Homelessness – A Symptom of a Deep –Rooted Societal Malaise
Homelessness continues to be a daunting issue for the residents of Seattle and King County. In addition to the public agencies grapling with this endemic problem, there are many private non-profit agencies dedicated to addressing homelessness. An example of one of these is the Faith and Family Homelessness Project. Alki UCC is one of 14 faith communities across three counties (King, Snohomish and Pierce) participating in this project. Homeward Bound is an organization operating out of Alki UCC Church located in West Seattle. This organization has been funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is administered through Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry. In addition, there is the Westside Interfaith Network that is composed of churches in West Seattle and White Center that coordinates efforts on behalf of social justice issues facing the local community.
The following reports document the extent and serious nature of homelessness in this region of the country.
The Gravity of Homelessness
A recent report (2009) indicated that there are currently 40,000 homeless in New York City. This is a staggering statistic – this number is equivalent to the entire population of a small town. Given the harsh winters in New York, this is a very disturbing reality. New York is by no means unique in this regard. The following table shows homelessness statistics for the entire nation as of 2009.
T The number of individuals in homeless families decreased by 1 percent nationally, but increased by 20 percent or more in 11 states.
National priorities should gravitate around meaningful solutions to societal problems and conditions that lead to unwarranted and unnecessary suffering on the part of those who are effectively economically and politically powerless to change their state of being - with special regard to children. Homelessness and hunger are issues that need to be placed at the top of the list. Not to do so, is, in my judgment, morally indefensible.
The state of homelessness in America is evidence of the seemingly pervasive cultural indifference to the living conditions of those less fortunate. This is a troubling aspect of American life. It need not be the case, however. This nation is woefully out of balance. What is required is a sense of urgency in meeting the needs of those who are in crisis. What is required is a serious reevaluation of what we, as a people, collectively regards as important and worthy of immediate attention. In my mind, to ignore those who suffer unnecessarily is to effectively undermine the future.
Mental Illness and the Homeless
There is yet another level to this issue that adds further complexity and concern –a strong correlation exists between the state of mental health in an individual and the corresponding status of overall physical health. Individuals that are constantly distracted, confused and disoriented by mental disease are far less likely to pay attention to their physical well-being. They are far more likely to ignore significant warning signs that would ordinarily send people to their physicians. Furthermore, they are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis or other communicable diseases. They pay less attention to their personal hygiene and often place themselves in dangerous situations that often lead to bodily harm.
Here is additional information regarding the role of mental illness in homeless.
Regional Implications of Homelessness -
What is Being DoneOn January 20, 2013, a panel discussion moderated by Shannon Thomas was convened at Alki UCC. The panelists for this discussion included the following individuals who have devoted their time, energy and talents in dealing with the issue of homelessness and offering direct help to those in need. -
Liz McDaniel - Mary's Place
Gillian Parke - Sacred Heart Shelter
Chris Meinhold - Broadview Domestic Violence Shelter.
Solid Ground - Providing Housing
The meeting was introduced and moderated by Elizabeth Maupin Outreach Coordinator for the Safe Parking Community Network and a presentation of three short films preceded the panel discussion. These films highlighted the severity of the problem of homelessness and the issues that individuals and families face that ultimately leads to homelessness. Some of the more salient points of these presentations were the following:
The meeting was adjourned and the group was encouraged to remain involved in helping to secure safe parking for homeless individuals and families currently living in their vehicles.
In order to futher the discussion regarding the severity and prevalence of homelessness in the Seattle/King County region of Washington State another panel discussion - Advocacy for the Homeless - was organized under the aegis of the Homeward Bound Seattle Team at Alki UCC on February 17, 2013 and moderated by Shannon Thomas. It was a thought provoking, informative, nuanced, candid, and charged discussion with Alison Eisinger (Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness) and Timothy Harris (Real Change)...discussing political advocacy, charity downstream and justice upstream: housing inequality and advocating for the homeless.
_________________________________________________________________________________Homelessness from a Religious Perspective
On February 3, 2013, David Bloom gave a presentation regarding the spiritual imperative of solving the problem of homelessness at the Sunday Service at Alki UCC
Promoting Awareness of the ProblemThe Line - a video produced by the Sojourners was shown in three different households of members of Alki UCC on May 23, June 1 and June 8 (See the Calendar of Events). This video draws the viewers attention to the challenging life situations experienced by the 46 million Americans who are the nation's poor.
On June 2, 2013 King County Executive Dow Constantine discussed the issue of homelessness as it relates to King County to a group of interested members of the Alki UCC Congregation of West Seattle. In his presentation he talked about the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and the progress that has been made in that area. Constantine made note of the fact that in the current King County budget, 58 million dollars has been allocated to address the issue of homelessness. He stressed that significant expenditures are required to tackle this issue as part of responsible public administration.
He also spent a considerable of time referring to the overall strategy adopted by his administration to not only provide shelter for those currently homeless, but also put into place those approaches designed to prevent individuals and families from losing their homes to begin with. Some of the more salient features of this strategy include:
- The concept of Housing First - the goal of finding housing for those at risk immediately rather than going through a prolonged process with securing housing being the last step - a methodology that has been the traditional model
- Establishing a Coordinated Entry in which clients would only need to go to a single site in order to be connected to the appropriate services
- Addressing the need of providing educational and employment services to clients - a need that has been repeatedly expressed by those in need
- Integrating health coverage with human services - Constantine stressed his desire to achieve full enrollment in the Federal Health Care Reform Act that will operating in full force in 2014.