FamilyWorks celebrates 20 years of nourishing, connecting & empowering our community

FamilyWorks celebrates 20 years at their Sunday Dinner and Auction

FamilyWorks celebrates 20 years at their Sunday Supper & Auction

On October 25, I had the opportunity to represent Solid Ground alongside Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (also Solid Ground Senior Advisor and former Fremont Public Association Executive Director) at FamilyWorks Resource Center & Food Bank’s 20th Anniversary Sunday Supper & Auction celebration. It was a joyful and inspiring evening.

For 20 years, the resource center has provided comprehensive, strength-based programming to support families in conjunction with the food bank. In addition to providing nourishing food, FamilyWorks creates programs that support and help develop parenting and life skills for individuals, families and teen parents.

Photos from FamilyWorks’ 20 years of service (click for larger images and captions)

Throughout the 20th Anniversary celebration, many stories were shared about the lives touched by FamilyWorks. One story I found especially moving featured a FamilyWorks food bank recipient who is now a trusted FamilyWorks volunteer as well as a resident of Santos Place on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus.

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FamilyWorks Executive Director Jake Weber (left) with Eva Washington (right)

It is an impressive feat that our colleagues at FamilyWorks have provided critical resources to our shared community for 20 years. In particular, I would like to thank Ms. Jake Weber, FamilyWork’s Executive Director, who has been a moving force there since the agency’s foundation. She served two years on the founding board followed by 18 years of service as Executive Director.

At the dinner, FamilyWorks announced the first-ever Kerwin Manuel Impact Award, named after the late Mr. Manuel for his dedicated and courageous service to FamilyWorks and their program participants. Frank and I were honored and grateful to accept the award on behalf of Solid Ground, in recognition of the special partnership that exists between our two organizations.

I’m proud of the long-lasting and meaningful partnership that exists between FamilyWorks and Solid Ground. As FamilyWorks nourishes and strengthens individuals and families by connecting people with support, resources and community, Solid Ground works to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty.

Our region is a better place because of FamilyWorks’ important work and the partnership we continue to share.

Bold changes needed to create equitable opportunities to thrive

Our Solid Ground Vision articulates a future where our community is one that has evolved to a place “…where all people have equitable opportunities to thrive.” I’m concerned that for the majority of our King County community, ‘thriving’ is an aspiration that may not be achievable in our lifetimes without bold and dramatic changes.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Last year I participated in a bold step to strengthen the wage structure for those who work in Seattle. The success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee has sparked a remarkable movement to increase the minimum wage in cities across the United States. Yet an even more difficult challenge to achieving thriving exists: our complex and profound regional housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing, for rent or ownership, has been developing for many years. The majority of King County residents are now feeling the adverse effects of the housing crisis, which are a form of oppression for those who live on low and moderate incomes.

We are a community challenged by the dilemma of growth. The attractiveness of Seattle/King County as a place to live, work and retire plus growth has made Seattle and several other municipalities in King County unaffordable for most residents. Building upon the success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray created a 28-member cross-sector advisory committee to support Seattle in developing a plan to address our housing crisis. This group was charged with engaging the public and using their experience and expertise to guide the process.

In late July, after over 10 months of collaborative work, the Seattle Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee published its recommendations to Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council. Reflecting the depth of this crisis, the HALA Advisory Committee report is 75 pages in length and contains 65 recommendations. These recommendations were developed from the perspective that “Seattle seeks to be a diverse, prosperous, and equitable community where individuals and families can build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods. Housing costs rising faster than incomes threaten to make that aspiration unattainable.” (HALA Advisory Committee Mission Statement)

In addition to HALA’s work, we are also looking at the alternatives proposed in the City Council’s candidate-led Progressive-Plan-Seattle-Housing, the Community Housing Caucus Report and the Committee to End Homelessness Strategic Plan, and engaging with other stakeholders.

Members of Solid Ground’s leadership team contributed to efforts that created both the highest minimum wage in the country and HALA. Their input came directly from the lived experiences of our program participants and the increasing difficulty encountered by our housing case managers when trying to find quality affordable housing in greater Seattle. My perspective is that housing affordability in Seattle and King County is one of our most significant social justice issues.

The HALA recommendations are a beginning to the creation, adoption and implementation of much needed public policies. Solid Ground will continue to be an active leader in this fight for housing justice. It will take time, significant struggles and skillful collaborations. And when we are successful, Seattle will be a thriving city that is a diverse, prosperous and equitable community where individuals and families build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods.

