By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“We’re carefully watching the sort of direction that the new administration is going to take.”
That could be said by many. But for some agencies and organizations in our area, it’s not just a general sense of wariness as the Trump Administration heads for the White House in three weeks – it’s the need to be ready for what seem certain to be major changes.
The declaration was from Steve Daschle, executive director of North Delridge-headquartered Southwest Youth and Family Services. We talked to him recently as we began a process of finding out how local nonprofits – especially those who work with vulnerable populations such as immigrants and refugees – are getting ready.
“Our biggest fear is that the Trump Administration and his selection for Health and Human Services Secretary have made it very clear that their Job 1 is to dismantle the Affordable Care Act,” Daschle said.
While SWYFS doesn’t get much federal money, “we do provide mental-health services through Medicaid, (and) if there is a significant change made to how Medicaid is provided, there’s probably a real possibility that people won’t be eligible to have the opportunity to use Medicaid to use our services.”
To try to head this off, Daschle said, the state was applying for a Medicaid waiver “and we’re all very hopeful that’ll be approved finally before January 20th …it will make it harder for the (federal government) to untangle all the resulting contracts from waiver approval.” And that would be vital for SWYFS to continue trying ways to provide health care “in a way that encompasses social determinants of health (and) things that are common-sense ideas around what we need to do to preserve health … housing, food, preventive care for families.”
SWYFS’s behavioral-health program serves about 400 people a year; the counseling program has 17 staffers, split between licensed mental-health therapists and case managers, with focuses including youth violence prevention.
The agency also is concerned about possible funding challenges if the new administration follows through with threats to penalize “sanctuary cities.” Daschle made it clear, however, that “we applaud the city and county coming out in support of sanctuary cities – the notion that people can feel welcome here regardless of immigration status.” Again, it’s not a matter of potential direct loss of federal funding, but if local governments lose some, they might “be forced to reprioritize some local investments (and) we have no idea where we would fall in reprioritization. We believe the work we do is critical to a functioning community, but you never know what choices the city and county would have to make.”
So for going on two months now, the major challenge faced by SWYFS has been what Daschle calls “the anxiety of uncertainty … so many things are up in air about what’s going to happen w/this new administration, between policy choices, long-term challenges we face internationally, the impact it’ll have on immigrants and refugees who live here already and those who hope to come here … We just don’t know, and that anxiety manifests itself in a variety of ways.”
Even before this, SWYFS was already going through a period of change. Its coverage area has grown to stretch further south into King County, to Federal Way, in large part facilitated by its 2013 merger with New Futures. It’s providing family support services and an education program as well as counseling and case management. Our conversation was joined by Lucia Martinez (with Daschle in our photo below), a site manager for New Futures at the King County Housing Authority complex Windsor Heights in SeaTac.
“If you want to help a child succeed, you need to work with the family, child, and community,” she said, adding that SWYFS is “very lucky that we have a place in an apartment complex where families live.” They are serving about a third of the people in the 340+-unit complex, working with 80 children there, from preschoolers through high-schoolers. They also offer resources to families, helping them connect with health care, using computers to look for jobs.
Refugees and immigrants are among the families living there, and they have unique challenges in getting acclimated, some having lived in refugee camps for years before coming to the U.S. Some are families of mothers and children, with the husband/father left behind because there was no option for them to emigrate together. Martinez pointed out that refugees get six months of help and “after that they need to figure it out,” minus family or other sources of help. That’s not necessarily enough time even to learn English. And even if they have a lot of education from their home country, it might not be accepted for similar work here.
And now, the rules could change, especially regarding bringing family members here.
Daschle is remaining hopeful: “We often talk about how we live in a little bubble here in the Northwest – I’m so grateful for that bubble. We have a thoughtful, progressive community that has invested in taxes, levies, etc. that are providing some of that basic safety net. The federal government has been withdrawing its support for these basic services for the past 40 years. City and county have been picking up the slack … Hopefully we will be somewhat insulated from the worst of the policy changes that the federal government might make, but it’s hard to say, so we’re preparing for that.”
Also: “The other thing we’re trying to address is the climate … that this [presidential] campaign has created. Even in this progressive ‘bubble,’ we have challenges.” Muslims feel threatened, for example; a SWYFS counselor, he said, had been working with a young woman who said someone had pulled off her hijab and declared “Our president said this is OK.” Injustice and bigotry can’t be tolerated, Daschle emphasized: “We are a tolerant country, but we can’t tolerate the hatred in any of its forms. People of color, LGBTQ, young person, adult … we have to make sure that all youth and families are welcome in our community. That, if anything, is going to be our greatest challenge in the next few years. We are a direct-service organization, but our services are in support, and furtherance, of social justice.”
“We support the United States’ long history of welcoming refugees, immigrants, and those seeking asylum. We are dedicated to uphold the human rights of these individuals, families, and communities. We call our whole community to come together to stand alongside our neighbors who possess real fear of discrimination and loss of individual safety. We are committed to never be silent in the face of religious persecution, racism, and personal acts of aggression.”
SWYFS are “helping people know what their rights are, how to respond if police stop you … making sure people have a sense about their own power in this situation, and making sure they are encouraged to use it.”
Martinez added that she is personally telling white friends to not just be passively supportive, but to take action if warranted: “If you see someone treat someone badly, in the street, on a bus, in a school – do something … use your power, use your white power, and do something … it’s time.”
“If anything this campaign has accomplished, we will be forced to talk about those issues,” Daschle observed – issues such as white supremacy and institutional racism. “This will be a four-years-at-least conversation, and it would be helpful if we all became knowledgeable about the history and the challenges.”
Talk turned to attacks such as the repeated vandalism at a mosque on the Eastside. “This country was founded on freedom of religion,” Daschle noted. “It’s frightening and confusing to me that in 2017 we are faced with this kind of bigotry.”
Martinez walks past a mosque daily in SeaTac and said she is worried, hoping “nothing bad happens there.”
And she said she is sad and concerned for families who are frightened for their safety.
Before the conversation ended, we asked if SWYFS had a particular request for community support. They have had an “end-of-year campaign for supporting families,” Daschle said, “even more critical because we don’t know what the future will hold. Our programs, we believe, are making a difference in reducing violence in our community, helping kids get educated, and (helping) people feel healthier because behavioral health is being addressed.” He encourages support for other organizations too, especially “to the extent that people can contribute locally to programs and efforts trying to (assist) people who are new to the country.” If you can’t support monetarily, consider giving your time – here’s how to volunteer with SWYFS, for example. Daschle added.”I encourage people to do whatever they can, to build community, strengthen community, get to know neighbors, support each other.”