Tenant Services out in the community!

1991-LIHI-circleSeattle’s overheated rental market strongly impacts people living on low incomes and those experiencing homelessness. Solid Ground’s Tenant Services team have been out in the community, helping people understand their rights and resources to help them achieve stability.

United Way’s annual Community Resource Exchange took place on April 23rd at CenturyLink Field. The one-day event offered hot meals, health care, haircuts, legal and public benefits help, as well as many other services and community resource referrals all in one location. Over 1,300 people experiencing homelessness attended the resource exchange this year.

Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Chea Berra was there to provide information about our Tenant Services.

“Many attendees seemed to be quickly assessing whether the information, products or services at each table were something that could readily serve their day to day existence of homelessness,” Chea said. “It struck me that they were grappling with survival. To think long term – how to ensure just treatment at the hands of a future landlord, for example – was not in the realm of living on the streets. Immediate housing was what they needed and what they sought.”

That same day, at the Senior Center of West Seattle, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen hosted a panel of housing experts at a community forum. The meeting focused on senior housing issues including increased housing costs, tenant rights, affordable housing options for seniors, and information about the City of Seattle’s Utility Discount Program. Joy Scott, Solid Ground’s Supportive Services Manager, presented on tenant rights.

Seniors living on fixed incomes are particularly concerned about the rising costs of housing in the Seattle area because Social Security and retirement benefits no longer adequately cover the cost of rent. In addition, many seniors report facing discrimination based on the source of their income, and are more likely to be denied housing as a result. Longtime residents face an added challenge when rent increases occur and there is insufficient time to consider relocating, search for housing, and obtain the practical assistance for the physical aspects of moving.

Seniors interested in shared housing as a way to lower the cost of rent also spoke of age discrimination as Seattle’s rental market is dominated by young people. Unless we create fundamental changes within the rental market, seniors will continue to be displaced out of the Seattle area, or onto the streets.

You can watch Seattle Channel’s coverage of the entire forum!

The day closed with a Town Hall Meeting titled, “Rent is Out of Control!” with Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata addressing the affordable housing crisis. In addition to creating a forum for public comments, the meeting featured speakers from the Tenants Union of Washington State, the Seattle Displacement Coalition (formerly a program of Solid Ground), and Real Change.

The evening was as much about residents illustrating the grave housing problems we are facing, as it was about discussing possible solutions. Stories shared that night evidence an epidemic of preposterously high rent increases across the Seattle area, the displacement of people of color, people with disabilities, social workers and artists, and the drastically increasing homeless population as a result of the rapid decline of affordable housing that we are experiencing.

In terms of solutions, participants discussed rent control, increased public sponsored affordable housing units, and creative solutions such as converting old shipping containers into housing. Councilmember Sawant clarified for the audience that before Seattle can enact any type of rent control or stabilization, a Washington State law (RCW 35.21.830) prohibiting any city or town from regulating rent needs to be overturned. While this may seem like a large feat, hope was inspired by the reminder that in spite of the odds, Seattle recently succeeded in passing a $15 minimum wage. Councilmember Licata emphasized that in order for this issue to gain momentum, Seattle residents must take action to support and demand the need for more affordable housing solutions within the city.

Seattle Channel also videoed the Town Hall.

Are you interested in sharing your story to join the fight for affordable housing? We need to build momentum in order to expand tenant rights! Call our tenant services team at 206.694.6748!

Rental Inspections coming to Seattle

Solid Ground tenant counselor Trish Abbate appears on KING5 newsSolid Ground tenant counselor Trish Abbate was featured in a recent KING5 story on Seattle’s new rental inspection policies. The polices are an important new consumer protection in Seattle’s overheated rental market. You can view the piece on the KING5 website.

 

Family Homelessness 2.0

Editor’s note: This is reposted with permission from Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the authors.

By  , , Everyone deserves a home

Those of us who have been engaged in efforts to end family homelessness over the past decade need to acknowledge one of two things: Either the work is extremely complex and difficult, or we’re not very good at our jobs. While both of these statements could be true, given the time, talent, and passion that so many have been focusing on this issue for so long, we conclude (and hope) that the first statement is more accurate.There are many different crises that can catapult a family into homelessness: Loss of a job, domestic violence, accidents or serious illness, and inter-generational poverty – to name just a few. In addition, despite efforts to coordinate, past experiences in responding to homelessness have shown us that, although admirable, fragmented, non-integrated efforts to solve this problem by organizations and systems working independently and on their own have not stemmed the tide of this crisis.

