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

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

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

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

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

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.

Broadview’s trauma-informed care pilot helps children overcome the impact of homelessness

girl guarding herself with hand upChildren living through homelessness require a variety of services to meet their basic needs, such as nutritious meals, a warm bed, and school supplies. Often, however, the experiences of homelessness permeate far deeper than tangible support can reach.

At the beginning of last year, the City of Seattle selected Solid Ground’s Broadview program (emergency and transitional housing for women and children) to implement a pilot that provides coordinated behavioral health services for children in transitional housing. According to Symone, Children’s Program Supervisor at Broadview, there isn’t another application of this type of service, to this extent, in transitional housing.

“I think it’s unusual to have a focus on children, specifically with mental health,” Symone explains. “Usually people will focus on the adults – the kids are resilient, and will recover and be fine. This pilot recognizes that kids have been through a lot of trauma, and homelessness affects them very strongly as well.”

Children of families experiencing homelessness are exposed to the same stress and trauma as their parents, such as constant uncertainty, hunger, fear and even violence and abuse. Despite this, it is rare that children – having had their physical needs met – receive the psychological care they need to cope.

Symone expresses that “these families have had historical trauma in their lives. They are homeless. Even if they’re in stable housing now, many have had years of instability. That trauma doesn’t just go away because they have a permanent place to stay.”

The pilot helps children work through their traumas. At the core of the pilot is the trauma-informed care model. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes this system as a means to “understand the impact of trauma on child development and learn how to effectively minimize its effects without causing additional trauma.”

One goal of the pilot is to create a team of supporters all working together to provide an individualized care plan designed for each child. This wraparound service coordinates family members, service providers, case managers, housing providers and school teachers to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on in the child’s life and how to address issues as they arise. “A therapist could offer advice or tips when issues come up,” Symone clarifies, “so that everyone is trying to have the same boundaries and the same ways of working with the child.”

With the assistance of three therapists, two full-time and one part-time, Broadview has enrolled 28 children in the pilot. “Initially, we weren’t sure if anyone would be interested,” recalls Symone. “But we are at capacity right now. A lot of other families would like to join because they’ve heard positive things about all the support.”

While the child therapy services are full, the pilot also provides a Parenting Support Group with a trauma-informed curriculum five to six times a month. Symone states that this service is “really popular among the families.” Families are encouraged to attend at least 10 sessions during their stay at Broadview so that they can understand how the experience of homelessness is affecting their children and learn how best to support them.

Symone expresses that all those involved in the program have “been able to see that the families have been really supported through the pilot. I think it’s a good model. Outside providers are really happy about being included and informed about the children and what’s going on with them. They’ve seen a lot of growth from the kids that were maybe struggling, or we are able to sooner catch the kids that are struggling.”

September 2013 Groundviews newsletter: Holding herself accountable

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our September 2013 lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon’s world flipped upside down when she finally got the courage to divorce her abusive husband, leaving her with nothing but her two children and a mountain of debt.

She says, “I just wanted him out – so I took the mortgage, I took all the debt, while he took everything else. He took the money; he took my stuff. So I essentially had to start over.” To make that new start possible, she filed for bankruptcy in 2010. 

But as a survivor of domestic violence, a veteran and an LPN who spent five intense years working in hospice care, Sally Mary now found herself physically and emotionally unable to work full time. She says, “I carried other people’s trauma, so it added to my own personal baggage.”

Sally Mary and her kids were living in transitional housing when she took a money management class at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Women’s Trauma & Recovery Center in Seattle, taught by Judy Poston, Program Supervisor of Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp. Sally Mary says, “I was really skeptical at first. The thing was, I didn’t have any money to manage! But then she presented on credit – writing your creditors and asking them to reduce your debt or eliminate it – and also going over your credit report and what can be done about it.”  

She’s there for me
Even after finding out that financial empowerment services were available to her, Sally Mary says, “It was really hard to ask for help. Because I’ve always done everything myself. There is a stigma that surrounds me, that when you have a handout, it’s bad. I felt incapable; I felt worthless.”

She changed her tune after a few one-to-one sessions with Judy, realizing, “It really isn’t bad. When I had my hand out, she didn’t put stuff on my hand – she held my hand! She essentially led me! I’ve learned through her that I don’t have to be ashamed. I’m not the only one that goes through this. And she’s constantly telling me that she’s there for me, which is great. Every time I look back, she’s right behind!”

As a financial coach, Judy says she’s learned from Sally Mary the importance of establishing relationships when working with vets. “A lot of people who have PTSD, the most important thing is to not be time consumed – to be willing to sit and listen to their story – even if you never talk about finances the first two or three appointments. Building trust is huge.”

Sally Mary agrees, “You definitely did that for me, because I wouldn’t have been able to open up the way I did. I am very grateful that I met Judy and for Financial Fitness Boot Camp being available. She’s very willing to listen and be open, and you’re absolutely not judgmental.”

Through Judy, Sally Mary found she qualified for a continuum of housing stabilization programs. “She was essentially a gateway to everything I’ve been doing with Solid Ground.” And Sally Mary says when she was granted VA Supportive Housing, “I needed not only help learning how to manage the money that I have and prioritizing what bills to pay, I was able to get help in a down payment for housing.” 

