Who says “we can’t build our way out of homelessness”?

Rachael Myers - WLIHA Headshot
Rachael Myers, Executive Director, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

Guest blog post by Rachael Myers, Executive Director, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

We frequently hear the phrase “we can’t build our way out of homelessness.” It’s a talking point that people often use when advocating for important strategies like safe places for homeless folks to camp or rapid rehousing programs. Everyone is making the same, valuable point – given our current resources, we need to address the problem using all the tools we have available.

I know we all agree on that point so let’s start saying that directly. “We can’t build our way out of homelessness” doesn’t accurately convey what we mean and is in fact harmful to our efforts to generate more resources to expand housing for people experiencing homelessness.

A few thoughts about why this is a problem:

The statement assumes that there is a resistance or ignorance among federal, state, and local policy makers regarding housing people experiencing homelessness in ways other than building housing. In fact federal, state, and local policy makers have for years recognized and invested in other methods of getting people housed like Section 8 vouchers, state and local vouchers, or other rapid rehousing efforts.

It is harmful because it singles out one valuable approach to housing people experiencing homelessness as ineffective. If we can’t build our way out of the problem why should we invest in the Housing Trust Fund or tax ourselves for our local housing levy?

The fact is given enough resources we can build our way out of the problem. We could potentially also voucher our way out of the problem, again with enough resources, enough landlords willing to accept people experiencing homelessness, and supportive services for those who need that level of help. We need to do both, and more.

Again, the point we all agree on is that we need to use all the tools we have to make homelessness rare, and when it does happen brief. In January, volunteers with the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness found a 21% increase in people surviving outdoors. In King County there are only 15 affordable homes available for every 100 extremely low-income household. And across the state last year, there were more than 32,000 homeless school kids.

There’s little doubt that we must do everything we can – including building housing  – to solve this crisis. I hope we can all agree to banish this phrase from our talking points!

Recap: Coalition’s General Meeting — February 20, 2014

What we wouldn’t give to get a couple of extra days at the end of February. Do you feel the same? It’s a good thing we’ve been posting these abbreviated meeting notes so that you can make the most out of the time you have!

Last week’s General Member Meeting was quite timely, what with the Legislative Session over half-way through and the next phase of Reduced Fare actions taking place. Be sure to catch up if you missed out, or refresh on details if you attended. Here’s what happened at the latest General Member Meeting, held on February 20, 2014.

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, March 20, 2014.

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2014 One Night Count Discussion: What did you think? What did you hear? What are the implications for your work? Your community?

  • Many people spoke about their 2014 One Night Count experiences:
    • Some shared that more people were awake and moving around between 2-5 a.m.. One individual noted the dissonance in counting people who are homeless amid high rises and malls. A new Team Captain from this year’s count said she took away an extra dose of compassion and humility. A first-time counter, who was able to count in his home neighborhood, noted how different it was to see people who are homeless at night than during the day, and was also surprised at the wide age range of people who were counted. A first-time Team Captain but returning counter mentioned that this year he saw more tent encampments than in years prior. A first-time Headquarter volunteer shared that student counters came back with a new outlook on their neighborhood after counting at night. In all, everyone shared the meaningfulness of their experience, and its lasting impression.
    • Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Coalition, share that this 14% increase change is significant; it’s not “in the noise.” She’s glad to report that many elected officials participated this year; this sort of showing is good for all the work we do after the Count. She encouraged us to talk in our communities about what a 14% increase means both personally and professionally, but reminded us to understand that what’s most powerful is the total number of people reported, and that number represents unmet need (because shelters are full.)

2014 Legislative Session updates w/ special presenter Ben Miksch of Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

NOTE: for more information or current status on the below bills, please check out the rest of our blog and Facebook posts, and be sure to sign up for our e-mail alerts

  • Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge (aka Document Recording Fees): Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 2368.
  • Fair Tenant Screening Act, Part 3: Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 2537
  • Youth Opportunities Act: Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 1651.
  • Homeless Children Education Act: One bill started in the house and another started in the Senate. Each bill passed their respective houses and has moved to the other. Contact your legislators and tell them to support HB 2373/SB6074.
  • HED/ABD, and the Housing Trust Fund: This is the first time we haven’t started the session with cuts to HEN. While that’s a great place to start, we can do so much better. Please ask your elected officials to match the average Housing Trust Fund allocations from previous years by investing a total of $18 million this year.
  • Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP): Unfortunately, CROP did not pass through the House; it will no longer be considered this session. Rest assured, it will be back next session! Contact your legislators throughout the year to let them know the importance of CROP.

Call-in to Olympia: 1-800-562-6000

  • Oh yes, we did! Everyone took out their phones, dialed the number listed above, and dictated to the operator on the other end their simple message in support of the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge.

Update and Action on the Low Income Fare (aka Reduced Metro Fare)

NOTE: for more information or current status on Proposition 1 and the Low Income Fare, please check out the rest of our blog and Facebook posts, and be sure to sign up for our e-mail alerts

  • Please call King County Councilmember Larry Phillips @ 206-477-1004 (toll free: 800-325-6165). Message: We strongly support a reduced fare. We urge the council to “buy down” the fare to no more than $1.25.
  • Update: On Monday, the King County Council voted unanimously to implement a reduced Metro fare of $1.50* for people living on low incomes. King County residents all the way up to 200% of the federal poverty line will be eligible – meaning that nearly a quarter of the people in our community will be better able to access the bus. (*This proposal can be made even better if voters turn out to pass Proposition 1 on April 22, when voters can ‘buy down’ the fare to $1.25 as part of a revenue package that will prevent 17% bus service cuts.) 

Staff Update

  • Alison provided an update and announce the Call for Letters re: Federal Reserve Bank Project. Check out our website to learn more and sign up for alerts!

Save these dates on your calendar:

  • Legislative Session runs January 13 – March 13, 2014
  • Families w/ Children Meeting re: Rapid Rehousing – Wed, Feb 26 from 9.30-11 a.m. @ E. Cherry YWCA
  • Youth and Young Adult Committee Meeting re: DV, and spotlight on TeenFeed programs – Tues, Mar 11 from 10-11.30 a.m. @ Capitol Hill Library
  • Next General Member Meeting – Thursday, March 20 from 9-11 a.m. @ E. Cherry YWCA
  • Keep an eye out for Member Surveys in March!

We look forward to seeing you at the next General Member Meeting on Thursday, March 20, 2014! And be sure to check back here for a Recap following each meeting.