50th anniversary of War on Poverty a time to celebrate, reflect & rededicate

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the State of the Union address and launched what he called the War on Poverty, stating:

Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

This historic call to action led to the Economic Opportunity Act, the Food Stamp Act and the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, it led to the creation of an array of federally funded programs targeting various aspects of poverty, including Community Action Programs, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, Community Health Centers, Pell Grants, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Job Corps, Legal Services and the Federal Work-Study Program.

Solid Ground and our forebears – the Fremont Public Association and the North Seattle Community Service Center – were formed out of the Community Action movement. We are one of 30 Community Action Agencies (CAA) in Washington State and more than 1,100 across our country, serving people living on low incomes in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories.

Fifty years later, we know that poverty and social and economic inequities remain an unresolved and unacceptable reality in our country – a chronic and severe problem that disproportionately impacts people of color. I recognize this reality and I also reject the claim that the war to end poverty was a failure. In the ensuing five decades, our societal problems have become much more complex and our country’s economic growth continues to benefit an increasingly smaller portion of our nation’s population.

Through the past 40 years, Solid Ground and our Washington State Community Action Partnership have helped hundreds of thousands of people living on low-incomes change their lives for the better. Once, we focused on passing out food and clothes and finding people day jobs. As the causes and attributes of poverty have become more complex, so have our services. Now we address the multiple intersections of homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, mobility, education achievement, financial literacy and asset building, access to affordable health care, food and nutrition, and institutional racism.

Through 40+ years of innovation, partnership and action, we have accomplished much, and there is obviously much more to do. Among Solid Ground’s priorities in the coming year are:

  • Representing the nonprofit community on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which is charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle.
  • Continuing our leadership on the Equity in Education Coalition to address the achievement gap and deliver on the promise of a quality education for all Washingtonians.
  • Work with the national learning cluster to further Financial Empowerment and Asset Building efforts for our constituents.
  • Implement Rapid Re-Housing, Trauma-Informed Care and other pilot programs as we continually seek out best practices and more successful interventions.
  • Through direct services, and in collaboration with our education and community partners, ensure that all youth served by Solid Ground are on a stable path toward post-secondary education and career success.
  • Leverage the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, in partnership with King County, to ensure that all of our residents have equitable access to quality affordable medical and dental coverage.
  • Increase and improve the ways we engage with our community, especially by involving the voices and real-life experiences of people living on low incomes in the political process and in shaping our work.

2014 is both the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty and the 40th Anniversary of Solid Ground! In 1964, President Johnson ended his State of the Union Address by saying, “I ask you now in the Congress and in the country to join with me in expressing and fulfilling that faith in working for a nation, a nation that is free from want and a world that is free from hate – a world of peace and justice, and freedom and abundance, for our time and for all time to come.” In 2014, that statement is my commitment and my ask of each of you.

Editors noteOne of the ways we will be recognizing this milestone is by providing platforms to lift up voices and stories from the struggle to overcome poverty and thrive. Soon, we will recast the Solid Ground Blog as the Story Ground, to host our stories and yours. Sign up here to have posts emailed to you, or contact Communications Director Mike Buchman to learn more about sharing your story.

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Tenant Tip: Public meetings on the use of criminal records in employment

In our 6/24/13 blog post, “Seattle Jobs Assistance Ordinance bans the box,” we wrote about the Jobs Assistance Ordinance that Seattle City Council passed to regulate how conviction and arrest records are used during the hiring process.

The ordinance removes the arrest/conviction history checkbox on employment applications and requires that employers conduct an initial screening before asking about a person’s criminal record. It also requires that an employer has a legitimate business reason for denying a person based on their conviction record. (There are exemptions to the ordinance; this FAQ provides more information.)

SeaOCRlogoSince the new requirements will take effect on November 1, 2013, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will hold several public meetings to provide information, answer questions, and gather input from the community.

To request an accommodation, please contact Brenda Anibarro at 206.684.4514 or Brenda.Anibarro@Seattle.gov.

Help spread the word to your community by sharing this flyer or blog post. Hope to see you there!

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 here 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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Changing lives & systems through advocacy

Advocacy has always been a central watchword for Solid Ground. Throughout our 39 years of providing for people’s basic needs, we have also addressed the political realities that create barriers for people to thrive.