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

A reciprocal relationship
From the beginning of her engagement with Solid Ground, Sally Mary has been an asset, referring other vets to our services and connecting Judy with helpful information. Judy says, “She’s a walking resource book; when I have questions about VA/vets’ resources, this is who I can call.”

After hearing Sally Mary’s story, Judy connected her with Solid Ground’s advocacy efforts through the Statewide Poverty Action Network. Sally Mary spoke out on public radio about her struggles getting a checking account and her experiences with predatory debt collection practices (known as Zombie Debt). She says when she filed for bankruptcy, all of her debt (except for student loans and parking/traffic tickets) should have been dismissed, but “I literally have three debts that keep coming back to me through different creditors. It never fails, every three months there’s a new company contacting me. That’s not fair. If I did my part, why do they have to keep bringing back my old debt?”

She also spoke about predatory lending and how – thanks to Judy’s advice – she avoided the payday loan trap. Sally Mary says she was excited to get involved with Poverty Action because, “There are so many big people speaking for other big people, so I feel like us little people gotta stick together, because there’s a lot more of us. I see us as ants: As people, we carry a huge strength among us, and as we work together as a group, we can definitely move mountains.”

A work in progress
But despite moving her own financial mountains, Sally Mary is hard on herself. She says, “At this point, I think I’m a work in progress. I’ll admit it: I have this cycle of spending. When I feel ashamed, I go and buy something, and I feel good – but then I feel bad that I’ve spent the money and I feel shameful again.” Breaking into an infectious laugh, she says, “Judy gives me a lot of great ideas. Half of them I’ve implemented. I do try to be cognizant of what I’m doing, but it’s hard to remain honest with myself when no one’s holding me accountable.” Ever the coach, Judy counters, “I always like to tell Sally Mary that she has to hold herself accountable; that’s where it all starts. And I’m here as a support.”

Then Judy rattles off many ways Sally Mary has been accountable: “You’ve identified that you’re going to save this much per month – what it’s going to take to put that amount in the bank every month. You made the choices, and you’ve stuck with everything that we talked about and that you planned to do.” Sally agrees, “I definitely want to build self-esteem, and one of the ways to do that is having financial independence.”

In six months, if all goes well, Sally Mary’s student loans will be dismissed, and she’ll be debt-free. “I went from crawling to wheelchair to crutches, and I’m at a cane now. And who knows, maybe I’ll always need a cane? But at least I’m standing on my own two feet. And one thing I’ve learned from Judy is be forgiving. I’m still working on it!”

For more info on Financial Fitness Boot Camp, please visit: 
www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Financial

November 2012 Groundviews: “Thank you for all of your help along this journey”

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our November 2012 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

November 2012 Groundviews cover image

November 2012 Groundviews cover

The impact of Solid Ground’s work is no more powerfully expressed than through the words of gratitude from the people who access our services. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we have collected here a tiny sampling of thank you notes passed on to program staff by people who have come to Solid Ground for a wide variety of reasons, and who were moved to let us know how their lives have positively changed through their experiences here.

To Family Shelter staff:
     “I would like to start off by thanking you for always treating me with the utmost respect, for always returning my phone calls, for the advocacy you provided for me when my voice wasn’t that strong, for going above and beyond, for researching other resources and options when I felt like I had nothing left. I could only imagine if there were more individuals such as yourself how much greater it would be. You’ve helped me, so that I can be able to help my son in life. Thank you.”
~ Family Shelter mom

To Apple Corps ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’ nutritionists:
     “My favorite food we cooked was the Frittata because it was very tasty and has a lot of veggies. I learned a lot about different foods in the world like tofu and sushi. At first I was nervous to taste it but when I did it was good. Don’t be afraid to try anything from another culture! Thanks ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’!”
~ Seattle Public Schools 5th grader

To Washington Reading Corps (WRC) staff:
     “I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My year with WRC Solid Ground prepared me beautifully for what I would encounter later in my MIT program at Evergreen. We have been having beautiful discussions related to race and privilege and our role as teachers to be inclusive. I feel I would have not been prepared if I did not go through all the trainings and workshops you and the team leaders arranged for us. This is why I just wanted to thank you and Solid Ground for doing such a great job making people reflect on assumptions and biases related to race.”
 ~ Graduate student & former Washington Reading Corps Member

To JourneyHome staff:
     “I am grateful to you for comforting me and my family during the unexpected domestic violence incident and the overall follow up. It was one of my luckiest days that I came to know and work with you. Running away from the threatening and hostile Ethiopian political scenario, [our] family has experienced several ups and downs. But, human beings could be tested in various scales, and it would be rewarding and educational to pass through challenges and be able to stand on both legs safely. I remember a note below a picture of a very big woody-stemmed plant with branches saying that, ‘Like a tree, we each must find a place to grow and branch out.’ Yes, in our case, it reads as we need freedom to use our maximum potential to educate our offsprings. All is to say ‘Thank you’ for your exceptional multitude of help.”
~ JourneyHome family from Ethiopia

