Legislative Update: Human Trafficking

By Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D)

guest columnThroughout the years I have spent in the Legislature, tackling the issues of affordable housing and human trafficking has been of particular importance to me. It is clear why these issues are each important to address, but it is often overlooked how they are so intrinsically linked. Back in 2002, thanks to the leadership of former Rep. Velma Veloria and the Asian & Pacific Islander Women & Family Safety Center, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass specific legislation related to human trafficking, and in 2003 enacted the first state law creating crimes of human trafficking. In all, we have passed 36 bills to mitigate this terrible problem and have established ourselves as a leader in anti-trafficking law both nationally and internationally.

By confronting the barriers people face when applying for housing, Washington has also made progress with regard to fair and affordable housing policies. Most recently, we passed two bills to address problems with tenant screening practices, but there is still a lot of work to do. In 2012, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6315, requiring landlords to provide screening criteria in writing for prospective renters, and listing all of the requirements that will be used to determine eligibility for tenancy. And in 2013, SB 5568 added protections for domestic violence survivors in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act with regard to screening practices.

What keeps many of our most vulnerable community members without having stable housing is a combination of screening practices for rental applications, rising rent prices, and the lack of funding for supportive services and community organizations that work to provide critical services to survivors of human trafficking.

capitol building, capitol building in olympia

Capitol building in Olympia, WA

Access to affordable, safe and stable housing is key to combating trafficking. According to the King County Committee to End Homelessness, “Young people experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to being coerced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.” Approximately 5,000 minors experience homelessness in King County every year, with about 500 working in the sex trade any given night. This is deeply alarming, as individuals without a stable, safe and affordable home are not only more likely to be victims of trafficking, but also are more likely to be re-victimized by their abusers if they are unable to secure safe and stable accommodations. And even though my bill, SB 5482, became law in 2011 (authorizing local governments to use affordable housing funds to provide housing assistance to victims of human trafficking and their families), we did not provide any state funds to meet the additional need.

How screening practices impact survivors of human trafficking

When landlords screen a prospective tenant for a rental application, they generally perform a background criminal records check, credit check and public records check. As a result of a system that treats victims like offenders, many trafficking survivors have criminal records – typically related to prostitution – that can inhibit their ability to retain housing, even if the conviction was many years ago. While the Legislature passed House Bill 1292 in the 2014 session – to vacate prostitution records for trafficking survivors – there are still concerns regarding tenant screening, especially related to criminal and civil records that are easily accessible and cause tenants to be wrongfully denied housing.

What housing affordability means for struggling individuals and families

Housing affordability is a serious concern for many in our community. It is increasingly problematic for seniors on a fixed income, foster youth aging out of the system, immigrants, refugees and the mentally ill. For trafficking survivors who are working to gain new life skills and employment training, housing affordability is also critical. Oftentimes, if an individual has been forced into labor, she or he has not been allowed to attend school – sometimes for decades – and has not had opportunities for work training.

Why isn’t there more funding for services that support trafficking survivors?

With an international land border, being the closest state in mainland U.S., and having numerous large ports to which people are brought from Asia, Washington continually fights an uphill battle to eliminate human trafficking. Protecting human services funding has been ever more difficult in a divided state Legislature still working its way out of the Great Recession – and it has been very challenging to reach agreement on increasing the dollars directed to critical services that prevent and abate human trafficking.

In part due to these challenges, grassroots organizations in our state – particularly ones that provide direct services and support to survivors – are a lifeline for those trying to escape sexual or labor exploitation. And even though anti-trafficking is an issue that is far less partisan than most, the underground nature of the problem and significant budget restraints mean we still struggle to bring much-needed relief to survivors at the state level.

Where we go from here

Legislative efforts to combat trafficking are increasingly turning toward supporting survivors and holding abusers accountable for propagating such crimes. For example, HB 1791 passed this year, adding sex trafficking to the existing definition of sex crimes, and was amended with language from a bill of mine (SB 6017) to allow local law enforcement to recoup costs of investigating crimes related to prostitution and sexual exploitation of minors. Another bill, SB 6339, introduced by my colleague Sen. Karen Fraser, created the crime of ‘coercion of involuntary servitude’ – including the withholding of documentation of a person’s immigration status – and established this crime as a felony.

These are important measures, but it is clear there is still a great amount of work to be done. I am continuing to work on finding solutions to these problems throughout this summer and fall and into the next legislative session.