The good news is that we now know what works:  Coordinated Entry is an emerging practice that, when it is working effectively, helps to target equitably the right type and intensity of intervention to each family. Decades of practice (and tradition) have resulted in high levels of fragmentation across the many service systems families may touch in their efforts to seek stability. Coordinated entry offers a systemic intervention predicated on a very simple belief:  Families in crisis should not have to “work the system” to find the supports that they need. Rather, the system should work for them.

In addition, rapidly returning families to permanent housing and connecting them to the specific supports and services they need to promote stability are proving in communities across the nation to be among the most efficient and effective ways to end family homelessness. Simply stated; families experiencing homelessness need housing first. This can be an uphill climb; in the current environment in the Puget Sound region affordable housing is a precious and scarce commodity. Providers working to quickly identify permanent housing for homeless families face daily challenges with rents increasing at record rates, inequities in access to housing, and extremely high competition for existing housing units.

Coordinated entry and promoting access to permanent housing and the right mix of services tailored to each family’s needs are critical first steps in moving toward solutions to family homelessness. Creating a systemic response that effectively responds to the complex, individual needs of each homeless family requires levels of collaboration and integration that have, historically, been unfamiliar and sometimes considered suspect by even the most dedicated system leaders and providers of care.

In this challenging context, introducing new, collaborative responses have proven difficult to organize and even harder to implement. Nevertheless, data from communities across the nation tells us we can be highly successful when our efforts are focused first and foremost on rapidly returning families to housing.

We haven’t always gotten these collective solutions right the first time around, despite the very best of intentions. Here in King County, for example, the first version of a coordinated entry system for homeless families – called Family Housing Connections – proved to be cumbersome and complex, and resulted in long waits for help that appeared on the surface to be worse than the chaotic absence of a collective response that had existed previously.

It’s a tribute to organizational leadership and line staff providers that we all didn’t throw up our hands in frustration and decide simply to return to the absence of a system we had before we started. Instead, leaders and providers worked together to carefully examine what was going wrong with the efforts – why families were waiting too long for assistance and housing – and revised the approach to address the specific problems that had been identified.

As a result, an overhaul of the King County family homelessness coordinated entry system is now underway, and as both NPR and the homeless newspaper Real Change have noted, we’re beginning to see improvements in both the length of time families wait for help and the speed with which they are being re-housed. With continued collaboration to implement more significant changes, even more dramatic improvements are imminent.

Mark Twain said that “Nobody likes change except a wet baby.” There’s a real truth there. Change is hard, especially when the changes being made are attempting to undo a crisis like family homelessness that has been decades in the making and is rooted in a constellation of economic, political, and social issues.

Looking at a problem from a systems perspective and making changes that promote collaborative solutions that were not in place before, can provide clear pathways to improved responses to the needs of those families experiencing the most extreme crises. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires patience, and the willingness to look at what’s going badly in order to determine what needs to be done to do better.

That’s exactly what is happening right now in King County and in communities across the nation. All of us learn the hard way on a daily basis that new responses to extreme challenges like homelessness rarely get the solution right the first time around. Rather than abandoning all hope and returning to even more dysfunction, coming up with Version 2.0 of a solution can offer the promise of moving in the direction where we’re finally getting it right.

Work for food justice! Apple Corps is hiring AmeriCorps members

AmeriCorps positions teaching nutrition and education in low-income schools in Seattle.Interested in a year of service? Have a passion for food justice? Apple Corps is hiring AmeriCorps Members for the 2015-16 service year!

Apple Corps is part of Solid Ground’s effort to address the root causes of obesity, malnutrition and hunger in underserved communities. National Service members work to promote healthy eating and active living for children living in poverty and experiencing oppression.

Our team is guided by the belief that all people deserve to live healthful lives. In this work, Apple Corps Members serve at elementary schools in communities where there is a high proportion of food insecurity, decreased access to healthy foods, and increased risk of childhood obesity. Apple Corps serves to educate school-age children and their families about nutrition, healthy cooking, gardening and behaviors that promote health.

Apple Corps Members collaborate with Solid Ground staff to teach classroom-based nutrition and healthy cooking lessons to Seattle Public Schools students, using evidence-based curricula, via 10- to 12-week educational units in three elementary schools and nearby community organizations.

Apple Corps is a program of the Washington Service Corps. All service positions run September 16, 2015 – August 15, 2016 (contingent on funding). Visit the Washington Service Corps website for information on requirements and how to apply.

Applications are accepted now through June 21, 2015. For questions, please email applecorps@solid-ground.org.

Twilight of the honey bee

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Photograph by Steve Tracey

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” ~E.O. Wilson~

The decline of the honey bee (Apis Mellifera) strikes at the heart of food justice. More importantly, it strikes at the heart of what life on Planet Earth will look like for humans in the foreseeable future. If concerned citizens are to understand poverty and racism, they must look squarely at how they use Earth’s resources. Honey bees are the foundation for much of human agriculture, and their intimate relationship with flowering plants is being put to the test. “Colony collapse disorder” or CCD is a phenomenon which is being credited with the dramatic decline of honey bee populations both in the United States and abroad.

