Help us make our CoHo Team match for Family Shelter!

The CoHo Team of Windermere Agents LogoThis past weekend, we had an awesome turnout at the Fremont Outdoor Movie! We raised $4,772.10 for our Family Shelter program, which provides vital emergency shelter and support services for homeless families. THANK YOU to all who came, and to the CoHo Team of Windermere Agents, event organizers for the past eight years, who are matching all donations dollar-for-dollar!
 
We are so close to our goal of raising $5,000 that CoHo will match all donations given online through Friday, August 5th! Go to support.solid-ground.org/COHO now to support Family Shelter and help us reach our goal! 
 
A big thank you also goes to Tutta Bella, QFC, Satay, Hawaiian Breeze Island Cuisine and Fainting Goat Gelato for donating gift cards to our raffle!
Fremont Outdoor Movie 2011

Solid Ground group before The Princess Bride screening

You can’t always do it alone

Faustina Robinson, a former participant in Solid Ground’s Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, shared her story with us for our May 2011 Groundviews newsletter. For more information on Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Stabilization-Sea.

Faustina Robinson in the courtyard of her apartment building

Faustina Robinson in the courtyard of her apartment building

During the two years that Faustina Robinson lived in her car with her cat, there were two things that helped her keep perspective. First, she says, “I had some years in social work – as a counselor for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. It put me on the other side, so to speak.” She asked herself, “‘What would I tell that client?’ I also heard their voices; I became the student of the people that at one time I had helped. I was learning from their experiences.”

And secondly, “I’m a filmmaker, so I was engaging my art even when I was living in my car. I took interviews of people, took pictures, I had release forms signed. I transcended into this other personality, and that allowed me to look at a larger picture.”

She says, “Living in your car, it’s very survivable – and so it can become a way of life.” During one stretch, while broken down at a highway rest area for 92 days, she connected with others who were also “camping” there. “Out of that experience developed this little community. We realized we were not alone, and we began to find ways to assist each other.”

A turning point

Thanks to her new friends, Faustina eventually found the strength to face facts: “I had been in complete denial. I kept thinking, ‘You can’t be homeless. You do have a little bit of money coming in. You can stay in a motel if you want to. You have a roof over your head. You’re really intelligent.’ I was rationalizing my way through the experience. But I was still homeless!”

However, navigating out of homelessness wasn’t easy. She says, “I had taken all the necessary steps – contacted all the social services, shelters, transitional housing. There’s always some snafu, strange policies. You have to call at a certain time, twice a day.” And with no reliable phone, it didn’t work for her. Finally, she asked her friends to rope-tow her car and park her right outside a housing agency.

She says, “I only had to do it once. I said, ‘I can’t call you twice every day, so I’m just gonna walk in twice a day and let you know I’m still homeless. And if you want me, I’m right out there on the side street!” Laughing, she says, “That got me a really quick appointment! And that was the turning point that got me off the street.”

As a person living with disabilities, Faustina did qualify for and eventually moved into a Seattle Housing Authority apartment – but her journey to stability wasn’t over. She says that by the time she contacted Solid Ground, “It revealed that I was dealing with a lot of issues I had not acknowledged. I have a history of depression. But when I was homeless for those two years, not one day was I depressed. I couldn’t understand that!

“One doctor said there are personality types that when faced with certain kinds of stress, it releases hormones that almost produce a euphoric feeling. So I had been sucking on that adrenaline rush for two years – and when I got the apartment, the first thing that happened was I crashed. There were days I couldn’t even roll out of bed. It happened so quickly.

“I wasn’t taking care of myself or my day-to-day needs; I wasn’t paying my bills. I got behind in my rent; I needed housing assistance. I was going through a number of challenges, because DSHS [was considering] eliminating GA-U [now called Disability Lifeline]. I filed an appeal, so my benefits didn’t stop – but the psychological and emotional stress of facing eviction and loss of some financial support – it had me in rare form.”

