Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

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Ramadan: A spiritual journey of purification & compassion

Editor’s note: As we approached Ramadan this year, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of how Muslims celebrate this important holiday and why. I reached out to see if someone from the Solid Ground team would write about their experience of Ramadan. Abdel Elfahmy volunteered! Abdel, a practicing Muslim, is an Operations Supervisor at Solid Ground Transportation. I am grateful to him for sharing his perspective. 

Ramadan MubarakWhy are they fasting?

Whenever the month of Ramadan begins and the sighting of its crescent is affirmed, this marks the celebration of the willpower and strong determination of every Muslim. (This year’s Ramadan began the evening of June 17 and is over the evening of July 17.) Muslims fast from sun rise to sun set throughout the month of Ramadan out of obedience to their Lord and their urge to benefit from such a great spiritual experience. Muslims embark on a month-long spiritual journey of purification, hoping to disclose the wisdom behind fasting and obtain the abundant rewards of this blessed month, the fasting of which is one of the pillars of Islam.

The following are some of the rationales for fasting in this month:

1) The month of Ramadan is a practical self-training process on the sincerity and honesty of the believer: The one who breaks the fast is breaching the pledge with Allah, therefore fasting improves and increases his sense of honesty when he refrains from anything that could break his fast even whilst in seclusion. Of course one is not forced to fast in the month of Ramadan (there is no authority to check man’s behavior or compel him to observe fasting). One may pretend to be fasting in front of people, if his heart does not have any fear of his Lord. Fasting is an act of worship that is offered to the Creator with full devotion and sincerity, hoping only for the rewards from him.

2) Strengthening one’s willpower and determination: One who can tolerate the pain of hunger and thirst, and controls himself from having a sexual relation with his/her spouse whilst fasting, will strengthen determination and willpower. This frees the person from being enslaved to lusts and desires that are harmful. The month of Ramadan grounds a person in self-control. It is the month of radical positive change. When one fasts, one is in control of themself and exercises full control over habits and desires. Some people lose their temper and become ill-mannered if their meal was delayed from its normal time or if they do not drink their morning coffee or afternoon tea. They have become so accustomed to a certain routine that changing it creates a problem for them. Such people are slaves to their routine and habits, and fasting helps the person overcome this behavior.

3) Fasting is a holistic spiritual experience that poses a huge question mark for those who grasp the wisdom behind this obligation: A fasting person should ponder on the spirit of caring and sharing which fasting develops in Muslims. All fasting Muslims share the same pain, hunger, thirst and bitterness of deprivation while fasting with the poor and needy. Ramadan creates a social and humanitarian context that fosters compassion for the needy around the world. By our voluntary hunger and thirst, we realize what it means to be deprived of basic necessities of life. Ramadan is a time to remember and help those who are less fortunate. Moreover, all Muslims also feel the joy of breaking their fast and relish thankfulness to God. The poor people rejoice at their wealthy brothers who are sharing their pain and suffering with them. They rejoice at the thought that their wealthy brothers help them to ward off the scourge of hunger and bitter deprivation. Fasting rejuvenates the concept of social solidarity among the community.

4) Fasting generates in humans feelings of happiness, peace of mind and spiritual satisfaction, and fosters the unity of the community: It inculcates the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood. When one fasts, one feels that he/she is joining the whole Muslim society in observing the same duty in the same manner at the same time for the same motives and to the same end.

5) Fasting is one of the greatest means to obtain forgiveness for sins and removal of misdeeds.

6) Realizing the size of the bounties of God: Fasting makes rich people appreciate the favors of Allah, because Allah has granted what He has deprived many other people from. Refraining from such bounties and blessings for a short period through fasting reminds the rich of those who are continuously deprived, and they thus become grateful to Allah and more merciful towards the needy.