June 2015: The best & worst of times

If a single month can embody the best and worst of our nation, then I think June 2015 is such a month. I was numb from the horrific murders of nine innocents in Charleston, SC, and disappointed by southern conservatives’ defense of the historically controversial Confederate flag.

A week and half later, I was filled with relief by the Supreme Court’s ruling that over six million United States residents will not lose their affordable health care. The possibility of losing affordable health care was a result of political battles by persons with copious amounts of power and privilege, ironically, many of whom already benefit from government-provided health care.June FYI

Two days later, my belief in the importance of equality was affirmed by the wisdom of the United States Supreme Court as they ruled that same-sex partners have the legal right to be married and for those marriages to be recognized in all parts of our country. All of this, and in just the last two weeks of June.

The design of our federal government to maintain a healthy balance of power is exquisite. The recent rulings by the Supreme Court regarding free speech, Affordable Health Care, fair housing and marriage equality underscore the historic and continuing role that our independent judiciary has in changing our systems to address oppressions in favor of equality and equitable opportunities.

As I reflect upon the killing of African Americans while worshiping in church by someone heralding the hateful symbolism of white supremacy, playing politics to deny low-income persons the benefits of a rich and prosperous nation, and the continuing resistance to recognition of the rights of some to have legal and recognized loving relationships, I come to the conclusion that we are in a fundamental struggle for the soul of our nation. Our struggles in the 21st century are painfully reminiscent of the civil rights struggles of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. What is clear to me is that the same race, societal, economic and health inequities that birthed the community action movement remain relevant and ripe five decades later.

With this degree of challenge and change, we are exposed to too many 21st century soundbites and much too short on serious civic discourse. We need more thought-provoking and actionable input to encourage and support forward movement. In the month of June, I did hear several statements worthy of sharing with you:

As a nation, we are addicted to incarceration.” -Kimberly Ambrose, UW School of Law, Director of the Race & Justice Clinic: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“I’m preparing my children for the world while I’m preparing the world for my children.” -Craig Sims, Chief Criminal Division, Seattle City Attorney’s Office: Governing for Racial Equity Conference

“For all the houses we had, I never had a home.” -Jason, an adult Moth Radio participant, sharing his childhood experience with homelessness since age seven: Committee to End Homeless Conference

“Racist teachers? Not intentionally. But as a district, if we know this is going on, why haven’t we taken any real steps to address it as a system?” -Ted Howard, Principal of Garfield High School in Seattle, reflecting on disparities in school discipline correlated to race

This is both the best and the worst of times. While some work has been done, some changes made and some goals realized, there is no room or time for complacency. June 2015 was another call to action, bringing focus and attention to serious issues requiring serious people who are committed to action. I’m glad that at Solid Ground, we are those people.

Honor our homeless vets by providing them housing!

Homeless vet holding sign asking for helpWar & Peace. Some say that to appreciate the benefits of peace, one must first understand the horrors of war. Sixteen years into the 21st Century, I think we have had enough war and conflict; we need more peace. I am grateful for those who choose to serve our country through military service.

On this Memorial Day, it is important that we take time to remember and honor all who have died protecting our nation’s security and the freedoms we expect and rely upon each and every day. And it is time to increase our national commitment to honor homeless vets by providing them with housing.

Today is the first Memorial Day Holiday since our role in the war in Afghanistan ended, a 13-year-long war where over 2,200 US military women and men were killed. When we honor our military, it is also important to lift up their families for whom this holiday is a time of painful grieving.

Veterans and their families have earned a special place in our community, yet we as a society fail them too often – ignoring the many traumas of war and the unique needs of veterans and their families for support post their service on the battlefields.

One important measure of our success in supporting veterans is meeting our commitment that “every veteran who has fought for American has a home in America.

We are making progress toward the national goal to ensure that all veterans and their families have a home, yet on this Memorial Day, there are still over 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States whose live are defined by living on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing. It is unacceptable that in our own King County community, there are over 675 veterans who are homeless

So when we remember, honor and celebrate our veterans who have died in service to our country, let’s also remember our veterans who have served, come back to the United States, and who need and deserve our gratitude and a home.

Transportation Levy to Move Seattle: The City wants to hear from you!

