West Seattle, Washington
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the ongoing discussion over the Downtown Emergency Service Center plan for a 75-apartment building in Delridge to house homeless people living with mental illness, we have heard many voices – concerned neighbors, supportive neighbors, neighbors remaining neutral to try to coordinate discussion/information, neighborhood-group leaders, DESC executives, government funders. Not long after last month’s Delridge Community Forum about the project, we happened onto a Facebook note by a Delridge resident/community activist who was viewing the discussion through another prism: That of a person living with mental illness, who has experienced homelessness. She gave us permission to publish it as an opinion essay.
By Galena White
Special to West Seattle Blog
I attended the community meeting about the DESC project on October 11th. It was intended to serve as a bridge between the residents of my neighborhood and an organization that wants to build an assisted-living community in my neighborhood.
I understand that at the first public meeting for this project, there was significant resistance to the idea, mainly because residents were worried about the character of the residents-to-be. At the meeting I attended, there were some mentions of concern over whether the new residents would have sufficient access to health care and groceries, since our neighborhood is mostly residential and has few amenities. Unfortunately, I believe those concerns to have been weak justification for the anger, fear, and prejudice that was palpable in the room. I think that most of the people who attended were afraid that crazy homeless criminals were going to invade their community. The two women who sat at my table seemed extremely upset, saying that the project was unacceptable because it would be within a block of their homes and children.
One official mentioned that the other residents who live in DESC housing have an overall lower crime rate than the general populace, and also said that the crimes those residents had committed were mostly related to loitering, because they had been homeless. I’ve been homeless. I spent most of the time from 1998 to 2003 with nothing but a backpack (with no income for a lot of the time) or living in a van because I couldn’t afford an apartment.
I was eventually lucky enough to find housing in a similar project to this one, and then to graduate to a regular apartment which is funded in part by a national low-income-housing program. Many others are not as fortunate, because there are not currently enough buildings and not enough funding to provide help to those who desperately need it. Since I found housing, I’ve been attending college, going to therapy, volunteering in my community and trying to overcome my disability. My hope is to eventually have a good job, a garden, and the ability to travel. If organizations like the DESC had not been able to find cheap land to build housing, I might now only be dreaming of spending the day in the library to stay warm.
When the meeting had already gone over-time, the facilitator was scrambling to find a representative from the City of Seattle to answer a question about what it would be like to have mentally ill people living in the neighborhood. I wanted to stand up and speak, but she had specifically asked for replies from invited speakers – no doubt because she didn’t think that any of the community members had anything positive to say about the mentally ill. I would have stood, despite my crippling anxiety (and probably embarrassed myself by stuttering), to tell everyone in the room that I am mentally ill.
Can you spare a few minutes to help us evaluate the present and look to the future? We appreciate any time you can take to answer “4 Questions for You, from WSB.” Considering we buried the link’s debut at the end of a loooong story late Monday night, we’re heartened by how many people still managed to find it and use it. But in case you missed that link, here it is again. We hope you’ll consider taking a few minutes to answer those 4 questions sometime in the next few days (we’re only keeping it up for a week, figuring that most regulars will have seen it by then). Thank you!
By State Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) and State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-SeaTac)
Chairs of the Washington House and Senate Health Care Committees
Many senior citizens are concerned about the impact health care reform will have on them. They’ve been targeted by opponents of federal health care reform with false and misleading claims.
One fear is that reform will come at the expense of Medicare benefits or other current coverage. The fact is, Medicare was created by our government more than 40 years ago out of the belief that no one should go without health care once they reach retirement age. That commitment will not change. Neither will benefits.
Current reform efforts aim to improve Medicare’s finances so it will remain viable for generations to come. If we don’t take action now to reduce fraud, abuse and insurance company overpayments, it’s estimated that by 2017 the money Medicare spends on benefits will exceed its income. Seniors would then have to pay more or they would receive fewer Medicare benefits. Health care reform legislation will improve Medicare’s finances.
Reform legislation would also help older Americans who are not enrolled in Medicare by making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The bills in both chambers also require insurance companies to cover routine screenings for preventive care such as diabetes, osteoporosis and colonoscopies with no out of pocket costs. And both bills would end age discrimination by making it illegal for insurance companies to charge ridiculous rates for people just because they are older.
