Addressing the Affordability Crisis: Homeownership and the Housing Continuum

Our latest guest blogger, Kathleen Hosfeld, is a current student  at the School of Theology and Ministry (pursuing a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality) and the Executive Director of Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust. Like all community land trusts, Homestead is in the business of making communities more stable, sustainable, accessible and affordable.  Kathleen sees their work – “creating and preserving affordable homeownership opportunities for modest-income homebuyers in the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound area” – as an essential piece of a multidimensional and holistic response to the complex problems of homelessness and housing affordability/insecurity. It’s a way to both empower and stabilize individuals and families, and strengthen communities. Learn more about the what, how and why of their work at www.homesteadclt.org.


Kathleen Hosfeld Headshot v2 (square)

By Kathleen Hosfeld, Executive Director, Homestead Community Land Trust

The facts are stark. As of February 2016, the Seattle Times reported that the median price of a home in Seattle had risen to almost $644,000 – a 24% increase over the previous year. To afford that home a person has to have an income in excess of $100,000 per year and a down payment of more than $100,000. That price is out of reach for 60% of the potential buyers in our community, where median income is closer to $75,000.

We live in a community where only the affluent have the opportunity to own their own home. As the Executive Director of a community land trust, I see teachers, non-profit employees, medical technicians, first responders and social workers denied this part of the American Dream. Modest-income people who try to own a home often buy more home than they can afford. Those who relocate for affordability often have longer commutes – transportation time and expense can bring their cost of living back to unaffordable levels, increase their environmental impact and take time away from their families.

Runaway real estate costs have created an affordability crisis that affects everyone. But for more than 100 years restrictive covenants, discriminatory federal policies, bank redlining and predatory lending practices have also disproportionately targeted minorities, creating more obstacles to homeownership.

Racial Wealth Gap (Pew 2013)
As a result, in addition to a growing wealth gap, there is an even wider racial wealth gap, with median-income white families having 13 times the wealth of median-income black families.  Homestead-CLT-logoCommunity land trusts like Homestead arose out of the Civil Rights era and the work of colleagues of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They’ve shown that when communities work together, we can change these statistics and change lives for the better.

As we grapple with our crises of homelessness and housing affordability in the greater Seattle area, we must at the same time take a holistic view of the roles played by different forms of housing in lifting people’s financial circumstances. In Washington State we talk about the “housing continuum” – a progression of services that includes emergency housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing and subsidized rental. Each form of housing plays a critical role in creating a just community, where the most vulnerable are protected. And a holistic, systems view of housing recognizes that increasing access to affordable homeownership is a strategy that helps the whole continuum. Programs that support people in safely building equity reduce their risk of future housing instability.

Main image - We make it possible

Photo credit: HomesteadCLT.org

Alyssa’s story provides a great example. Six years ago, Alyssa was a single mother struggling with an unsympathetic landlord who refused to address mold issues that affected the health of her children. Alyssa had significant financial and credit issues. By working with Homestead staff over time, she was able to clean up her financial issues and in 2015 she bought a single-family home in West Seattle, close to bus lines, schools and grocery stores.

Without this opportunity, families like Alyssa’s could easily end up on the street. The changes that Alyssa made in her life to prepare for homeownership, combined with an affordable mortgage and a consistent housing payment give her and her family opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

As I write this, the Washington State legislature is considering increasing the funding available to organizations like Homestead that make homeownership a reality for modest income people. People in Seattle are now being invited to discuss the Mayor’s proposal for renewal of our housing levy.  As you exercise your civic voice, consider the important role that access to homeownership plays in creating inclusive and equitable communities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. LEARN how you and your faith community can partner with Homestead Community Land Trust to make homeownership possible for modest income families. Contact Homestead CLT at 206-323-1227 Ext 113 and speak to Kathleen Hosfeld for more information.
  2. WATCH 99 Homes, a 2015 film that explores the brutality of the Great Recession housing crisis.
  3. DISCUSS: Homeownership – its role in an inclusive, equitable community. Free panel discussion on Thursday, March 24, 6-8:00pm, Learn more and register here→
  4. ADVOCATE! Write letters to your elected officials, send Letters to the Editor at your local paper and talk to others about the need for affordable housing options and the structural causes of poverty and homelessness.

