Fall 2015: Partnerships, Program News & Thank Yous

Solid Ground’s print newsletter highlights lots of great partnership and program activities. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 


PARTNER SPOTLIGHT: The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents

Not your average real estate agents, The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents has a unique vision: They believe that home – a place of shelter, a vibrant neighborhood and community, a sense of safety and belonging – should be obtainable by all. To help make this a reality in our community, they contribute both significant funds and hands-on service hours to nonprofits like Solid Ground that are involved in housing and community development.

CoHo Team members (l to r) Tonya Hennen, Cara Mohammadian & Peter Wolf

CoHo Team members (l to r) Tonya Hennen, Cara Mohammadian & Peter Wolf

“We have been proud to support Solid Ground for over 12 years as donors and volunteers,” says Team member Tonya Hennen. “We love their local, grassroots approach and broad spectrum of services, particularly their work in developing housing. We appreciate how they leverage many partnerships to the support of their clients. Few organizations are ambitious enough to claim the mission of the eradication of poverty through dismantling institutions of racism and oppressions. They really walk their talk. You go, Solid Ground!”

Thank you, CoHo Team, for your committed partnership!

For more info on partnering with Solid Ground, please contact us at 206.694.6803 or development@solid-ground.org.


PROGRAM NEWS: From the Ground Up

From transitional to permanent supportive family housing

For families living on low incomes that include an adult living with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many families on fixed incomes essentially live from crisis to crisis. King County’s homeless services system identified the need to create more capacity to provide long-term housing for families with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness.

Solid Ground’s Sand Point Family Housing is among the initial group of five area transitional housing providers to convert to permanent supportive family housing. Changes coming to the program include round-the-clock staffing to help residents overcome a more complex set of challenges, and support for families in long-term stable housing. Increasing partnerships will bring more support services onto campus.

Case workers and housing advocates are working with current tenants – all of whose leases will expire before the program conversion – to secure long-term housing. But because of the changing program model, few if any will be eligible to remain at Sand Point Family Housing.

Cooking on all burners

Our Cooking Matters nutrition educators completed 13 class series in the third quarter! The classes, which focus on preparing healthy, culturally appropriate meals on a budget, were hosted by a variety of community organizations – including five at Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) locations and two in Toppenish, WA through our satellite partner, the Quinault Indian Nation.

Our own Seattle Community Farm recently cohosted a six-week series for teens affiliated with the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA). Other new satellite partners include Verdant Wellness Center in Lynnwood, which hosted their first Spanish Cooking Matters class in October, and Hopelink, a fellow King County Community Action Agency, which will host classes at their five Eastside locations starting in early 2016.

Financially fit

Our Financial Fitness Boot Camp was selected by The Financial Clinic of New York City to partner on the launch of a new financial skills coaching platform, recognizing Solid Ground’s leadership in financial empowerment education and services.


SPECIAL RECOGNITION: Brilliance… Kindness… & Persistence…

Who needs a visor when you have Swiss chard? Dani Ladyka, one of our new crop of Apple Corps members, finds a bit of shade at the Marra Farm Giving Garden. (Photo by Madeline Corbin)

Who needs a visor when you have Swiss chard? Dani Ladyka, one of our new crop of Apple Corps members, finds a bit of shade at the Marra Farm Giving Garden. (Photo by Madeline Corbin)


TAKE ACTION: Get Involved!

Big Picture News: Language should not be a barrier

All who come to Solid Ground for housing, food and other services face challenges to meeting these basic needs – but there’s an added layer of complexity for our program participants who speak little or no English. To ensure that our services are available to all who need them – regardless of their primary language – we prioritize access to interpretation and translation services.

Language access for racial & social justice

Solid Ground program participants come from myriad cultural backgrounds and language traditions (including American Sign Language). To meet their unique needs, our staff access interpretation and translation services approximately 800 times a year for about 25 different languages.