Leave your baggage at the door

After calling Solid Ground but not connecting with resources right away, an attorney at Housing Justice Project contacted our Seattle Housing Stabilization Services on Faustina’s behalf – a program that provides case management and support to people at imminent risk of housing loss. “Within a week,” Faustina says, “Sukanya contacted me.”

Working with Sukanya made a world of difference. “One, she believed in me. And she didn’t patronize me. She valued my input and respected my own experiences and perception in the matter. So I felt like I was making a contribution to my own welfare – and that empowered me.” Faustina also learned it’s OK to seek support. She says, “When I need assistance, I really do need to ask for assistance. You can’t always do it alone. And there’s no shame in that. I had been always the one helping others, and now I needed help.

“I also had to accept that I had made poor choices in some cases. But, you forgive yourself, and then you move on. Leave your baggage at the door. And it’s OK! Extend the same compassion I had for the people I was working with towards my own self so I could heal. And she helped me do that. Solid Ground helped me do that.

“I made a promise to myself: I am so fortunate to have this space, and someone helped me, and I wanted to honor the gift, the assistance. So I volunteer my time. I’ve gotten back into my writing and my filmmaking, and I’ve been working on a number of projects. I do all the media [pro bono] for JusticeWorks. And do you know, I’m doing much better now – I’m in a much better space financially, emotionally, spiritually – than I was! Sometimes when you can’t do it for yourself, it’s OK to do it for others.”

For more information on Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Stabilization-Sea.

Intentional partnerships to overcome barriers: a case study in undoing institutional racism

Imagine you are an immigrant, maybe a refugee from a war-torn part of the world. You’ve made your way to Seattle to make a new life and you are temporarily living with a relative.

Camping out with your family in a living room in South Seattle might well feel safer than where you left. But, you are still in unstable housing. And while you are eligible to receive financial and practical support through local housing stabilization programs, how would you even know?

Immigrants and refugees living doubled up with family members are an underserved population, facing multiple barriers to getting the resources and services they need to stabilize their lives. Barriers can include limited English proficiency, fear of governmental institutions, lack of information about available resources and others. Often times the resources exist, through homeless prevention programs in the community that can be accessed through community phone systems. Unfortunately, the 2-1-1 Community Information Line that serves as the centralized entry point for these and similar programs in King County can also be a significant barrier to accessing the services.

In an effort to reach out to these and other underserved populations, Solid Ground’s Homeless Prevention Programs have for the past year worked to develop “intentional partnerships” with community-based agencies actively involved in immigrant communities, the LGBTQ community, domestic violence survivors and other marginalized populations.

“A part of our intention was to build partnerships where we are able to reach out to marginalized populations who might otherwise fall through the cracks, and who may never have accessed social service systems,” said Sukanya Pani, of Solid Ground’s Seattle Housing Stabilization Services (Seattle HSS).

Grounding in principles of  undoing racism

The effort to reach clients through these intentional community partnerships is a part of the mission of each of the six separate Homeless Prevention Programs (HPP) at Solid Ground. The initiative is linked closely to Solid Ground’s efforts to undo institutional racism in our organization and in our community.

Continue reading

12-year-old documentarian tackles homelessness

It’s the morning after the One Night Count of homeless people in our community. I volunteered, along with numerous Solid Ground staff and volunteers, and hundreds of other folks throughout King County. We walked, arguably, every street, investigated every park bench and green space, because we want to get a more realistic picture of who is homeless in our community.

It’s a very adult pursuit, one that is sobering and, frankly, somewhat depressing. For all we are doing in Seattle-King County to end homelessness, and we are doing an amazing job developing new affordable housing and program models, we still have thousands of people living in cars, under bridges, in the lobbies of post offices.

But somehow this little movie gives me a glimmer of hope. It was put together by 12-year-old Leo Pfiefer from Salmon Bay Middle School. Leo developed this project as an entry for C-SPAN’s StudentCam documentary contest, “an annual national video documentary competition that encourages students to think seriously about issues that affect our communities and our nation.”

