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.

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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.  

Homeless students have rights, but many of them have no idea what they are

Is there funding for extra-curricular activities under McKinney Vento for homeless students?

This question was asked during the Seattle/King County Coalition’s Annual McKinney-Vento 101 training on August 22nd.  Jess Lewis from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Katara Jordan from Columbia Legal Services spent 2 hours introducing and explaining the complex issues in McKinney-Vento legislation to close to 100 school staff and housing and homeless service providers.  The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to immediately register, transport and provide and pay for extra-curricular activities to homeless students.  There are more than 26,000 students in Washington state that qualify for McKinney-Vento services, and school districts must pay for these services whether or not they recieve funding under the law.  Most school districts do not receive this funding.  Washington State has 295 school districts.  Of those, 23 receive McKinney-Vento sub-grants.  If a student wants to participate in extra-curricular activities, the school district is required to address the barrier to full participation.  Often, school districts will look to community service providers, booster clubs, etc. to try and address the specific needs of students.  If other resources cannot be found, the school district is still required to find some way to address the barrier to participation.

Another common question service providers ask and school staff often find confusing is:

What is the distance that schools are required to transport kids to school? 

Many school personnel have been told  that schools will not transport kids out of their county. However, there is no specific distance or commute time mentioned in the McKinney-Vento Act when it comes to school of origin transportation.  So, a student attending school in Everett Public Schools, as an example, and finds shelter with her family in Seattle can continue attending her school in Everett if it is determined by all parties that this is best for the student.  The main consideration is whether or not it is in the student’s best interest to remain in their school of origin.  Because McKinney-Vento is a federal law, school districts often commute with students over county and state lines.  School of origin transportation should not be automatically declined because the student is currently staying in a different county.  The decision should be made on a case-by-case basis and the determination of best interest should be made based on the determination of whether or not it is feasible for the specific student.

For more information about McKinney-Vento and Resources check out these links:

http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/AssistanceAct.aspx

List of McKinney-Vento Liaison’s in all Washington School Districts

National Alliance to End Homelessness