Our Language Access policies are grounded in our racial and social justice work, as they are absolutely essential to our ability to meet people’s needs in an equitable manner.

Support for our staff

Connecting staff to language services gives them the tools they need to more competently work with limited-English speakers. We strive to leverage both internal and external resources to help staff do their jobs well.

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/ translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

For nearly a decade, a staff Language Access Team – comprised of multilingual staff as well as those who frequently use language services on the job – has worked together to create policies, procedures and a resource guide to inform our work and continuously improve how we deliver services.

The team developed staff training in best practices when working with limited-English speakers, and tips for effectively working with interpreters.

Our Language Access policies support staff in making sure program participants have equitable opportunity to understand the services available to them. They also value the internal capacity of our bilingual employees to interpret and/or translate English into other languages.

Solid Ground also maintains multiple bilingual staff positions to meet significant language needs in different program areas. Bilingual staff are given extra compensation for their skills.

Language access in action

A few common and key ways we utilize language services include:

  • Face-to-face and phone meetings between families seeking housing and their case managers and advocates
  • Group interpretation for cooking and nutrition classes, advocacy listening sessions, and various workshops (e.g., financial fitness, tenant, homeowner)
  • To help domestic violence survivors navigate legal processes and create safety and stability plans
  • Phone interpretation for legal representation to help people access public benefits
  • Translation of key documents that include technical legal, housing or contractual language or where the consequences of misunderstanding could cause harm

In short, language access is key to Solid Ground’s mission, and we are committed to continually improving our services for limited-English speakers.


Big Picture News is a segment of Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 

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! 


Big Picture News: Celebrating our volunteers

Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: “We couldn’t do it without your support!” But when it comes to Solid Ground volunteers, this nonprofit fundraising mantra is much more than a platitude – it’s a reality.

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

Volunteers like Matt (see our 8/2015 Groundviews lead story) profoundly increase the impact Solid Ground makes in communities across Seattle and King County. Last year, over 5,000 volunteers gave 247,358 hours of service to the Solid Ground community. (The vast majority, 197,936 hours, were contributed by volunteers 55 and older!)

By the Independent Sector’s standard, one volunteer hour in Washington state equals $27.54. In 2014, this translated to nearly $6.8 million in volunteer labor – more than one quarter of Solid Ground’s annual budget! We very literally could not accomplish our work without them.

Volunteering is win-win, changing lives for the better both for our program participants and our volunteers. Volunteers share their talents, learn new skills, and make connections while taking action to improve our community and help our neighbors in need. They play a meaningful role in something big.

Many of Solid Ground’s 22 programs and services rely on volunteers. Opportunities range from one-time to long-term and include…

  • Hands-on projects: Grow fresh, organic food for local food banks, or help renovate residential building spaces.
  • Direct service with people: Tutor and mentor kids coming out of homelessness, or teach children, teens, adults and families about nutrition and cooking.
  • Community outreach: Help communities register to vote, or represent Solid Ground at informational events.
  • Behind the scenes: Help put on events for our program participants and supporters … and more!

Lettuce Link is one Solid Ground program that relies heavily on volunteers to work with and in communities to grow and share fresh, nourishing food.

Lettuce Link Program Manager Nate Moxley says, “Volunteers are the life force of Lettuce Link. Their work and dedication allow us to manage two education and access farms where we host hundreds of classes, field trips and community groups every year.” Additionally, volunteer giving gardeners donate the bounty of their labors, and last year grew more than 55,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables for food banks and meal programs.

Senior volunteers also make an enormous contribution to the Solid Ground community. Our RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) matches volunteers 55 and older to opportunities both with Solid Ground programs and with 52 partner organizations across King County.

RSVP Director Jen Gahagan says, “We are so grateful and appreciative for the support and commitment of our senior volunteers. They provide a wealth of knowledge and experience which help us tackle our community’s greatest challenges.”

Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers!