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

The more than 50,000 people who come to us each year are the true experts on poverty in our community. Their lives revolve around the challenges of living on less in an increasingly class-divided world. Twenty five years ago, low-income communities organized across Washington State through our Fair Budget Action Campaign and the Welfare Reform Coalition. Both were instrumental in passing the Seattle Housing Levy, creating the Molar Majority to fund adult dental care, and other groundbreaking efforts that get more people to solid ground in our community.Fair Budget eventually became the Statewide Poverty Action Network, bringing together leadership from low-income communities around the state to articulate a community-based agenda and run impactful organizing campaigns. Poverty Action and allied coalitions and agencies have been instrumental in protecting lifeline benefits, passing the Foreclosure Fairness Act, grading legislators on the racial justice impact of their work, and giving previously incarcerated people, teens and other marginalized populations training and support to reclaim their political power.

This approach creates tremendous synergy. The personal becomes political as our advocacy in Olympia is strengthened by decades of direct service and the individual voices of people most impacted by policies. Case managers help identify trends and stories among program participants that seed efforts to make laws more responsive to the needs of people living on low incomes.

At Solid Ground, we believe education is foundational to a better future. In addition to our partnerships to support literacy, skill building and leadership development in Seattle/King County schools, we actively work to close the opportunity gap between wealthier white students and those with lower incomes and students of color.

Disenfranchised people – those experiencing homelessness, immigrants with limited English proficiency, and those who lack education or job experience – can all achieve their dreams if they have access to equal opportunity and resources. By bringing their testimony into the political process, Poverty Action and allies influence laws, policies and practices and set the stage for transformative, generational success.

At Solid Ground, we believe our community can move beyond poverty and oppression to a place where all people have access to quality housing, nutritious food, equal justice and opportunities to thrive. We believe strong advocacy is a vital component of interrupting generational cycles of poverty. We believe effective advocacy starts in the personal narratives of our community.

And we believe that successful advocacy secures long-term, positive changes in our society.

Undoing Racism®: Seeking our ‘growing edge’

People's Institute for Survival and Beyond logoStarting in 2001, Solid Ground began sending staff members through a transformational training created by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond called Undoing Racism® (UR). Today, all of our permanent, full-time staff are required to attend. The workshop takes place over two intensive, eight-hour days. Participants learn the history of racism in the US and reflect on how that legacy continues to play out in our society and institutions. 

The UR training also hits deeply personal chords, and each individual takes away different learnings based on our racial/ethnic and socioeconomic background, gender, age and life experiences. As human service providers, the training helps us examine the connection between racism and poverty, and identify ways we can work to remove some of the barriers people face in accessing our services and other community opportunities.

Undoing Racism & the Solid Ground community

A wide spectrum of the Solid Ground community participated in the UR workshop in December 2012, including: line staff and managers from all of Solid Ground’s various locations; a Board member who once served as an AmeriCorps Member through Solid Ground; current AmeriCorps Members who also have accessed Solid Ground services; and our agency’s two top leaders – Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO, and Sandi Cutler, COSO (Chief Operating & Strategy Officer). The People’s Institute welcomes past workshop attendees to retake UR for free – so some of us were experiencing it for a second or third time, while for others, it was a first.

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Grant Writer Roshni Sampath joined Solid Ground in July 2012 and was drawn to the agency, in part, because of our stated anti-racism values. This was her first UR training.

She says, “One of the nicest things about going through the training was that it felt like I was getting on the same page as other people in the organization – despite our roles and our location – and it made me really value and appreciate the need for all new staff to go through this. But what made it stronger was that returning staff were going through it – that there was a real mixed group.”

The UR training helped bring clarity, which Roshni says is “one of the hardest things to feel when trying to talk about race and analyze it. My head gets cloudy. It’s almost like I’m seeing the blueprint of a city from up top, and it’s clear, and then the clouds roll in, and I can’t remember what I just saw, even if I just saw it.”

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

I joined Solid Ground in 2001, and my current role is Web Administrator & Publications Specialist. As a college-educated white woman from a middle class background, the UR training gives me a basis to understand that I have access to opportunities and unearned privileges – and that these benefits affect how I walk in the world and impact those around me. UR gives me tools to begin to examine my privilege so I can attempt to use it to undo instead of reinforce oppressions.

