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Archive for February, 2014

Charlize and I are driving through southeastern Oregon and into California. The winter landscape is much like eastern Washington; rolling hills, windmill farms generating electricity, creeks and washes home to cottonwood trees bare and stark silhouettes in the winter sky. We drive past cultivated fallow fields but the rows cut with the slope, up and down rather than terraced, perpendicular to the slope to conserve the soil.

“Why do they cultivate like this?” I ask Charlize.

She doesn’t respond but I see her perk up her ears in the rearview mirror. We slow to twenty-five miles per hour through Moro, Oregon. Proudly emblazoned on the tall outside of the high school gym is an announcement that both boy’s and girl’s teams have won state championships. Even at twenty-five miles per hour we pass too quickly to note which sports or when the students accomplished those historic achievements.

Moro is obviously an agricultural community, the supply center for a region. Outside of town are sprinkler irrigated fields, the rolling wheels and attached sections idle, resting for the spring and summer workload of providing essential water to the dark soil. I see no indication of what is grown.

At mile marker 231, still following highway 97 south, the evergreen trees on either side of the highway show the scars of a forest fire. The charred, blackened trunks of the surviving trees bear witness to the conflagration but I spot only an occasional skeleton tree, stark against the sky. Judging by the size of the new growth trees the fire must have happened eight or ten years ago. Piles of logs not far from the road indicate logging activity but it is not clear to me if the scarred logs are being harvested for lumber or firewood and there is nobody around to ask. We are still about forty miles north of Klamath Falls.

We stop in Klamath Falls. Charlize has her walkabout and I opt for a slice of apple pie and two cups of coffee. The waitress is unable to shed any light on the mystery of the piles of logs we passed. I was getting tired. I presume, correctly, that the coffee and sugar fix will keep me going for another two or three hours.

It is almost six in the evening when we stop at the “Last Resort Inn” in Adin, California. It is another motel directly out of the 1950’s. The young, female clerk who shows us to our room welcomes Charlize. She seems anxious to engage me in conversation but my answers to her questions are dismissive and she gives up. I’m too tired to relate my story or listen to hers.

There is only one place to eat in Adin. The limited menu is displayed on the wall above the counter where I place my order for an “Ortega” burger, onion rings and a diet Pepsi. As I supposed the “Ortega” burger features a slice of canned poblano chili pepper wedged between the hamburger meat and the other accouterments, enough said.

Before we leave, early the following morning, I take this photo while Charlize takes care of her post-prandial business.

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On the road early again anticipating a long drive to Las Vegas. We motor through the Modoc forest with intermittent showers, gray, dark skies, mist and low hanging clouds hugging the trees before us. The empty highway twists and turns but before too long we are in Nevada, long, empty high desert valleys separating mountain ranges as we gradually progress south and east. As we climb up from the desert valley, devoid of interesting vegetation, we reach elevations above six thousand feet and observe Joshua trees scattered occasionally amongst non-descript, ground-hugging brush.

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The photo was taken through the driver’s side window while whizzing past at 65 miles per hour, amazing and this from Rosalie’s five or six year old, small digital camera.

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On Sunday, Feb. 9 the family and I ended the official mourning period, according to our traditional upbringing, with the service for the unveiling of Rosalie’s headstone. During the process I learned something new. The Rabbi told us that Abraham started this tradition when he put up a monument to mark the grave of his beloved Sarah.

Charlize sensed my mood, as always and, along with my two sons and their families we survived the day and celebrated Rosalie’s life at her favorite Chinese restaurant. If you are interested let me know and I’ll give you the name of the place. She was, after all, a gourmet cook and foodie with high standards.

Two days later my new vehicle, “Whitey”, I’m finding it harder to be original with vehicle names, was packed and loaded. Charlize and I worked our way through early morning Seattle traffic on our way to Enumclaw. We had never been that way before and I am all about never travelled roads and new experiences. I intended to cross the Cascades via Crystal Pass. My new GPS directed us around a traffic jam on I-5 and before too long we were headed east across the plateau, filled with hobby farms, towards Enumclaw. We passed small acreages with horses and an occasional small herd of cattle. I spotted an obviously old, large, barn sticking out of the mist, probably part of the original large farm that occupied the location. I presume that original place supported a family prior to being subdivided into plots much too small to serve that function.