It gives me hope to think that 12-year olds are looking at the issue of homelessness and asking: What do we need to do to solve this problem?

It gives me hope to think about the 11- to 13-year olds I recently interviewed from our Penny Harvest program who are not just asking good questions, they are raising money and granting it to organizations that are making a difference. Keep an eye out here for more from those amazing young people.

I, for one, hope Leo goes far in this competition. We need more young people asking tough questions to the people in power. And we need them to help us formulate better answers.

still from Leo's video

In memoriam: ‘Through our deepest time of need’

When former Solid Ground King County Housing Stability Project client Patricia Birgen-Redwolf shared her story with us last winter, her situation was looking up, and she was excitedly moving forward with her life goals. Sadly, Patricia passed away in late July 2010 from complications following surgery related to her Multiple Sclerosis. We spoke with her former case manager at Vashon Youth & Family Services, Debbie Rieschl, who said that Patricia would have liked to see her story published so that it might help others.

Patricia Birgen-Redwolf

Patricia Birgen-Redwolf

I am a single mom to autistic twin teenage boys. In addition to the stress of raising high-need teenagers, I myself struggle daily with the physical and emotional pain of Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, hypothyroidism, a heart condition and health issues related to the MS. Although recently awarded SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) from the 20+ years that I have been a small business owner, and the taxes paid into the system, that same system penalizes me financially with high medical co-pays due to the hours I still work – yet I need to continue to work in order to survive, regardless of my physicians’ requirement that I stop working. It has me in an endless cycle of declining health and stress.

In late December of 2005 I found myself the victim of domestic violence when I left a relationship and ended up in the hospital with a concussion, fractured ribs, multiple contusions, and the police and victims advocates telling me I needed to move and move fast, as this man had eight prior felony convictions and (unbeknown to me) had been in prison four times, once for running a girlfriend over with her own car.

So, I ran. I came back to King County as that is where my support system is, friends – some whom I’ve known for up to 20 years.

I tried desperately to find an affordable home and within a week I found a house. Although it was outside my price range, it was available immediately, so I took it rather than having my boys and my ADA-assist dog remain homeless and living on friends’ couches and my car in the middle of winter. Also, I was deeply concerned as my autistic twins were beginning to have severe stress reactions due to the lack of stability of a home.

I paid the hefty deposit with loans from friends and first month’s rent from my own money, but when the rental agent came back to tell me that I had to pay an additional, HUGE deposit in order to move in because of the restraining order I had on the man who attempted to kill me (because he was still on the run from the police), I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I couldn’t go back home, even though I had paid my rent through the end of the month because of the fear of this very dangerous man. I had laid down an electronic trail to make him believe I was in a different state altogether, and later when friends and I went down to move, this was indeed smart as he came to the house with a shotgun in his truck, and we had to get the police to protect me while I hid in my car up the road.

After many, many calls to resource networks, I finally discovered Solid Ground and the King County Housing Stability Project. I needed to get into my new house so I could get back to work and try to get life back to some semblance of normalcy. After nearly two weeks of constant high stress and homelessness while trying to heal from serious injuries, seek housing and calm my boys, my prayers and those of my friends were answered when Solid Ground approved my application. They paid the funds needed to help me secure stable safe housing in a neighborhood that is safe and somewhat difficult to find, even for locals.

I don’t know how I can ever repay what they gave as it wasn’t just about the money, it was also knowing that a community of strangers who did not know us or the details of our story cared enough to step in and ensure that a hardworking single mom with an enormous amount of stress and life struggle – and her two children – would have a safe place to call home. I will be forever deeply indebted and appreciative of this gift, and in all my works will continue my own personal mission to ‘pay it forward’ when I see others in need.

Thank you to all the invisible Angels out there who were responsible for ensuring that this program had the funding to help my family through our deepest time of need. Bless you all! ~Patricia

Note: Patricia’s boys are safe, living with family friends, and receiving ongoing support.

