Councilmembers have been locked in 2015 city budget review for the past few weeks on our way to a final vote the Monday before Thanksgiving. It’s a little difficult to schedule other work during this time because we’re in three-hour sessions morning and afternoon, but breaks do come up to give staff time to research questions and build proposed adds and subtractions.
In those breaks I’ve managed three recent “field trips” that have served to further illustrate for me the strange combination of growing wealth and growing disparity in our city, and to remind me that the budget we talk about in Council Chambers has real impact out in the world.
Nickelsville and Northacres – On a rainy Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago my legislative aide Jesse Gilliam and I met up with Alison Eisinger from the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness at Nickelsville’s new site on Dearborn just east of I-5. Approximately 40-50 people live at Nickelsville currently, some in small pink shacks and some in tents pitched on platforms or the ground. The site, for which the group has permission from the owner, slopes and now that the Fall rains have started, the site is muddy and slippery. Some residents are new to homelessness and a few have been with Nickelsville for many years, finding at Nickelsville safety, community and a sense of purpose in the management of the camp. For one reason or another, including a lack of space, the residents have eschewed the shelter system. In the past month many families with children have shown up at Nickelsville either staying or getting connected to a shelter or other help.
We then drove to Northacres Park, the park in north Seattle that you likely have never visited. It’s a great park, though. Great trees. And, for the past few weeks, home to a small encampment that splintered from Tent City 3 when TC3 decided to leave its Haller Lake site. Disagreements over decision-making prompted a group of approximately 20 people now known as United We Stand to strike out on their own and seek a new spot. They set up originally at Licton Springs, but then moved to Northacres where they’re set back from the street and parking lot, but still prompting complaints from neighbors and other park users. We met one family with kids and multiple people with jobs, but not enough to put together first, last and a deposit. The group welcomed us and ran through the work they’re doing to find a church host somewhere in Seattle or King County. At that point, as a dozen of us stood in the creeping darkness under a couple of tarps at a picnic table with camp stoves, coffee pots, plastic boxes of supplies and rain splattering a small fire in a barbecue stand, they’d been told no almost 30 times.
Career Bridge Cohort 13 Graduation – Through Career Bridge, started two years ago by the City’s Human Services Department, formerly incarcerated men, predominantly African-American, go through a two-week intensive confidence and job search skills building program. This year the program has been picked up and stabilized by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. They’ve done a great job structuring the curriculum, the intake, the support and the job connections needed for these men to get jobs and earn the income they need to support themselves and their families. I was glad to be able to help celebrate at the recent graduation for Cohort 13. Held Tues., Nov. 4, at a church in Rainier Valley, the men stood before friends and family as Career Bridge graduates, speaking of self-worth, who they want to be and that they want not just jobs, but careers.
Casa Latina – When Casa Latina had to move from their original spot in Belltown they had a tough time finding a new home. They finally landed on S. Jackson where they have a dispatch hall, classrooms and offices. My other legislative aide LaTonya Brown and I visited Wed., Nov. 5, to see the dispatch system (with rules devised by the workers themselves) and to talk about Casa Latina’s wage theft work recovering wages for workers shorted by their employers. Unfortunately, this happens far more often in this region than it should. Casa Latina works through communication with employers, sometimes though direct action drawing attention to disreputable businesses and through legal action to recover wages.
Projects like these have changed the lives of many of the families and individuals that I had the opportunity to meet over the past few weeks, and they have also been priorities in the City’s budget. Shelter expansion has been a part of almost every budget on which I’ve voted. Career Bridge funds are in the 2015 proposed city spending plan with possible expansion on the horizon. Casa Latina received capital funds from the City when they built on S. Jackson in return for the public benefit of the agency’s work.
Although government budgets are political documents full of compromises large and small, they’re also maps showing if our tax payer money flows to our priorities.