Sign up to get Action Alerts on social service and housing policy and budget issues from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at wliha.org; Firesteel – YWCA at firesteelwa.org; and the Housing Development Consortium (Seattle and King County) at housingconsortium.org.

Data and Reports Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness

“If you want to go far, go together”: Snohomish County Affordable Housing Conference

blind-men-and-the-elephant-parable

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant still has many lessons for us today.

Do you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? It’s an old parable from India that speaks to the nature of truth and the limits of personal perspectives. It goes something like this: six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like, having never seen one. So, they approach an elephant and each touches a part of the animal, but only that one part (i.e. one feels the trunk, another a tusk, another a leg, another the tail, etc.). When they report back, they find that they are in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. One says it’s like a snake, another like a spear, another like a pillar, and so on. The moral: each of our perspectives is valid (and warrants respect), but no one has a complete grasp of or monopoly on the truth. We can learn from one another, and only together, by integrating our perspectives, can we come closer to the truth.

A little over a week ago, Lisa and I attended Homelessness & Hope: A One-day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett, and Captain John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department led the morning panel discussion with this parable. And what a fitting parable it was! In the world of homeless services, housing and advocacy, there are many such truths – we need more shelter beds, we need more affordable housing, we need to house homeless families more quickly, we need better mental health services, et cetera. And while each of these needs is very real, each is also just one part of the larger picture – none represents the complete solution in and of itself. Rather, we need to work simultaneously – and most importantly, cooperatively – from all of these different angles in order to fulfill our common goal of ending homelessness. As one speaker at the conference said, “complex struggles call for comprehensive responses.”

Some of these various responses were represented in the breakout sessions – from workshops on Housing First models like 1811 Eastlake, Homelessness and the Business Community, Landlord Engagement, and Local Ordinances that Work, to the success ofTiny House communities like Quixote Village, HMIS Data Dashboards & Tableau, a 2015 State Legistlative Session Review, and finally, a workshop on Engaging the Faith Community (with our very own Lisa Gustaveson, and Rev. Chris Boyer, Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church). It was a rich and fruitful day of sharing lessons learned, best practices, and stories.

Lisa-presenting-in-SnoCo-(6-15-affordable-housing-conference)

Program Manager Lisa Gustaveson presenting at Homelessness and Hope: A One-Day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett on 6/5/15.

Some other takeaways from the conference include the following:

  • John Hull, Director of the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter and Day Center, encouraged us to reframe the way we talk about what constitutes “success” for our neighbors moving out of homelessness: “self-sufficiency” doesn’t exist, he says – all of us depend on others, after all, no matter our situation. Instead of self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal for people experiencing homelessness, and for all of us, should be to flourish and to thrive.
  • Middle class solutions don’t work for people in poverty. It’s important to be creative and to empower people who have or are experiencing poverty and homelessness to develop and contribute to solutions.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County are people who have grown up around us – they’re our people, our neighbors, and we need to treat them that way. (Only 9% have come from outside of the county.)
  • Stories are incredibly powerful, motivating tools that keep us moving forward and remind us of why we do the work we do. Three amazingly courageous panelists shared their stories of abuse, addiction, homelessness, and heartbreak to a room full of service providers, policymakers and advocates. One of the panelists, Gina, a domestic violence victim who lost her children due to a meth addiction, is now working for the Snohomish YWCA, helping families in the child welfare system. Another panelist described his struggle with addiction and his brothers’ decision to lie about his involvement in a drug deal in order to save him because, unlike them, he didn’t have any felonies and “still had a good shot at life.” The last panelist shared her story of emigrating as a young mother from Africa to save her daughter from female genital mutilation and to save her family from retribution; she experienced horrible exploitation and psychological abuse once here, until she found help through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, her current employer. We all felt privileged to have been allowed to share in these stories and bear witness to the tellers’ courage and resilience – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Argelia-Grassfield-and-Gina-Enochs

Argelia Grassfield (left) interviewed Gina Enochs (right) for the StoryCorps Project, Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness

* An important note: One of the panelists, Gina Enochs, recorded her story as part of the StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” Gina’s story, and many others like hers are can be found at http://firesteelwa.org/storycorps/. Learn more about these stories and how you can use them here.