As a part of Solid Ground’s Communications team, I need an awareness that my learned dominant culture perspective is not the end-all, be-all. I want to be held accountable for the way I communicate about our work and how I share people’s stories. I recognize the delicate balance between helping to give voice to someone who may feel disenfranchised versus “exploiting” or invading someone’s privacy in the name of telling a powerful story to benefit Solid Ground. UR has taught me to question both my own motives and how I approach my work.

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

For the past three years, Senait Brown has been a Community Organizer with the Statewide Poverty Action Network. She says, “One goal in going through these trainings is trying to reach what they call ‘your growing edge,’ the place where you feel uncomfortable,” so you can move beyond it to make change. Since this was Senait’s second time attending UR, she wasn’t sure where her growing edge would be. She hit it, she says, “…when we started talking about the organizing component of doing anti-racism work. We’re not doing organizing work if folks aren’t able to stand on their own when we’re gone.”

Senait feels we need to “stop saying that we’re going to empower somebody else; we don’t have the ability to do that. They have to empower themselves. I have to create opportunities for people to learn, to be prepared for when they’re going to organize themselves. They’re going to come to the table on their own, on their own terms.”

This lesson really hit home during the Dec. 2012 UR thanks to the active participation of two Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Members who also live in Solid Ground’s permanent housing at Brettler Family Place. These confident women gave candid feedback about their experiences as Solid Ground “clients” who are now giving a year of service to the agency, and how they have struggled to assert their voices and self-determination along the way.

"Penni," a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni,” a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni” (who originally shared her story in On an upward continuum, Nov. 2011) is now in her second year as a WRC AmeriCorps Member, and has taken the UR training several times. She says, “Given the opportunity, I would retake this training every year. It offers a space to have conversations about racism in a way that challenges everyday thinking, stretches our perspectives, and builds community from a place of revolutionary love – something that I truly believe we can never have enough of.”

Penni describes what the training means from her vantage point:  “Being a white woman working in a nonprofit serving primarily students of color, and also being a white mother to two biracial children, I have to not only be aware of my whiteness [i.e. privilege], but also understand it and where it comes from, how it manifests, and what I need to do and understand about myself in order to undo those manifestations that perpetuate the cycle of racism.”

Applying Undoing Racism Principles in our day-to-day work

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Originally from Jordan, Mona Bayyuk moved to the US with her family as a teenager. She was just a few days into her Case Manager position with Seattle Housing Stabilization Services when she attended UR. She says, “It was definitely a huge eye opener, because although I had attended diversity courses in both my undergrad as well as graduate studies – and discussed as well as addressed the implications of being from a minority group and the effects of racial profiling – we never addressed ‘race’ and its impact on individuals.

“As a social worker with a passion to serve those who struggle with inequality and unjust systems, it never occurred to me that I too was contributing to these systems, because as one of the trainers mentioned, in my position I play the role of a ‘Gate Keeper.’ This training is very relevant to my work at Solid Ground, because I will always serve and work with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are struggling to overcome various barriers that are beyond their control and prevent them from accessing their basic human rights.”

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

For Samantha Dyess, Program Supervisor of the Apple Corps program since June 2012, “My biggest ah-ha moment was in our discussion on dissecting program implementation. I realized how we – meaning social service agencies – implement programs is racist when we don’t include the community in the decision-making process. Attending UR had a significant effect on me, both personally and professionally. All at the same time I felt angry, sad, paralyzed and motivated. But mostly I felt awakened – as if my memory had suddenly returned after years of forgetting.”

Samantha adds, “I feel that the workshop is of utmost importance to my daily work here at Solid Ground. From my personal interactions with staff and clients, to programmatic decisions, this workshop has helped me align my values and establish priorities for my program. I can now really begin to view everything my program does through an anti-racist lens.”

Roshni sums up the importance of UR Principles in simple terms. “These ideas,” she says, “we live our lives in them.” And I have to agree with her: Undoing racism is never done; it’s a lifelong process that embraces and affirms our humanity if we choose to embrace and commit to the work.

Thanks for shining light into the darkness!

Art by Rainer Waldman Adkins

Art by Rainer Waldman Adkins

The winter solstice is one of the most powerful days of the year. In this darkest moment, the cold and gray cast a heavy shadow on the realities our clients face every day. And yet, the solstice promises the return of light to our world. It rekindles hope based on the reality that life-giving energy outshines the darkest days.

It is a time that many of the world’s traditions call out for pause, reflection and re-commitment. And so, all of us at Solid Ground would like to pause to thank members of our community for your dedication to our work to overcome poverty and racism.