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

To Lettuce Link staff:
     “Thank you for helping me with my vegetables. Also giving me my own garden. Also help my mom save a few dollars. P.S. Thank you”
 ~ Concord Elementary School 3rd grader

To RSVP Knit-It-Alls volunteers:
     “Two years ago I was homeless and living in a garage during the winter season, and gifts of socks and hats kept me warm and able to go on. It was not only the material goods but the thought behind the gift which was important. I was given a gift of an especially warm blanket to keep me warm and it not only warmed me but warmed my soul.”
 ~ DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) shelter resident

To Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) staff:
     “Thank you for all of your help along this journey. If it wasn’t for you and the help that Solid Ground has given me, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. Hell, I may have still been on the streets somewhere and that isn’t a good place to be. But you were able to give me the tools to move forward. Now I also know that it was a hard road getting here, and I had to put in a lot of the work myself. But the support that you gave me along the way is what really got me moving forward.

     “When you look over the sound, there seems to be no way to the other side without taking some kind of boat. Well Solid Ground was able to give me the tools, and a lot of little stepping stones, to slowly move across the bay to get to where I will need to be in life. Thanks to all of you there, even the ones that don’t know me. For it is the ones in the background that really do the work to keep things moving so that you can do the job that is set before you every day.”
 ~ Housing Stabilization Services participant

To Community Voice Mail (CVM) staff:
     “Community Voice Mail has literally been a life saver. I’m presently an outpatient cancer person. And the phone to contact with my pharmacy and with my doctor, as well as my primary doctor that referred me, was absolutely necessary. Without your phone assistance, I couldn’t have done it I don’t think. And also, a safe place to live – I found this place. So anyway, thanks a lot. I sure appreciate it.”
 ~ Community Voice Mail participant

To Broadview Shelter staff:
     “I still believe that there is power in gentleness, that there is more to us than flesh and bone, that life will bring more happiness if lived for peace and not possessions. I still believe people of gentleness and faith can change the world – one unseen, unsung, unrewarded kindness at a time – and nothing in this world can make me stop. Thank you for proving me right.”
 ~ Broadview Shelter mom

Financial Fitness staff:
     “Thank you for getting the pay day loans off my back! I really am feeling blessed for finally reaching out for help. Thanks to your phone calls, the pressure is off and I have a manageable payment schedule.”
 ~ Financial Fitness Boot Camp participant

Housing Stability Program staff:
     “Solid Ground, thank you so very much for helping me and my two autistic twin sons remain in our home. Were it not for your generosity we would be in a very dire situation. I am so thankful to everyone at Solid Ground who works so diligently to keep this project going. It was such a HUGE relief when I received that grant. I had not slept in days from worry which was making me ill and since I have Multiple Sclerosis and I work, I need to get sleep to remain healthy and mentally alert. You are my earthbound Angels – Thank You!”
 ~ Housing Stability participant

Thank You! children's art

Having trouble renting with a service animal?

Many renters who have a disability and use a service or companion animal experience difficulties finding stable housing. This is true for some of the people who come to the Housing Stabilization Services program at Solid Ground. HSS supports families and individuals who are at imminent risk of housing loss so they can secure stable housing and prevent homelessness.

HSS case managers negotiate with prospective landlords on behalf of people who face housing barriers such as: economic, credit and background issues, or other risk factors preventing housing stabilization. People who have a disability and use a service animal may have been wrongfully denied housing many times and have a much harder time finding housing. While denying someone based on this status is discriminatory according to Federal and State laws, it is an all-too-common problem.

Individuals who use a service or companion animal are a protected class. Refusing to rent to them is discrimination and is illegal. Both Federal and State laws prohibit discrimination based on the use of a service animal. Discrimination in housing is detailed in the Fair Housing Act and Washington State Law.

When landlords deny housing to individuals with a disability, oftentimes their explanation has been that they have a “no pet policy.” According to the law, a service animal is considered to be a working animal, not a pet. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the person with a disability to any area where the public is allowed.

Moreover, housing providers must accommodate a person’s disability and her or his needs. A landlord or property manager cannot ask you for any details about what your disability is, nor seek proof of a service animal’s status. They may ask for a healthcare provider’s statement indicating that the tenant has a disability and will be assisted with a service animal. However, the type of disability doesn’t have to be disclosed.

You can find contact information for Fair Housing agencies through the City of Seattle’s website.

If you think that you have been discriminated against due to having a disability or based on other protected classes, please contact a Fair Housing agency in your community and ask how to file a formal complaint with them. Oftentimes Fair Housing agencies are able to provide detailed information about their complaint, investigation and fine processes before you file a complaint.

You can also access a recent Tenant Tip written by Solid Ground tenant counselors to find out more information on Fair Housing laws as well as resources to deal with discrimination. You may also access information about your rights as a renter by visiting Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website or by contacting our Tenant Services Hotline to speak with a tenant counselor about your specific situation. The tenant services hotline is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

(Editor’s note: This post was a collaborative project between Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Edlira Kuka and HSS Case Manager Pamela Calderon.)

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

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.

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