And finally, I’d like to share the wisdom of this African proverb, which Mary Anne Dillon (Sr. Regional Director for Snohomish County YWCA) shared with the group as a send-off:

If you want to go fast,

Go alone

If you want to go far,

Go together.


Things you can do:

  1. Listen to and share StoryCorps stories recorded in Snohomish County:
  1. Visit the Project on Family Homelessness’s webpage for more action items: StoryCorps and 10 Things You Can Do to End Family Homelessness

 

 

 

Advocacy Data and Reports Events Faith and Family Homelessness Housing First

Storytelling, Human Connection and Advocacy: Transforming Numbers into Faces

By Hannah Hunthausen, Program Coordinator, School of Theology and Ministry Faith & Family Homelessness Project

Often, when we talk about homelessness, we talk numbers. Numbers convey information powerfully and provoke instant (hopefully productive) outrage. Take this little taste of regional homelessness by the numbers: in January of this year, at least 3,772 people were living without shelter in King County; last school year, Washington state school districts identified 32,494 Washington students as homeless; and, as of this March, over 800 families were homeless in King County – on a waitlist for housing while living in emergency shelters or in places not meant for human habitation.

Affordable Housing in King CountyWhen we talk about the affordable housing crisis in our region, we consider the almost 300,000 households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing and the sad reality that a single parent would have to make over $27/hour in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in King County.

These numbers pack a punch. (The idea that over 30,000 children are homeless in our state is particularly distressing; more so when we consider research on the lasting effects of childhood trauma.) And yet, numbers don’t give us a face, a human to connect to. People experiencing homelessness might easily remain “the homeless” in our minds if we approach them exclusively through statistics and infographics. For those of us who have never experienced homelessness, they’re a group of people whose lives can seem remote and profoundly different from our own.

And data won’t tell us their stories. Numbers can’t force us to recognize and honor the human dignity of the grizzled guy with the cardboard sign on the side of the road or consider the day-to-day struggles of a single mother and daughter living in their car.

Lynie and Dinkus

Lynie and Dinkus sharing a moment of friendship on the bench by the canal. Photo Credit: Rex Hohlbein, Facing Homelessness

Our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness have been increasingly and systematically devalued and dehumanized in our society (see also), and, while data paints a picture, it can’t rebuild our lost human connection.

For that, we need stories.

As Paige McAdams wrote recently in a blog post for Firesteel, stories are bridges. They bridge the gaps between us – our real and perceived differences, but also our gaps in awareness and empathy. Storytelling allows all of us to enter into the reality of another person or group of people, if only for a moment. As we listen to or read about the personal experiences of others, our humanity recognizes the humanity of the tellers, and giving voice to a story can lend both the storyteller and her listeners incredible strength and agency. As Franklin Gilliard, a formerly homeless Tacoma husband and father, recently said at a community event celebrating the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” project, “Giving people my story makes them stronger. They know that people can relate to them, and people are not always looking down.” Storytelling makes us feel closer to one another and gives us purpose.

Gilliards

Sherry and Franklin Gilliard. Photo: StoryCorps

Many of us who are advocates have felt this particularly strongly in the last few months. Powerful personal stories of experiences with homelessness have been in the air quite literally – streaming and playing on the airwaves of KUOW. It’s been a season of stories, first with The Moth’s “Home: Lost and Found” showcase in April, and more recently, at community events at the WA State Conference on Ending Homelessness in Tacoma and at the Gates Foundation celebrating the incredible StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.

And stories like those of the participants in the StoryCorps and The Moth projects not only fill our hearts, they serve as powerful tools for advocacy. When you can share with a city council person or a legislator the story and challenges of someone who has experienced homelessness in their city or district, you give the startling data and statistics they already know a face. You humanize the issue(s) and begin to bridge those gaps.

