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.