On Tuesday the Youth & Young Adults Committee received training on Hepatitis (HCV) from Chelsea Amato with the Hepatitis Education Project. Besides delivering an incredibly informative training, Chelsea’s given us access to her entire presentation plus additional resources. Best of all, the good folks at Hepatitis Education project are always open to do workshops and testing for agency staff and/or our youth participants — do not hesitate to reach out and continue these conversations back at your respective agencies.
*Hepatitis Education Project hosts an evening Monthly Meet-Up (support group) every 1st Thursday of the month. If you’d like to receive email updates about the Meet-Up and any other events, be sure to contact Chelsea (firstname.lastname@example.org; 206-732-0311). She and her colleagues are happy to answer questions, take your referrals, provide testing and training at your agencies.
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.
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:
After months of preparation, we are celebrating the smooth and successful distribution of 1,204 Project Cool backpacks to homeless children across King County. This August, more than 150 awesome volunteers gathered together over 4 days in the basement of the Columbia City Church of Hope to prepare school supplies and then fill and distributebackpacks for homeless students ages 3 to 18. You guys ROCK! Last Tuesday, Project Cool backpacks went out to 14 different Coalition member agencies to support the education of the children they serve in their various homeless housing programs (including emergency shelter and transitional housing).
We know the need is great. In the 2010-2011 school year, 4,423 students (pre-k through high school) were identified as homeless in King County school districts; 26,049 students across all Washington State schools. This was a 19% increase from the previous year and a 55% increase from 2006-2007 (for more information visit http://schoolhousewa.org/). A new backpack filled with the tools students need tells kids that they belong and gives parents one less financial burden to bear.
Backpacks may be out the door, but the work to support the education of homeless students does not stop here. Seattle Public School starts in just a couple weeks on September 5. The instability of homelessness makes stability in school that much more important for children. Luckily, homeless students have several educational rights under an important federal law – the McKinney Vento Education Act –, which helps advocates and families keep children in school even if they don’t have the right paperwork to enroll or their address changes every 60 days. The Coalition’s August 22 “Helping Homeless Students: McKinney Vento 101” training will prepare school personnel and service providers to help homeless students stay in school.
None of this work could be possible without the support of the hundreds of individuals who hosted donation drives, donated personally, and volunteered to help prepare backpacks. Project Cool is a volunteer driven project – coordinated by an AmeriCorps VISTA and supported by people like you: concerned community members, local businesses, and Coalition members. A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who came out on August 2, 4, 11, and 14 to help prepare Project Cool backpacks – we welcomed the passionate help of many community members including several old hats and Project Cool newbies like the Redmond Beach UCC Youth Group and members of local non-profit young professionals group, Ascend. THANK YOU!