7) Fasting has clear health and psychological benefits: These were disclosed after scientific discoveries were made, and from the insights of those who were blessed with insight and good understanding of the divine obligation. Some of these benefits are:

  • It organizes the person’s heartbeat and relaxes it, since no blood is needed for digestion.
  • It purifies the blood from fat and cholesterol and acids.
  • It relieves the liver from the regular pressure.
  • It reduces the production of the digestive glands, which is usually the cause for ulcers.
  • It protects the person from weight gain, diabetes and kidney stones.
  • It reduces the pressure on the heart arteries.

A fasting person spends his days in carrying out one of the greatest acts, devoting his days and nights during that holy month in remembrance, glorification and worship of Allah, and willfully rejecting all temptations, abominations and the cravings of the human body.

Phone & internet discount info moving to InterConnection

Community Voice Mail was awarded a Harvard Innovations in Government Award in 1993 that lead to expansion to 40+ other U.S. cities.

Community Voice Mail was awarded a Harvard Innovations in Government Award in 1993 that led to expansion to 40+ other U.S. cities.

Starting on June 15, Solid Ground’s ConnectUp will no longer provide information and referral to the general public about phone and internet discount programs. The Community Information Line at 2-1-1 will provide referrals to phone and/or internet services. Our website content on phone and internet discounts will transition over to InterConnection at the end of June. We will post the link to that content as soon as it is available.

Solid Ground will continue to provide free Community Voice Mail as it has since 1991, when a group of folks at our forebear, the Fremont Public Association, invented the then high-tech idea of linking people experiencing homelessness to community through voice mail. Since that time, tens of thousands of people have used community voice mail to find housing, jobs and vital connections.

To sign up for free voice mail, call 206.694.6744, Tuesday – Friday, 10am-4pm.

ConnectUp’s Resource Wire newsletter will also continue to provide information on job opportunities, social services and free events via email, voice mail and social media to people living on low incomes in Seattle/King County.

Sign up for Resource Wire today!

Demand fair revenue!

Protester calls for fair revenue in OlympiaFair revenue means asking everyone to pay their fair share and ending the perpetual cycle of revenue crises, while creating a state where everyone can meet their needs. Tell your Washington state lawmakers that it is time to raise fair revenue!

Our state has the most unfair tax system in the nation. Low-income and middle-income people in our state pay seven times more taxes – as a proportion of income – than our state’s wealthiest folks.

Only a few cents of every dollar the state spends on its constitutional obligations (education, highway patrol, etc.) were generated by Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes. Worse still, these business taxes were paid almost entirely by small businesses! Last year, five of our biggest industries combined – aerospace, high-tech, agriculture, timber and mining – contributed only 4% of all the B&O taxes collected. That’s right: Altogether they paid a fraction of a cent on every dollar of taxes collected. Now that is unfair revenue!

Unsurprisingly, this upside-down tax system disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families the most.

Fair revenue allows us to use our dollars effectively. For example, it allows us to fund both education and social services, instead of pretending that you can gut one to fund the other and call it a “solution.” The good news is that real solutions abound. These solutions are:

  • Fair: Ensuring the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share by creating a state capital gains tax. This would tax profits from the sale of corporate stocks and other luxury financial assets.
  • Accountable: Eliminating wasteful tax breaks by closing tax loopholes for banks, oil refineries, and many others.
  • Sufficient: Raising needed revenue for education through putting a price on carbon pollution.

It’s time for our lawmakers to stop wasting our tax dollars by ignoring the solutions in front of them that support our basic needs, fully fund education, and help small businesses grow. By raising fair revenue, we can ensure that we are treating all our residents justly, regardless of race and class. But equally important, we also ensure that our growing economy supports a state where everyone prospers – rather than a state of haves and have-nots.

New Special Session means a new action! Email your lawmakers and ask them to support the fair revenue solutions put forth in the latest House budget proposal. The House budget takes a step in the right direction by making sure our wealthiest residents are held responsible for their fair share through a capital gains tax, and by increasing accountability through closing tax breaks for large profitable corporations.

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 has 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.

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