If you have questions, concerns or ideas you’d like to share, I encourage you to contact me at jeanne.kohl-welles@leg.wa.gov or 206.281.6854. You may also visit my office at 3131 Western Avenue, Suite 421, Seattle, WA 98121.

Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D) represents the 36th Legislative District (including the Queen Anne, Interbay, Ballard, Magnolia, Belltown, and parts of the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods). She has been the sponsor of many affordable housing and anti-trafficking bills in the Washington State Senate, helping make us the leading state in the country in efforts to eliminate human trafficking. Senator Kohl-Welles received Seattle Against Slavery’s 2010 Lincoln Freedom Award for her anti-trafficking legislative efforts, February 2013 Legislator of the Week, and the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Housing Hero Award from the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance and Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. She has served in the Washington State Senate since 1994, following three years in the state House of Representatives.

Statewide Poverty Action Network’s 2014 Voter Guide

You’ve been seeing commercials, hearing ads on the radio, and receiving mail from candidates and initiative campaigns. It is clearly time to vote in our state’s primary election!

If you’ve received your ballot in the mail recently, you may see some old familiars and some new unknowns on there. It can be overwhelming trying to find resources on the right information about where these candidates stand on the issues facing your community. With so many pressing matters facing our communities, your participation in this election is critical.

Every election season, Statewide Poverty Action Network Poverty Action Voter Guide(SPAN) takes to the streets to register and mobilize voters, AND we talk to the people running for elected office across the state. We sent all running candidates in Washington state a questionnaire on topics ranging from health care to predatory lending to institutional racism, and then published their responses verbatim in this VOTER GUIDE. Over the next few weeks, we’ll add even more information about folks running for U.S. Congress and our positions on the statewide initiatives, too!

Our guide provides the tools you need to help ensure all families have the rights, recognition, and resources needed to thrive. We need great leaders in Olympia to help us forward our legislative agenda to change laws and correct injustices. Now is the time to have a say about the issues facing your community and making sure everyone can meet their basic needs.

These candidates will have substantial impacts on our everyday lives. Don’t let this election pass you by. Read our online voter guide to make informed decisions before mailing your ballot or putting it in a local drop box by 8pm on Tuesday, August 5!

SPAN and Solid Ground are nonpartisan, nonprofit (501c3) organizations that do not support any candidate or political party.

Special enrollment & the Affordable Care Act

For a large segment of the US general public, open enrollment for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 was October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Most who missed that window will have to wait until the next open enrollment period for coverage in 2015, which is November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015. However, exceptions for certain life events qualify some people for special enrollment, which is year round. Exceptions include those who qualify for or are renewing Washington Apple Health (formerly known as Medicaid in Washington state), marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, foster care, or death of a dependent. There are many other qualifying factors, but all of the explanatory jargon can be confusing at times.Health Care 1985

Thankfully, our Family Assistance Program has been hard at work providing trainings and legal advice on the ACA. The purpose of these trainings is to assist people with education on and enrollment in the newly available medical insurance through the Health Benefit Exchange and Apple Health. For example, one of the major changes from the expansion of the Medicaid program affects those making up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. Specifically, if a single household earns under $1,274 per month (or $15,290 per year), then they can access Apple Health and apply for it at any time. Folks who make more than that are potentially eligible to purchase a Qualified Health Plan through the Health Benefit Exchange during the next open enrollment.

Solid Ground holds an ongoing commitment to educate and enroll the uninsured in free or affordable health care. From October 1, 2013 to May 29, 2014, 178,659 residents were enrolled for health care coverage in King County. Amazingly, 40,021 of them were previously eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled, 48,344 are receiving coverage through a Qualified Health Plan, and 90,294 newly eligible people signed up for Apple Health. Our President and CEO, Gordon McHenry Jr., couldn’t be more thrilled. “These impressive results were the work of a great partnership involving King County Public Health, our medical providers and many nonprofits, including Solid Ground,” he said in a letter to Solid Ground staff. “Equitable access to quality, free or affordable health care is essential to a community that is healthy and thriving.”

Reminder: Open enrollment for Apple Health is year-round, and applications can be accessed through Washington Healthplanfinder. If you have questions regarding special enrollment or anything else regarding coverage under the ACA, please contact the Family Assistance Program at 206.694.6742.

In Memory: Sandi Cutler

“Sandi Cutler -- a graceful leader whose vision and compassion drove lasting social change.”

“Sandi Cutler — a graceful leader whose vision and compassion drove lasting social change.”

