Like most of us, I have experienced news stories, letters, comments on the radio, and flags flying at half-mast to signify the Memorial Day and the memories of those that have past. For me it is a time of close reflection on life. I lost someone very close to me on Memorial Day 18 years ago, and as the day of remembrance passes I often think about her, and what she would be doing today? I wonder what she would be doing with her life.
A majority focus of Memorial Day is to ponder the thoughts of the people that died in the service of the United States of America. On this day we celebrate them as heroes and give silent, vocal, and written thanks for their sacrifice in defense of our way of life and our home. This weekend I spent a bit more time wondering just what they were fighting for, so I contacted a few friends that have served in our military, along with some in our public police force, and I asked them. I asked them to delve deeper than just Freedom and Country.
The discussions went quickly to family, friends, love, and our way of life. I listened to passionate affirmations of commitment to peace, way of life, God’s country, friends and family. I heard about how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have the best health care, best research, opportunity, homes, ability to travel and freedom of choice and worship. I was told that we live in the richest nation on earth with vast resources, and how as a nation we are also fighting for the lives and freedom of others. John told me “We fight for human rights and justice.”
As I listened to the strong feeling of love of country, our conversations turned to the many veterans that are home, suffering, and not receiving the full care that they need, the troubles inside the Veterans Administration and the many people that served and returned with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as physical differences. There was a unanimous chorus that this was NOT what they were fighting for, and we shared feelings of disappointment and concern. I wonder how many cardboard signs are being displayed today that communicate “Homeless Vet”?
While the challenges of service veterans is documented, I believe that the issue is generally reflective of our society and how we treat those that have endured challenging times and not fared as well as our greater population. We have a plethora of great organizations and people reaching out to help people facing challenges, yet many of those with the greatest challenges, and the most difficult time standing on their own, do not get the support that they need. My question is why?
Put the strength of the US domestic economy in context. Its per capita income is more than eight times higher than China’s. It is the world’s largest exporter of goods and services. It’s the largest exporter of food. America is blessed with an entrepreneurial culture that celebrates not what has been accomplished, but what’s next. It has deep and efficient capital markets, the lifeblood of a dynamic economy, and no country has greater capacity for technological innovation than the United States. That’s a crucial source of future strength. Yet we have hundreds of thousands of people, and families living without homes, vulnerable, inaccessible basic healthcare, and with little or no security.
To understand what this means here in our local community, let’s break this down. Tonight there will be more than 9,000 people that are homeless in King County. Over 3,000 of these people are living with the added challenge of one or more disabilities. Over 3,500 will be living outside. Most do not have adequate access to much needed healthcare. These are people, part of our community, and contributing members of our society. They are our brothers, sisters, parents and children. Some of them are veterans, many are not, and all of them deserve a safe place to sleep, basic nutrition and healthcare.
To be fair, our laws do provide some security through Social Security, programs that are designed ensure people have access to the bare minimum in order to meet basic needs. There is an irony with these benefits that keep many that qualify for them from receiving them. The very structure that is designed to help people apply for benefits is so complicated that is serves as a barrier to those that qualify. The unintended consequence of that structure is that it isolates thousands of those that do qualify, and need them the most. In turn, it forces this population into circumstances that are difficult for local governments to manage, and health issues that are left untreated to become exceptionally challenging to treat. This increases cost dramatically for both our local society and those that are already stretched beyond reasonable limits.
It takes months, in many cases over a year, to begin receiving Social Security benefits. This is the case in the best of circumstances. The challenges are even greater for the people that are experiencing homelessness and living with a disability. If you are homeless many resources are not available. So, where do these people go, what do they do? They live on the street and they try to survive each day.
Seattle Community Law Center exists to fight for and with people, in their quest for basic security. Our assistance is helpful for approximately ninety percent of the people that we serve. Whether people are empowered with knowledge and tools to self-advocate or are provided with a case team that delivers full representation for their Social Security problem from start to finish, SCLC clients access justice when they work with SCLC staff. We accomplish this by meeting our clients’ needs, going to where they are and working around their schedule.
Directing Attorney Hannah Rosenberger spends time each month reaching out to people at Compass Housing Alliance and Chief Seattle Club. She maintains a case load of over 100 clients, and works to give each person the time, and energy that they require. Each person she serves has a unique set of goals and challenges, she uses her skills of clear communication, and culture competence to ethically serve homeless clients as the viable members of our community that they are. Hannah’s focus is the Disabled Homeless Advocacy Project, and she treats each person with compassion.
Directing Attorney Michael C. Martin II joined Seattle Community Law Center on March 9th, 2015. In the short time he has been here he has helped over 100 clients. Whether he has provided advice, brief service or full representation, the majority of his clients have received favorable outcomes.
The Seattle Community Law Center support staff and volunteers complete our human resource, and make it possible for us to provide critical assistance to hundreds of people, they welcome people in and give them shelter from the storm, while thousands more are in need. There are many ways that you can help, here are the four best ways to make a difference.
• Just say HI! Engage with people that you see and think might be homeless and/or disabled. Get to know them and their stories. Let them know you care.
• Volunteer! We are looking for compassionate people that have legal training to help with intake, outreach, and data.
• Fundraising! We rely on grants and gifts to keep going and our low cost structure to honor the donors and help as many people as possible.
• Donate! Consider donating, and consider becoming a sustaining member by giving a monthly tax deductible gift at www.seattlecommlaw.org/donate