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Archive for the ‘Hunger’ Category

Our old friend Mark Horvath stopped in at Nickelsville earlier today. You can check out his photos and link to his Invisiblepeople.tv Road Trip stories. Anyway, I heard about this, and I got to thinking, [insert post title here].

[Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur asks the same question at the end of her heartbreaking article today about Philip Carrasco. I like to read Ms. Brodeur’s column regularly, but even if you don’t, check this one out. And thank you, Nicole, for telling stories “that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.”]


Now, back to Nickelsville…what do you think, Seattle? (Mike) “McGinnville” definitely has a better ring than (Joe) “Mallahanville”, but that could just be because it sounds like McMinnville (I guess it’s a place in Oregon?). I’ve gone through both official websites, and have to say sadly that I’m not all that impressed with either candidate’s stance on homelessness, poverty, or affordable housing. Mr. McGinn mentions ‘housing’ exactly once as far as I can tell, although he does spend quite a bit of time talking about how he will effectively reduce poverty by providing broadband Internet access to ALL, which I take to mean EVERYONE. Huh. Maybe Mr. Mallahan can help him out with that by getting T-Mobile to offer up free handheld, broadband-access devices to the tens of thousands of Seattle residents living below the poverty level. Because when we talk about ‘basic needs’, that’s right up there with food and shelter.

Speaking of Mr. Mallahan, his site does a slightly better job of describing at least some experience in working on these issues. But although he does provide some thoughts on homelessness in Seattle, he doesn’t really seem to say much more than ‘as Mayor, I’ll make sure these programs are funded and held accountable.’ Where haven’t we heard that before?

I kind of look at both of these guys and think things like, sure, traffic’s a pain in the ass. But I mostly take the bus, and the bus works just fine. And surprisingly enough, I can’t live on a bus, or eat one.

When it comes to elections, I have kind of a whacky way of choosing who I vote for. I’m generally not interested in knowing what a candidate will do for me. I’m usually more interested in knowing what they’ll do for someone who doesn’t have what I have. In this case, I’m talking about a roof over my head that I can afford and enough food to eat. And right now in that regard, I’m just not seeing either one of these candidates much differently than the guy we just kicked out. That could definitely change.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to admit that I did not vote for either Mr. McGinn or Mr. Mallahan. As a matter of fact, I volunteered for one of their opponents (not the incumbent guy). But I do have close friends who are intricately involved in the campaigns of both of these men. And by all accounts, they are both men of intelligence, fairness, and integrity, insofar as human beings can be. I wish them both the best of luck in the general election, and hope beyond all doubt that, no matter the outcome, neither man does anything that would lend credence to having a homeless encampment named after him. Because that would be weird.

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[It’s Monday morning, and spring has once again managed to elude our weekly weather report, so there’s sure to be a healthy dose of ‘blah’ in this post. If that’s not your cup of tea today, then check back later this week for thoughts about the state budget cuts and foster youth homelessness. I’m sure things will be ‘sunnier’ then.]

During my participation in the United Way of King County Hunger Challenge, I tried to limit my reading of our blog only because I figured someone experiencing hunger at that level wouldn’t necessarily have the same system of access or support. And the support WAS amazing, I have to say. Thank you to everyone who participated, who posted their thoughts and ideas on how to live on $7 of food a day, and especially to those who wrote about why they were participating. As many of you said, this wasn’t meant to be a contest. And no matter how easy or difficult the Challenge was, none of that should overshadow the sad fact that this is Reality for tens of thousands of people right here in King County, including an embarrassing amount of young children, who do not have a choice. Many of us (myself included) have tended to look at things like this as just another one of life’s incovenient truths. But just because it can be done doesn’t make it acceptable. My sincere hope is that participating in this whatever-you-want-to-call-it has changed that mindset for you. It has for me. Here are some of the thoughts I had during the week:

  • So much for exercising! I ran 3 miles on Monday morning, and wasn’t able to do anything of the like for the rest of the week. Not only is that type of diet lacking in nutritional value, but it sure as hell also doesn’t provide the type of energy to maintain an exercise regimen.
  • I stole some M&Ms. There’s a bowl of M&Ms in my office which I usually partake of once or twice a week. The difference? I was cheating…I was stealing…and I actually looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching me. I would never advocate this behavior. I know right from wrong. But it did make me think, what if that were the only option left to me?
  • I was definitely more irritable than normal, and everyone around me could tell. I couldn’t focus at work. I wasn’t coherent in conversations. I was distracted in practically everything I did the entire week. I did fall off the wagon a few other times, only because I’m lucky and privileged enough to choose to do so…
  • So, at the end of the week, United Way of King County announced our plan. It’s a plan that I’m currently reading, and I hope that you will, too, and that you take action. But before I even look through the entire thing, I have to wonder how close we really are (or are NOT) to finding the answer. Should we sign more people up for food stamps because they’re eligible, or should we advocate for changes in a societal structure that makes people dependent on food stamps in the first place? Nobody likes going to a food bank, so how do we (the people who are lucky enough to not have to) make it so that nobody has to? If the pursuits of Life and Happiness are truly inalienable rights for everyone, how much sense does it make for those pursuits to be so substantially financial in nature?