Transportation is critical to the health and well-being of our community. The City of Seattle would like to hear the public’s feedback on the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle proposal and is encouraging community members to learn more and get involved in a number of ways.

Some background: In March 2015, Mayor Ed Murray introduced a proposal for a nine-year, $900 million levy to replace the existing Bridging the Gap levy that expires at the end of 2015. The Transportation Levy to Move Seattle proposal focuses on taking care of the basics, maintaining our streets, bridges and sidewalks, while also investing in the future with improvements that give us more transportation choices to move more people and goods in and around our growing city.

Prior to finalizing the proposal, the City is encouraging the public to provide input and be a part of shaping Seattle’s transportation future. There are a few ways to get involved:

1) Saturday, March 28, 10am – 12pm (presentation at 10:30am)
New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave S)

2) Monday, March 30, 6 – 8pm (presentation at 6:30pm)
Roosevelt High School (1410 NE 66th St)

3) Tuesday, March 31, 6 – 8pm (presentation at 6:30pm)
West Seattle High School (3000 California Ave SW)

Transportation Levy to Move Seattle - Community Conversations flyer

Community Needs Assessment a foundation for strategic planning

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Last year, Solid Ground reflected upon and celebrated our 40 years of service in King County and Washington state. We took time to understand the work and impressive legacy of our forebears. We recognized that the culture of Solid Ground is one of Innovation, Partnership and Action, and those intrinsic characteristics have enabled us to be highly impactful in our direct services, social justice and advocacy work.

As a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) recipient and Community Action Agency, we are required to prepare a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) of the communities we serve. In addition to understanding the current needs of the communities we choose to serve, the CNA is also an analysis of our assets, capabilities and organizational challenges to successfully address the unmet needs of our communities.

In the 2014 Community Needs Assessment, we noted six areas of significant community need:

  • racial and economic inequities
  • lack of affordable housing
  • lack of educational attainment and opportunities
  • lack of living wage jobs
  • food insecurity and lack of nutritional education
  • inadequate access to health care and health services

Appropriately, Solid Ground has service and advocacy responses in each of these areas. The CNA also identifies some trends which we will need to better understand as we evaluate how we serve an evolving community, including:

  • growth in elderly residents
  • immigrants and refugees
  • an increasing gap in income and wealth
  • significant transportation challenges which exacerbate existing inequities

We look forward to using the 2014 Community Needs Assessment as a foundational analysis as we begin the 2015 process of creating our next agency strategic plan over the next three-to-five years.

Days of Action, Advocacy and Accountability

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

January 15th is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the day at our Solid Ground Sand Point Housing Campus meeting with our Residential Staff as we worked to identify and problem solve barriers and challenges that constrain how we serve the 175 families who live in our housing at Sand Point. It was an intense day when we consider the lived experiences of our families and our commitment to strengthening their lives.

Yesterday, the national holiday in honor of Dr. King was a day of Action, Advocacy and Accountability. Dr. King reminds us:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.”

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

We do have the right to vote, and electing responsible leaders is an important first step. Holding our leaders accountable for the laws they enact or fail to enact is action that is still needed, especially for our residents who are trapped by poverty and oppression.

This is why I was in Olympia with Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network on MLK Lobby Day 2015. I hope during this Legislative Session, you will advocate for equity and justice, and support our advocacy efforts.

An effective way is to contact your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline, 1.800.562.6000. Join in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Take action to advocate on behalf of our Solid Ground program participants and residents, and in doing so, help hold our electeds accountable.

Giving thanks

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco's Coit Tower.

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

It is a tradition that popular story says started in this country with the Pilgrims. They were a band of vulnerable immigrants who survived a harrowing first winter only through the help of the native people who shared their food and taught them to farm and to fish. Our nascent nation would have vanished without the advice of Squanto and other Wampanoags. Ironically, that expression of thanks turned into oppression, as the immigrants took over native land and massacred native peoples, cultures and customs.

Sadly, as a nation, we continue to struggle with immigration, apparently forgetting that with the exception of our native and first peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We give thanks that this month, President Obama ended the threat of deportation for nearly five million of our neighbors, undocumented immigrants with deep connections in our communities and vital roles to play in making them healthy. And we hope that our nation will once again embrace the values of compassion, equity and justice for all, not just those with privilege and power.