For more info on volunteering, visit our Volunteer webpage, or contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 206.694.6825 or volunteers@solid-ground.org.

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.

Spring 2015 Groundviews: Standing up for my financial freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housing justice through housing search

Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Winter 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Stacey Marron, JourneyHome program Housing Advocate

Stacey Marron, JourneyHome program Housing Advocate

Solid Ground’s Housing Case Managers work with families like Alena Rogers’ – featured in our Groundviews main story –  helping them develop goals to overcome barriers to their housing stability. Meanwhile, our Housing Advocates act as liaisons between clients and potential landlords to get people into housing.

It’s a job made ever-more difficult by skyrocketing rents in the region. In Seattle, the average cost of a 1-bedroom unit is $1,412.

Over 60% of very low-income households (less than $26,250 annual income) in Seattle are “cost burdened” or pay more than 30% of their income to housing costs, the traditional measure of housing affordability.

“Most of what we do is try to get people back into market-rate housing, and we pay their move-in costs and short-term subsidies,” says Housing Advocate Stacey Marron, who has been with Solid Ground’s JourneyHome program for 11 years. “The hardest part about my job is that rent prices are really high and vacancy rates are really low, so landlords say, ‘why do I want to rent to your client – who barely makes any money and has a felony and an eviction – when somebody’s standing here in front of me with a checkbook ready to pay their deposit?’ It’s gotten much worse lately.”

In addition to rising costs, the homeless and low-income housing systems are all but overloaded.

With such high demand and limited resources for affordable housing, there can be long waits to access low-income housing programs.

Stacey says, “It’s much harder to get into any housing now – even shelter. A lot of times, people have been on waitlists for a really long time, and then they finally come to me. They hear of some housing program, and when they meet me they think I’m going to be showing them some place to live. They’ve been waiting for so long, so they’re very disappointed that our program is just the beginning of looking for housing. That’s hard, because I like to be the “Santa Claus” person. I want to give people things – and I hate being the bearer of bad news – and frequently, I am.”

With such a tight rental market, race and class issues come into play, particularly the intersection of race and involvement in the criminal justice system.

“I think it’s hard for many landlords to understand that you’re more likely to have had a brush with the law if you are African American or Latino, because people of color are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. And then there’s a lot of discrimination against people with Section 8s [federally-funded vouchers that pay landlords to help subsidize renters],” Stacey says.

“I’ve been told: ‘Oh, I’ve rented to people with Section 8 before; they trashed my place.’ They think anyone who’s poor is going to be a crappy renter. It’s ironic because a lot of our clients are real neat freaks. I think it’s a coping mechanism: When people don’t have a lot of control of their situation, that’s one thing they can control.”

Housing Advocates face a myriad of challenges, but there is deep meaning in every success.

“Recently, I found housing for a wheelchair-bound client. What I love about Jamie [not his real name] is he’s just really the most positive person ever. Every time I saw him, he made me laugh,” Stacey recalls.

Even in the worst-case scenarios, he would see some silver lining.

“Finally, after being in a hotel for months, he got a place not far from Boeing Field. He loves that it has a view. He’s like, ‘I never told anybody this, but I really love watching airplanes.’ It’s funny: After so many months of homelessness, just watching the planes land makes him so happy.”

Visit the JourneyHome webpage for more info on the program.

Winter 2015 Groundviews: ‘We never gave up’

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

Today, Alena Rogers lives happily in permanent housing with her two boys, now 18 and nearly 5 years old, and she recently started a full-time graduate program in Couples & Family Therapy at Seattle’s Antioch University. But just five years ago, she was in a very different place. In her own words, Alena shares her powerful story and her experiences working with JourneyHome Case Manager Victoria Meissner and Housing Advocate Becky Armbruster to get back to housing stability.