Sandi Cutler, Solid Ground’s Chief Operating & Strategy Officer, died unexpectedly during the first week of July from natural causes. He leaves behind many loving family members, dozens of grieving colleagues and a lifelong legacy of social justice work. While not a publicly recognized figure, Sandi made significant contributions to the political life of our region, our nation’s health care system, and the stability and success of Solid Ground.

Sandi grew up in the Central Valley of California. His father was a school district administrator who worked to desegregate the public schools that employed him – which meant that he was often fired. So the family moved on, taking their active commitment to social justice to another community.

As a young man, Sandi was an effective political organizer. He was a major force in moving San José, California to change from at-large elections to City Council districts, which helped communities of color gain representation. He worked tirelessly to raise funds for candidates of color to ensure they maintained their political power.

Later in his career, Sandi became a nationally known leader in natural medicine and the public policy issues related to the integration of natural health sciences into health care. A brilliant strategic thinker and deeply knowledgeable planner, he helped turn Bastyr College into Bastyr University, one of the world’s preeminent natural health sciences institutions. He also guided the expansion of DeVry University’s medical school, turning it into the largest provider of new physicians into the U.S. Health Care system.

When Sandi came to Solid Ground in 2012, he brought more experience in developing and implementing strategies, operations management, organizational development and leadership than most people could gain in many lifetimes.

And still, he was at heart a gifted community organizer who believed that it was a successful day only if he had helped make the world a better place.

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with Sandi Cutler at Solid Ground's 2014 Stand Against Racism event

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with Sandi Cutler at Solid Ground’s 2014 Stand Against Racism event

“Sandi took great pride in his Italian heritage and a culture of living life to the fullest, characterized by love of family and community,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground. “He was always mindful of his white privilege and careful in his role in Solid Ground’s hierarchy.

“The opportunity to be employed with Solid Ground was both inspirational and motivating for Sandi. He felt honored to continue working on behalf of those suffering from oppression and poverty, as well as from the impacts of societal barriers to justice, equity and the opportunity to thrive.”

“Sandi will be remembered as a graceful leader whose vision and compassion drove lasting social change,” said Lauren McGowan, past President of Solid Ground’s Board of Directors.

“Sandi’s kind nature and compassion had an impact on everyone around him,” said Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director. “He had a profound and genuine care for the community that we serve as well as the team of dedicated staff here at Solid Ground.”

Solid Ground extends its deepest support to Sandi’s family and friends. We know that for all the loss we feel, yours is deeper and even more profound.

And as we reflect on the incomprehensible fragility of life, we are reminded to be kind to one another, to find the beauty in each day and to make sure we express our love to those we cherish.

A public memorial service will be held Sunday, July 27 from 1–4pm at Bastyr University Chapel (14500 Juanita Drive NE, Kenmore).

‘It’s a broken system that’s not working': Proposed new youth jail will increase incarceration of youth of color

In 2012, King County, WA voters passed a levy initiative to fund the construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center. Given the fact that 100% of taxpayer money will be used for the construction of the facility – not for maintaining or creating services – it’s hard to think of this facility as anything other than a reinforcement of the school-to-prison pipeline, a widespread pattern in the US of pushing students, especially those already at a disadvantage, out of school and into our criminal justice system.

In King County, African-American and white youth commit crime at the same rates, yet about 40% of detained youth are African American, and they are twice as likely to be arrested and referred to court as white youth. Incarcerating youth without providing diversion or reintegration programs increases the chances of recidivism, thus continuing the revolving door of our criminal justice system – statewide and nationally.

“It’s by design to start that process off early,” says Ardell Shaw, intern for Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network. He describes how this affects kids later in life: “A person has a felony on their record. Now they may repeat this cycle, and when they get out, they have huge amounts of fines to pay. The system creates enough stress where they perpetuate recidivism and keep that cycle going.”

New Youth Jail, King County, institutional racism, african american incarceration, king county juvenile infographic

Infographic created by Solid Ground

Now that we’ve gone over some statistics, imagine how these numbers will change after the jail is built. The county is going to have to justify spending a quarter of a billion dollars on this project somehow. Their justification will come in the form of incarcerating more youth, especially targeting youth of color.

“The purpose for building it isn’t about the renovations, it’s to put more bodies in it. Particularly African-American bodies,” says Ardell. “When it first came out they tried to glamorize it as a ‘family center’ instead of calling it what it actually was.” A youth jail.

What can you do about it?

1)     “Make calls. Support us when we have meetings.” Ardell is referring to the No New Youth Jail campaign, which is strongly backed by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, The People’s Institute Northwest, and the Black Prisoners’ Caucus among other organizations, including Solid Ground.

2)     Call King County and City of Seattle council members Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Kathy Lambert and Dow Constantine to say you support the demands to defer this money elsewhere.

3)     Also, Ardell encourages us to talk about it. “Make people aware that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. That money could be spent other ways. The juvenile system is broken and they DON’T fix problems in the current system.”

“You have to deal with what the issue is, why they got into trouble in the first place,” explains Ardell. “They’re not just committing crimes to commit crimes. There are other factors … So if we can get to the base root of what that is, then we stand a better chance. Then we let the kids know there is a possibility. They need to find a way to correct their system and really offer these kids help. Not just probation, but help.”

Throwback Thursday: Emerson celebrates a year of successful composting!

This post by Apple Corps member Lisa Woo originally appeared on the Apple Corps blog.

As our AmeriCorps terms come to an end (July 15th is the last day for a handful of our team members), it is hard not to get sentimental about the past year of service. This end of term is especially nostalgic for me as I complete a two-year chapter with the Apple Corps program. So, in honor of the amazing community I have had the chance to work with and all that they have taught me, here’s a little Throwback Thursday!

All year long, students at Emerson Elementary, the site school where I have taught nutrition education, have been exploring their role as Earth Stewards through a school-wide lunchroom composting initiative co-led by myself and our fellow Apple Corps Member, Randa, who served as the Active Play Coordinator. Together, we developed a student-led “Compost Hero” lunchroom monitor program that was able to engage every student at each grade level. In addition, we held several health promotions throughout the year that allowed students to understand the close connection between environmental and personal health!

Students at Emerson embraced the title of "Compost Hero" with their fearless leader, Ms. Randa, a fellow Apple Corps Member (pictured top center)

Students at Emerson embraced the title of “Compost Hero” with their fearless leader, Ms. Randa, a fellow Apple Corps Member (pictured top center)

One such promotion was our Earth Day: Caught Green Handed Celebration, which challenged students to do good deeds for the earth and identify the ripple effects those acts have on their community. Students enjoyed posing in our “Caught” picture frame and having their photos displayed proudly throughout the school hallways.

gardening

Students turning compost into our school garden beds

The year ended strong with a final school-wide competition that pitted primary grade levels (Kindergarten, First and Second) against the intermediate grade levels (Third, Fourth and Fifth) in a Food Waste Challenge similar to the promotion held at Concord Elementary. The challenge was a great way to wrap up a year of compost education and stimulated great conversation among students about how important reducing food waste is for both our bodies and our earth, despite having a fantastic alternative waste deposit system. Paired with quality time in the garden and hands-on worm explorations, our final week of composting was nothing short of fantastic!

garden picture

A group of students deeply engrossed in their worm exploration!

Great job, Emerson Eagles!

Solstice Parade founder on building community through art

2013 Fremont Solstice Parade biker (Flickr photo by Lambert Rellosa)

2013 Fremont Solstice Parade biker (Flickr photo by Lambert Rellosa)

Long before the Fremont Solstice Parade was world-renown for the phalanx of naked bicyclists that kick it off, the event was created as a way to build community through creative expression.

The parade was birthed by Barbara Luecke and Peter Toms, migrant arts-workers who brought the concept of a Solstice Parade with them when they came to Seattle from Santa Barbara in the late 1980s. Solid Ground and its forebear, the Fremont Public Association (FPA), helped birth the parade by providing institutional support to the Fremont Arts Council. The parade was more or less grafted onto the Fremont Fair, which was produced by Solid Ground from 1974-2009. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce assumed control of the Fair in 2010.

Barbara Luecke, co-founder, Fremont Solstice Parade

Barbara Luecke, co-founder, Fremont Solstice Parade

The Fremont Parade was conceived with two fairly conservative restrictions that seemingly paradoxically fostered its spirit of pure unabashed creation: There were to be no printed words (or logos) and no motor vehicles (except aid chairs). This limited commercialization and freed participants to come together in a celebration of life and art.

Fremont Solstice Parade (photo by Eric Frommer)

Fremont Solstice Parade (photo by Eric Frommer)

Annual public workshops are at the heart of the parade, bringing artists and other participants together to create and collaborate on costumes and ensembles in an art lab environment. The parade and workshops are managed by the Fremont Arts Council.

In this brief video, Barbara Luecke tells the story of the genesis of the Parade and role that Solid Ground/FPA played in building community through the arts.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers

%d bloggers like this: