By Zack Johnston
The Western United States is experiencing some of the worst homelessness in decades, and we don’t seem to be finding a solution anytime soon. But thanks to the recent work of dedicated organizations and some passionate legislators, more and more people will get the help they need to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
Homeless job training programs
A London-based organization that supplies job training and employment is making its way to the U.S. Change Please is a startup that trains homeless individuals as baristas and employs them at their mobile and permanent coffee shops, according to the Huffington Post.
Change Please was recently awarded $350,000 from Chivas Venture, a global competition to fund startups. The organization plans to spread their work overseas to areas like Los Angeles, which has experienced a 75 percent rise in homelessness over the past six years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In Phoenix, Arizona the Homeless ID Project has helped over 8,000 people obtain government-issued identification, which is often needed to get a job. The Homeless ID project works to break the vicious circle that not having an ID can cause.
“People don’t have $12 so they can’t get an ID, and they don’t have $12 because they don’t have a job, and they don’t have a job because they don’t have an ID," said executive director Richard Mitchell.
Legislation in Washington state
Washington State Legislature recently passed seven laws to combat the state’s rampant homelessness, according to an article from Crosscut.
King County, Washington has the nation’s third largest homeless population, and this year marks the first time that the number of unsheltered people in the county exceeded the number of people in homeless shelters.
“We need protection for renters. We need deeper interventions and investments in homelessness. We need investments in affordable housing and need to make sure it can be quickly and efficiently be built,” said Michele Thomas, policy and advocacy director for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
The legislative package grants certain protections to people vulnerable to homelessness, provides the government with some new ways of addressing housing shortages and supplies funding that will go toward resources that support the homeless population.
Under the new laws landlords will officially be prohibited from discriminating against candidates using rental assistance or housing vouchers to find a stable living space, and government entities in the state can now sell any surplus land to affordable housing developers at a discounted price.
The State Homeless and Housing Surcharge supports resources like emergence shelters and addiction treatments, and it is funded by a fee on county recorded documents. The new law raises that fee to ensure more funding goes to those resources.
Those struggling with homelessness and a disability will get some extra support. The state’s Housing and Essential Needs program will be expanded to include individuals with permanent disabilities. Also, medical records that people with disabilities sometimes need in order to obtain Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance will be easier to get. The new law guarantees one free copy per year for those seeking medical records, which can currently cost around $26.
The legislation also secures funding that can be used for affordable housing construction and sets up a $3 million mitigation fund for landlords to use to cover any property damages caused by tenants with rental assistance.
“We just don’t have enough resources and the resources we do have can’t keep up with the sky-high rents in our state,” Thomas said. “We’ve underinvested for years in affordable housing, homeless services, mental health services, in substance abuse treatment. There’s a massive wealth gap between our highest income earners and lowest income residents. Yet everyone is shaking their head and asking why is homelessness increasing?"
Amazing work like this is being done right here in Orange County by StandUp For Kids, but it can’t happen without support from the community. Passionate volunteers and generous donations are what keep these great organizations alive. Homelessness is an issue that can be solved when people come together and decide to make a difference. Be a part of the change that breaks the cycle of homelessness and support StandUp For Kids, and the many other groups making a difference.