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her  two boys, Brian (left) &  Gabriel (center), in 2010

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her two boys, Brian (left) & Gabriel (center), in 2010

In 2009 I entered a court-ordered treatment program after getting into trouble. While there, I came to understand that I could not go back and live with any of the people that I had been living with, or I would not stay sober. So I heard about a shelter in Seattle and was able to get in there. After completing their 14-month program, I went into their transitional housing program. However, they seemed unable to help me with my quest for permanent housing, so I searched for resources on my own and found Solid Ground.

Being homeless is very stressful. In transitional housing, I was grateful for the place I had, but having two children and a clock ticking every day really took a toll on me.

I was constantly stressed out as each day wound down and took me closer to the day I would have to leave, knowing I still didn’t have anywhere to go. I ended up leaving there and moving into a modified garage. And I’m thankful for that. But that also took a toll. I had two boys in a very small space; the only thing to cook with was a hotplate; there was a drafty garage door and cement floor. It was very cold.

I was going to school, working, and trying to hold my home together – and I was struggling. My younger son was having a really hard time with the change and had some behavioral problems. My teen was also in college at the time – doing Running Start. We were both struggling to focus, and I nearly dropped out. But I communicated what was going on to my instructors, received support, and made it through.

It feels great that even when things were so challenging, both myself and my son were able to complete our degrees, and we never gave up.

Solid Ground/JourneyHome was different than the transitional housing program, because they actually had resources. The other program said housing was not priority – living in Christian community was. That’s all fine, but when time is up and a person that has been experiencing homelessness is still left without permanent housing – what good is that?

Victoria had a plan for me laid out the day we met – doing budgets, getting credit reports, working on repairing and improving credit. All of those things, combined with actual resources for not only temporary funding but also landlords that will rent to people like me – with criminal backgrounds and not so great credit – it’s what I needed.

One thing I really liked about Victoria is she always treated me as an equal. She was really encouraging. She let me know that my criminal record wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sometimes people will look at you – you’re a recovering addict, you’re homeless, you’ve got kids, and you’ve got a criminal history – and they speak down to you or like you’re not intelligent. Victoria was never like that. I always felt like she respected me.

There were two main barriers I faced: One, my criminal history. And two, having enough cash for move-in. What I learned from Victoria was that private landlords are more likely to rent to people with histories like mine, and screening companies at corporately-run apartment complexes will automatically deny us.

So I spent time on Craigslist sending emails to private landlords, telling them my history up front so I wasn’t wasting time and money doing applications that would be denied. I was able to use the tools I learned from Solid Ground to find an apartment on my own. Once I did that, Becky was able to help me with the first and last months’ rent and deposit, and subsidized my rent for several months through a partnering agency, so that I could get stable.

Alena at home

Alena at home

Moving into my own place – it was like a huge weight off my shoulders. Being somewhere that is mine, and I don’t have to worry about time running out – I can just say that I am a lot happier now.

I’ve been doing drug and alcohol case management work for about three years now. Having come from a place of being an addict, being homeless – it helps in my work. People feel that I can understand where they are and what they are experiencing.

I also volunteer, doing something I call “Operation Help the Homeless.” I gather items from people: clothing, blankets, food, etc. and go out into the streets and give to people sleeping rough. I find this important, because homelessness isn’t going away – and often people on the streets are pretty much ignored most of the year outside of the holidays.

So I love to get out there and let people know that we care.

My main piece of advice to people experiencing homelessness is: Be persistent and resourceful, and don’t be afraid to share your struggle with others. It’s okay to ask for help. And be patient – it’s so hard! Some of these housing lists take years, but the right thing is out there. Be your own best advocate!

Visit the JourneyHome webpage for more info on the program.

November 2014 Groundviews: ‘A really good marriage’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2014 Groundviews: ‘Sharing in the goodness’

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

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

When you step through the front gate of Stacy Davison’s Maple Leaf home in North Seattle, you enter a lush gardening wonderland. Ornamentals and flowers commingle happily with edible crops. Trellises tower over raised beds – one bordered festively with partially-buried wine bottles – and many labeled with creative hand-painted signs. Wind your way down the flagstone path to the backyard, and you’ll find more verdant richness, plus treasures such as a bunny hutch, a chicken coop with a “living” roof covered in succulent plants, and a former garage converted into a cozy teaching space: Stacy’s one-room Seattle Urban Farm School.

Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program makes it easy for backyard and P-Patch gardeners like Stacy to donate their extra produce to local food banks and meals programs, getting fresh vegetables onto the tables of families who need them. For about three years now, Stacy has donated 10% of her harvests from her bountiful garden to her neighborhood food bank. Then about two years ago, she says, “I got inspired to teach a class, posted it on my blog, and it sold out.” Initially holding classes in her living room and garden, last winter she transformed her “junky old garage” into her schoolhouse. And keeping in tradition with her commitment to donate 10% of her harvests, she decided to donate 10% of class proceeds to Lettuce Link as well – a natural next step for her.

Setting down roots

When you see her garden, it’s hard to believe that Stacy, a 5th grade teacher by profession, previously “had no idea what a giving garden was.” But when a friend invited her to a fundraising harvest party in the backyard giving garden of former Lettuce Link Farm Coordinator Sue McGann, she says, “I was enthralled with Sue’s garden, and mine was just taking off. And I remember distinctly coming home and being inspired to start a giving garden of my own as a way of giving back. I was excited!” She immediately wrote a blog post announcing it: “I’m going to be a giving gardener!” Then she began to plot out which beds she’d use to grow extra food to donate to her local food bank via Lettuce Link.

Stacy says that as a kid, her family moved around so much that she knew she wanted to have a home, and she literally ‘set down roots’ as soon as she could. She describes her personal journey with gardening: “My dad was a musician; we were on food stamps. As kids, we thought that that was cool money! But later, I understood what that meant: not having money. We ate a lot of cereal for school lunch – and a lot of pancakes for dinner – foods you end up eating when you can’t really afford to buy food. I remember being hungry a lot.” Also, she says, “I work with students who don’t have access to food that I would like them to be eating. So personally it kind of tugs at me.”

Even now, she says, “Donating food can be challenging. When you spend a lot of time growing it, there’s a tendency to want to…” she hesitates a moment, “…not hoard it, but enjoy it. But I’m fortunate to be in this place now, and to have a space where I can grow my own food. This is my passion and love in life.

“My mission is to grow as much food in my yard as possible to provide food for myself – and I want to share the food as my gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy. And it feels good! I always feel so proud of what I’m donating, and being able to contribute in that way. I’m sharing in the goodness that I’m enjoying for myself.”

When she started teaching classes, Stacy says, “I realized my teaching skills plus my passion for gardening came together, and I came alive more than I have in a long time.” In her first year as a giving gardener, “I donated about 10% of the total pounds that I grew. So that’s been my mark: 10% of Farm School proceeds go to Lettuce Link – money and food to people who need it. Setting a goal for myself, it’s sort of like making a direct deposit.

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

From giving gardener to donor

“If you make a commitment and be really clear about what the commitment’s going to be, then it’s easier to stick to, or it becomes a habit. For me, the percentage has been a fun challenge, and I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just what I committed to, and I feel good about it. It’s like a bill. A feel-good bill!”

Making the transition from volunteering to also being a donor “felt really manageable to me. I believe in the organization. Donating monetarily has allowed me to feel like I’m still contributing, even when my harvests aren’t strong or I’m not able to participate as actively because of time. I want to do my part to support it in whatever way I can,” she says.

“My work with Lettuce Link has been a way of making my gardening activity even more proactive and connected with the community than it was before. I’m not just playing in the dirt – even though that’s great and it is my therapy. It’s less a solitary thing, less just about me and what I’m eating, and more about what I’m eating plus what I’m able to share. I feel immense gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to contribute. So that’s been amazing, and it feels good.”

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