Cooking Matters classes cater to all ages

On a basic level, we eat to survive – but food is usually so much more than that. It can be a comfort, a social activity and even a pastime.

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Cooking Matters students each got a chance to work over the stove, scrambling eggs and making fried rice.

At a recent cooking and nutrition class held by Solid Ground’s Cooking Matters program, this was the topic of the nutrition lesson: to be mindful of what we eat and why we eat it. Cooking Matters hosts 6-week classes for people of all ages throughout the year, but this particular class was for families with children in middle school.

Cooking Matters, part of the national Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, teaches families and children how to buy and cook healthy food on a budget. The goal is not only to teach, but also to provide a space for participants to share experiences and information. Cooking Matters Program Coordinator Nicole Dufva says, “We try to foster a dialogue about what it means to eat healthy for each person.”

In the area, Cooking Matters partners with up to 60 community organizations to host and teach classes. The recent class for families with middle schoolers was a satellite program at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, run by the nutritionist at the clinic, Rebecca Finkel.

Though it’s the satellite program’s 8th year, this was Rebecca’s first time teaching a class specifically for families with middle schoolers. Before, the clinic hosted classes for families with children ages 8-13. This change was made in response to parent comments, suggesting that working with peer groups is more productive and fun for their children.

Rebecca explains that middle schoolers are old enough to do more actual cooking than younger children, so “it’s a good time for them to gain basic skills and nutrition awareness so that if their parents are at work or away, they can make something easy and healthy to eat.”

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The near-finished product: fried rice with tofu

After the nutrition lesson, the kids practiced cracking, scrambling and frying eggs to use in the main dish, fried rice with tofu. Meanwhile, the parents sat down to talk with Rebecca.

Rebecca explains that parents’ participation is equally important for this age group, because the parents are responsible for “setting the food environment.” In other words, parents are responsible for the food that is available if their children want to make food for themselves.

“The food environment also determines the rules around eating together,” says Rebecca. “Is the TV on during the meal? Are screens allowed during the meal? What do they discuss at the table?” The parent group discusses changes that could be made in the household to create a healthier lifestyle, including cooking together, getting more exercise or eating meals together.

On the 5th week of each class, the group travels to a local grocery store to practice shopping for nutritious food on a budget. Many families may consider fresh produce to be too expensive, so Cooking Matters emphasizes the health benefits of frozen and canned fruits and vegetables; in general, all classes focus on a plant-based diet.

Besides fried rice with tofu, this group made a delicious mango salsa to snack on during the class. At the end of the night, everyone received a copy of the recipes and a bag of fresh ingredients so that they could enjoy the dishes again at home.

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Cold weather heightens state of emergency for Seattle’s homeless

As temperatures descend into the 30s and 40s, spending the night outside is increasingly dangerous – but according to last January’s Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness’ 2015 One Night Count, over 3,500 people in King County have no other option. While more than 3,000 are able to stay in the winter shelters that open around the county every year, shelters are only temporary solutions for the growing number of people experiencing homelessness.iStock_000015579554_Large_homeless adult and child on street

Beginning in October or November and ending in March, April or May, several winter shelters are available either every night or a few nights per week. Most are designated as men’s, women’s or family shelters. King County Crisis Clinic’s Resource Talk website keeps an updated and detailed list of the shelters that are available throughout the season.

At least five shelters in the area also open during nights of severe (below freezing) weather, including the Rainier Room at Seattle Center (305 Harrison St), which has been open in recent weeks. Most of these shelters do not require referrals of any kind, and the Resource Talk website also keeps an updated list of their availability.

The King County Homeless Winter Shelter, located at the King County Administration Building, has operated regularly for two decades. Last year, after the One Night Count, combined funds from the City of Seattle and King County allowed the shelter to open an hour and a half earlier, and to increase the number of beds available from 50 to 100 for the rest of the season.

This winter, further steps have been taken. As of Monday, November 2, Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared that Seattle is in a state of emergency due to homelessness, calling for more funds and services. In response, the City of Seattle allocated one-time funds of $5 million on November 3 and an additional $2.3 million on November 17. These will allow the King County Administration Building to provide 100 extra beds this year (for a total of 150) as well as prevention and outreach measures. Some of the specific plans are outlined in the City Council’s “Green Sheet.”

