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