It is impossible to grant human beings absolution as the ultimate cause of this. The use of pesticides, especially those containing neonicotinoids, are a suspected component. But colony collapse isn’t about a single cause; rather it’s a collection of causes that end in an indictment of human civilization. When the hives first affected by CCD were tested, they were found to contain over 120 contaminants, from pesticides to fungicides – chemicals used to maintain the superficiality and integrity of agricultural endeavors. But these are only some of many factors. Pests and diseases like the varroa destructor, American Foulbrood and braula coeca are enough to bring the honey bee population to a deeply worrisome place.

Here’s why this is a huge concern:

Bees pollinate roughly 80% of U.S. agriculture, and are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we consume. The loss of habitat due to farming practices has weakened all insect populations, but more acutely that of the honey bee, and this should be a concern to all consumers of fruits and vegetables.

Noted entomologist Marla Spivak talks about this in her TED lecture, Why bees are disappearing:

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Photograph by Steve Tracey

Now we have the best data on honeybees, so I’ll use them as an example. In the United States, bees in fact have been in decline since World War II. We have half the number of managed hives in the United States now compared to 1945. We’re down to about 2 million hives of bees, we think.

And the reason is, after World War II, we changed our farming practices. We stopped planting cover crops. We stopped planting clover and alfalfa, which are natural fertilizers that fix nitrogen in the soil, and instead we started using synthetic fertilizers. Clover and alfalfa are highly nutritious food plants for bees. And after World War II, we started using herbicides to kill off the weeds in our farms. Many of these weeds are flowering plants that bees require for their survival.”

Activists and progressives who want social justice should also see their passions mirrored in the interconnections in the world’s ecosystems. In the same way that we can trace poverty to its root causes, we can trace the decline of the honey bee. It’s us. Human need is a function of poor resource management. Racial injustice, poverty, war and famine all flow from a deep misunderstanding of our surroundings and how we should relate to them.

Nature is a cooperative experience that can’t possibly happen as isolated incidents or in a vacuum. So part of achieving true justice is looking at insects like bees, beetles or ants as part of a larger scheme of life. It’s seeing that humans are only a part of the wonder of this world. Only greed pollutes this with a desire to control, to use, and to superimpose ourselves onto the world. As we use the bee and it dies, so do we. If not immediately, then existentially, because we’ve failed to see the all-important connections all living things share.

Food justice is also about creating a sustainable culture that respects the relationships of all living organisms. The decline of the honey bee is telling us something about the ultimate price of human encroachment without a full understanding about what that means. An ounce of the natural world is worth all of the tens of billions of tons of metal and concrete that are twisted into our cities.

In spite of the odds there’s hope too:

The good news is that these modern trends can be challenged and people are challenging them, by becoming urban beekeepers. Between its Seattle Community Farm and Marra Farm Giving Garden, Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program maintains a dozen beehives. The irony of these efforts is that urbanized areas may in fact be the bee’s salvation. Urban areas offer a diversity of food and climates that more rural areas are increasingly lacking.

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Join the struggle to save honey bees:

Cities and their surrounding neighborhoods provide an opportunity to balance out what’s being destroyed. There are several Seattle-area groups that deal with all aspects of urban beekeeping. There are ways to get involved because there’s a lot of wasted space locally. Backyards, empty lots and rooftops offer opportunities that go unrealized.

Want to do something about this right now? Here’s how:

Big Picture News: Financial empowerment for all

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach Judy Poston

At Solid Ground, financial empowerment is integral to our mission to end poverty. Financial justice starts with helping people understand their personal finances, build resilience and achieve financial stability. On a policy level, we work to break down systemic barriers that keep people poor.

Our Financial Fitness Boot Camp (highlighted in the lead story of this newsletter) provides an important model for this work – but it is just the jumping off point for a much larger movement. In integrating financial empowerment across the Solid Ground community, we focus on people’s strengths to provide tailored support and access to resources so that everyone – including our staff and volunteers – can realize their financial stability goals and access opportunities to thrive.

We believe that…

  • Financial empowerment will help our community shift from generations of poverty to generations of financial stability.
  • Through education, people have the power to achieve financial stability.
  • Understanding personal finances develops individual power and furthers economic justice.
  • People are capable and resourceful in creating pathways to financial independence; with the right tools, they can make informed decisions.
  • Financial empowerment brings awareness of one’s own capabilities and strengths.
  • We can help alleviate fear of banking systems through financial empowerment.
  • We are cheerleaders for our clients’ pathways to financial independence.
  • All Solid Ground programs can instill the importance of building and saving assets.
  • Through financial empowerment, we can help people believe in their ability to become financially independent.

In line with these beliefs, our financial empowerment services focus on…

  • Basic Budgeting & Money Management: Creating savings and spending plans, prioritizing debts/expenses, and creatively thinking outside the box about how to manage money.
  • Understanding Credit: Developing a better understanding of the meaning of credit scores and awareness about what people can do to improve their credit.
  • Asset Building (income creation): Celebrating assets and asset-building accomplishments, and identifying ways to build assets and income-boosting supports such as tax credits and public benefits.

Some ways we’re weaving financial empowerment agencywide…

We discuss budgeting basics to help people maintain affordable housing. We connect people with job/training opportunities and resources. We provide nutrition and food budgeting education – focused on the affordability of healthy eating – and support people to grow their own food. And we work with banks to create opportunities for people to develop savings.

On a systems level, we support income equality and raising the minimum wage. We also advocate statewide for issues such as increased debt settlement regulation and consumer protections on payday loans. Combined, these efforts are creating systemic change to build a financially healthier community and economic justice for all.

This post taken from the Big Picture News insert from Solid Ground’s May 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Spring 2015 Groundviews: Standing up for my financial freedom

Below is the lead story of our Spring 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter online, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (Photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

A year ago, Jonah West found himself as close to rock bottom as it gets: homeless, jobless, and carrying the crushing burden of student loan debt with no degree to show for it. Despairing, he thought, “I don’t know where to begin; I don’t know what to do.” But in the midst of his hopelessness, he realized, “There was nobody else to really advocate for you but yourself. You can either sit here and cry about it or you can do something about it.”

Jonah chose option two and has been proactive in improving his life ever since. He found shelter and got on food stamps immediately, and soon entered the FareStart job training program, which he explains “uses cooking as the mechanism to teach you employment skills, life skills.” Through FareStart, he connected with Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston, when she held a workshop there on the basics of budgeting, savings and credit repair.

He says, “I got really excited about it, because my financial past has been quite wrecked. I learned to ignore it, because I figured I wasn’t going to be able to go any further with my life. And so hearing her presentation opened my eyes that there was hope, and gave me hope to fix the damage that I’ve done, which I thought was unfixable.”

Working with Judy in one-to-one coaching sessions, he now sees a new future. After coming to terms with the state of his credit rating – “the size and the amount” of his debt – he says, “Judy’s made it a reality to bring it down, and get it fixed, and just work slowly, piece by piece. It might not be as quick as I want it. But now that I have seen it, and I’m not ignoring it, I’m making it a priority in my life to fix it.”

He says, “There was not just the student debt, but a bunch of little things too. So we divided those two parts in half, chunking away at the little things first, but then slowly but surely, working on the student loan part. She’s made it so that I am present with what I’m doing. I’m making decisions appropriately with my finances; I’m not just throwing my money away anymore. Judy’s drawn out a map of how to repair the damage that I’ve done. She can’t make me do it, but she’s given me the opportunity to do it.”

Judy also connected Jonah with Solid Ground Board member John Babauta at HomeStreet Bank, enabling him to open a bank account again after several years without one. “They’ve provided me the support I needed to protect me from me – like no over-drafting allowed. I can’t dip into my savings; I literally have to go over to the branch and have a reason to go into my savings account, which is really great. Now I have a solid foundation of where to keep and how to protect my money.

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (Photo by Greta Carlson)

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (photo by Greta Carlson)

“At this point, I’m just trying to figure out a way to pay down the debt enough so I can fix my credit, get back into college, get the career that I want, and be able to pay it off completely. I want to be more than a waiter; I don’t want to be a lifer in the restaurant industry. I want more out of life. I want to get my CPA license and improve my credit score within five years. That’s what Solid Ground’s helped me out with. Because before, I had no idea what to do, nowhere to go; I didn’t know how to do anything. And now I have hope.”

Judy says that not all of her clients are as proactive as Jonah, a quality he says he inherited from his mother: “She doesn’t back down. She’s very persistent, and she stands up for herself when the moment calls for it. So I stand up for myself when the moment calls for it – and right now, that’s standing up for my financial freedom.”

He adds, “I’m very hopeful that in the next five years, there will be no resemblance of where I’m at today. I’m going to be in a much better place, and I just gotta be patient. And with the right support, it’s great to know that I’m not going to be a waiter when I’m 40. It took me from 20 to 30 to mess it all up, 31 to 40 to fix it, and from 40 on, have a good life. My future’s brighter; I’m very happy for that.”

Visit Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp webpage for more info on the program.

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