Though 100 extra beds and an extra $7.3 million will certainly be beneficial, these measures won’t provide a complete solution, let alone a permanent one. This coming January 28, the Coalition on Homelessness will conduct their annual One Night Count, assessing how many people are currently in transitional housing, in shelters, and surviving outside. The count will hopefully show improvement from last year, and it will definitely clarify how much still needs to be done.

For updated information about shelters in the area, visit the King County Crisis Clinic’s  Resource Talk http://resourcetalk.crisisclinic.org/winter-shelters-201415/ website, or call 2-1-1.

Fall 2015 Groundviews: Changing systems, changing lives

Imagine you’re a single mom with a permanent physical disability – waiting for federal disability benefits to be approved – and are told you’ve reached your cash assistance lifetime limit. Or maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet, using food assistance, only to be told you were “overpaid” and have to pay back benefits from the last six months. Where can you turn?

Solid Ground's team of Benefits Attorneys

Solid Ground’s team of Benefits Attorneys (l to r: Stephanie Earhart, Katie Scott and Sara Robbins) just might be able to help. Serving both individuals and families, our attorneys primarily represent people having difficulties accessing or maintaining state benefits from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

But it doesn’t stop there: Beyond helping people access benefits, our attorneys work with DSHS to make the system more equitable for thousands of people across our region.

From individual to systemic advocacy

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart explains, “We’re in DSHS Region 2, covering five counties from King all the way to the Canadian border. We meet quarterly with the Regional DSHS Administrator to tell them what we’re seeing on the ground. And if we make complaints or say we need systems change, they listen.”

One type of case our attorneys deal with is families applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance. In Washington state, there’s a 60-month lifetime TANF limit and very few ways to qualify for an extension. These include families experiencing domestic violence, adults living with severe and chronic disabilities, and people taking care of a child or adult living with a disability.

Yet Stephanie and her team noticed that these extensions were often denied for people who were clearly eligible. “We were seeing two problems: people eligible for the family violence extension weren’t getting it, and people eligible for the disability extension weren’t getting it.”

Through outreach events, trainings and lectures, Stephanie publicized the time limit extension availability and our willingness to appeal denials: “If your family has zero income, somebody disabled in the household, or somebody dealing with family violence, they should still be on TANF. Period.” After several favorable decisions overturning TANF extension denials, Stephanie and her team set their sights on change at the policy level.

Collaborating for success

Teaming up with other advocates from the Northwest Justice Project, they facilitated a meeting in Olympia with DSHS administrators and the Attorney General’s office. “We have really good working relationships with them, and they know that we don’t come to them lightly,” says Stephanie. “So this year, when we advocated for DSHS to rewrite its policy manual around the family violence time limit extension, they took our concerns seriously and improved the way they screen clients for this exception and staff training on the issue.”

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Also, our attorneys convinced DSHS to clarify how disabilities cases should be handled. As a result of their recommendations, DSHS changed the law to include a new disability time limit extension. “They actually agreed to do it, which was huge! I nearly fell out of my seat when I found out,” Stephanie recalls. So now, if a family member meets the eligibility criteria for ABD (Aged, Blind or Disabled), they can get a TANF extension.

“The work we’re doing is very real,” says Stephanie. “I’ve learned so much from the people we serve. Any of us could end up in a hard situation at some point, and it means everything to me that I can do this work now.”

The same end goals

Currently, our attorneys are working to ensure that state food assistance recipients aren’t saddled with unpayable debt when DSHS miscalculates their benefits. According to federal law, recipients are liable for any overpayment of food assistance even if the overpayment was caused exclusively by DSHS’s mistakes. For families living on the edge of poverty, repaying this debt is usually impossible.

Our attorneys represent people facing this situation in hearings and negotiations with the Office of Financial Recovery to show financial hardship and get the entire overpayment waived or put on a payment plan. While helpful on a case-by-case basis, this strategy doesn’t solve the systemic problem: Many people who qualify for a hardship waiver don’t even know about our services or that such a waiver exists.

So now, Stephanie and a Northwest Justice Project attorney are collaborating with the Attorney General’s office, the Office of Financial Recovery and DSHS to rewrite the policy manual regarding overpayments and hardship waivers. “The hope is that DSHS will analyze hardship when they assess overpayments, rather than waiting for clients to raise the issue, which is not something the current regulations require them to do,” she says.