    These are the things that keep me up at night, now that I’m no longer hungry…

    Patrick Kelley

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    Things are happening fast this month!

  • Wednesday is the Community Resource Exchange! Dozens of service providers will convene in one place on one day to help over a thousand homeless individuals and families. Keep an eye on this blog to hear stories from our volunteers!
  • Next Wednesday is April 15th, which means your taxes are due. Our tax prep sites will be doing paper returns ONLY for this final week (no e-filing), so be sure to come in and get your return completed so you have time to drop it in the mail by the 15th. If you need to file an extension, you can file a Form 4868, but keep in mind that an extension to FILE is not an extension to PAY if you owe money. Failing to file by the 15th could also cause you to have a late-filing penalty in addition to your tax owed and interest accrued.
  • Hunger Action Week is April 20-24! Participate in our Hunger Challenge and see what it’s like to survive on $7 for food per day (the maximum per person in food stamp benefits per day). Read more about what’s happening, sign up for the Challenge, and offer your thoughts on our blog.
  • And finally, there’s a lot of chatter out there about deficits, and spending cuts, and a state income tax. The Times suggests that items like the GA-U are “less urgent” in the face of proposed cuts to education. The legislature meanwhile began consideration of a state income tax, which my friends over at the Times editorial board politely referred to as “fairy dust“. So, I know what the Seattle Times thinks about all this. What do you think? What would you cut? Or if cutting isn’t the answer, how would you increase revenue? Is an income tax a good idea?

    I really want to know.

    Patrick Kelley

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    Last night, I had a chance to facilitate a table at our second Community Listening Session. These sessions (more are being planned) will help inform United Way of King County’s overall plan to address the rising needs of food, housing, and other basic essentials in this economic downturn. My co-facilitator, Tracy, and I asked a series of questions to a table of representatives from area service providers. And then we shut up and listened. Notes are being compiled as I write this, but these are the highlights of what I heard:

  • We are all surrounded by messages of despair in the media, in our neighborhoods, on the faces of our clients and co-workers…and that makes it very difficult to wake up each morning and come in to try to do the right thing, when we know the right thing isn’t going to be enough for some people.
  • Volunteerism is way up, which is great! But it’s mostly up perhaps because so many people have been laid off, which is not so great. And it’s hard to manage this influx of help when co-workers that use to handle that are themselves being laid off.
  • Things will get better, and the economy will improve. We know that. But in the meantime, United Way should invest (and partner with others to do so) in getting people housed and keeping them housed, and providing food. Keep people from losing their basic needs, and then we [the other providers] can be more successful in helping them with other challenges and opportunities.
  • I am grateful to everyone who was in that room last night. Once the official write-up is completed, I will post it here for all to read and reflect on.

    Patrick

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    Doug leads the discussion

    Doug leads the discussion

    This past Wednesday (the 18th), United Way of King County hosted the first of two ‘community listening sessions.’ The purpose of these meetings is to help inform our overall plan to address the rising need for food, housing and other basic essentials in our community.

    Over 50 people, including service providers, attended Wednesday’s session. Our Free Tax Campaign manager, Courtney Noble, shared these thoughts on the discussion:

  • Along with the increase in demand for basic need services, agencies are also dealing with an increased need for mental health care for both staff and clients, to deal with the stress of the recession.
  • Co-occuring issues are a major concern for people in this economic climate. An increase in alcohol use as a result of job loss can often lead to domestic violence, or losing a home due to financial instability can severely disrupt a young person’s struggle to be successful in school, creating an intransigent cycle.
  • As agency budgets are cut, staff are laid off and those who remain are asked to do the work of multiple people, attempting to serve the needs of an increased and more vulnerable population. This often leads to staff having to make a choice about who is ‘needier’ than someone else seeking help.
  • Look for more thoughts from other attendees in the next few days. Also, if you would like to participate, please mark your calendar for the next session at the East Cherry YWCA. You can RSVP by emailing Doug Whalen at dwhalen@uwkc.org.

    Have you recently lost your job? Are you trying to access services for the first time? If you can’t attend one of these sessions, feel free to email me directly (pkelley@uwkc.org) or comment on this blog, and tell us how we can help you, your family and neighbors make it through these tough times.

    Patrick Kelley

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    Here are a few things I wanted to let everyone know about. Please spread the word!!

