Multiple paths away from homelessness

Gary Keister
Posted 9/25/19

At Bayside Housing we have seen that no two people have the same path out of homelessness. Some find long term stability by re-joining with family or friends. Others we assist in finding new housing, …

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Multiple paths away from homelessness

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At Bayside Housing we have seen that no two people have the same path out of homelessness. Some find long term stability by re-joining with family or friends. Others we assist in finding new housing, getting a job, or linking with benefits that allow them to escape homelessness on their own.

Few people experience homelessness the same way. Many have a mental health diagnosis, while others live with addiction. Right here in Jefferson County some spend each night in a shelter, while others sleep in doorways, cars, encampment, the forest or the beach. Still others simply can’t find affordable housing. Yet, all those experiencing homelessness have one thing in common; they don’t have a place to live.

Last December on a bitter cold evening Bayside Housing received a call from an advocate for an 89-year-old woman being evicted from her rental home of nearly 20 years. We arranged to accommodate her while she pursued permanent housing. This delightful woman resided at Bayside for four months until offered an apartment in OlyCAP’s South Seven Senior Village.

Unfortunately, over the years, still another group has emerged called the “working poor.” These men and women, often with children, work two and sometimes three jobs, albeit at minimum wage. They often will spend in excess of 50% of their earnings for housing. These are the hardworking people that serve & cook in restaurants, care for our sick and elderly, perform retail clerking and many other minimum or near-minimum wage jobs.

In a recent article published in the Jefferson Community Foundation newsletter Kerry Hastings wrote:

“At a recent housing forum in Port Townsend, we learned that Jefferson County is the third most unaffordable county in the state. The story told from the data was not encouraging...housing and land prices continuing to rise, families and workers moving away or choosing not to come at all due to the lack and price of housing. Our economy is already suffering because of this reality, and it will continue to get worse.”

Yes, and it has grown worse right here in our picturesque, Victorian paradise and if we don’t recognize that this problem affects us all we are deceiving ourselves. When this new class of citizens we call the “working poor” are not supported by reasonably priced housing, they will inevitably fall into the homeless class exacerbating an already epidemic situation. In speaking with several local employers, they collectively deem a lack of affordable housing the number one issue in hiring new employees. Today, a growing number of employees working in our community don’t live here. They commute from PA, Sequim, Poulsbo, Kingston, Port Gamble and wherever else they can find more reasonably priced housing. One nearby community has reported that 85% of their city employees don’t live in their city. Commuting is costly and when the occasion arises, they leave their jobs for opportunities nearer to where they live. I would.

These working poor, those who stand astride the line between poverty and the middle class are the laborers of our nation’s commerce, yet they live their lives worrying about how to make their next rent payment.

Our understanding of poverty needs to change. Poverty is no longer confined to those living in our shelter or panhandlers on the street, but now encompasses many of our hardest workers. The predicament of the working poor not only affects the current generations but will affect future generations through rising housing costs that cannot be met with the wages being paid. The struggles, like many of our socio-economic problems do not have an easy solution and are just beginning to be understood. However, they must be confronted and if not by us, by who? And meeting after meeting won’t get it done. This is an action matter of high priority that takes getting the bureaucratic barriers out of the way to do the job. Let’s be the leaders of this movement, at least here in Jefferson County. Bayside Housing and Services will continue to contribute to meet these very real challenges.

(Gary Keister has been involved with homeless issues since 1994 while living in Seattle and then in Jefferson County, where he has resided since 2000. He is the founder of Bayside Housing & Services and lives near Discovery Bay with his wifeSusan, an artist.)

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Eric Peterson

Thanks for writing and speaking up.

I have to wonder if our concept of minimum acceptable housing is fundamentally inadequate for small towns with low personal incomes like Port Townsend.

Not nearly enough people will ever be willing to work extra and pay extra for someone elses cheap place to live to ever solve homelessness through charity and publicly funded programs. Americans don't feel that kind of collective responsibility for other people's homelessness. We don't have a subsidy ethic or desire to go there.

Constrained by that value system, what constitutes minimum acceptable housing in the minds of people who have stable self funded housing is way out of sync with what we are willing to fund, or what people at risk can reasonably afford. We have to give up on the idea that everyone is going to live in an apartment or house funded with personal debt. There is a chasm between that idea and the reality of being unsheltered on the street. And there are lots of viable stepping stones for transitional housing in between the two that we have arbitrarily outlawed for reasons that are detached from reality.

The biggest obstacle to keeping people from moving from the street, to a tent, to a camper, to a tiny house, to cohousing and finally to single family housing is our disdain for anything that reminds us that some people are poor. And we pay a huge price in taxes and lost opportunity to hang onto all that NIMBY contempt.

Eric

Friday, September 27, 2019