“That’s why our working relationship with DSHS is really important; we can go a lot farther by collaborating. When you sit down at a table, especially with the policy makers, you realize they often want the same things that we do for our clients.”

For more info on Family Assistance, contact 206.694.6742 or familyassistance@solid-ground.org.


‘Changing systems, changing lives’ is the lead article from Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 


Marra Farm serves with seeds, soil and sunshine

Harvesting chard at Marra Farm

Nutrition & Garden Educator Pamela Ronson, Dani Ladyka from Apple Corps and volunteer Sarah Rehdner harvest chard at Marra Farm.

Recently, I bused to the South Park neighborhood to volunteer at Solid Ground’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a project run by our Lettuce Link program. Farmer Scott Behmer wasn’t surprised when I arrived late: “This is a really underserved area, regarding transportation and lots of other services. And really, that’s why we’re here.”

Scott explained that the farm has two main functions: food production and education, or in other words, “fighting the symptoms and fighting the causes.” He added, “Food banks are really important, but they won’t end hunger. Education is one of the ways we can change the system.”

I witnessed the education side of Lettuce Link’s work when a 5th grade class arrived from Salmon Bay K-8 School, an alternative public school located in Ballard. The group gathered around Scott for a brief orientation, and he explained the origins of Marra Farm: “All the land around the city used to be farmland to feed the city. This bit of land has stayed farmland.” The farm is named after the Marra family, who used to own and work the land.

He gave the students a brief intro to the food industry as well, explaining that each bite of food travels an average of 1,500 miles. “Some of it is food that we can grow here, and we still get it from far away.”

Throughout the year, the farm produces 25-30 different vegetables, which last year resulted in 15,000 pounds of food (not including another 8,000 pounds from our Seattle Community Farm in the Rainier Valley). That day the harvest included parsley, loose-leaf lettuce, chard and squash.

The many colors of Swiss chard

Colorful Swiss chard, ready to be harvested

The produce is mostly donated to food banks in the area, as well as the South Park Senior Center and South Park Community Kitchen. Lettuce Link also offers Work Trade opportunities, where volunteers can help maintain the farm in exchange for produce.

The day I volunteered, Providence Regina House – a food and clothing bank that serves four zip codes from South Park to Des Moines – came to collect food. Jack Wagstaff, Providence Regina House Program Manager, echoed Scott, saying that their food bank is intentionally located in that area, because “it’s radically underserved by anyone else.”

Before the food bank truck arrived, the students were each able to harvest two acorn squash. “We all have times where we get to help others, and we all have times where we get to be helped by others,” Scott told them. “Today, you get to be the helpers.”

Acorn squash, harvested by the 5th-grade volunteers

Acorn squash, harvested by the 5th-grade volunteers

The class teacher, Nicolette Jensen, said she has brought her class to the farm for the last three years. She feels it’s important for the students to “learn about the food industry and about how food used to be in the city. I think that little bit of education goes a long way.”

After harvesting, we washed the produce and stacked it in crates, ready for pickup. As the students ate their lunch, volunteers and employees gathered under the tent; Jack from Providence Regina House shared some snacks, and a neighbor joined us from across the street. Though everyone came from different places and had different levels of experience, a sense of community and shared purpose was clear at Marra Farm.

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‘Tis the season to enjoy some pumpkin!

This post contributed by our staff at Cooking Matters originally appeared on their blog.

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The final product: a delicious yet healthy pumpkin smoothie

It’s October and you know what that means…PUMPKIN OVERLOAD!

When we enter our grocery store, we know it is “pumpkin season” as we are welcomed by the different pumpkins used as decorations in the front of the store. Our taste buds start to send signals to our brain telling us that we must devour a homemade pumpkin pie by the end of this season.

However, our busy schedules say otherwise and discourage us from taking part of the Pumpkin trend this month. We conclude that we won’t have time to make this delicious pumpkin recipe, since we barely have to time to prepare our regular meals.

Do not be discouraged any longer! I have developed a pumpkin recipe that takes no longer than 5 minutes! Yes, you read right…5 minutes!