Firesteel now has a website that puts this power at our fingertips. At firesteelwa.org/storycorps, advocates can access dozens of oral interviews recorded through the the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” Project. Some have been edited down to 2 or 3 minutes, others exist only in their full 40-minute form. All can be accessed and used upon request and searched for by subject, key words, and by legislative district. Visit the site to learn more and to explore this incredible advocacy tool.

When we tell and listen to stories, we give faces to the numbers, and we come to find that people aren’t “the homeless” – they’re just people without homes. People who, like us, have a fundamental right to housing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Advocacy Faith and Family Homelessness Social Justice

Mad Men, ACEs and Child Homelessness – Escaping the Past Is Not So Easy (Firesteel)

In light of last night’s Mad Men finale (shhh, don’t tell – I haven’t seen it yet!), we thought we’d repost this gem of a blog post on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Diving into the booze-fueled, glamorous and tumultuous world of Mad Men, Catherine and Perry take the case of anti-hero Don Draper and show how childhood trauma can translate to myriad struggles and pathologies in adulthood. A higher ACE score generally means an indiviual is at higher risk of substance abuse and mental health issues as an adult (among other things). Read on to find out what Don’s ACE score is and learn what all of us can do to mitigate the effects of childhood traumas like abuse, poverty and homelessness.

Don Draper giving his most famous new business pitch, just before revealing a shocking secret from his past about a Hershey bar. Photo from AMC.Don Draper giving his most famous new business pitch, just before revealing a shocking secret from his past about a Hershey bar. Photo from AMC.

Written by Catherine Hinrichsen with Perry Firth, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness, for Firesteel

It’s been tantalizing and a little agonizing, in the final weeks of the landmark TV series “Mad Men,” to guess how it will all end – especially for the protagonist and last of the “difficult men,” Don Draper.

Will he jump off a building? (Absolutely not.)  Will he find the “sad tornado,” mystery waitress Diana? (It’s hard to care about this.) Will he escape to California and re-brand himself yet again? (Quite possibly.)  Is he D.B. Cooper? (Oh, come on.)

Mad Men has been a powerful force in television, and not only for its portrayal of the last breaths of the boozy ‘60s advertising industry. The acclaimed drama captures our attention because of its depiction of a supposedly powerful man’s attempt to outrun his traumatic childhood. Viewers have watched Don drink, womanize, hurt people and hurt himself. As my colleague Perry Firth describes it, “he is the living, breathing embodiment of the truism, hurt people hurt people.”

Perry is a grad student in school psychology, one of Firesteel’s most popular bloggers and my go-to person for anything related to childhood trauma. You’ll see her influence throughout this piece. Because she is not a Mad Men viewer (yet), she was the perfect person to work on this piece with me, and assess Don’s behavior from a more clinical perspective, as opposed to my position as a fan who desperately wants to see a realistic yet positive end to Don’s journey through self-destruction and redemption.

And you can’t write about Don Draper without addressing his terrible childhood, which crops up throughout the series.

Note: There may be spoilers in this post; however, one of the beautiful things about watching Mad Men is that even knowing what happens doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the viewing experience.

Don-blended-family-ustv-mad-men-season-6-portraitsDon’s blended family, dealing a generation later with his tumultuous upbringing. Image from kqed.com.

“LOVE WAS INVENTED BY GUYS LIKE ME”: ADVERSITY BENEATH THE SURFACE

Don didn’t grow up in the kind of family that pulled together and faced adversity together, their love helping them survive. In fact, there wasn’t any love in that bleak home. Don was just another mouth to feed, a weight around the neck of the people who raised him out of obligation, not affection.

Yet, outwardly, Don has achieved the American dream. He came from nothing and became a millionaire, along the way marrying a gorgeous model, buying a beautiful house in the suburbs, raising three adorable children and rising to the top of the New York advertising world.

3-Betty_gunDon’s wife Betty in one of her finer moments, avenging her family. Image from AMC.

However, what keeps viewers hooked is less his success and more his inability to hang on to it.