We honor the dreamers, the hardworking believers in a United States of America that can be better than the one we currently have. We give thanks to those who work for equity and fairness in public and private life, and those unafraid to point out our society’s failings and eager to help overcome them, including our allies in Ferguson, MO and the many other communities resisting institutional oppression and injustice.

Often at Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy, whether we were born to them or gained them through struggle. While it is accelerating in the Northwest, ours has always been a nation of haves and have nots. And so in offering thanks for our bounty, we must not lose sight of the inequities that have given some of us so much and many of us so little.

We honor the people who build our homes and grow our food, regardless of where they were born. And we thank the landlords who accept Section 8s, the readers who tutor, the case managers who provide support and advice, the accountants who keep us on track, the donors who channel their money through their hearts and souls. We honor the community that welcomes and supports, in the spirit of that storybook first Thanksgiving, whoever it is that arrives at our table.

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks…

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!

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!

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.

Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

In 1985, with Dr. King’s words ringing in their ears, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) launched a VISTA program to develop community leadership and fight poverty through National Service. In 1989, the program was christened the Martin Luther King VISTA Corps.

“The brilliant thing about the program,” remembers Lynn Livesley, one of the initial corps members and current Executive Director of Literacy Source, “was always the attitude that ‘We can do this.’ The glass was always half full. It was always very positive and we got things done. … The idea of bringing literally hundreds of people into this work is ‘power in numbers,’ and working towards social justice by working with the passion and commitment of people who want to see change in our community. It was an exciting time.”

In subsequent years, Solid Ground developed National Service programs to effectively address literacy, develop community-based violence prevention, and support anti-poverty capacity building throughout King County. At one time, we managed the state’s largest group of National Service programs, with 150 AmeriCorps & VISTA members. Backed up by a deep anti-oppression training program, Solid Ground’s National Service programs developed a strong reputation in the community.

 

AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985. Lynn was later program manager and director of the agency's national service programs

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985; Lynn later became Program Manager and Director of the agency’s suite of National Service programs

MLK Corps member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

MLK VISTA member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

On August 31, 2014, we ended the MLK VISTA program, marking the end of an era. The Washington Reading Corps, JustServe AmeriCorps and Pathway to Career Corps had closed in recent years. All were afflicted by variations of the same fatal challenge: changing priorities and practices mandated by the federal contracts that funded them.

For instance, changes in the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) meant that “for the first time in our long history of partnering, (we) were not in agreement (with CNCS) around creating leaders who understood the connection of racism and poverty,” noted former MLK Program Supervisor, Edna Sadberry.

For over 25 years, these programs helped develop countless resources, organizations and leaders in the fight against poverty. More than 2,500 corps members graduated, and former members now hold leadership positions in many innovative and effective organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Literacy Source, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others.

“It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow,” stated former MLK team leader Nicole Dufva. “You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.”

Our sadness at closing the program is leavened by our pride in its accomplishments and enduring contributions to our community. Edna, Nicole and Julz Ignacio were the last in a long line of incredibly talented and dedicated staff of our National Service programs. Please join me in honoring their work, the many great leaders who preceded them, and the lessons this agency has learned through their service.

And we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1989_MLK-edited

Amicus brief to State Supreme Court: New revenue needed to McCleary

Last Monday, August 4, Pacifica Law Group filed an amicus brief with the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf Five-year-old-girl at the library.of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center (WSBPC), making it clear that legislators cannot responsibly address the requirements of the McCleary decision to fully fund education without raising new revenue.

Joining WSBPC as co-signers on the brief are Centerstone, Equity in Education Coalition, Eldercare Alliance, Solid Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network and students from the University of Washington.

The amicus brief argues that the math doesn’t pencil out when you try to fully fund basic education without new revenue. It details the devastating impact of potential budget cuts on students, low-income families, communities of color, supports for older adults and children, and more.

More than two years after the court’s McCleary ruling was issued, the legislature has largely relied on unsustainable funding to make additional investments in basic education and remains behind schedule in adequately funding education.

For over forty years, Solid Ground has worked to end poverty through delivery of direct services, working to strengthen communities and advocating for public policies to address the causes and impacts of poverty. Every day at Solid Ground, we serve hundreds of families with children. We see firsthand that children need housing, food, medical care, counseling and more in order to achieve in school. When these basic needs go unmet, children have a difficult time staying in school, much less succeeding in school.