To find out if you or someone you know might qualify for assistance through the King County Housing Stability Project, please call the Community Information Line at 2.1.1 or 206.461.3200.

Mortgage counselor on KUOW

Solid Ground’s mortgage default counselor, Erin Rearden, appeared on KUOW’s The Conversation yesterday, discussing federal efforts to help folks who are facing foreclosure and talking to homeowners about their specific situations. Lots of good info and perspective. You can listen in here.

Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network is co-producing Mortgage Help Day, this Sat. Oct 2 at South Seattle Community College, to give folks an opportunity to meet 1-on-1 with Erin and other counselors as well as representatives of area lenders. Details here.

4 banks participating in Mortgage Help Day, Oct 2

Representatives of four banks are expected to join a dozen nonprofit, HUD-certified housing counselors at Mortgage Help Day this coming Saturday, October 2, to help homeowners facing foreclosure to understand their options and make good decisions.

PosterIf you are worried about making your next house payment, please come.

If you are currently delinquent on your mortgage, please come.

If you have received a foreclosure notice, please come.

We are expecting representatives from Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and PNC. If your mortgage is with one of those lenders and you are facing a rate adjustment or other factors that are making it difficult to make your payments, please bring your loan documents and other important papers to ensure that you can make the most of this opportunity. Counselors from Solid Ground and other HUD-certified housing counseling organizations will also be available to help.

Organizers from the Statewide Poverty Action Network and other partner agencies suggest that you bring along:

  • Photo ID
  • Social Security Card
  • Last 2 years’ W-2 and tax returns
  • Last 2 months’ pay stubs
  • Last 2 months’ bank statements
  • All mortgage documents, including closing documents and statements
  • AND if you have them: layoff notice from employer and/or medical letter from doctor.

Mortgage Help Day is from 10am – 4pm on October 2 at South Seattle Community College’s Brockey Conference Center (6000 16th Ave SW). You can get there on Metro bus lines 125 & 128. Free childcare and translation services can be provided, but please call to arrange them in advance: 206.694.6794.

For more information go to www.povertyaction.org.

Testimony

An interesting story about taking personal responsibility for addressing homelessness on the Aurora corridor. Nice work by ben k. on the Aurora Seattle blog.

Families of the incarcerated coming together for change

JustServe AmeriCorps is inspired and supported by many grassroots organizations working for justice and safety in our community. One of those groups is the Black Prisoners’ Caucus, a group of incarcerated men organizing within Washington State Reformatory, Monroe.

“Men of Vision” by Monica Stewart, from the Black Prisoners’ Caucus website

Founded in 1972, the Black Prisoners’ Caucus leads workshops and dialogue inside the prison for personal and community transformation. The BPC also hosts an annual Criminal Justice Summit at Monroe, bringing community leaders into the prison to discuss the root causes of crime and violence, and solutions and alternatives to incarceration and recidivism.

On Saturday, August 14th, 2010 the Black Prisoners Caucus will bring families of the incarcerated together at the Evergreen campus in Tacoma, to connect with each other and with others who are working for social change.

The Families Summit will…

  • Bring loved ones and families of the incarcerated together with community leaders and organizations for available resources, so they can begin to collectively organize and unify as one.
  • Offer a platform for families to address personal issues and experiences with other families, community leaders and organizations in order to raise awareness.
  • Educate families and the community on issues that exist within the criminal justice system that affect the lack of treatment services, rehabilitation programs, proper education and job training availability – all of which contributes to a high recidivism rate among newly released offenders, while connecting families to organizations that provide resources, support and family assistance.
  • Establish an online network (I.C.O.N.) comprised of families, support groups and organizations to assist in their efforts to unite, organize, advocate and collectively work towards a more humane justice system that works for families of the incarcerated and the community as a whole.

Food, childcare and transportation will be provided.

Here are three ways that you can support this work:

1) Spread the word about the Families Summit to your contacts in the community.