Don is an alcoholic. His health is generally bad, and he contributes considerably to the success of his tobacco-industry clients. He has difficulty attaching to anyone emotionally and sustaining a mature adult relationship. He destroys his own marriages, and endangers those of friends, with his deceptiveness and serial womanizing. He treats women as conquests to be tossed aside, including a string of secretaries – the exception being his protégé, Peggy. He’s known to disappear without warning, leaving colleagues in extremely awkward situations.

4-Don-looking-into-distance-pondering-escape

In “advertising heaven,” Don ponders an escape yet again. Image from Vox.com.

One question the show is really asking, through Don’s adult actions, is: How much adversity is too much adversity? On a deeper level it asks viewers: Should the loss and adversity which drive someone’s actions dictate how we interpret them?

“THIS NEVER HAPPENED”: CAN ACES EXPLAIN SOME OF DON’S CHOICES?

As it turns out, much of Don’s behavior is grounded in what psychological research has identified as adult consequences of childhood adversity and trauma. We know that serious adversity and trauma in childhood, especially when it is sustained over the child’s lifetime and isn’t buffered by protective factors, can have serious long-term consequences. It can even make it hard for people to make healthy decisions. In fact, the research areas of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress explore these relationships specifically.

In “The Hobo Code,” a homeless man confirms the negative influence of Don’s father via a mysterious carving. Image from fanpop.com.

In “The Hobo Code,” a homeless man confirms the negative influence of Don’s father via a mysterious carving. Image from fanpop.com.

ACEs research looks at how adversity in childhood hurts adults, and how it shows up in behaviors like substance abuse, poor health and increased risk for early death. ACEs are actually broken down into different events, which can then be used to generate an ACE score, which can help to explain someone’s risk for negative consequences in adulthood, or partially explain why an adult is struggling. For example, childhood sexual abuse, emotional neglect and mental illness would yield a score of 3 ACEs.

About a year ago, Perry wrote about this fascinating research. More recently, to help me with my Mad Men analysis, she explained ACEs in the context of the show.

“The original ACE study included the following events as Adverse Child Experiences: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; parent with mental illness; incarcerated household member; domestic violence; parental substance use; and parental divorce,” Perry said. “These are all events, especially when they accumulate, that we know cause toxic stress and potentially lasting mental and physical health consequences. Today, however, other ACEs that could be added to the list include poverty and childhood homelessness.”

Infographic from NPR.org depicts three categories of ACEs. Don has experienced quite a few.

Infographic from NPR.org depicts three categories of ACEs. Don has experienced quite a few.

“I’M LIVING LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW”: YESTERDAY EXPLAINS TODAY

Though we meet Don when he’s living the American dream in the 1960s, his story gradually unfolds to reveal some staggering hardships in his Depression-era childhood. Continue reading on Firesteel’s Blog→

Advocacy Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Project on Family Homelessness Youth

Domestic Violence, Homelessness and the Church

By Lani Kallstrom, founder of Christian Coalition for Safe Families

Christian Coalition for Safe Families (CCSF) formed in early 2011, bringing together advocates, therapists, professionals in the criminal justice system, survivors of violence, pastors, and interested parties who are committed to the goal of raising awareness about Domestic Abuse in the Body of Christ.

In her post below, Lani reminds us, as people of faith, we are often the first responders to the crisis of domestic violence. She gives us concrete steps we should take to be ready to serve when violence strikes a family in our congregation.

The faith community – that is, the church – can do a great deal to help families avoid the all-too-common consequences of domestic violence: destruction of the family unit, housing instability and homelessness.

For families in domestic violence crisis, the faith community needs to be a place of safety, understanding, support, guidance, and resources that will help heal the problem, and certainly not add condemnation, judgment or poor advice to an already devastating situation.

To adequately respond to the needs of their congregation, faith community members and leaders should question and reflect on how they deal with domestic violence situations, asking questions of their community such as:

  • When a family in crisis brings their brokenness into the church leader’s office asking for help, is the church leader prepared to respond appropriately?
  • Is the church leader afraid to deal with the messiness of relationships?
  • Does the church leader have knowledge of community resources for the many needs that may present (shelter, food, clothing, bills, healthcare, counseling, DV advocates, support groups)?
  • Does the church leader understand the wisdom that when a couple is suspected to be in a domestic abuse situation, that church leader should never counsel the adults together?
  • Is the leader confident and wise enough to encourage separation, if necessary, to allow for safety and a period of healing?