The amicus brief recommends that the court encourages the legislature to raise additional revenue that is stable and dependable in order to fully fund basic education. Failing to raise revenue to meet our education funding needs would result in cuts to other areas of the state budget that kids need to thrive. Without stable housing, access to health care and nutritious food, and other supports that create long-term economic security, we simply won’t create better outcomes for all kids in Washington. And isn’t that what McCleary is all about?

New jail not best way to address youth crime

NoNewYouthJail_webSolid Ground is joining a broad coalition of community groups led by End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) campaigning for community-based alternatives to building a new mega-sized youth jail in Seattle-King County.

While we recognize the need to renovate or replace the existing youth jail, we support the No New Youth Jail Campaign’s efforts to slow down the process and bring community leadership into prominence as we chart better ways to address youth crime. We believe the $210 million allocated for building a new youth jail could be invested with more impact through a modest facility upgrade, community-based prevention and diversion strategies, as well as the use of restorative justice practices for youth.

Youth crime is down in King County and the current facility is often not at full capacity. Therefore, we question the wisdom of building a larger jail, which would only reinforce criminalization as a strategy to deal with troubled youth. As an active member in the Equity in Education Coalition in Washington State, we are concerned about failings in our education system that disproportionately impact students of color and funnel kids into the school-to-prison pipeline.

We know from 40 years of experience as a service provider that disadvantaged families and youth need access to a broad range of wraparound services to overcome structural barriers to their success. These interventions and resources are more successful when offered before people get into trouble, not when they are already in jail.

Solid Ground is committed to undoing racism and other oppressions by examining institutional practices and policies that trap people in poverty and hold communities back. Investing $210 million in a mega-jail for youth would clearly reinforce institutional practices and policies that have wreaked havoc on communities of color and people living on low incomes. We look forward to supporting efforts to develop more proactive approaches to reducing crime and supporting youth in creating meaningful roles in our community.

More on the campaign is available on the No New Youth Jail blog.

Solid Ground Stands Against Racism

2014StandAgainstRacism-cropped

 

On the last Friday of April, Solid Ground participated in the YWCA’s annual Stand Against Racism event. We joined other social justice organizations to gather as a community, to take the time to reflect on the serious challenge of our work to end racism, and to celebrate the richness of our diversity. We took a stand against racism at the same time that many pundits assert that the United States has evolved into a “post-racial” society – based on having elected an African-American president. We know that race still matters and continues to be leveraged by those with power and privilege. We must continue our work to undo the adverse impacts of racism and oppression in order to shape a more equitable and just tomorrow.

Some actively try to turn back the clock of progress, including Cliven Bundy, an anti-federal government property rights activist in rural Nevada, who has become a darling of conservatives precisely because of his anti-federal government principles. Just days prior to the Stand Against Racism, he offered his opinions on “the problem of the Negro” by stating: “…they abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

And on the day after our Stand Against Racism event, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a professional basketball team with over 70% African-American players, told his mistress “…don’t bring blacks to my games.” When she pointed out that he is the owner of a team that is mostly black, he stated “…I support them, I give them food and clothes and homes…”

One hundred fifty-one years after slavery was abolished, we still have persons with power and privilege who not only have a slave owner’s mentality but also the audacity to publicly promote their racist views. These misguided and dangerous people are not only comfortable living in our sordid past – they seem to feel the need to advocate turning back the clock.

At our Stand Against Racism event, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that:

…the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Taking a Stand Against Racism is the voice of good people committed to undoing the negative and wrongful impacts of racism and oppression.

Visit our Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI) webpage for more information on how Solid Ground strives to stand against racism every day of the year.

 

Why it’s worth signing up for insurance coverage by March 31

King County "Coverage is Here" logo(Editor’s note: This article was authored by Gordon and Tom Gibbon of Swedish Medical Center and orginally appeared as an op-ed in the March 26 Seattle Times.)

We have less than a week to take advantage of the most significant opportunity in most of our lifetimes to strengthen our community. March 31 is the end of the initial enrollment period for low-cost health insurance.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the growing gaps in our community – gaps between wealthy and poor, between neighborhoods, between racial and ethnic groups.

King County has some of the healthiest communities in the world, yet there are many who have fallen behind. Our prosperity as a region depends on everyone being able to contribute and reach his or her full potential.

We now have a resource to help shrink those disparities; we have the opportunity for nearly everyone in King County to get affordable health care.

Whether you live in Queen Anne or SeaTac, whether or not you have a job and regardless of what language you speak, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, provides a critical resource.