The GPS was programmed to take us across the mountains to Yakima. Charlize’s new habit is to keep me awake and focused on my driving by resting her head on my shoulder as I drive. The GPS warned us of traffic difficulties, directed us through Enumclaw but there was no mention of the Pass being either open or closed. There was traffic heading west and I concentrated on the dry pavement now winding and climbing west through a rain forest. Moss climbed tree trunks, engulfed downed logs, grasping at young trees forcing their way toward the light from nurse stumps. We passed a few clear-cut openings as we went up and out of the dense forest into more typical mixes of evergreens and deciduous. We continued to encounter the occasional vehicle coming from the east. We stopped in the Village of Greenwater for coffee but I didn’t think to ask if Crystal Pass was open. Surely the GPS would warn me if it was not and all those vehicles were heading west from someplace.

You guessed correctly. We found snow, then more snow, but Whitey is an all-wheel drive vehicle, no problem, until we arrived at the barricades across the highway and signs informing that the Pass was closed. I suffered minimal frustration since time was not an issue on this trip. So back we drove to Enumclaw, north to I-90 and the now not so interesting drive over Snoqualmie Pass. I ate a lunch of Mexican food in Cle Elem and filled the gas tank. The sun was out but lots of snow and slush on the ground.

After Yakima we headed south, finally back to the plan. Now we were seeing new views and vistas of country not previously travelled. The western slope of the Cascades was covered with snow from the most recent storms but the road was clear and dry. When evening caught us we stopped in Goldendale and found a motel that would allow Charlize to stay in the room with me. Two hundred and fifty dollars tacked to the credit card bill if she made a mess but my girl would never do such a thing, too much of a lady.

The owner of the motel was an Asian lady and very pleasant. I brought Charlize in with me to show how well behaved she is. I related how Charlize was helping me get through a day at a time as a new widower. The motel owner told me that her husband of forty years died three years ago, leaving her to operate the place, we were soon friends of shared experience. When I checked in there was one other guest and the next morning there were only myself and two other guests in the place. I hope she gets more business when the weather is not so ugly. The rain all night turned a foot of snow into slush in the parking lot.

Charlize’s cold nose on my cheek got me up and moving at six AM and at 6:59, Charlize fed and walked, my travelling cup filled with a two Splenda® latte, we were on the road traveling south by southeast through forested lands. Clouds hung on the road in the distance ahead of us, turning to mist as we embraced them, the heavy sky overhead. Then there was an opening, a donut hole in the dark cover and blue-gray light reflecting off puddles on the pavement rushing past.

There is something about driving back roads and empty highways early in the morning that makes me feel free and righteous, a lightness in the chest akin to watching your offspring win at something you know is important to him or her. Anyone who has experienced that feeling knows what I am talking about. If you don’t I have sympathy for you.

We arrived at the Columbia River and Charlize asked to get out to check out the view, she loves the snow.

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We stopped for lunch in Bend, Oregon, at the Big Belly Grill House. Who could possibly pass up a place with that name? I let Charlize out of Whitey for a quick walkabout then put her back in.

“That’s a beautiful dog, is she friendly”” asked the waitress.

“She’s very friendly,” I responded, “especially to good looking women.” Dating seems to have sharpened my repartee’.

“Can I pet her then? My name is Lise,” she held out her hand.

I took her hand.

“Lise, not Lisa or Alicia,” I asked.

“No, L E E C E, pronounced the way it is spelled. It used to be Lisa, but I changed it.”

“OK,” I said and let go of her hand but not before she gave mine a squeeze.

“I’m Dave.”

“Please to meet you Dave.”

“Likewise.” Again note the sharp repartee’.