Together we face many dark times. But we know they are overcome by the radiant smiles of children learning to read, or digging in the soil while learning how food is grown; by the joyous gasps of parents opening doors to their new homes, and the satisfied sighs of riders reaching their destination.

Through our work and your support, we kindle light, hope and thousands of better futures. Thank you. Have a warm and safe holiday season!

Advocacy works! 2012 Legislative wrap up

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

This legislative session, Statewide Poverty Action Network members worked hard to achieve substantial wins amidst one of the most difficult political climates in recent memory. From holding the line on funding Washington State’s safety net to passing significant consumer protections, we have a full slate of accomplishments we are proud to share. This work is possible because our members took a stand against further attacks on low-income families.

This session, Poverty Action successfully passed the following consumer protection bills:

HB 1552 – Garnishment
This bill allows consumers to keep more money to live on after a wage garnishment. These new protections may allow an individual worker to keep approximately $120 more per month, providing much-needed financial relief. This new law also clarifies that pension funds will continue to be exempt from garnishment, ensuring that seniors and people living with disabilities will be able to use their pensions to meet their basic needs, even during a garnishment. HB 1552 provides much-needed updates to Washington’s garnishment laws, better reflecting the realities of struggling families.

HB 2614 – Foreclosure Prevention
Last year, Washington led the way in ensuring that families facing foreclosure would have the right to a mediation process with their lenders. The Foreclosure Fairness Act, which passed in 2011, brought homeowners, lenders and a third-party mediator together to discuss alternatives to foreclosure. HB 2614 builds on the strength of last year’s law by streamlining the mediation process and providing added protections for mediators, as well as for homeowners while they work toward saving their homes and most valuable assets.

SB 6155 – Debt Adjusters
This bill puts reasonable and fair regulations on for-profit debt adjusters (sometimes called debt settlement), helping to prevent deceptive practices that hurt families who are attempting to regain their financial stability. For-profit debt adjustment is a fringe financial service that has seen rapid growth and change over the last several years. Debt adjusters reach out to people living with debt and offer bold “miracle cures” to help eliminate their debt, but often leave families in financial ruin. Because this industry is growing fast and the impacts in our state are still widely unknown, SB 6155 includes reporting requirements to gain information on the impacts to Washington consumers.

We also stood strong and protected vital public programs:

SB 6411 – Take Back the (TANF) Box
This bill increases transparency and accountability in our state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by allowing legislators to make decisions on how TANF is administered. Previously, the Governor’s office made all of the decisions about TANF (also called the TANF “box”), allowing the public few opportunities to provide input on the program or its funding. By moving control of the TANF box to the 149 members of the legislature, SB 6411 provides Poverty Action members 149 opportunities to influence how TANF is managed.

Defending Our Safety Net & Restoring Cuts
Last fall, we launched an aggressive campaign to maintain the integrity of our state’s safety net. Together, our advocacy, paired with real stories from our members, prevented new cuts to TANF, Disability Lifeline Medical, State Food Assistance, State Family Assistance, and the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program.

And finally, we were able to restore a 2011 cut to Working Connections Child Care. By restoring eligibility to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) from 175% FPL, we were able to bring back 1,000 subsidized childcare slots for working parents. Furthermore, the TANF large family cap was restored to the 2011 level, returning full benefits to nearly 2,000 families, including many refugee families.

These wins are a direct result of Olympia hearing from our network and could not have happened without their hard work. Thank you to all Poverty Action members for helping thousands of families across Washington State.

In Solidarity,
Your Poverty Action Network Staff
Marcy, Tony, Danielle, Senait, Kate, Julia and E.J.

For more information about the Statewide Poverty Action Network, contact us at info@povertyaction.org. Or click here to join our network!

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Poverty Action members inspire at Lobby Day 2012

Although I have been a Statewide Poverty Action Network member for many years, I had yet to experience one of the most fun and important events they hold every year: the annual Lobby Day at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Traditionally held on MLK Day as a day of service, this year’s originally scheduled event was cancelled due to the Puget Sound area’s Snowpocalypse 2012 – so Poverty Action rescheduled for Presidents’ Day.

