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!
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
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.
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.
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.
Sunday marked the end of the 105 day regular session down in Olympia with no budget agreement in sight. Governor Inslee has called all the legislators back down to Olympia for a special session to work out the budget beginning on May 13. While it may seem frustrating that the legislators couldn’t work out a budget in 105 days, it’s actually really great for housing and homelessness advocates to have an extended session. A special session means that we are more likely to end up with a final budget that reflects what we want: adequate investment in affordable housing (at least $65 million for the Housing Trust Fund + $28.5 million allotted to affordable housing projects by the House) and investment in the services that the people we serve need most, including Disability Lifeline (Housing and Essential Needs and Aged, Blind and Disabled) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
Your legislators will be back home in their district for the next two weeks, so now it is MORE important than ever before to stay in touch with your legislators. Email them or better yet invite them to your programs and show them how your programs – especially programs that are funded by the Housing Trust Fund or Housing and Essential Needs programs – work! If we don’t keep in touch with our elected officials, we will not end up with the budget that we want in the end – one that protects affordable housing and services for our homeless and low-income neighbors.
The end of regular session also marks a time to celebrate our advocacy as a community this session and what it helped us to win. Our collective advocacy helped us pass part 2 of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, Foster Care to 21, and 72-hour notification for youth shelters. These wins are truly something to be proud of so let’s build on them and ask our legislators to pass a budget that Washingtonians can be proud of!
Last week was a busy week for housing and homelessness advocates. First, the House passed its proposed budget, a huge improvement over the Senate’s version.
On Wednesday at noon, the House Appropriations Committee released their proposed budget and then passed it through the House of Representatives late Friday night. The House’s proposed budget protects important parts of our state’s safety net and includes revenue. It preserves funding for:
The House also allocated $71 million for the Housing Trust Fund, more than double what the Senate allocated. This is very important, however, it is still well below the $175 million that we need in our state to create housing that is affordable to low income and working families.
On April 10, the same day that the House released their budget, our friends at Poverty Action issued a call to action to “Save our Safety Net.” We joined them in urging our members to call Olympia to tell their legislators to protect Washington’s safety net. We had some surprising evidence (in addition to people e-mailing us and posting on our facebook page) that lots of people took action: last Wednesday evening, members of the Coalition’s Board of Directors made their calls to the free Legislative Hotline. Board president Emily Meyer called, and began to deliver our short message. After her first few words, “Please vote for full funding for vital programs,” the hotline operator recited the rest of our message back to her, “that really help families and people with disabilities in our community: HEN, ABD, TANF. Please include new revenue and end tax giveaways in the final budget. Thank you.” Now that is what we call effective advocacy!!
Now that both houses are in the process of negotiating our final budget, please use Poverty Action’s handy email template to keep this message in front of your legislators: our safety net must be protected in the final budget, and our state needs revenue.
The Fair Tenant Screening Act has passed the House and is headed for the Governor’s desk!
We had a piece of GREAT NEWS: on Friday, Part II of the Fair Tenant Screening Act passed the House unanimously and moved on to the Governor’s desk for signature. Thanks for the tireless advocacy of the Tenants Union, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and all of you for helping this bill become law!
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.
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.
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!
It is true, bipartisanship really does still exist! The 72-hour notification bill (SB 5147/HB 1250), one of the Coalition’s legislative priorities, passed the Senate unanimously and easily passed in the House this past week with only seven voting against it.
This bill sought to reinstate an important part of the Becca Bill which gave youth shelters up to 72 hours to notify a youth’s guardian after she or he checked into a youth shelter. Because the law “sunset,” the number of hours before a shelter staff person had to contact authorities suddenly decreased from three days to only eight hours. Eight hours is not enough time for the adult staff working at a shelter to engage with youth and be able to develop rapport. Many youth come to shelters after they have run away from disturbed or dangerous family situations, and they need time to feel secure, calm down, and assess their options in a safe place. Thanks to the legislators of our State, youth will now be less likely to avoid shelters for fear that their families, police, or child protective services will be alerted right away. Advocates are now asking Governor Jay Inslee to sign the bill into law on Youth Advocacy Day this Friday, February 22, to show the youth of Washington State that their governor and legislators are behind them.