It was about one-thirty in the afternoon and the place was empty except for one customer. Leece asked him if he needed anything else and he responded in the negative. She told the cook she would be back in a moment. We went out to Whitey and I opened the hatch back, telling Charlize to wait. Leece petted Charlize after asking her name. Charlize leaned into her and absorbed the attention. When both had their fill of petting, leaning, touching, licking I told Charlize to get back in and closed the hatch.

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“I was afraid of dogs for a very long time,” Leece told me.

“That so, why was that? Did something bad happen to you?”

“When I was about seven years old I watched as a Rottweiler attacked my cousin and practically chewed his arm off above the elbow. His mother was a Christian Scientist and refused to take him to a doctor and he eventually lost the arm.”

“That’s a horrific story, I can understand why you were afraid of dogs. What happened to change that?”

“Well my second husband had two Golden Retrievers and they were very sweet dogs. They were much sweeter than the oaf turned out to be. Leaving those two dogs was much harder than leaving the oaf. Anyhow I’m now a dog person.”

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In my last column I described some of the major issues involved in the Homelessness Advocacy Day January 28th of this year. Perhaps the most disturbing fact I learned of is that children from homeless families suffer from increased rates of illness and poor school performance. Problems that are directly linked to the lack of a permanent home.

I wrote about the Washington State Housing Trust (HFT) and the essential work it does despite the outrageous cuts the fund has absorbed since 2007. I wrote about the state’s Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program and how terribly underfunded it is. I discussed the essential help provided by the minimal fees assessed by the State of Washington for the recording of certain real estate transactions and that unless action is taken this fund will suffer cuts in funding.

My group of advocates from the 21st Legislative District met with the politicians representing us; Representatives Mary Helen Roberts and newly appointed Lillian Ortiz-Self and our Senator Marko Liias. Mr. Liias formerly represented us in the Washington House of Representatives and was recently appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat resulting from our long-time Senator Shin’s retirement due to illness.

During each of the separate meetings we had with these public servants we reminded them of the important work done by the HFT, HEN and the real estate recording fee fund. We emphasized the importance of these programs and the need to pass legislation limiting the number of times prospective renters must pay for “tenant screening” reports. We reminded them that there is a bill pending this year that will provide that prospective renters will only have to pay the fee once and the report generated will be available to all prospective landlords for thirty days with no additional charges.

I have great sympathy and empathy for all individuals on the street. However the vast majority of individuals who are homeless and living on the streets or “camp grounds” or overnight shelters are dealing with drug and/or alcohol and/or mental health issues. These folks require a different set of services and solutions compared to families who are, usually through no fault of their own, homeless.

Family homeless can often be traced to the primary breadwinner having health problems or losing their job. Whole intact families and very commonly single mothers or fathers are trying to cope with minimal wage jobs that cannot provide enough resource to feed, cloth and provide housing. Some families have lost their homes as victims of predatory housing lenders who put the family in housing they could not afford. The children of these families are innocent and many times suffer the most.

Private organizations, individuals and many faith-based organizations have stepped up to try to offset the loss of government funding intended to address the issue of family homelessness. The best efforts of these resources are woefully inadequate. The situation today is worse than it was a year ago and it continues to worsen. Everyone must contribute to solve this disgraceful problem in this, the wealthiest country in the world. The only way to insure that all pay their fair share in this effort is for our government to do so, even though that will, no doubt, require an increase in taxation.

I am happy to report that the progressive thinking and sympathetic public servants who represent the 21st District warmly received us and were sympathetic to our message. Mary Helen Roberts, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Marko Liias promised to do everything they could to support and grow these programs. All three deserve our thanks and support. Charlize agrees.

I hope that wherever you live you will find out what your state is doing to solve the problems homeless families face. I hope you will become an advocate for programs that address this issue.

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Charlize decided I need to get mad and motivated about something then work to change it.

FACT: A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics reported that 27.9% of homeless children suffered from asthma. That is three times the national average! The rate of general illness in homeless families is also significantly higher than the national average. When these folks are able to secure health care, usually in emergency rooms, the cost to society is staggering.

