‘This is a ‘we’ problem’: Homelessness forum separates facts from fiction

Around 40 people gathered in the sanctuary at the Edmonds United Methodist Church Thursday evening to learn the truth about homelessness in Snohomish County. The forum aimed to debunk many falsities about homelessness.

For example, experts speaking Thursday evening explained how people without homes did not choose to be homeless. Two main reasons for becoming homeless are losing a job or having an accident, and that those issues often snowball into others.

Mindy Woods opened the event and introduced panelists Kristina Sawycky, a disabled veteran who became homeless when she left her abusive ex-husband; Kresha Green who works with YWCA, an organization that aims to empower and support women and people of color; Jason Dunbar, who works with the Rev. Jean Kim Foundation and Shower to the People, the only mobile shower provider in Snohomish county; and Jennifer Della, an Alaskan native who has dealt with chronic homelessness in her family and works with RAP, the first organization made up of Washington state residents who have experienced housing instability and who work together to change policy.

Woods said that after one year of being homeless, some can acquire a mental illness. Dunbar said women can experience PTSD after two weeks of being homeless and men can experience PTSD after one to six months of being homeless.

“Drugs do not cause homelessness, homelessness causes drugs,” Dunbar said.

Della said that the YWCA saved her from homelessness, but there are no quick fixes. Green said that the YWCA currently has a six-month waitlist, and those on the waitlist must call back every two weeks to stay on. This creates a technology barrier for those who don’t have access to a phone.

After each panelist shared their personal story, including Woods who also experienced homelessness with her son, the forum opened for questions from the audience.

One audience member asked why so many landlords don’t accept Section 8 housing vouchers. Woods replied that everyone in the forum has asked themselves this question before. Section 8 is a federal housing voucher that gives each state a block grant from the federal government to help cover part of a low-income tenant’s rent.

Many landlords do not accept tenants with Section 8. A handout from the forum said, “Sometimes landlords will even evict people with Section 8 vouchers because they no longer want to participate in the program.” Having an eviction on your record makes it extremely hard to find another landlord who will rent to you.

Another problem with Section 8 that was discussed is that the application for it is currently closed and those who made the cut in Snohomish County are on an eight-year waitlist. In addition, even if someone were to acquire Section 8, like Woods said she once did, you only have it for a limited amount of time. Woods said she finally found a landlord that would accept her voucher after eight months and just two days before hers expired. There are simply not enough resources for the homeless and low-income populations.

There is some progress being made on the policy level. Woods said that on Sunday, Sept. 30, a piece of legislature is being passed that will no longer allow landlords to discriminate against alternative pay such as Section 8 or Social Security.

A different audience member asked the panelist if they had a magic wand, what would they want to see improved in Edmonds. Sawycky spoke on behalf of herself and some of her veteran friends that it is very easy to get discouraged when asking for help because many services send you to different places. Sawycky said she would use the magic wand to create a one-stop service which could help people who are homeless and low-income with gas money and staying hopeful.

A woman in the audience who also works with YWCA also answered the question. She said she would like to see a community building where people without homes can come do their laundry, take a shower and eat a meal. This would help everyone in the community and have those in need a chance to leave feeling better and refreshed.

Before the forum ended, Dunbar said that everyone could leave the forum and inspire their friends and co-workers to let go of their fears. Dunbar shared how he wasn’t sure what to do with his life until he got connected with the Rev. Jean Kim Foundation and met some of the people without homes who he said are smart and caring people. He said the work he is doing has changed is life and has “transformed” him.

Woods encouraged people to look people who are homeless in the eye, rather than ignore them. This will help them feel human and could give them a spark of hope they need to keep going.

“This is a ‘we’ problem, not an ‘us-and-them’ problem,” Woods said.

–Story and photos by Hannah Horiatis

  1. I was once homeless for six months, when I was 21 or 22, and I know what stupid thing I did to get myself into that situation and also how I got out of it. I don’t feel sorry for them. If we give them a lot of free things, more will come. They have been coming from other states to our area. Now they get mobile showers? Gimme a break! I am also a landlady, since 1986. I worked my way up the ranks, so-to-speak, from renting rooms to students in my fixer-upper to owning two duplexes in two counties, plus an ADU. It’s a harsh business to be in, and I have had to deal with a lot of difficult characters, some of whom would do me harm if they could get away with it. Going after them for money they owe (with or without an eviction) entails a decision for me: Do I want to live a life without fear of being hurt or killed, or do I want the money that badly? The answer: So far, I haven’t gone after any of them — yet. But the paperwork is ready and waiting on my shelves, in 4″ binders that take two arms to lift. These former tenants have ransacked my apartments, have done so much damage, in one case, that I sold the duplex as a “nonperforming asset” and made almost no profit. One former tenant left the electrical system in such bad shape that after hiring three licensed electricians who couldn’t fix it, i sold the building after ten years even though, due to the Recession in 2008, its value had not sufficiently recovered. This tenant was using my townhome as a mechanics shop, refurbishing old engine blocks on the living-room floor, and he hooked up an air compressor about six feet tall directly to the PUD’s power supply. In other words, he stole power to operate this compressor he used for cleaning his blocks. Another tenant who lived in that same townhome for five years, where no dogs were allowed, let several large dogs urinate and defecate inside the unit. It took me months to clean that up, I had to hire an army of contractors and lost several months of rent. People who hate landlords never consider these things. They all think we just collect the rent and live happily ever after. “Don’t judge me until you have walked a mile in my moccasins.” AMEN! The latter tenants may be homeless, and why should I care? Of course, it will cost me to recover any money, if any. These tenants had a free attorney when we went to court, from the Tenants Union. I had to pay $1,000 for mine. Yeah, I am “smart and caring,” but they are not. This country breeds these kinds of people. It’s not just the homeless, but closely related are tenants who are a nuisance. I used to give them a break, but always regretted it. One young tenant who had an assault on his record ended up poisoning my dog with rat poison on the day he moved out. It was not an eviction, but I had given him legal notice because he was a troublemaker, broke into a landline to listen to other tenants’ phone conversations, drank excessively, let in other troublemakers etc. Anyway, I avoid these people like the plague and who can blame me after all I’ve suffered. I was once a tenant myself, in three states, and I always left the unit in better shape than it had been. It’s a 100% attitude problem with these people, and nobody can help them with that!!! Why don’t I accept Section 8? You can probably guess by now — attitude! BTW: My best ever tenant is a Mexican lady; she keeps the unit spit-shined, she and her husband have no kids and no pets, pays the rent right on time (for the last 11 years). And they work hard, stay away from excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol, and behave like decent citizens. That’s all I care about. As I said, what matters is the attitude, with tenants or homeless former tenants. Life is hard, but it gets easier if you make an effort. Being lazy, a slob, a criminal, in-your-face, bad money management — that’s under your own control, nobody can help you with that except you and no additional tax money can help, either. AMEN!

  2. Drug abuse and alcoholism have ALWAYS caused much homelessness. It’s been that way probably forever. Drug abuse and alcoholism cause acting out behavior, which diminishes social capital. That causes people to not want to live with the alcoholic or addict. Or, the need to buy the drug causes crime, which often causes imprisonment and social stigma. We have to stop telling people what they want to hear and tell people the age old truth. Then, the problem will be solved for people who take the responsibility on themselves.

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