  • United Way of King County is inviting the public to give feedback and share ideas on how we can best serve the individuals and families who are being hit hardest by the economic downturn. The public’s input will help inform United Way’s overall plan to address the rising needs in our community for food, housing and other basic essentials. The sessions will be held on March 18th and March 24th. For more info, contact Doug Whalen at dwhalen@uwkc.org.
  • Here’s an excellent op-ed about Tent Cities, written by the most recent host. If you consider yourself a ‘person of good will’, it’s definitely worth a read. And while I’m on Tent Cities, check out this movement at the University of Washington. If you’re on Facebook (and really, who ISN’T these days), you can join their Cause.
  • Sign up to volunteer at the Community Resource Exchange! This event connects homeless individuals and families with dozens of services in one place, on one day. You can help make a direct difference in someone’s life!
  • –Patrick Kelley

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    I’ve been reading a lot lately, which for me, usually means nothing good can come of this. Because I start to think, and as I start to really think, I begin losing sleep. And that’s when I get crazy. I start to look at things, and imagine how they came to be, and really start to wonder if it really “just has to be that way.” Typically, my response during this after-midnight conversation is “of course not.” And then I laugh, sigh, and say (sometimes out loud), “Well, that’s just crazy.” But these are crazy times, so I’m just going to pretend for a while that I actually fit in with everything going on around me.

    Here are a few tidbits that I’ve come across in my readings over the past week:

  • Meet Tim at Pimp This Bum. This is great. See how a western Washington recovery program stepped up to help get Tim back on his feet. And controversy over the website name? Give me a break. Over 375,000 visitors since the site went live…seems like successful marketing to me.
  • In King County, 45% of renters and 41% of home owners were paying more than 30% of their income for housing (the federal definition of ‘unaffordable’) in 2007. Nationally, 16% of all American households (17.6 million) were paying more than 50% of their income for housing in 2008. In the face of those types of housing costs, is it any wonder that so many are struggling in this recession? But just stop for a moment and think about who could really use some help.
  • “What I miss most is having a pet.” This is Crystal, who’s 11. Her family has been living in a motel for three years. Her dad was a computer tech who had to leave his job for medical reasons. Her mom just had her hours cut in half working the night shift at the local Target. Read about them and others in the ‘hidden homeless’ population living in hotels and motels in the New York Times.
  • The cost of hunger in America staggers my crazy imagination. The US pays more than $90 billion annually for direct and indirect costs of people experiencing hunger in our country—children who are absent from school and are more susceptible to health problems, adults who can’t focus at work or are sick more often and actually have to miss work, and seniors who have extended hospital stays or suffer from isolation due to disability and lack of a regular food delivery system.
  • If you missed it, our First Lady Michelle Obama spent some time earlier this month serving meals at a food program called Miriam’s Kitchen. It turns out some people were more interested in the fact that someone being served at the shelter had a cell phone camera to capture the moment…as if people getting a bowl of soup at a homeless shelter shouldn’t be allowed to own a cell phone, much less create a lasting (and happy) memory. Read Shannon Moriarty’s great blog post at Change.org.
  • So we can’t seem to shelter or feed ourselves, or if we do, it’s highly inefficient and at great cost. So my exhausted brain turns to this: isn’t it just a little crazy that a society as intelligent as ours would base a person’s access to our most basic needs (shelter, health care and food) on that someone’s ability to pay for them? Sure, it might be okay, if children didn’t get sick, or employees never got laid off (while their CEO walked away with a multi-million dollar severance), or seniors never got old. Sure, it could work, if ‘minimum’ wage actually meant ‘livable’ wage, where people could be assured to earn enough to pay for food, shelter and health care for themselves and their loved ones, while still saving a bit each month for when the car breaks down. If we could pride ourselves on our investments in public education instead of hedging and hawing about where we should build our next, bigger and better prison, then we might be able to get by with tying basic needs to traditional supply and demand economics. But that’s not the world we live in, is it?

    Thankfully (‘thankfully??’), that world is changing right before our eyes. We should always be careful when we place our values and judgments on others, but particularly in an economic sense…why do we question the poor person who has a cell phone, when we know full well how important our technology is to us when it comes to staying in touch with loved ones? Why do we think people who wait in line at a food bank or some other social service space should be okay with that lengthy wait, when we know how annoyed we can get if there are more than four people in front of us in line at the grocery store? Why do we shake our heads at the young pregnant woman on the bus playing with her two other young children, when so many of us look forward with glee to the sound of our child’s laughter?

    These are not ‘poor’ people. They are people. I have seen many in our area at our tax preparation sites over the past few months. Many were living on hard times long before this recession we’re now in, and a lot of them aren’t going to be ‘bailed out.’ But they still have dreams for their children. They still want that training to try to get a better job, even if they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it. They still participate in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their religious organizations. And sometimes they still think of and do these things and more, while not always knowing if they’ll be able to buy food next month or pay for their heat during this cold snap. And to me, that makes them just a little heroic.

    I am gainfully employed, making a decent salary, have health insurance, no kids, I love food, and although I’m just as in danger of getting laid off as any of us are in this economy, I don’t live in fear of that happening anytime soon. I am getting older, but I’m also learning how to take better care of myself (although I should really get some sleep soon). Basic needs are not things that I am generally concerned with in my life. But what I am concerned about is this: when we come out of this (and by we, I mean that thing called ‘middle class’ where some of us are doing better than others), I hope it’s with a deeper understanding of that old adage, of just how alike we really are, and that we stop looking at ourselves as just a bunch of salary ranges. I’m counting on it. After all, I may not be ‘okay’ in a few months.

    –Patrick Kelley

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