Let us not delay this recipe any longer. You will find below the ingredients and steps below to create a PUMPKIN SMOOTHIE that you can make at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Pumpkin Smoothie Recipe

Prep time 5 minsTotal time 5 mins

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 medium banana (frozen)
  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup  low-fat milk and and add a 1  tsps. of vanilla extract or unsweetened vanilla soy milk

Instructions

  1. Mix everything into a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.

*You may need to stop to stir once or twice. If the smoothie appears or tastes too thick, don’t be afraid to add a touch more soy milk or even a little water.

Program changes better meet the needs of chronically homeless families

For families living on low incomes that include an adult with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many times, families rely on fixed income, essentially living “from crisis to crisis,” according to Sand Point Housing Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown.

By February, these transitional housing units at Sand Point will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

In 2016, these transitional housing units at Sand Point Housing will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

By February 2016, Solid Ground will have converted 26 transitional housing units at our Sand Point Housing campus to Permanent Supportive Housing to help address the needs of chronically homeless families. This conversion is in line with the Housing First strategy, which simply put, provides homes to people experiencing homelessness before addressing any addiction problems, criminal records, or other barriers they may have to accessing affordable housing.

“The idea is to stabilize the family first,” says Brown. “Then we look at the barriers and try to help the family address them. The program will make it easier for families to obtain and maintain housing.”

Housing First has not only been more effective in terms of keeping people housed, but it is also more cost effective. Solid Ground’s program differs from similar ones by providing homes to chronically homeless families, rather than individuals.

Sand Point’s new Permanent Supportive Housing units will have very low screening requirements, meaning that those with poor credit, substance abuse or mental health conditions, or past eviction, domestic violence or criminal histories will not be denied housing.

Brown explains that providing people in dire situations with immediate access to housing allows them to actually focus on recovery and stability. Once people have their basic needs met, they can begin to consider making changes that will improve their quality of life. “What many people don’t understand is that people don’t choose to be homeless – rather, they give in to being homeless … because it’s their best option right now, rather than living with domestic violence, dealing with untreated serious mental illness or addiction, or struggling with a limited income that won’t pay for an apartment. It’s the lack of choices that causes them to remain outside.”

As a result of the lower screening requirements, family members may require more support and access to services such as financial counseling, therapy and medical attention. In response to this predicted need, a Therapeutic Case Manager, trained to address the needs of the tenants, will offer support to residents, and case management staff will provide 24/7 coverage. Additionally, other Solid Ground programs and community supports will be available to provide a holistic array of services to residents.

Before the units open, a lot of work must be completed. Brown explains that families currently in the transitional Sand Point Family transitional housing units will be moving out, though each of them entered the program knowing that it was a 12-month, time-limited transitional program, designed for families to exit to permanent housing as they stabilized.

“There are a couple families who will have been here less than 12 months, but we are working really hard with them,” says Brown. “We sat down with all the families individually to figure out how to comfortably transition them into new housing.”

Once these families successfully find housing, the two buildings will be lightly renovated to meet the needs of the incoming families. For example, one of the transitional housing units will be converted into a community meeting space, in order to foster a supportive environment and communication between neighbors.

Units will be posted on Family Housing Connection in the next couple of weeks, and referrals will be accepted beginning at the end of November.

The Seattle Times: Time running out on Seattle family’s ‘golden ticket’ to landing a home

Dana Disharoon and her daughters in their temporary home at Sand Point Family Housing. (Photo by Bettina Hansen, reprinted from The Seattle Times.)

For those struggling with homelessness and housing stability, there is never an easy solution. In her 9/29/15 piece, Time running out on Seattle family’s ‘golden ticket’ to landing a home, Seattle Times reporter Nina Shapiro follows Dana Disharoon, a single mother of three daughters and survivor of domestic violence, in her recent search for permanent housing.

Following months of moving between shelters and her car, Disharoon was able to live for a year in transitional housing at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Family Housing. As her time there ran out, Disharoon attempted to secure a permanent residence, aided by a Section 8 housing voucher and Solid Ground case managers, but was hindered by a low credit score and the aggressive competition in the housing market.

Since the article was written, Solid Ground’s Sand Point Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown reports that Disharoon and her daughters have successfully located housing, and are now waiting for a final inspection before they can move in. Sand Point Family Housing will be assisting with move-in costs.

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