FACT: Homeless children are constantly on the move often having to change schools. Statistics show that each time a student changes school they lose 4-6 months of learning progress. There has been a 96% increase in student homelessness in Washington State since the Great Recession started. In the 2011-2012 school year, the last full year of data thus far compiled, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reported 27,320 homeless students. Since this horrific number represents only those students who admit to being homeless we know the actual numbers are higher. I presume the statistics in other states are equally sad.

FACT: The Washington State Housing Trust Fund (HTF) invests in building affordable housing for low-income families. The HTF is only one of many funding sources both governmental and private and it works hard to leverage these other resources to build, renovate and maintain affordable housing. Statistics show that every 1,000 housing units developed with HTF funding creates 1,220 jobs and generates $79 million in local income. Since 2007 HTF funding has decreased from about $200 million a year to about $150 million a year while the numbers of homeless families increased. Snohomish County recently abandoned its list of homeless people needing and wanting housing because there were so many folks on the list (over 6,000) there was no hope of finding homes for all of them and no way to prioritize need. How sad is that? Check on the situation in your state, please!

FACT: My State has something called the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program that helps people with temporary mental or physical disabilities facing extreme economic hardship. The Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) program provides low-income adults with permanent mental illness of permanent disabilities with a rousing $197 per month while they try to gain access to the Federal Supplemental Security Income program.

FACT: In the State of Washington the average renter pays for three or more “tenant screening” reports when trying to find new housing. The working poor and homeless, because of their situation, usually have to pay for several more of these reports before they find a willing landlord, if they are successful. These fees range from about $35-$75 for each application. How would you like to deal with that while working for minimal wage and trying to support your family?

FACT: The State of Washington collects a nominal recording fee on some real estate related documents. These fees provide a significant funding source used by the state to address homelessness projects. In fact this source provides almost half of all the state funds available for these purposes. The legislation creating this funding source includes a “sunset clause” that will reduce the fee by $10 in July of 2015 and by another $20 in July of 2017.

This past January 28th was an eye-opening day for me. Charlize did her job by staying home to guard the house while I travelled with a group to Olympia to participate in the Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day sponsored by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. The bus we hired to take us from Everett to Olympia made the journey through rush hour Seattle traffic. The trip was painless actually it was enjoyable because of all the like-minded progressives on the bus, albeit our disparate backgrounds.

A large group gathered at the United Churches building in Olympia, across the street from the Capital campus. Along with many others we checked in, received our registration packets then listened to a rousing call to action delivered by people long dedicated to finding solutions to the myriad of problems associated with homelessness. Next we were able to choose from a list of instructive seminars.

I listened to a forty minute presentation entitled Advocacy 101 then another forty minutes to a panel of religious leaders discussing the role of faith-based organizations who wanted to advocate for affordable housing and working to help solve the homeless problem.

Starting at 11:30 in the morning and going to 3:30 in the afternoon the organizers had arranged for us to meet with the two Representatives and one Senator representing each of our legislative districts. That was another new experience for me, lobbying politicians. In my next column I will tell you about how we were received by our District 21 Representatives, Mary Helen Roberts and Lillian Ortiz-Self and our Senator Marko Liias.

The problems of individual homelessness can, in large part, be traced to drugs, alcoholism, and a wide variety of mental disorders and/or combinations thereof. This is a complex problem requiring very special and expensive programs to address and cure.

The problem of family homelessness is less complicated but just as sad. In almost all cases the family is homeless as a result of the bad economy or illness or injury or abandonment by the major the breadwinner. Most egregiously some families are homeless as a result of predatory lending practices. What is the justification for allowing that to happen? The children in these situations are completely innocent and suffer hugely. The solution to family homelessness is to provide affordable housing, job skills training, transitional support, counseling and other such services, all best, more fair and most efficiently provided by government working in conjunction with private charitable organizations and faith-based organization. The latter cannot hope to raise a fraction of the resources needed, resources that can only be provided by a program of taxation requiring that all contribute. Surely the richest country in the world can figure this out.

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