Photo caption: From left to right, Ben Miksch, (policy associate at Low Income Housing Alliance (LIHA)), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Sen. Steve Hobbs, Stina Janssen (Tenants Union organizer), Kathryn Murdock (Seattle/King County Coaltion on Homelessness), Gov. Jay Inslee, Kevin Solarte (LIHA housing coordinator), Joaquin Uy (LIHA communications specialist), Jonathan Grant (Tenants Union executive director), Laurie Lippold (Partners for Children policy director), Michele Thomas (LIHA policy director), Eric Ashley (Hobb’s legislative aide). Photo courtesy of LIHA.

The last weekend of June will be one to remember — and not only for the record high temperatures across the region and country. On Saturday of that weekend — after three epic 2013 legislative sessions — the legislature finally passed a new two-year budget, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed on Sunday.

Over the past few years, many activists and politicians started calling government budgets “moral documents.” Christian activist and author Reverend Jim Wallis was one of the most vocal proponents of this, famously expressing how lawmaker’s choices should tie values to dollars: “Our budget … is either going to reflect the best of who we are — or the worst.”

So how does Washington state’s budget measure up to our morals and how we see ourselves as Washingtonians? One conclusion we can draw from this recently passed budget: we continue to care about homelessness. And we should.

The Washington State Department of Commerce estimates that more than 20,000 folks in our state have nowhere to call home. They derived this number from actually counting people in the streets and in shelters late at night. The picture is actually bleaker when you consider homeless students. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) found these young people were typically found crashing on a relative’s or neighbor’s couch — or living in a vehicle. OSPI found more than 27,000 homeless students. That’s a little more than the entire population of Mercer Island!

Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funds and Consolidated Homeless Grants (CHG) are two examples of effective government programs that help keep Washington residents safely housed and off the streets. O&M supports affordable housing programs that serve extremely low-income households exiting homelessness. One example is Korean Women’s Association in Tacoma. O&M funding supports their We Are Family (WAF) home emergency shelter for women and family survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

CHG funds both emergency shelters and transitional housing and also provides rent assistance. Seattle nonprofit YouthCare relies on CHG funds to help keep minors and young people off the streets.

This new budget preserves funding for both O&M and CHG, ensuring many vulnerable individuals have a path off the streets into a home.

Washington state’s new budget also helps protect people with temporary or permanent disabilities from homelessness. The Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program specifically aids folks who have gone through a recent tragedy resulting in a temporary disability. HEN provides rental assistance and such essential needs as toiletries and hygiene supplies until they’re back on their feet.

A related program —Aged, Blind & Disabled (ABD) — provides financial support for those with long-term and permanent disabilities, such as the elderly and those with severe vision impairment. HEN was funded so the program could continue operating, and ABD received a slight boost.

Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities can rest assured that the legislature saved Medical Care Services. Elderly immigrants in our community unable to benefit from Medicaid expansion because of their immigration status can take advantage of this component of ABD to receive health care.

Much of these wins come from the passed operating budget. The capital budget also contains an important solution to homelessness: the Housing Trust Fund (HTF). Nonprofits and other community organizations rely on the HTF to build affordable homes. Seattle-based InterIm Community Development Association has relied on HTF dollars to preserve a number of historic buildings and to transform them into affordable housing for API seniors andfamilies in the Chinatown-International District (CID). The Eastern Hotel on Fifth Avenue South and South Maynard Street is a notable example, as today, 46 low-income households call this building home.

The legislature invested $70 million in HTF, which could mean more than 1,700 new affordable homes across the state.

According to the Washington, D.C..-based nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), our state is very much in-need of affordable homes. NLIHC found that, for every 100 extremely low-income households in this state, there were only 27 affordable and available units. And for every 100 very low-income households, there were 55 affordable and available units. That’s a lot of families and individuals with nowhere else to go, but the streets and shelters.

While many organizations are lauding the state budget for continuing to fight homelessness in Washington, our lawmakers couldn’t have done it alone. Elected officials constantly require information and feedback from their constituents over laws and budgets. According to the housing advocacy group, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (my employer), more than 2,000 residents across the state wrote emails, telephoned and even spoke in with their elected officials in person to discuss the importance of supporting policy and budgets that alleviate homelessness.

Take it from first-year Rep. Gael Tarleton from 36th Legislative District covering North Seattle: consistent and repeated advocacy is extremely important.

“You can’t send too many emails,” said Tartleton. “Our [legislative assistants] go through the emails and calls. … They tell us the volume of contacts we are getting on an issue. We aren’t counting any one individual’s contacts. Don’t be afraid of contacting us often. Keeping the pressure up is good.”

Previous articleSIFF, Part II: From Mumbai to 17th-Century Taiwan
Next articleIn Memory of Kip Tokuda (1946-2013) – Beloved Community Mentor, Champion for Children and Equal Rights, Dies at 66