Or does the church leader pull out the partial scripture “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) or “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and send the couple home with an admonishment to work harder on their marriage?  (Can you imagine how damaging it is to be sent home feeling like you are the problem, guessing that there must be a secret formula that will end the abuse, without having been given any insight or clarity about what is actually going on?)

And the children don’t miss a beat. 

They see it all; they hear it all. Even if the children aren’t home or are “asleep,” they know.  So they often become disillusioned by the church that won’t help, the church that didn’t help.  Or they may wonder, who is this God who is supposed to be their “father in heaven”?  Do all fathers act like their earthly father – even their heavenly father?  And why would God allow the abuse to continue? Why would their pastor allow it to continue?

So, how can the church help to strengthen the family? Church leaders and all members of the congregation need to take some important steps:

1)     As a church staff, learn about domestic abuse – what it is, in all its nuances, and what it is not. Visit http://ccsfhope.org/resources/ to find out more.

2)      Learn what resources are available in your community; keep a list of resources on hand. Download the King County Domestic Violence Handbook, “Why does she stay?,” “Symptoms of Abuse,” “Responding to Domestic Violence,” and other resources at http://ccsfhope.org/resources/. Visit the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website at http://wscadv2.org/ to find resources as a survivor, advocate or someone currently in crisis.

I will commit to using my voice to advocate (hand from NCSO)

3)    Take a stand against domestic abuse and advocate! Talk to your neighbors, friends and family, members of your faith community, and use social media and take part in awareness campaigns to advocate. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website is a great place to get ideas and start supporting survivors and those experiencing abuse right now.

4)    Address the issue of domestic abuse with confidence and authority from the pulpit. The church pulpit is often the place where society’s struggles are addressed, and most churches talk about God, His values, His character, and His desires for His people.  God absolutely does not want & never condones abuse in families. However, very few sermons directly address the issue of domestic violence. And when family relationships start to deteriorate, many churches don’t know what to say or do to help the families.

When a church leader addresses DV from the pulpit, several things happen.  When the abuser hears the message, the abuser begins to understand that he cannot use scripture or hide behind scripture to abuse.  He hears that the church leadership is wise to his tactics of abuse and that the church DOES know how to respond to the abuse.  When the victim hears the message, the victim hears that the church is a safe place to seek help, that she or he will be believed and that there are resources to help her or him.  This gives the victim HOPE.

Most importantly, the faith community can respond with wisdom, compassion and resources to families in domestic abuse situations.  This may sound like a straightforward fix, and yet it may take generations to heal the wounds and trauma of abuse. Even still, by addressing domestic violence openly, by providing a safe space and support to families before they break apart in crisis and become homeless, and by supporting those survivors who have lost their homes with counseling and financial support, the church can go a long way to help heal the problem of homelessness.

Action Domestic Violence Faith and Family Homelessness Faith-based Advocacy Women

End homelessness? For me, it’s personal.

By Lisa Gustaveson, Faith & Family Homelessness Program Manager

553830_10200650804746093_599565699_n[1]In the spring of 2002 I was offered a six-month contract to manage the development of a local plan to end homelessness. I quickly accepted – I love project management and come on, the goal was to end homelessness!

Eighteen months and a ton of gray hairs later, I proudly stood by as the planning committee adopted a 57-page plan, A Roof Over Every Bed: Our Community’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County.

Many people don’t know or remember that the 10 Year Plan represents countless hours of research, meetings and then, more meetings. A broad coalition of people from local government, service providers, faith communities, advocacy organizations and people experiencing homelessness created the first Committee to End Homelessness (CEH) and the Staff Circle. Throughout the project hundreds of people offered ideas and suggestions at community meetings. At times it was easy for the committee to agree, but more than once tough compromises were made to move the plan forward. Draft versions of the plan circulated between committee members; each word was carefully chosen to clearly convey our intentions. The final plan represents our collective vision; using the resources we had available at that time.