With comments after every story, plus the Forums section, there are many channels for your opinion here on WSB. But sometimes, as happened last year with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, you have something longer to say, in the style of the print-media “op-ed piece.” After we recently wrote that WSB is open to “op-ed” pitches from West Seattleites, we received this, about the touchy, urgent, difficult topic of homelessness, from Highland Park’s Dorsol Plants:
Opinion: By Dorsol Plants
Within the last couple of weeks, the issue of homelessness has been one of the things at the forefront of the political activities going on in the city. This is fitting, since last week seems to have been the first signs of a cold winter. Even before the economic crisis, there were over 2,000 men, women and children counted sleeping outside on a cold January night, and with the effect of the recession still being so profoundly felt, we can expect this January’s One Night Count numbers to be even higher.
With Seattle’s shelter system already turning away people at night, what are we going to do? Is ending homelessness viable and is it something the city can do in 10 years as promised?
So far we have heard two sides to this argument, each trying to explain why the problem of homelessness is getting worse and not better. The stance that many homeless advocates have taken has been that the City isn’t doing enough in the way of funding for shelters and permanent housing. They say that if we are truly going to make a go at ending homelessness then we need to place more money into affordable housing and the burdened shelter system. The city’s stance however is that they are already doing as much as they can afford, and it’s time the County and other cities began to step up and handle their share of the problem.
There is truth on both sides of the argument. The city should provide more funding for human services, and if they were to look through the budget they could find ways to more efficiently provide more shelter with the money already in place. Yet the city is also raising a valid point. It is well past time for us to begin to discuss a National Plan to End Homelessness.
When you get right down to it, homelessness is about a lack of housing. Yes, there are a number of issues surrounding why someone is without a home. Those issues may include mental illness, job loss, or unexpected medical expenses. But all those issues are more easily worked while not fighting for your survival every night on the streets. There is no inherent reason why people who are experiencing these problems should not have housing.
The real problem is that there is no congruent plan. When it comes to affordable housing, funding from city, county, state, and federal levels all tie in at different points and various ways. To actually end homelessness, we can’t just try to throw together enough money to build enough houses or subsidize enough existing apartments. Rather, we need a plan — including timetables from the top down — that outlines the strategy for dealing with homeless at all levels.
This has to start at the Federal level so that from the State down to the Cities, funding and resources can be focused around need areas lacking in the federal plan. By clearly outlining and defining each role from the top down, one specific plan enables those plans under it to fill in the cracks left behind. This starts with creating a national chain of communication that breaks down the walls between Federal, State, City, Nonprofits, Faith-Based, and other homeless agencies.
This very idea came to several cities, and each drew up their own 10-year plans like the one we have here in Seattle. But it is unreasonable to expect cities to be able to work out this problem on their own, and that can very evidently be seen through the city’s demands for more help. Much as we wouldn’t expect the city of Seattle to be solely responsible for stopping global warming, we can’t expect that any real end to homelessness could come without looking at homelessness as a regional and national issue.
The change has to start somewhere; Seattle is in a good place to initiate it. For starters, Mayor Nickels has placed Seattle prominently onto the national stage on the issue of the environment and the next Mayor can use that to generate a conversation on the need to end homelessness. We must also correct the mistakes in our 10-year plan, plug the budgeting gaps and make a commitment not to remove any more funding until the crisis has passed.
Finally, we should set an example by allowing the sheer humanity of the issue affect the decision making process. We can do this by admitting there aren’t enough beds for everyone and allowing for the basic survival needs of all human beings. In part, this means providing Nickelsville a permanent site that will allow Nickelodeons to remain as a community until the cities of the region and the county have a chance to create enough shelter and housing to allow everyone to come inside.
We can end homelessness, but the only way we are going to be able to do that is by honestly reflecting on where we are as a city, by acknowledging that we won’t be able to do this alone, and by calling for a national movement to address this national issue.
Dorsol Plants is Homeless Veteran Employment Case Manager with the Compass Center (and a U.S. Army veteran himself). He also is former chair of the Highland Park Action Committee, and ran for Seattle City Council in this year’s primary. He is also Field Organizer for the Northwest Progressive Institute as well.
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