’s what you can plan to do next week:

  • Show your support for the Reduced Fare at King County’s Public Hearing on Tuesday, Feb 18 at 1:30 p.m.
    • Location: King County Council, Room 1001, King County Courthouse (516 3rd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104)
    • Use the time devoted to public comment to share your message!

How the One Night Count changed my perspective.

Overnight Thursday – Friday, January 23-24, hundreds of volunteers from across King County showed up to help with the One Night Count‘s Street Count of people sleeping without shelter. They started at headquarters from Seattle to Shoreline to Bellevue, Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, White Center, the University District, and Renton. And together, over three hours, they helped us to document 3,123 people who were trying to make it through a winter night outside, while shelters were full.

While volunteers share the same mission during the Count and a common vision of our community without homelessness, each volunteer has their own unique story. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting the stories of One Night Count volunteers.

This first story is from Rebecca R., who coincidentally shares my first name and last initial! Here are her words:

I did not know what to expect going into my first One Night Count. I work with people who are homeless every day in my job at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, but that’s different. For starters, it’s not in the middle of the night. Next, people usually come to me; I don’t seek them out, potentially invading their space and privacy. So I woke up at 1 a.m. Friday morning feeling a strange mix of excitement, nervousness and grogginess.

I requested and was placed at the Renton Headquarters. The rest of my team was made up of our Team Captain, two other counters, and me. It was wonderful to connect with other people who work in fields that are different from mine, but that all touch the same populations.

We set out right at 2 a.m., all piling into our Team Captain’s car for our first stop. We stopped at stores, parks and underpasses, always searching for sleeping forms or tents. We tried to be as quiet as possible, so we wouldn’t disturb sleeping people. None of us complained about the early hour or the cold, because how could we, when we were looking at people sleeping outside? The One Night Count really puts things into perspective, highlighting the day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute struggle of people who literally have nowhere to go. There is no place for people to sleep comfortably and safely outdoors. At best, they find an isolated spot, crawl into a sleeping bag and wake up with the sun. Worst case, people are assaulted, have their possessions stolen, or told to move on.

By 5 a.m. we had covered our assigned area and headed back to the Renton Headquarters to warm up and grab some breakfast. Our team had counted a total of 7 people, including a few people in campers and tents.

I can now see our customers who are homeless with new eyes. They are coming into the Food Bank having struggled for hours to get warm, dry and comfortable, plus get a little sleep. If they seem out of it or irritable, who wouldn’t be after that ordeal, day after day, night after night? The One Night Count is not only a count of people who are homeless in our community, it is a reminder that we cannot judge someone’s attitude, action or ability to accomplish seemingly simple tasks if they do not have a safe and warm place to sleep.

I am not saying it is feasible to immediately house everyone who is living outside. But what we can do, right now, today is to look at our homeless neighbors with new eyes. We can find it within us to smile instead of look away. Buy a hot cup of coffee for someone who looks cold. Feel compassion instead of irritation when someone asks for change. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to help with the 2014 One Night Count, and for the chance to see so many people with a new perspective. 

Rebecca, we’re grateful for you. Thank you for sharing in this work to ensure safety and survival for people who are homeless, and to see an end to homelessness in our region.

Support us in this crucial work. All gifts made through February 28th will be matched, doubling your impact.

Recap: Coalition’s General Meeting – December 19, 2013

As we were bidding farewell to 2013, Alison and I discussed what we’d like 2014 to look like for the Coalition’s Everyone Counts blog.  One idea that we’re running with is to post a recap after every General Member Meeting. 2013 was a great year for our Coalition, and one we want to build off of in 2014. So, here to ring in this New Year with our new tradition is a Recap of December’s General Member meeting.

As a reminder, the General Member Meeting takes place every third Thursday of the month from 9.00 – 11.00 a.m. at the East Cherry YWCA (2820 E. Cherry Street in Seattle). For more information, check our website’s Members’ tab for a link to the ‘Committees & Meetings’ page, or simply follow this link to take you there directly. Our next General Member Meeting is Thursday, January 16, 2014.

__________________

Seattle Final Budget News & Thank You to Mayor Mike McGinn

  • Our friends at the Seattle Human Services Coalition’s handout highlights our HUGE win with the City of Seattle Budget process: an additional investment of $6,891,219!
  • Out-going Mayor Mike McGinn and Jerry DeGrieck, Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor McGinn, came to receive the Coalition’s sincerest Thank You for their leadership and commitment to Seattle residents over the past four years, and also for his strong support of the Coalition’s budget recommendations this past year. Mayor McGinn shared his heartfelt thanks to the Coalition and its members for all of our advocacy, and encouraged us to keep it up.

