The Coalition takes Tacoma!

Last week, Coalition staff were excited to be joined by our two fantastic scholarship recipients at the 23rd Annual Statewide Conference on Ending Homelessness. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance put on this informative and exciting conference, this year in nearby Tacoma. We were joined by Susan and Tracy (pictured below) and spent two full days learning and connecting with people from all around the state committed to ending homelessness. I had the pleasure of getting to know both recipients both before and during the conference and their enthusiasm was contagious!

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For me it was great to see how many passionate people are out there fighting to end the homeless situation, and how these groups are dealing with the changing face of homelessness today. I especially enjoyed seeing the different programs and how they work … by attending I now have found some advocacy groups that I will get involved with most definitely now. -Susan

The Power of Effective Advocacy – Winter Shelter Extended through June 15 for 215 people

Something unprecedented and special happened in our community this spring.  Winter shelters, which usually close on March 31, were extended, first through April 15, and then all the way through June 15th.  While we are all basking in the sunshine at the moment, it’s worth remembering how unpredictable our northwest weather is.  In the last few weeks we have had cold rain, wind, and temperatures near freezing.  The weekend before shelters were scheduled to close on April 15, a hail storm in Seattle highlighted the urgent need for year-round shelter in our city.

Red doors open
The red doors at Seattle City Hall that open to one winter shelter that will now run through June 15

Winter shelter was extended at three locations in Seattle: King County Administration Building (100 men), Seattle City Hall (75 men & women), and at the YWCA’s Angeline’s Center (40 women).  There are many people and organizations who collaborated to accomplish this broadening of shelter. Thanks to strong collaboration, persistence, leadership and effective advocacy, 215 men and women will not be left to fend for themselves through rain, hail, cold and darkness. Instead, they will be inside: safe, dry and warm.

Thank You Note to Seattle City Council in front of the Red Doors
Hand delivering a thank you note to the Seattle City Council that symbolized the opening of the red doors that they opened to extend winter shelter.

Today we hand delivered thank you cards signed by Coalition members to the leadership in Seattle and King County who helped make winter shelter a reality in our community: Seattle City Council; King County Council; Executive Constantine; Mayor McGinn; Director of King County Community & Human Services Department, Ms. Jackie MacLean; Director of Seattle Human Services Department, Ms. Dannette Smith.  Please also send your own note of thanks to any and all people listed above – without their leadership, we would not have been able to extend winter shelter.

 

Senate Releases Proposed Budget that Slashes Funding for Housing and Human Services

The Washington State Senate released their proposed budget yesterday which, if enacted, would be devastating for housing and human services.  Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) was cut by 50% and the Aged, Blind & Disabled (ABD) program, with the tiny cash benefit of $197 a month for people waiting for federal Social Security benefits, was completely eliminated.  Working Connections Child Care – a program that helps low-income parents pay for child care – was cut by $180 million.  In addition, advocates are concerned that there is a chance that neither the Senate nor the House will allocate funds for the Housing Trust Fund, our most powerful  tool for creating affordable housing and good jobs across Washington.

The Senate’s proposed budget is unacceptable.  We need to let our senators know how we feel about this budget, which places heavy burdens on low income people. Yesterday, the Coalition’s Alison Eisinger was among several housing and homelessness advocates who went down to Olympia to deliver testimony on the importance of the programs that were cut in the Senate’s proposed budgets.  Here are two strong testimonies from Greg Winter, Director of Whatcom  Homeless Service Center in Bellingham, and from Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Community Engagement and Advocacy Manager with the Low Income Housing Institute.

Greg Winter, Whatcom Homeless Service Center

I’m here to ask you to support the Disability Lifeline programs – Housing & Essential Needs and Aged, Blind & Disabled. I’ve witnessed first hand how these programs have transformed the lives of Whatcom County residents who were extremely vulnerable. I understand that your budget released today eliminates ABD – this is a very bad idea. This program provides modest support for people who are disabled and applying for SSI. The state receives approximately $50 million in reimbursements from the Federal Government for the modest cash grant and this is $50 million that will no longer come to the state or this vulnerable population. I understand that these people will be eligible for HEN if they are homeless or at great risk of homelessness, but it appears that your budget doesn’t fund HEN at the same level and certainly doesn’t increase it to accommodate for this newly eligible population, which is much larger than the current HEN-eligible population.

The usage of the HEN program is increasing each month in every county of the state and we need to grow this critical program not shrink it and add more demand to it. Please reconsider your budget proposal and don’t leave these vulnerable people with nothing. Otherwise, many of these people will eventually show up in much more expensive, publicly funded systems of emergency care.

Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Low Income Housing Institute

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, my name is Ania Beszterda-Alyson and I am here to urge you to preserve the Housing and Essential Needs /Aged Blind Disabled program in its current form,  and protect Washington’s most vulnerable residents.  The Low Income Housing Institute works to end homelessness in six counties across Puget Sound by developing and providing affordable homes to nearly 4,000 low income, homeless and formerly homeless people, including over 700 families. Overall, 72% of units developed by LIHI are occupied by formerly homeless households.