Even though we have a very exciting win, our advocacy does not stop here. As Youth Advocacy Day approaches, one of the Coalition’s priorities, the Youth Opportunities Act (HB 1651 / SB 5689), is still under consideration. Currently Washington is one of only eight states that makes juvenile records open to the public and available to be published online. This means that people with criminal records from their youth, before the age of 18, are subject to additional barriers accessing housing, education, and employment. The Youth Opportunities Act would seal juvenile records to the public, except in the case of serious violent offenses, and prohibit courts from disseminating or selling this information. This information is currently sold to background check companies who make money at the expense of youth and young adults.
The Youth Opportunities Act would remove barriers for young people seeking opportunities, and keep them from paying for childhood mistakes in their adult lives. Please take action to move this bill out of committee and onto the house floor by making a public comment on the Senate version of the bill or by calling your legislators using the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000.
P.S. For a great summary of youth advocacy around these and other important issues, check out Senator Frockt’s blog post!
This week was an exciting one for housing and homelessness advocacy!
Last Saturday, 80 people took part in the Coalition’s Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops in Seattle and Bellevue. We had an amazingly diverse group of participants, including many people who had volunteered for the One Night Count. Among those who came were social workers; two doctors from the local VA; a member of the Redmond Human Services Commission; a nurse from the Harborview Women and Children’s Clinic; a Weyerhaueser manager; retirees; teenagers; people from local churches; people who are currently homeless; and people who were once homeless. Everyone had a simple and powerful idea in common: that it is unacceptable to allow more than 2,736 people to struggle to survive outside in our community.
Our starting point for each workshop is, of course, a summary of the One Night Count. The point of the Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops is to make sure that the 2,736 men, women and children who were counted outside on a cold, wet night a few weeks ago inspire us to take action to make things better. We have to go beyond the One Night Count, and make the results more than just a number. We have to advocate for affordable housing and vital services so that everyone can have the the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.
Once we had a grasp on these legislative priorities, Nancy Amidei began her famous and lively presentation describing how EVERYONE can be an advocate! She gave the workshop participants several tips on being effective advocates:
Contact your legislators often ~ they want to hear from you! (If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can look them up on the Washington State Legislature website.)
Bring the legislative hotline phone number (1-800-562-6000) to a board meeting, a staff meeting, or a community gathering, and invite everyone to call legislators about a current issue.
Two Legislative Aides came to the workshops to help Nancy demonstrate that we shouldn’t be intimidated when contacting our legislators. Samantha Kersul works with Senator David Frockt (46th district), and Marilyn Pedersen works with Representative Ross Hunter (48th district). Both Samantha and Marilyn are very experienced and knowledgeable about policy and legislative processes. They encouraged us to communicate about the issues that matter, and helped us see how easy it is to call or visit a legislator’s office and have a real conversation with the staff people who sit at the front desk.
Our workshops ended with 80 enthusiastic and well-trained advocates ready to put their skills into practice! I believe these workshops are important because they both empower and inspire advocacy. Participants came up to me afterwards to tell me which issue they were going to call their legislator about or which issue they were going to focus on when they went to Olympia. Nancy Amidei asked us if we each knew 10 people with access to phones. She pointed out that “If each of you asked just five friends to call or e-mail their legislators, that would be over 400 calls about housing and homelessness issues!”
Our exciting week of advocacy continued last Monday, when Coalition members and allies headed to Olympia for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day, hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. We were in great company, with more than 600 people from around the state. This was the biggest Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day ever. People from 43 of the 49 legislative districts in Olympia came in person to speak with their elected officials. Fellow Coalition intern, Katharine, and I went to the offices of Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to deliver hundreds of postcards about our legislative priorities signed by One Night Count volunteers and Coalition members. We also handed letters and examples of these postcards to the staff of every single King County legislator.
Our combined voices this week showed our legislators that many housing and homelessness advocates are active, informed, and paying attention to the votes being taken in Olympia. I hope they understand that they cannot solve our budget crisis by cutting programs that are lifelines for many of Washington’s citizens.
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!