Before the new health exchange Washington Healthplanfinder went online in October, there were more than 200,000 uninsured adults in King County. Most had incomes that qualify them for subsidized or free health insurance under the new law.

If awareness and enrollment information can move this group to action, that’s a two-fisted blow against inequities.

First, the ACA gives people access to preventive care and routine medical care that can keep them safe and healthy enough to work and care for their families. Second, it gives them financial security against bankrupting medical bills or other emergency costs that can drain savings in an instant.

If we can do that, we’ll take 16 percent of residents ages 18 to 64 – most of whom are working in the service sector or as laborers, often part time – and raise their standards of living, without taking anything away from everyone else.

To be sure, narrowing the gap in health would require public-health strategies to address chronic diseases and injuries.

But insurance would at least provide people with more affordable access to care.

Right now, King County has some of the greatest disparities in health coverage in the country.

For example, adults in South King County cities such as Des Moines or Federal Way are seven to eight times more likely to be uninsured than adults in Mercer Island or Sammamish. Latinos are nearly four times as likely and African Americans more than twice as likely to be uninsured as whites.

If most uninsured people who qualify do enroll in the exchange, we could make a dramatic difference in health coverage. The rate of uninsurance in much of South King County could decrease from 30 percent to 10 percent.

The key is to spread the word. Survey results show that many of the uninsured remain unaware of their eligibility for a new type of affordable insurance. And they’re unaware that a deadline looms. The end of the first open enrollment period for private health plans is March 31.

The next open enrollment period for subsidized plans is in the fall, although enrollment in Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program, continues all year.

As community leaders who are tasked by King County Executive Dow Constantine with championing health-insurance enrollment, we ask that you tell your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employees and others that coverage is available now and is more affordable than you think.

Gordon McHenry Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground, and Tom Gibbon of Swedish Medical Center, co-chair the Cover King County Leadership Circle and are appointed by the King County Executive.

Leveraging 40 years of innovation, partnership & action to end poverty & income inequality

Mayor Mike Murray holds a press conference with co-chairs of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, David Rolf of SEIU 775NW, and Howard Wright of Seattle Hospitality Group

Mayor Mike Murray holds a press conference with co-chairs of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (photo from the Seattle.gov website)

2014 is Solid Ground’s 40th year of Innovation, Partnership and Action! It appears that this will also be the year our society recognizes that income inequality is a fundamental and worsening issue for the United States and the world. Income inequality is not a new issue to us. Solid Ground and other Community Action Agencies recognized long ago that poverty is a result of societal barriers and structures which favor people with privilege and oppress those without. Since the origins of community action, the poverty rate has not increased, but income inequality – including lack of income mobility – has grown greatly, especially in the last 25 years.

The severity of income inequality and its impact on all of us is why I readily accepted Seattle Mayor Murray’s request that I join his Income Inequality Advisory Committee. The 25 members of the Committee are charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle. Income is, of course, important – and as we know well, just one of many factors that affect a person’s ability to thrive. I view these minimum wage negotiations as an opportunity to raise awareness and, hopefully, action on the larger issue of addressing opportunity gaps that prevent income and social mobility for all residents of King County and our state.

I appreciate that our new mayor has wisely identified that multiple strategies are needed to make Seattle an affordable and equitable city, including:

  • Increasing minimum compensation levels for low-income Seattle workers.
  • Ensuring universal health insurance regardless of employment.
  • Making affordable housing more available and closer to where people work.
  • Preserving and strengthening our public transit systems to connect people to jobs.
  • Creating a fertile environment for the creation and growth of new jobs and industries.
  • Offering education and training options structured to help working adults succeed and linked to better paying jobs in demand by industry.

Appropriately, these strategies specifically address the root causes of poverty and would positively impact many of the people who access our services. Innovation, partnership and action are what have enabled Solid Ground to be an agency with impact for 40 years. I’m confident that by working together with our public and private partners, advocating with the people living on low incomes across Washington State and in collaboration with our nonprofit peers, Solid Ground’s fourth decade will bring success in making an impact as an agency working to end poverty and income inequality.

Affordable Care Act: Help us continue to get the word out!

Image from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study - HealthCare.gov

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services study – HealthCare.gov

King County is a national leader in obtaining health care coverage through expanded Medicaid and Qualified Health Plans. In 2013, King County set a goal of enrolling at least 180,000 residents (80,000 in Medicaid and 100,000 in subsidized Exchange coverage) by 31 March 2014, the end of the initial enrollment period.