Justin & Timothy at rally, Lobby Day 2012

New and longtime Poverty Action members come together to help "Save Our Safety Net"

Lobby Day is an inspiring combination of community mobilization, education/awareness about the most pressing legislative issues currently affecting people living on low incomes in WashingtonState, and group action. As event photographer (see slideshow below), I got to experience the day in solidarity with people who had some truly moving stories to share – and I participated alongside them as we made our voices heard with our legislators.

Building momentum, setting the stage
The day started with a gathering at the Women’s Club of Olympia. The room was packed with both longtime and new Poverty Action members. Poverty Action is guided by a Board comprised mostly of people living on low incomes from around Washington State. Board member Ligia Velázquez of Lynnwood and Board Chair David Northover of the Yakama Nation co-MCed the morning’s events, which gave us all a wealth of information from Poverty Action staff and members. Ligia seamlessly interpreted in Spanish as needed to keep the large number of Spanish-speaking attendees in the loop.

Executive Director Marcy Bowers fired us up first thing with her State of the Movement Address, giving us a sense of the power of our collective voice. Then Legislative Coordinator Kate Baber gave a “Save Our Safety Net” Briefing, providing background info to help us understand the importance of saving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and DL (Disability Lifeline) benefits.

To put a human face to how people who rely on TANF and DL will be impacted if funding for these vital programs is not restored, member Adrienne Karls graciously shared her personal story. A former medical worker who made a decent living, she lost everything to hospital bills following a bad car accident. Disability Lifeline was truly the lifeline that pulled her out of homelessness and helped her regain her dignity. She brought home the reality that any of us might someday need that safety net intact.

Throughout the morning, other individual members’ stories grounded our purpose. One young single mom described how she had to give up her job when she had a child, because after paying for childcare, she couldn’t afford rent. Thanks to TANF, she has been able to support herself and her daughter and is two months away from completing her AA degree, which will help her qualify for a living wage job.

Community Organizer Senait Brown also gave us a Racial Equity Briefing, describing how the proposed TANF/DL cuts disproportionately affect people of color. One Latina member, who had organized a large group of family and friends to attend Lobby Day, stood up and shared how people in her community are suffering from the TANF/DL cuts as well.

Finally, a performance by member James King gave everyone a chance to sit back and absorb the meaning of this information. James read an essay in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which he had originally prepared to read on MLK Day) and then led us all in an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Members Peter Zimmerman & Adrienne Karls in front of the Capitol building

Lobbying 101
Next came the beginning of the real action: We broke into groups by our legislative districts, and Campaign Manager Danielle Friedman gave us a quick and dirty training on lobbying. The Spanish-speaking members caucused as well. We shared our personal stories (or those of people we care about) around the importance of saving our safety net, and we crafted talking points to bring up when we met with lawmakers’ legislative aides. We also wrote heartfelt letters and postcards to lawmakers, to be hand delivered later.

Fueled by members’ inspiring stories (and lunch), we marched en masse toward the Capitol in our purple “Save Our Safety Net” T-shirts, stopping for a rally at Trivoli Fountain. Our numbers grew as coalition partner groups joined us from all directions, carrying banners and signs reflecting our shared priorities. Undaunted by the misty rain and soggy grass, Poverty Action members and partners danced and chanted and connected in solidarity, pumping each other up for meeting with our lawmakers.

Taking action!
The day’s events culminated in an additional short march to the sundial across from the Capitol building, and then legislative district teams set off to drop off letters and postcards at our lawmakers’ offices. Many of us had the chance to deliver our messages directly, using the power of speech and conviction, via face-to-face meetings with legislative aides.

Even though I’m very familiar with Poverty Action’s work, the impact of what they do really hit home when I met some of their newest members. One guy who had been brought to the events by a friend confessed to me in the morning that previously, he had no interest in politics. He honestly believed it wouldn’t make a difference if he voted, and despite salt and pepper hair giving away his years, he had never even registered to vote. By the end of this Lobby Day 2012, he had led chants while marching, written letters to his lawmakers, talked with a legislative aide, signed up to be a Poverty Action member – and was scrambling to find out how to register to vote as soon as possible.

 Now THAT’S showing people their voices matter. That’s Poverty Action IN ACTION. 

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The Statewide Poverty Action Network is part of Solid Ground’s Advocacy Department. Poverty Action builds grassroots power to end causes of poverty and create opportunities for everyone to prosper. They envision a state where people of all income levels fully promote and participate in building the fabric of socially, politically, and economically just communities. For more info and to get involved, visit www.povertyaction.org.

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