2014 Legislative Session Preview

  • Robin Zukoski of Columbia Legal Services (CLS) provided background and an overview about the upcoming Legislative Session.
  • Ben Miksch of Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) shared with us WLIHA’s 2014 State Legislative Agenda.
  • Carrie Dolwick of Transportation Choices Coalition shared the status of Transportation policy at the State and Local level, as well as the possibility of a low-income Metro fare.
  • Join the Coalition as we press forward on issues related to:
    • Funding affordable housing and homeless services,
    • Homeless students and youth in foster care,
    • Housing and Essential Needs,
    • Fair tenant screening practices,
    • A fairer tax system,
    • Sustainable funding for public transit, and
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

Coalition Staff Report

  • Rebecca Roy, Community Projects Manager, previewed the 2014 One Night Count: overnight Thursday-Friday, January 23-24, 2014 (i.e., very early in the morning on Friday, January 24 from 2 a.m. – 5 p.m.).

King County Winter Shelter Advocacy      

  • Last year, King County Executive Dow Constantine doubled the King County Winter Shelter’s capacity to provide a total of 100 beds for people who are homeless to access safe shelter and get out of the bitter cold. This year, temperatures dropped faster and much earlier than in years prior, yet the King County Winter Shelter didn’t see a correlative increase in capacity. Advocates have called, written, and petitioned, asking King County to once again double the capacity — and nothing has happened. Now, we demand that Executive Constantine respond to the need in our community just as he did last year. Please call Executive Constantine at 206.263.9600 and tell him add 50 beds to allow men who are homeless to safely sleep at the Administration Building Shelter.

Special Musical Interlude: John Shaw

  • John Shaw is a musician, activist, writer, and long-time friend of the Coalition.  He read from his newly released book, which will change how you think about the classic songs “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.”  Lucky for us, he brought his guitar, and we shared in some good ol’ group singing.

Notes from November’s General Member Meeting

  • A full hour was devoted to Sara Robbins and Stephanie Earheart, Benefits Attorneys from Solid Ground, one-of-a-kind, in-depth presentation on the Affordable Care Act and Washington’s Health Benefits exchange. Issues covered included: transitions for current Medicaid recipients, new eligibility guidelines for Medicaid and tax subsidies and a little bit on navigating the WA Health Plan Finder. This was an incredible opportunity to get questions answered, and to better understand the sign-up process. Here’s a link to their presentation: ACA Lecture Solid Ground 11-21-13.

Save these dates on your calendar:

  • 2014 One Night Count will be overnight Thursday, Jan. 23 to Friday, Jan. 24.
    • Youth Count Activities will take place during the day on Thursday, Jan. 23
    • The Veterans Survey will take place during the day on Friday, Jan. 24.
  • Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day will be Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Register at www.wliha.org.
  • Homelessness Advocacy 101: Beyond the One Night Count Workshop will be Saturday, Feb.1, 2014 from 10 a.m. – 12 noon @ Plymouth UCC in Seattle and from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. @ Kent Lutheran Church in Kent. Register at www.homelessinfo.org.
  • Have a Heart for Kids Day will be Monday, Feb. 3, 2014
  • Youth Advocacy Day will be Friday, Feb.14, 2014. Register with the Mockingbird Society.
  • Legislative Session will be Jan.13, 2014 – Mar. 13, 2014.

We look forward to seeing you at the next General Member Meeting on Thursday, January 16, 2014! And be sure to check back here for a Recap following each meeting. 

Nancy Amidei’s Food Stamp Diary, Week 2: “This week’s bread is cheaper, but less filling.”

Greg Kauffman, who writes for The Nation, just published a scathing article on Bill Moyers’ website entitled “Why Is a Senate Democrat Agreeing to Another $8 Billion in Food Stamp Cuts?”  Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and is a leading negotiator on the Farm  Bill (the huge piece of legislation that determines farm subsidies as well as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance  Program (SNAP), aka Food Stamps).  Stabenow is reportedly poised to agree to billions more in cuts. Kauffman describes the political landscape, in which Senate Democrats, as well as conservative House Republicans, are proposing devastating cuts to this basic support:

Despite the fact that the Institute of Medicine demonstrated the inadequacy of the SNAP benefit allotment and that a child’s access to food stamps has a positive impact on adult outcomes, the program was just cut by $5 billion on November 1. The average benefit dropped from $1.50 to $1.40 per meal. The Senate Agriculture Committee’s previous proposal to cut yet another $4 billion from SNAP would have led to 500,000 losing $90 per month in benefits, the equivalent of one week’s worth of meals.

“That was the first time in history that a Democratic-controlled Senate had even proposed cutting the SNAP program,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “The willingness of some Senate Democrats to double new cuts to the program…is unthinkable.” {emphasis added}

Food Stamps were never designed to meet all of a person’s or family’s nutritional needs. However, as we have seen federal and state cuts to programs benefiting people who are elderly, disabled, children, unemployed, or underemployed, Food Stamps are a significant part of a family’s food budget. It is hard to imagine a more worthwhile program, or one that is more targeted to people who are clearly poor and hungry in our nation.

There are currently 47 million Americans who turn to food stamps to help make ends meet. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 72 percent are in families with children and one-quarter of SNAP participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Further, 91 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line and 55 percent to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,500 annually for a family of three).