I tell you all this to explain why it’s hard for me to hear people say the plan has failed. You see, ending homelessness is PERSONAL to me – and many others in the community. When I hear about a family who finally finds housing I feel great. When the numbers of people experiencing homelessness go up… and up, I feel responsible, and take it personally. It’s personal when a family tells me they’ve been living in their car while waiting for a space in a shelter. It’s personal when I drive by a makeshift shelter on the side of the road knowing a person who was, or is someone’s child calls it home.

It’s not like we don’t know the problem exists. Show me a city in the region where you don’t see homelessness in plain sight. The topic of homelessness is all over social media and local news stories.  Recent coverage includes Jon Stewart’s tongue in cheek “The Homeless Homed.” The Dean of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, Mark Markuly, contributes through his February 19th Seattle Times Op-Ed, “Seattle can solve the homeless puzzle by learning from other cities,” and the Seattle Times followed closely behind with their February 25th straightforward message from the Editorial Board, “Cities should use the Golden Rule when dealing with homelessness.” Just this week our local radio station, KUOW, probes deep into the issue through their well researched six part series, “Seattle’s Homeless: No End in Sight.”

So, what to do? Throw up our hands in despair? Or, do we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and start again?

We are tough Seattleites – we don’t give up that easily. This year CEH is working hard to migrate from the 10 Year Plan to a community-wide Strategic Plan. The Plan will guide policymakers, service providers, advocates and the greater community as we recommit to our goal of making homelessness rare, brief and one-time. The Plan’s strategies build upon local success and national best practices, and offer clear guidance to the organizations and individuals who make up the Homeless Services System.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Emergency Shelter Program serves more than 4,000 men and women each year, providing safe, secure shelter, meals and a day-time safe haven from the streets. DESC’s outreach efforts help people stabilize their lives, and ultimately get permanent housing. Photo by Gabriel Rozycki.

Photo by Gabriel Rozycki.

What is new – and in my opinion game changing – is the acknowledgment that success will continue to elude us until the crisis of homelessness is made personal to each King County resident. I think we are closer than ever before; when the new plan is adopted CEH plans to offer specific actions for people of faith to take to be part of the movement

That said; you don’t have to wait for the new plan! You can make a difference today by taking one step… just one. I’m making it easy for you – look at the list below, pick one thing to do, and see where that leads you.

Then, let me know when solving homelessness becomes personal for you.

  1. Volunteer for, or donate to, an organization that helps people who are living in poverty. In addition to the speakers you heard today; check out United Way of King County’s great volunteer database uwkc.org/ways-to-volunteer/
  1. Gather a group and watch SU’s American Refugees: four short films on family homelessness, especially “The Smiths”. Download the discussion guides and reflect on ways you can get involved americanrefugess.org
  1. Use the power of the Internet to advocate for affordable housing and an end to poverty and homelessness. Stay up to date on what’s happening in Olympia through Action Alerts on social service policy and budget issues:
  1. Join Firesteel, the statewide platform for social change led by Washington YWCAs. Sign up at firesteelwa.org
  1. Learn about the policies that affect poverty, housing and homelessness by reading a blog such as “Schmudget.” budgetandpolicy.org/schmudget
  1. Make sure your local school has appointed a homeless education liaison who can help get children connected with the services they are entitled to. Contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for more information: k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/default.aspx  
  1. Support low income and homeless newspaper sellers by buying a copy of Real Change from an authorized vendor. Find your local vendor: realchangenews.org/index.php/site/vendor-map
  1. Participate in a Poverty Simulation to learn experientially about the incredible stresses and challenges faced by those living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. (Check out our “Upcoming Events” feed to find the next one in your area.)
  1. If you’re one of the thousands of board members of Washington state social service nonprofits, get involved with advocacy to end poverty and homelessness. standforyourmission.org
  1. Write letters to your elected officials, newspaper Letters to the Editor pages and others about the causes of poverty.
  1. Spend time reflecting on the impact of poverty on people in our community. How do their struggles affect the greater community? What responsibilities do I have to address the causes of poverty in my community and nation?
Action Citizen Committee to End Homelessness Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness