Honoring our veterans

vets dayThe United States remains a country at war; indeed we are in the longest sustained period of declared war in our nation’s history. On Tuesday of this week, we celebrate Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to taking time to honor and celebrate all veterans – those who are alive and those who have died.

Our veterans provide a direct, personal and dangerous service from which we all benefit. Veterans are important members of the Puget Sound area and a special community we at Solid Ground seek to serve and support.

While war results from the inability of people and countries to resolve conflict in a non-violent way, it is critical that when we debate the decision to go to war or how war is conducted, we don’t disrespect the veterans who have chosen to serve our country. So, on this Tuesday, even as we look forward to the end of war, please take the time to honor and thank our veterans, including the 12 Solid Ground employees and our many clients and residents who are veterans. Thank you!

November 2014 Groundviews: ‘A really good marriage’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the November 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins have been married for 45 beautiful years, and for more than half of those, they have both worked as Access Drivers for the Solid Ground Transportation (SGT) department. The kind of couple who lovingly finish each others’ sentences, they are now the longest-serving drivers on the team.

They were drawn to this work in the late ‘80s when they saw a driver help someone in a wheelchair get out of a van at the hospital where they were visiting Ninus’ mother. Ninus says, “This individual kind of lit a match in our vision and said, ‘Hey, this is what I do, and I like it. And if you want to try it, I’ll give you some information.’ I was kind of reluctant, but Kathy said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Kathy adds, “Compliments to that person, because here we are, 26 years later.” But she says they wondered, “ ‘Are they even gonna hire a husband and wife? Let’s not tell them!’ But they took a chance, and they did!”

Today, Kathy and Ninus are among 110 SGT drivers who operate a fleet of 75 Access vehicles – providing door-to-door rides to appointments and services for adults who physically cannot access the fixed-route Metro bus system – as well as two buses for the Downtown Circulator fixed-route service.

‘We’re family’
Originally named Seattle Personal Transit, the program was launched in the late ‘80s by a Jesuit volunteer who drove people to appointments in a beat-up old van. The service soon combined with another small operation under the wing of Solid Ground’s predecessor, Fremont Public Association (FPA). Kathy comments, “I think it was a really good marriage for what Seattle Personal Transit was offering the community. We knew we were getting bigger, and it fit under that umbrella. It all meant helping somebody get what they needed, whether it’d be medical, or just social, or nutrition. It fit.”

Ninus reminisces, “Then, we said, ‘We’re family.’ We started building trust between each employee, and that’s what brought us [to be] successful in partnership. We decided this is where we belong – a fountain of knowledge, ready to tell everybody how happy we were to do this type of work.”

‘More than just drivers’
Back when Kathy and Ninus started driving, there were fewer than 10 drivers operating a fleet of approximately seven vehicles, only two of which had side-loading wheelchair lifts. (Today, all SGT vehicles are equipped with wheelchair loading apparatus and space to accommodate multiple wheelchairs and/or walkers.) The small size of the program and regular routes allowed for a connection between drivers and passengers – “And their families! And their pets!” interjects Kathy – that just isn’t possible with today’s varied routes and packed timetables.

“We were more than just drivers; it wasn’t just rides,” Kathy reflects, “We were the lookout.” For some passengers, she says, “Unless you communicated with their family – like, ‘She’s not remembering her keys,’ or ‘He’s not remembering to put socks on with his shoes’ – it might not be evident to them. They don’t see them every day, but I do. And if I could share that with them, then they could intervene: ‘Maybe they need a doctor’s visit.’ We were there to give them that information.”

Ninus reflects, “We were the eyes of the community, and we were there for safety.” He describes an incident where a visually impaired person began crossing the street into traffic. “I remember stopping the van, getting out when it was safe, running out, grabbing that person, tapping them on the shoulder saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait! You’re crossing the wrong way!’ And bringing them back to the corner and waiting for the light, and then taking them across the street safely.”

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

Ninus & Kathy Hopkins, Solid Ground Transportation Access Drivers (photo by John Bolivar Photography)

A labor of love
As a mixed-race couple who married in the heart of the Civil Rights era and raised biracial children, Kathy and Ninus have experienced some of the worst of our nation’s racist realities, and this has sometimes extended to their work as drivers. Ninus reflects, “In the begin [sic], it was watch what you say, and be careful of how you approach somebody, and stand back and reach out, and don’t try to touch anybody unless they needed your assistance. We were very careful to be professional … but still be there to assist.”

Ninus survived some devastating experiences, including passengers setting their dogs on him, and one incident where a woman placed a handkerchief on his arm before she would accept his help so she wouldn’t have to touch his skin. Yet somehow, Ninus and Kathy consistently maintain compassion.

Ninus says, “This job is done from the heart and out of love. Every day, there’s some things that’ll make you cry, and some things that’ll make you giggle. Your motives are to be professional, to be caring, to be safe … to be a warm spirit. You always offer hope.” Kathy adds, “It wasn’t anything that deterred us from giving them that TLC that they needed to survive or get where they needed to go.”

“This is a job that everybody can’t do,” Ninus admits. “It takes a special type of person to take that extra step. And we’re blessed to be in an environment [and] shine by doing that extra step. And that’s just like our marriage: 45! Forty-five years!”

Standing with Ferguson

This post was published in print in the Big Picture News insert to Solid Ground’s November 2014 Groundviews newsletter and online on our website.

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white policeman in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014 wasn’t really an unusual event. Black men (and women, adolescents and children) have been subject to violent discriminatory police practices throughout our nation’s history.

Despite the rage and fear felt by participants, the response of the citizens of Ferguson to stand up to this police brutality has been unusual and noteworthy for its display of courage, organizing brilliance, peaceful protests and perseverance.

Solid Ground stands firmly behind the people of Ferguson and those organizing around our country to end police brutality and bring equity to our justice system.

We have a legacy of working in the community and with the Seattle Police Department to deescalate tensions in communities of color. And while we lost funding to continue this work through the JustServe AmeriCorps program a few years ago, we remain focused on the importance of continuing to counter institutional racism playing out in our current policing environment.

For white folks, it might be impossible to imagine how blacks in this country react in the presence of police because of the way we are daily profiled. Even now, as a black man working in a position of leadership and authority – a trained attorney who lives squarely in the privileges of education, class and status – I find myself reacting to the police with a deeply emotional response of apprehension and anxiety. They are a source of conflict or even danger to me and my family, rather than a source of support/resources. This is not a rational response; it wells up from deep inside, buoyed by generational trauma and reinforced by the experience of black people throughout our history.

As a father, I grieve for having to pass this trauma on to my children.

And so, sadly, Michael Brown’s death could almost have been expected. Another day, another black man gunned down. We remember a handful of their names and stories, but just a handful. Remarkably, Michael Brown’s death has outlasted our myopic news cycle and continues to serve as a rallying point for people organizing against police brutality.

It’s important that organizations like Solid Ground continue to shine a light exposing police brutality wherever it occurs.

Ferguson is a place we’re seeing on television, but the reality is Ferguson is a state of mind, and minds can be changed if they’re informed.

October 22 was a National Day of Action Against Police Brutality, which Solid Ground endorsed and participated in. I am hopeful that this kind of public protest can be a catalyst for meaningful change in our community.

Solid Ground stewards a neighborhood of people living in our housing at Sand Point, who are working hard to lift themselves out of homelessness and poverty. The young people there, whether of color or not, are brilliant, compassionate and inspirational. They are the antidote to the prevailing stereotype of black youth and youth of color as “dangerous thugs.”

Solid Ground is committed to understanding and countering racism, because we know that racism is a root cause of poverty.

Undoing racism is a key to unlocking the door to some particular forms and patterns of poverty established during the earliest history of this country when people of specific racial groups were identified as commodities (e.g., African slaves, Chinese railroad workers, Native Americans and others). Our institutions haven’t changed much over the years – and they are still structured in a way that excludes women and people of color.

But equal justice should exclude no one. The people of Ferguson and many other communities are staking their lives on it. People of Seattle: Let us join them!

Back on the road to home

Bruce Perry with his truck

Bruce Perry with his truck

Truck driver Bruce Perry is a veteran and a resident at Santos Place on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus. He has lived in many different places – from the deep south, to California, to the Pacific Northwest – and he has worn many different career hats. From a young age, he has known exactly what he wanted to do with his life – several different things, to be exact – and one by one, he has achieved those goals.

Bruce says, “I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in life, career-wise. I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to go into the military. I’d see the convoys of military trucks and “I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s going to be me one day!’ ” And sure enough, he served in the US Army from 1975 to 1979, a Vietnam-era vet who was fortunate to enlist three months before the end of the active conflict, so he never saw combat. Also, he says, “I wanted to be a mailman – which I did for 19½ years – and at the age of 42, I retired, in the Bay Area.”

Finally, he says, “I wanted to be a truck driver.” He first got his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in 2005 and worked as a cross-country freight driver for several years. “I’ve been to 48 states, Mexico and Canada.” This last goal, though, had a serious hiccup: In 2009 in Louisiana, he received a ticket, which he paid with a check that didn’t go through. Unfortunately, the check was returned to an old address and he never received it, causing his license to be suspended for a year. “And each time you get a ticket,” he explains, “it’s another violation that counts for one year. Another violation, another year. So that’s how I had to do three years on suspension. That’s three years without driving at all.”

Starting over

In 2011, with his final dream job on hiatus, his funds dwindling, and very few veterans resources available to him in the south, he decided to relocate to Washington state where he could get housing through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). “That’s one reason I moved here; and another reason was I’d be close to my girlfriend,” he says with a shy smile. (She lives in Vancouver, BC, and thanks to Amtrak he gets to meet her in Bellingham a few times a month.)

After a stint in VASH temporary housing, Bruce was placed in transitional housing at Santos Place. A self-described loner and very independent man, he says, “This place is for people able to take care of themselves, ‘cause nobody gonna come knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ You have to be able to take care of yourself here.”

During his stay, he says, “I kept myself busy.” So while living at Santos and waiting out his suspension, he worked at Whole Foods Market and received job training through AARP – and just as soon as his suspension was up, he went straight back and got recertified as a truck driver. In June 2014, he was back on the road, and he couldn’t be happier. He drives up and down the coast, from Kent, WA to southern California and back, with weekends at home. And come December 1st, five days before his birthday, Bruce will finally move out of Santos Place and into permanent housing.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Bruce outside of Santos Place

Bruce outside of Santos Place

To others struggling to get back on their feet, he urges people to “ask for help. Solid Ground has people to help you with that! Depression, shame stops people from doing what they need to do. It’s scary. You get in this environment, it’s all you know. You stay here and you feel comfortable, and it’s hard to get up and walk out that door and go out there and get a job again, because a lot of people are scared of failure. But you got to start somewhere.”

He recommends that people “Go to training school while you’re on low income. Go to WorkSource. Go to the library. We got two brand new computers here and a whole computer room. Take advantage of that! Go to junior college. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.”

Home for the holidays

This year, Bruce will be in his own home for Christmas for the first time in a long time. A devout Christian, he believes God played an important role in his success: “If you open your heart up to God, read your bible, pray – put your trust in God, not man – then it will start working. If you have the right attitude, things will work out for you. It may take a while, but it will happen.”

And while Bruce is technically of retirement age, he’s not at all retiring. “The only thing I want to do now is just continue working and, God willing, work to the age of 66 and collect my social security. I got a chance to retire; I know what it’s like to retire. I got a chance to be blessed to start back over again. So it’s like a big burden lifted off of your shoulders.” But, he says, when he finally does “retire” from truck driving, he still intends to drive a truck two or three days a week. “I’ve talked to older people,” he says, “and lots of people have told me, the worst thing you can do is just sit around all day and do nothing. Once you sit down and start doing nothing, your muscles and your mind, everything’s all fading away. You lose everything.”

And he has absolutely no regrets. “It’s hard to explain to people; very few people can look back and say they’ve done everything they wanted to do in life. I’m one of those few people. And how do you know that you’ve done everything in life? If the doctor said, ‘You only have two months to live?’ I’ve done everything I wanted to do!”

Poverty Action’s 2014 election positions

VOTE FOR A CHANGE imageOn Tuesday, November 4, you have the opportunity to cast your vote and weigh in on issues important to you and your community. The Statewide Poverty Action Network has taken a position on some of this year’s main ballot initiatives to help you consider their impacts. To avoid confusion on this year’s LOOOOOOONG ballot, we’ve listed our positions in the order in which they appear on the ballot.

Initiatives 591 & 594: Background checks for gun sales
Everyone in Washington state should be able to live in safe communities. Background checks provide an important tool in curbing gun violence. We need stronger, not weaker, background checks on gun sales.

Vote NO on Initiative 591
Vote NO buttonI-591 would weaken background checks and make gun sales less safe. Right now, federal background check laws are weaker than our laws here in Washington state. This initiative would roll back our state’s existing – and already inadequate – background check laws to conform to the weaker federal standards. For example, I-591 would repeal state law that prevents individuals with restraining orders against them from possessing a gun. Also, instead of closing unsafe gun show and internet loopholes, this initiative expands them. This is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Vote NO on I-591.

Vote YES on Initiative 594
Vote YES buttonI-594 would strengthen background checks and make gun sales safer. Currently in Washington state, not all gun sales require a background check. Licensed gun dealers use a background check, while gun shows and the internet take advantage of a loophole that allows them to avoid this safety measure. I-594 would eliminate this loophole and require every gun buyer in Washington state to pass the same background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from. Vote YES on I-594.

Seattle’s Proposition 1: Funding for transportation
If you live in Seattle, you have the opportunity to vote for Proposition 1. Affordable public transportation is the lifeblood of a growing city and region. Our friends, neighbors, and family members rely on the bus to get to work, school, and medical appointments. There are a number of Seattle Propositions and Measures with “1″ in their titles – you’ll know this one because it is the very last measure on the Seattle ballot.

Vote YES on City of Seattle Proposition 1
Vote YES buttonCommunities of color, students, seniors, and working families will be affected by bus cuts if Seattle Proposition 1 doesn’t pass. This measure funds access to transit for riders living on low incomes and offers a low-income tax rebate on car tabs for working families. Vote YES on Proposition 1 in Seattle.

Still have questions about this year’s election?
Visit Poverty Action’s online Voter Guide to learn where the candidates stand on the issues you care most about.

Join us in national action against police brutality

Ferguson actionSolid Ground stands firmly behind the people of Ferguson, MO and those organizing around our country to end police brutality and bring equity to our justice system. We have a legacy of working in the community and with the Seattle Police Department to deescalate tensions in communities of color. And while we lost funding to continue this work through the JustServe AmeriCorps program a few years ago, we remain focused on the importance of continuing to counter institutional racism playing out in our current policing environment.

Therefore, Solid Ground is endorsing and will have a presence at the National Day of Action Against Police Brutality this Wednesday, October 22. I encourage members of our Solid Ground community to attend the Seattle action, which is being held at 5pm at Seattle Central College (1701 Broadway Ave).

Visit the Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression & the Criminalization of a Generation Facebook page for more information on the protest in Seattle.

Vote YES on Prop 1

votes yesSolid Ground endorses Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 to stabilize and grow bus service in Seattle.

Affordable public transportation is the lifeblood of a growing city and region. Our friends, neighbors, family members and clients rely on the bus to get to work, school and medical appointments.

This November, voters will have the opportunity to support our regional bus service. Transportation District Proposition 1 is a ballot measure that mirrors the increases in Metro revenue sources that Seattle voters overwhelmingly supported in April: a $60 vehicle licensing fee and 0.1% sales tax. Low-income households are eligible for a $20 rebate on the vehicle licensing fee.

In addition, Proposition 1 provides up to $2 million for low-income riders and will support outreach to help people living on low incomes access the reduced fares.

Despite questions about the changing nature of Metro’s revenue forecasts and doubts about the need for funding to stave off serious bus service cuts, it’s clear that we must continue to invest in our regional transit system. Bus ridership is up and the demand for regional bus service is higher than ever. We must develop a sustainable long-term vision for expanding transportation services region-wide.

This proposition alone will not make our transit system affordable and equitable. Rather, it is an important first step in ensuring that people can continue to rely on the bus to go to the grocery store, pick their kids up at day care, and visit family members.

We urge Seattle voters to vote YES on Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1.

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