On Friday, we convened the Executive Committee of the King County Enrollment Leadership Circle to review our progress. I’m pleased to report that by early this month, over 75,000 King County residents have been enrolled since October! Our challenge is that of those 75,000 new enrollees, only around 20,000 are enrolled in a Qualified (subsidized) Health Plan. Also, those enrolled between the ages of 19 and 34 are significantly low.

While King County is on-plan to achieve its goal of enrolling 80,000 persons in (expanding) Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), we need significant renewed effort to reach our goal of ensuring 100,000 eligible residents obtain affordable care through a Qualified Health Plan.

Solid Ground will remain a leader as a part of King County’s collective effort to leverage this historic opportunity (see The Affordable Care Act: A potential ‘life-changer’ for people living on low incomes). As we know well, education, employment and health care are essential to ending poverty.

That is whywe are encouraging everyone to talk with family, friends, colleagues and clients, especially those who are ages 19 – 34. Please initiate conversations regarding health care and encourage those who do not have coverage to enroll prior to 31 March 2014. Thank you!

50th anniversary of War on Poverty a time to celebrate, reflect & rededicate

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the State of the Union address and launched what he called the War on Poverty, stating:

Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

This historic call to action led to the Economic Opportunity Act, the Food Stamp Act and the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, it led to the creation of an array of federally funded programs targeting various aspects of poverty, including Community Action Programs, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, Community Health Centers, Pell Grants, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Job Corps, Legal Services and the Federal Work-Study Program.

Solid Ground and our forebears – the Fremont Public Association and the North Seattle Community Service Center – were formed out of the Community Action movement. We are one of 30 Community Action Agencies (CAA) in Washington State and more than 1,100 across our country, serving people living on low incomes in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories.

Fifty years later, we know that poverty and social and economic inequities remain an unresolved and unacceptable reality in our country – a chronic and severe problem that disproportionately impacts people of color. I recognize this reality and I also reject the claim that the war to end poverty was a failure. In the ensuing five decades, our societal problems have become much more complex and our country’s economic growth continues to benefit an increasingly smaller portion of our nation’s population.

Through the past 40 years, Solid Ground and our Washington State Community Action Partnership have helped hundreds of thousands of people living on low-incomes change their lives for the better. Once, we focused on passing out food and clothes and finding people day jobs. As the causes and attributes of poverty have become more complex, so have our services. Now we address the multiple intersections of homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, mobility, education achievement, financial literacy and asset building, access to affordable health care, food and nutrition, and institutional racism.

Through 40+ years of innovation, partnership and action, we have accomplished much, and there is obviously much more to do. Among Solid Ground’s priorities in the coming year are:

  • Representing the nonprofit community on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which is charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle.
  • Continuing our leadership on the Equity in Education Coalition to address the achievement gap and deliver on the promise of a quality education for all Washingtonians.
  • Work with the national learning cluster to further Financial Empowerment and Asset Building efforts for our constituents.
  • Implement Rapid Re-Housing, Trauma-Informed Care and other pilot programs as we continually seek out best practices and more successful interventions.
  • Through direct services, and in collaboration with our education and community partners, ensure that all youth served by Solid Ground are on a stable path toward post-secondary education and career success.
  • Leverage the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, in partnership with King County, to ensure that all of our residents have equitable access to quality affordable medical and dental coverage.
  • Increase and improve the ways we engage with our community, especially by involving the voices and real-life experiences of people living on low incomes in the political process and in shaping our work.

2014 is both the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty and the 40th Anniversary of Solid Ground! In 1964, President Johnson ended his State of the Union Address by saying, “I ask you now in the Congress and in the country to join with me in expressing and fulfilling that faith in working for a nation, a nation that is free from want and a world that is free from hate – a world of peace and justice, and freedom and abundance, for our time and for all time to come.” In 2014, that statement is my commitment and my ask of each of you.

Editors noteOne of the ways we will be recognizing this milestone is by providing platforms to lift up voices and stories from the struggle to overcome poverty and thrive. Soon, we will recast the Solid Ground Blog as the Story Ground, to host our stories and yours. Sign up here to have posts emailed to you, or contact Communications Director Mike Buchman to learn more about sharing your story.

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