In other words, Food Stamps not only help poor and vulnerable people – they help our neighbors who are extremely poor and vulnerable. SNAP helps people put food on the table, and their modest purchases in turn bring millions of dollars of food purchases into local economies across the United States.  Deeper cuts to Food Stamps will produce more hungry and malnourished children and seniors, with devastating near- and long-term effects on the health of the American people.

Our friend and long-time homelessness and anti-hunger advocate, Nancy Amidei sent us the latest installment of her diary about eating on $4.20 a day, what the average person receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Stamps now receives.  She is urging Washington’s Congresswoman Suzan Del Bene, who is a member of the conference committee, to join her.  Please join Nancy in letting Rep. Del Bene know that we are counting on her to protect SNAP.  You may call Rep. Del Bene’s local Bothell office staff at (425) 485-0085, or send an e-mail via her website.

WEEK TWO – Post-Thanksgiving.  I admit:  I cheated.  I took a “Thanksgiving break” from eating on a “food stamp diet.” So, as my second week on $4.20/day begins, that means I also start  out abundantly well-fed.  All last week I was conscious of how much my family had of everything. It wasn’t just the heaping plates of meat and vegetables during meals, there were all sorts of nuts and cheeses before meals, and afterward — we’d have dessert!

Day One: Went shopping today, calculator in hand, to figure per-meal-costs of every item. One result:  shopping took a LOT longer.  I bought what I hope is a week’s worth of food for $29.68.  And that was only possible because I had some coupons from my daily newspaper. Even so, I could only afford two vegetables:  carrots, and potatoes. (The green ones are all too pricey.)  Also missing:  fruit, something sweet.

Day Two:  At a mid-morning meeting, a colleague bought me coffee – full-strength!  YEA. But this week’s bread is cheaper, and already I’ve learned:  it’s also less-filling. V-8 was on sale so it’s my lunch-time vegetable this week (at half the recommended portion).  Dinner will be the same as last night.  But I know I’m lucky.  If I didn’t have a fridge or was living in my car, making it on food stamps would be impossible.

Day Three: I ran into a woman who’d read about what I was doing.  She said after getting groceries for her family, she checked the food stamp amount for a family of their size, and — despite being careful — found she’d just spent nearly three times that.  Meanwhile, by mid-morning, my stomach was growling.  But, I found a couple of apples in the back of the fridge… had it in small amounts (to stretch it out). Very exciting. Dinner – same as last two nights.  Plus, I miss chocolate.

Day Four:  Had a lunch-time meeting at a restaurant. With tips and tax, lunch equaled nearly 5 days’ allotment. Even though I brought half of my lunch home (to stretch to two meals), and eating out can be avoided, not all high costs can be.  What if I had diabetes? or other special diet needs?  or was being treated for cancer?

Day Five: Confession:  last night I found, and ate, some chocolate.  Even so, when I weighed in this a.m., I’d lost another 1.5 pounds.  And, I notice that my lower-cost breakfast cereal leaves me hungry by mid-morning.  Very grateful I don’t have a waitress or maid’s job involving lots of moving/hauling/energy. Today’s menus are like all other days this week. Still eating the chicken cooked on Day One; it’s a bit old, but it’s dinner… and appreciated.

2,736 people had no shelter in King County last night

The One Night Count of homeless people in King County took place early this morning.  We are incredibly grateful to the many volunteers and supporters whose careful work made this a safe, respectful, and accurate Count.

At least 2,736 men, women, and children were found sleeping on sidewalks, under bridges, in their cars, on public transit, and in temporary structures and makeshift campsites. This is 142 more people than our volunteers counted outside one year ago.

The work we do together on this One Night is just the beginning. It sets in motion a full year of education, engagement, and action for all of us who care about this crisis. This morning, returning to warmth indoors, we are especially aware of this truth:  everyone should have a place to call home.

Volunteers returned from counting shocked and saddened to see their neighbors sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes or riding Metro buses to keep warm.  Many are also inspired to urge public officials to match these basic needs with robust resources.  Right now, our State Legislators are debating funding for key housing and homelessness programs:  I am asking every person who volunteered for this One Night Count, and every member of our Coalition, to commit to taking action.  Let us make sure the One Night Count is more than just a big, sad number.

Are you interested in helping?

  • Come to a Homelessness Advocacy 101 Workshop in Seattle or Bellevue on Saturday, February 9 ~ register here.
  • Join Coalition members as we meet with and educate lawmakers in Olympia on Monday, February 11 for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day ~ register here.
  • Support the Coalition’s work through a financial donation. Donations made through February 28 will be matched, up to $7,000, providing a unique opportunity to double the impact of your gift. Donate online today.

After seeing what our community came together to accomplish in a few short hours this morning, I’m confident that together, we can ensure safety for people who are homeless today and end the crisis of homelessness once and for all.

Visit our website for the 2013 street count results in more detail.