2) Get involved in the August 14th organizing committee, helping to get food, drink and other supplies donated for the event.

3) If you have access to a car, sign up to be a volunteer driver helping to transport families to the event.

For more information, please email bpc@blackprisonerscaucus.org, call Cammie Carl at 206.619.4655, or call Sherrell Severe at 206.937.2701.

What’s up with the legislators supporting banks instead of homeowners?

Several weeks ago the bill SB 6648 was turned down by the Washington State House. This bill would have given homeowners a second chance to avoid foreclosure. Lenders would have been required to participate in a mediation to evaluate if there is an affordable and sustainable means to keeping the home, as opposed to selling the home at an auction sale. Reasonable criteria would have been established and lenders would have been required to implement modifications under the current FDIC programs. Moreover, banks would have been mandated to create a fair and open process that would have benefited both, the lenders and homeowners.

Bank balancing on the rotunda of the Capitol in OlympiaIn other words, homeowners currently in foreclosure and heading into foreclosure sale would have been given a second chance to keep their homes. The lenders, on the other hand, would have been able to get an expedited process to help mitigate their losses in addition to mitigating expenses related to foreclosure which can amount up to $70,000 in fees per foreclosure sale. Banks end up buying these properties and selling them at a discounted price, which translates into more losses for the investor and a trickle down effect on the value of properties around neighborhoods. Continue reading

Is bankruptcy the right option for you as a homeowner?

In times of financial crisis, people turn to their lenders for help, but all too often they find out their lenders are not interested in saving their homes. That’s right: the banks’ loss mitigation departments are focused on saving the lender’s bottom line, which is connected to the bottom line of their investors.

Bankruptcy might help you avoid foreclosure

Bankruptcy might help you avoid foreclosure

Banks bundled up these Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) and sold them to investors who are not interested in hearing their investment has gone south. Therefore, lenders are not approving loan modifications (LM) unless the modification minimizes their losses and brings value to their investment. They use a Net Present Value formula to determine the viability of the loan modification and use it as a basis for their decision. Banks are real speculators and are looking at your situation in terms of risk and return on investment. In other words, if you are unemployed and have some equity in your home, they’ll probably want you to sell your house before approving a modification. If they approve your LM they’ll expect you to be at least 2-3 months behind in your payments and, even if they approve your LM, they’ll put you on a trial period and wait three months before approving it.

Continue reading

Tenant Screening: a Housing Barrier for the 21st Century

For those not familiar with the tenant screening industry, or what tenant screening is, be prepared for a rude awakening.

Currently residents in Washington State are hit with repeated fees in background checks for housing applications, often paying hundreds of dollars for screening reports that can contain misleading or inaccurate information with no recourse to dispute their record. People are denied housing time and again for reasons they are never told from reports they never get to see. The hardest hit are the people already struggling with significant barriers to housing, such as domestic violence survivors, renters evicted from foreclosure, and homeless families.

In the next few days the state legislature will be voting on whether to keep a proposed bill (HB 2622) alive that would remedy many of the outrageous practices of this industry. The only hope the bill has is if Washington state residents call the legislative committee members to demand this bill be kept alive. The next few days are a crucial time: to learn how you can help go to Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Blog.

Continue reading

Prevention trumps shelter and long-term housing

The disagreements between some homeless folks & their organizations (SHARE/WHEEL, Nickelsville and Real Change) and the officials of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness continue to grow in intensity and fervor. You can read about the “Declaration of a State of Emergency” on the SHARE/WHEEL site, and Judy Lightfoot’s  article in Crosscut covers the debate in succinct terms while offering some fascinating insight on the community organizing efforts in the homeless camp. 

 

illustration by Rainer Waldman Adkins

But, in all the debate about which is more critically needed, emergency shelter or long-term housing, we have lost track of quiet efforts at preventing homelessness that have been amazingly successful at keeping folks off the streets and out of the system. Continue reading

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