I drove to Olympia today to share a story of one of our residents who gave me permission to relay to you just how vital the Housing and Essential Needs Program has been for him. Due to his circumstance he preferred not to appear in person or have his name shared. I will call him Will.  Will became homeless when he turned 18 as do so many of our foster kids (I’m a foster mom myself and find this heartbreaking). Will’s biological family abused him when he was very young, but an older couple took him in and fostered Will until he was 18. He still visits his two foster parents regularly and affectionately calls them grandma & grandpa. Being homeless was particularly traumatic for Will due to his childhood experiences, but also because youth easily become victims once on the streets and are abused terribly. After two years of living in youth shelters and outside Will’s case manager helped him secure a HEN voucher so he could move into one of LIHI’s apartment buildings – Gossett Place in the University District. Will qualified for HEN because he was homeless and he has a developmental disability. Just last month he heard that his SSDI was finally approved after two attempts with help of a lawyer. Thankfully he will continue to be able to live at Gossett Place where he’s been thriving thanks to the on-site case management, counseling and services. Staff at Gossett Place have commented that Will’s behavior has improved dramatically since he moved in 10 months ago and has become very stable. Will is now looking forward to working towards his GED; he volunteers at Gossett Place – helps to tend to the rooftop garden boxes, and hopes to begin training to become a barber. HEN truly was a lifeline for Will – it secured his housing while he waited for the SSDI payments to be approved and allowed him to escape the trauma he experienced on the streets as a vulnerable youth.

Please protect the Housing and Essential Needs and the Aged Blind Disabled Programs and fund them at the current $130M level as they are a true lifeline for our state’s most vulnerable residents like Will. Thank you for your time.

Sequestration: taking us from bad to worse

Seattle Housing Authority recently accepted 24,000 applications for a coveted 2,000 placements on the Section 8 waiting list. Last week it announced that the 2,000 households had been chosen through a random lottery, but there’s a catch. Due to sequestration, the local housing authority also announced that it would be unable to issue vouchers to any of the selected households in the foreseeable future. This announcement comes amid news that the King County Housing Authority has suspended issuing any new vouchers to households on their waiting list as a result of sequestration. Local Section 8 wait lists are often closed for years at a time because of the overwhelming need for affordable housing in King County. In the space of a few weeks, sequestration has taken the situation from bad to worse, with 2,000 not-so-lucky households added to a wait list that for now looks indefinite.

Our partners at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance provide a more in-depth look into the effects of sequestration on Section 8 recipients and local housing authorities here. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides an overview of the national impacts of Sequestration on Section 8 and other housing and homelessness funding sources.

Bill Affecting Youth who are Displaced or Homeless Becomes Law

Governor Inslee signs 72 hour notification bill into law on February 27, 2013.
Governor Inslee signs SB 5147 into law on February 27, 2013. Photo by The Mockingbird Society.

Update to previous post on February 20, 2013: Huge Success for Youth! But there’s still work to be done!

Governor Inslee signed SB 5147, a bill concerning a 72 hour notification period for agencies to inform parents of a juvenile seeking crisis services, into law on February 27. This allows young people who leave their homes in crisis, and the shelter staff who want to help them, more time to connect and work out safe resolutions. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to correct this flaw in the law: Columbia Legal Services, The Mockingbird Society, Youthcare, Friends of Youth and youth shelter providers across the state, as well as parents, law enforcement, and legislators who realize that it’s far better to make sure youth can turn to shelter workers than to discourage them from seeking help.

We also have our eye on the Youth Opportunities Act, HB1651, as it moves through the legislature. By sealing juvenile court records to the public, except in the case of serious violent offenses or sex crimes, this bill would remove barriers for young people seeking opportunities, and keep them from paying for childhood mistakes in their adult lives. We don’t need more barriers for folks trying to get housing, please encourage your legislators to support the Youth Opportunities Act by contacting them today at 1-800-562-6000!

Section 8 Wait List Open in Seattle

Thousands of entries have already been received for the lottery to be placed on the waiting list for Housing Choice Vouchers in Seattle which opened on February 4th and will close on February 22nd. Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 vouchers, provide a rental subsidy to low-income individuals and families that can be applied to private market-rate housing. Recipients of these vouchers can choose a rental anywhere in the city limits of Seattle within a predetermined price range. Renters then pay 30% of their income in rent, and the voucher pays the difference directly to the landlord.

The demand for vouchers is incredibly high and Seattle Housing Authority will randomly select at least 2,000 households to be entered onto the waiting list. This is the first time since 2008 that the waiting list has been opened, and the housing authority is still contacting people from that original list.

For more information about the lottery for the Section 8 waiting list visit the Seattle Housing Authority website or call their waiting list hotline at 206-239-1674. Applications are only accepted by the housing authority, don’t be fooled by scam sites which require credit card information!